Some people work at their desks, wear suits, sit in meetings. Brad Burch rides dirt bikes for a living.
At 28, he’s in his eighth consecutive year as a stunt dirt bike rider with Showtime FMX at the Royal Melbourne Show.
Riding dirt bikes hasn’t come without a few broken bones and scars. In a horrific accident in 2007, Brad broke both his legs at the same time during practice on the Gold Coast. At the time he was performing a move called a “holy grab” he had done over 100 times.
While he has little recollection of what happened, his practice teammates have told him he became separated from his bike and landed awkwardly.
Brad spent five months in a wheelchair and didn’t ride for over nine months. But with the help from his family and FMX teammates he was able to make a full recovery. “I was just motivated to get back on the bike. Injury just comes with the sport. You have to sort of expect that you’re going to get a little injured. It’s like any elite sport, I guess. You do what you do and put your body on the line.”
Brad doesn’t see himself as an “adrenaline junkie” but just loves the thrill of riding dirt bikes and performing for big crowds. “There’s a risk in everything you do. Sure there’s more risk in what we do but we take steps to safety and have years of experience.”
But despite being flung up in the air, when he’s midair he doesn’t think about death – rather he is making sure he’s “perfecting” all the moves. “When you’re mid-air upside down you don’t have time to think about death, you’ve got to focus on perfecting your moves. But when a crash happens all you can do is brace yourself.”
And what does his mum have to say about his day job? “Mum loves that I’m good at what I do and that I’m able to travel and live my dreams. Obviously she doesn’t like to see her son get hurt but it’s bound to happen, which is tough for her. But she has gotten used to it.”
Brad comes across as your average “Aussie bloke” who just can’t get enough of riding. While he seems timid and reserved, his passion for riding is evident whenever the topic arises. His blonde hair, blue eyes and clean look make him easy on the eyes and a perfect pin up for his sponsors. His lack of piercings and visible tattoos separate him from his FMX teammates. He could very easily be mistaken for a man who wears a suit to work – if you couldn’t smell the dirt kicked up onto his clothes.
Now in its 15th year, the Showtime FMX show is one of the Melbourne Show’s popular events. The team of four professional stunt riders’ performance includes a race, complete with jumps, hay bale and barrel obstacles. Then comes a jaw-dropping stunt jumping performance, where the four get to show the awed crowd some death defying mid-air stunts. On fine days, the arena is full, many punters are made to stand and watch as the world class riders go about their business.
Brad grew up on a dairy farm in Strathmerton, near Cobram, Victoria, and was exposed to quad bikes and dirt bikes at young age. At 10, he started competitive dirt bike racing, but says he “wasn’t the fastest by a long shot”. Judges noticed his aptitude for dirt bike control and encouraged him to go into jump riding. “I did give the typical sports a go – footy, cricket, tennis – but riding was the one that really stuck, much to mum’s disapproval at first.”
Brad considers the Melbourne Show his home turf. As a child he went with his family but doesn’t recall seeing any stunt riding. “I think the stunt riding adds a bit of diversity to the show. That atmosphere of the Melbourne crowd is awesome, which is why I keep coming back. Every day there is a huge crowd. It’s such a diverse crowd too. There are the young and old. After the show it’s always great to meet and get photos with kids. Especially when they say you were the highlight of their day at the show.”
Over his career Brad’s passport has racked up plenty of stamps. He has toured the UK, Europe, China, Asia, North America, South Africa, New Zealand and parts of Australia with the Nitro Circus performance stunt team. “It does get hard sometimes always travelling and not getting to spend much time with our families back home. But we’re living the dream and get to do what we love and travel. We live and breathe it. Even on our days off we just enjoy going riding together.”
“Tommy G”, who MCs and manages the Showtime FMX riders, says Melburnians are very lucky to have the opportunity to see world-class riders performers live. “There’s no doubt that Brad and the other guys are remarkably talented. I see them as world-class athletes. Both Brad and (teammate) Robbie Maddison have just returned from an overseas Nitro Circus tour, which is the pinnacle of freestyle riding in the world. The capacity crowd we see pretty much every day just goes to show they are a real attraction at the Melbourne Show.” Tommy describes their professionalism and athleticism that goes into the sport as “second to none”.
“It’s really easy to think that there isn’t a lot of work that goes into riding but these guys have years of experience. They train hard, are remarkably fit and have plenty of battle wounds.”
Brad says he hopes to make 10 consecutive years at the Melbourne Show. He hopes to keeping riding for as long as his body can take it. “I encourage any kid out there to chase their dreams. I never thought of dirt bike riding as a career but here I am.”