Urban tales: Nerves of steel
Freddy and Stephanie Nock are demonstrating how it works. The 24-year-old artist on the left and her 50-year-old father on the right, motorbikes raring to go, are standing at the heart of a two-and-a-half ton steel ball. After a small exchange they receive the command, and then they are off. At first, the circuits are horizontal, but they merge into the vertical, with the Hondas finally dashing from top to bottom and from left to right. As a spectator, you can do little more than hold your breath: it is nigh on impossible to follow the activity. But during the three-minute presentation the two professionals barely break a sweat. They have mastered much greater challenges.
In 2005, the father-daughter team became world record holders on the so-called wall of death, alongside four other motocross drivers. It was then 15-year-old Stephanie’s idea, who, back then, was completely new to motorbikes. After three months intensive training, it was time: the team made their way into the Guinness Book of Records for riding six motorbikes around a wall of death with a diameter of 4.9 metres. “We joked then that next time we would do it with seven people,” remembers Freddy Nock with a smile. And that was just what was on the cards at this year’s motorbike exhibition Swiss Moto.
All in the driver
In December, Nock began casting for the event that would take place on 20th February in Messe Zurich with an expected 400 spectators. 150 hopefuls had applied, with 25 being short-listed and putting their skills to the test in Tägipark in Wettingen. If mastery of the vehicle was important, the drivers were just as much so. “For me, what’s inside is important. I look at how a person comes over, whether they swagger or not,” explains Nock.
The 13 finalists – 11 men and two women – were “normal citizens” and anything but professionals. But that is exactly what he wanted, confirms Nock. Artists and circus professionals were often too competitive. As seventh generation of the more then 100-year-old circus dynasty, Nock had experienced that all too often. Which is why in 1999 the father of five left the circus ring for the last time after more than 30 years, going on to establish himself as a solo artist and extreme athlete.
A master’s teaching
For the latest attempt to be shown on Swiss TV channel Pro Sieben, the drivers went on intensive individual and group training courses. Around Christmastime, they trained for up to 13 hours a day, and later every afternoon. Anyone visiting Tägipark could watch, because the big steel ball was located next to COOP.
“The ball is not a street, it has more bends and is slippery. If you drive in incorrectly, the motorbike can easily lose control. You have to know how to move your body to maintain balance,” explains Nock, of the challenges facing the novices. “When there are six drivers, they maintain a distance of 50 to 70 cm. Control, ability and perfection are vital, because only then is safety guaranteed – and that is the most important thing.”
He charted the candidates’ development from the beginning, so that he could present them at Swiss Moto. Of course that also included nasty falls – sometimes involving two or even three participants. “That is part of the learning process, too. I have had many accidents and have learnt many lessons. I tried to pass this experience and knowledge on to the participants,” explains the master. “The most important thing is to react in the right way. You have to let go of the motorbike and pull yourself away from it. There were many situations that made me proud of my girls and boys.” Most importantly, however, they always stood up again and didn’t give up.
After two months’ training, Nock finally had to take the difficult decision on 1st February: he had to choose the six best drivers for Freddy Nock’s World Record Team. “This decision was anything but easy,” he reported over the loud speaker. “You have all made huge progress and drive extremely well. However, I have chosen six of you who have shown nerves of steel.”
The resulting team included student Romina Berger (28), metalworker Dominik Gächter (25), carpenter Ron Regener (34), mechanic Stefan Huber (25), caulk specialist Benjamin Koffel (26) and design engineer Manuel Zaugg (24). Nock also chose two understudy drivers, in case a team member dropped out at the last minute.
On 5th February, the steel ball in Tägipark was taken down, and two days later moved to Messe Zurich. A new challenge was awaiting here: driving with the 150 Hondas that would be used in the world record attempt. Until then, training had taken place on electric bikes due to the enclosed space. It was a new, and very difficult, task for everyone involved. “It is like moving from an automatic car to a manual vehicle,” says Nock.
Romina Berger quickly realised that she wasn’t ready for the transition, and gave her place to Thomas Stadelmann. The final team was complete and full of anticipation for Swiss Moto 2014.
Moment of truth
The six laymen and their teacher Nock entered the arena to applause from hundreds of spectators. The team was well prepared and calm, Nock said. He had slept little, but well, and was excited about the attempt.
A little later, the seven motorcyclists wormed their way into the wall of death. They circled in perfect conformation for some two minutes – 1.5 minutes more than was necessary for the world record. The only sound came from the roaring of the motorbikes, for the spectators were holding their breath and staring, spellbound, at the performance. The interaction between the individual members was perfect: the impossible had been achieved.
Smiling, the world record team soaked up the applause. They had demonstrated nerves of steel. Now was the time to show emotion.