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Rolling magic
Tim Knoll and his bike stunts have turned him into an international sensation

Photos by Matt Haas

May 2015

As family friendly activities go, this was definitely way out there. While many parents and children bond at movies, picnics and ballgames, Tim Knoll had his mother ride alongside him, shooting video of her son riding his BMX bike under 11 consecutive, stationary semi-trailers at a Wauwatosa industrial parking lot.

"That was something to see," Knoll remembers. "Hereís my 60-year-old mom rolling around, filming me going under these trailers."

That video clip wound up on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in August of 2013 and added to Knollís already legendary status as a BMX stunt and trick rider. A video of Knoll from May of that year (among the dozens he has posted on You Tube) got 4 million hits in its first week and made him an international sensation.

"I start out standing completely erect, Iím steering the handlebars with my feet," Knoll says. "Iím going down a basketball court, I grab onto a basketball hoop, I do a back flip off the basketball hoop. My bike is on the ground. I land back on my bike, without touching the ground, pull the bike back up and ride away. I swing around a street sign and then do a back flip with my bike (staying on the bike the entire time) over the hood of my old Saturn."

When that video went viral, Knoll was invited to perform on a variety TV show in South Korea that aired all across Asia. The video caught the attention of the producers of a Chinese Guiness Book of Records show, who hired Knoll to ride under a 30-meter stretch of metal bars that were 97 centimeters (just over 3 feet) off the ground. His successful attempt established a new world record.

"The poles were so low that I actually had to cut my hair so it wouldnít brush against the poles," Knoll recalls.

Knoll also starred in an online commercial for Ford shot in San Francisco. "A lot of companies are putting lots of money into You Tube and online videos because thatís where theyíre targeting kids 8 to 15. Ford is very interested in making an impression on kids," he says. Knoll and "a couple of other bikers" made a 3.5-minute video, which involved multiple tricks and "very subtle product placement" getting in and out of vehicles.

While Knoll is a rock star on You Tube, doing stunts on a bike is not his full-time job. He also works as a personal trainer in Milwaukee. He says heís earned between $10,000 and $17,000 per year on his bike but has a major deal brewing with a big name company in Europe that could prove more lucrative.

"The guys who make a living doing BMX compete in the X Games," Knoll says. "There is no contest format to support what I do. Iím really a professional video biker licensing my video to TV shows or third parties."

Knoll has always been somewhat of a daredevil. He remembers doing "handstands on the furniture" at an early age and enrolled in gymnastics when he was 7. He qualified for the state diving championships at Wauwatosa East High School but only wanted the sport to serve as an attractive extracurricular on a college resume and quit as soon as he was accepted to UW-Milwaukee "to focus solely on biking." Knoll, who is 30 has been riding now for 15 years.

His gymnastics experience has helped him successfully tempt the laws on physics on his bike. "Gymnastics undeniably sets me apart from a lot of different BMX riders who donít have that background," Knoll explains. "I almost use my bike as more of an apparatus as opposed to a vehicle I charge up a ramp with."

Knoll trains extensively to be in the best shape to perform his bicycle wizardry. "It takes a lot of strength. Iím pretty small (5í8"), but I have a low center of gravity and a really good body weight."

But no amount of training can prevent the injuries that are inherent with this avocation. "They are always prevalent," says Knoll, who has blown out his shoulder, spent eight weeks on crutches after hurting his ankle, still deals with knee pain, and consistently adds to a collection of cuts and bruises.

His sponsors and supporters take care of most of his equipment expenses, although Knoll says he has "spent his share of money" on bike parts over the years.

Knoll understands he is older than most of his fellow riders in this discipline, but he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon and is always thinking about his next performance. "I go on walks or drive around town and see possibilities for my next video," he says.

"As long as my body holds up, I can see myself doing this for a very long time," Knoll says. "Itís never going to lose its appeal because itís always so fun to do it."

This story ran in the May 2015  issue of: