SUPERHERO FOR AN HOUR
RATING THE DIFFICULTY OF THE MARVEL SHOW’S STUNTS
Marvel Universe LIVE! Age of Heroes is a stage show that brings Spider-man, the Avengers, and the Guardians of the Galaxy together to stop Loki from trying to take over and rule the universe. The show is put on by Feld Entertainment, the same company that owns and runs Monster Energy Supercross, Amsoil Arenacross, and Monster Jam, and maybe not too coincidentally the Marvel show incorporates motorcycles in the storyline.
When Feld invited us to come check out the show, we did one better—we got Feld to let us join in and evaluate how hard the show’s stunts really are. I was given the assignment because the show incorporates trials bikes, and I competed in trials from the age of seven until I was 20 (the last three years in the Pro class).
We were shown a complicated scene, and I was told I would not be allowed to attempt two of the stunts—the backflip and the 14-foot splatter—and that was just fine with me. The bike I rode was a Gasgas TXT Racing 300, the same brand, model, and engine size of bike the Marvel performers ride. However, each of their bikes are painted a different color, have large (fake) gas tanks, and a small seat to go along with the comic book world theme of the show. I also didn’t wear one of the show costumes, and I got “work lights” so I had good lighting for my ride. I had exclusive access to the stage and firsthand advice from the Captain America and Spider-man performers.
The centerpiece of the stage has stairs at the end and a hidden trampoline on each side of the base, which I was warned to avoid. A ramp on each side of the upper stage allows the riders to get up onto it, plus there is also
a 5-foot-tall ramp at center left stage, a few ramps center stage, and a freestyle ramp at the back right area that Captain America and Black Widow use to launch up to a 14-foothigh doorway. This ramp is also where Spider-man does a backward rolling nose wheelie. The freestyle ramp, stage, and floor all had excellent traction; the stage sparkles with a material resembling clear skateboard grip tape laid over it. I’m not sure I could spin the rear wheel even if I tried. This made doing wheelies and other maneuvers easier and more predictable than normal.
The first obstacle we started with was a rolling 180 nose wheelie. Clark Myers, who plays Captain America, explained to me that in addition to doing to the stunt properly, the objective is to land the rear wheel as close to the stage’s barrier as possible for dramatic effect. Clark did the stunt first and made it look easy. I got the nose wheelie down fine, but my rear wheel landed about 5 feet away from the barrier. After a few more tries, I was able to get my rear wheel within about a foot of it. I’d rate this trick as something the average expert trials rider could do but with an added degree of difficulty for the precision.
Next I tried a 1-footer off the 5-foot-tall ramp. During the show, another performer is standing on the side of the jump and the rider pretends to kick them off of it. Clark explained to me that it’s important to do the 1-footer a little late in order to not actually touch the other performer. I tried the jump first without the 1-footer, which proved to be pretty easy. The 1-footer wasn’t too hard either, but I overjumped a little bit on my second try. I got it down pretty well after that though. Clark then suggested I tie the two obstacles together as they do in the show. Landing from the rolling 180 nose wheelie made the 1-footer jump a little more difficult, but I was able to complete both stunts with no problems. I’d rate this as an intermediate level of trials skill but, again, with some extra difficulty thrown in because the stunt-timing of the kick is critical.
Troy “Smallz” Neault, who plays Spider-man, demonstrated the next three stunts. The first was a 90-degree rolling nose wheelie immediately followed by a 270-degree circle wheelie—in the show Spider-man uses this move to knock over several of the bad guys. The rolling nose wheelie required me to land my rear wheel about 90 degrees from where I began. This part of the stunt wasn’t that difficult, but it was tough to go straight into a wheelie immediately after landing. The circle wheelie wasn’t too bad either, especially because I was able to put my left foot on the ground to help me balance while doing it (this is way easier than doing this without touching the ground). The front wheel cross-up at the end for a final “punch” at a bad guy was simple enough as well. This stunt would be a lot more difficult with actual performers nearby forcing the position of the wheels, but overall this stunt wasn’t wildly challenging; I’d say it’s something most expert-level competitive trials riders could pull off.
The fourth stunt I tried was a nose wheelie rollback down the freestyle ramp. Troy did it a couple of times to give me a proper demonstration. He rode his front wheel to the very top of the ramp and popped a huge nose wheelie and rolled back down the ramp all on his front wheel. He did it perfectly time after time, but I knew it was going to be super difficult. Troy advised me to throw my weight as far forward as possible to get the nose wheelie up and modulate the front brake on my way down. He also told me it took him six months of working on it every day to master it. Interestingly, he learned this for the fun of it before he knew he was going to be in the show. This was definitely the most intimidating stunt for me; I could potentially go face first into the expanded metal surface of the freestyle ramp. Needless to say, I was glad to be wearing a full-face helmet! My first few tries were just to feel it out. My nose wheelies got progressively bigger as I attempted it a couple more times, but I couldn’t find the balance point of being able to maintain the nose wheelie and roll back at the same time. It was extremely tough. I ended up just doing a nose wheelie and letting my rear wheel down before rolling to the bottom of the ramp. This stunt was certainly harder than it looked, and it looked extremely difficult! I’d rate it as a pro-only stunt. Actually, I’d say there are probably only a handful of even the pros who could actually do the full stunt. It’s impressive riding.
The final stunt was what I’ll call a running wheelie. In the show, Spider-man falls off the back and chases his own bike in a wheelie. Even though this stunt is pretty
safe and it’s relatively easy to get away from the bike if something goes wrong, I was a bit nervous because I didn’t want the bike to get away from me or loop out in front of me. I practiced it on flat ground first then attempted it after riding a steep ramp up onto the stage, which added an extra element to getting off the back of the bike and maintaining control of it. It wound up being fairly easy, so Troy suggested we try it side by side. It was a little bizarre. It seemed kind of like two guys walking their dogs on opposite sides of the street. But in the actual show, performers are riding next to each other, crossing lines, and Black Widow (played by Louise Forsley) does a nose wheelie next to another rider and then sets her rear wheel over the other bike’s front wheel to land her nose wheelie. My running wheelie was an advanced-level stunt, but I’ll rank the scene’s overall stunt choreography as requiring a pro performer level of consistency.
During my one hour on the stage, I learned that all of the riders in this show could compete at the highest levels of the sport (many have). If you go to a show, you will see some pro-level riding, and if you watch closely, you’ll appreciate how precisely they are doing it. Also keep in mind that the performers are wearing costumes, riding bikes modified to look like something in a comic book, and are riding under constantly changing lighting conditions. Lastly, they need to be able to do this with thousands of people watching. Back when each of these riders started their careers, they didn’t imagine they would wind up as Marvel superheroes. It’s amazing where motorcycles can take you, whether it’s in the United States or across the world, or if it’s just a retired pro getting to walk in their shoes for an hour.