If you’ve been to Sturgis, Daytona Bike Week or Fan Fest in downtown Colorado Springs during the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the past few years, you’ve probably seen Tony Carbajal. He’s the guy drifting 800-pound baggers like it’s nothing in Victory Motorcycles’ stunt exhibitions.
Carbajal has been living the hooligan’s dream for more than 10 years, turning a penchant to lift the front wheel to a fully-fledged career. Nowadays, in addition to touring the country with Victory, Carbajal provides his services to various film and television projects, generates product content for his sponsors and, most recently, produces vlogging videos for his growing YouTube channel.
And though he’s now a master on the asphalt, it all got started off road. At nine-years-old Carbajal began his life on two wheels with a dirt bike, which he kicked-around on until his mid-teens.
“Then I rode my buddy’s street bike and was hooked. It was my goal as a teenager to buy my own street bike, so once I was able to buy one, when I was about 17 I think it was, it just naturally started coming to me. I wanted to do wheelies and learn stunts after seeing what other guys were doing.”
His first street bike first was a 2001 Honda CBR600 F4i and from there it was a matter of dedication and lots of practice.
“Someone can give you pointers, but you have to learn on your own,” Carbajal explains when asked about the early training process. “No one can control the bike for you. It’s a process of trial and error. We had a good group of guys that would go out and try to figure how to do things and feed off each other’s energy. Every day was a learning process for us. And then once we progressed to the point we wanted, or where other people were at, we would try to exceed what others were doing and come up with new tricks, trying to be a more innovative part of the sport.”
The focus paid off because two years after getting that CBR, Carbajal was pulling an income from stunting. Having the skills eventually left him with a choice which would affect the course of his life going forward.
“I won my first amateur competition in, I think it was, 2005. And people were upset because they didn’t think I should have been allowed to compete as an amateur. So that immediately put me in a professional bracket with other riders. I started performing more, doing live shows and demonstrations and people just started recognizing me more as a professional rider.
“I had to make the decision – was I going to keep my 9-to-5 job, or pursue motorcycles?”
Choosing to ditch the 9-to-5, Carbajal started chasing any opportunity to stunt – any series, any demonstration. Injuries are a recurring theme in this line of work though, and he quickly learned some valuable lessons as far as professional longevity is concerned.
“There’s always little things. I’ve broken wrists, collarbones, those types of things but I learned a lot early on and I learned that wearing gear is definitely a big part of this. When I had my worst accident I didn’t have a gear sponsor and ended up with tons of road rash. Even small wrecks were cutting me up pretty bad, so I started being smarter and wearing the gear. Eventually I got connected with ICON and have been with ICON for 10 years or more now.
“Something simple as a jacket when going down on slow speed stuff means you can get right back up to continue with no pain, no cuts, no rash. I’ve been thrown off the bike in a highside drifting, going 20 to 30 miles an hour, and it’s not okay with no gear.
“In addition to the gear, the maintenance of the bike is a huge factor too. It’s like I explain to people; it’s packing your own parachute. If somebody else is maintaining your bike, then you’re going to naturally want to point the finger at someone else. But if something malfunctions and goes while riding, you only have yourself to blame.”
Keeping the bike in tip-top shape is an ongoing process. Tires are constantly being replaced, as you might expect, and Carbajal relies on Avon for his sportbikes and V-Twins. Crash protection is another must.
“Because mistakes are going to be made and bikes are going to be on the side so instead of replacing bodywork every time we can pick the thing right up and keep going.”
He will also update sprockets in many cases, to get the gearing dialed for optimal performance in small spaces.
With Victory though, he gets to cycle through a number of different bikes during a performance, so parts consumption (apart from tires, anyway) is less than when he was managing a smaller personal selection of sportbikes.
Carbajal is entering his third year with the American V-Twin brand and though it’s a change from his strictly sportbike days, it’s not as dramatically different as you might expect.
“It’s kind of hard to explain, it’s a whole different realm of riding between the two bikes, especially with the stunt stuff. You go from a sportbike that weights maybe 470 pounds with all the mods and then getting on a Cross Country or Magnum, an 800-pound motorcycle, just trying to maneuver and throw that thing around.
“But I always tell everybody that a motorcycle is a machine and it only does what you tell it to do, it’s very manageable as long as you are in control. The weight is definitely a factor but it’s only a factor if the bike’s getting out of control. A lot of the stuff transfers over and I feel like managing the bike, whether its small or big, is still just technique.
“Some people ask me ‘how do you have such good balance?’ and I say ‘I don’t think I have such good balance, I ride better than I walk on my own two feet.’ When you’re on the bike the bike only does what you ask it to. A lot of that stuff comes from throttle delivery and braking and counter steering and such things but it doesn’t feel like a lot of balance applies.”
While the stunting mechanics might not be all that dissimilar, there’s one notable difference between sportbike and V-Twin demonstrations, and it’s the folks that come out to catch the show. The crowds that come to see him and his teammate during Victory shows are a change for the better, in Carbajal’s estimation. Oftentimes during sportbike shows, spectators will be reserved in their response, not providing the same energy as those watching a Magnum pitched sideways or an Octane with its front wheel lofted to the sky.
“They love it,” explains Carbajal of the V-Twin crowds. “We have those bikes supercharged so it adds a little element of surprise for people and makes for a really cool sounding bike. They pump out a lot of horsepower and are a real blast to ride.
“The V-Twin guys know we’re riding a bike that weighs almost 1000 pounds and we’re throwing it sideways like it’s nothing, scraping the fenders. They ride the same thing and they know how hard they are to ride at times. They seem to put their fists in the air and really appreciate the show and give us good feedback. I’ve had a lot of fun with the V-Twin stuff.”
The relationship with Victory has also allowed Carbajal to get his bearings on electric motorcycles by way of the Empulse. It proved to be a somewhat humbling experience at first, since the throttle and power delivery are so different compared to petrol-powered machines. But it’s got its strengths as well.
“It’s a great bike to roll stoppies on. It’s got huge Brembo brakes and a lot of weight to it. But the weight is well balanced because all the batteries are right in the center of the thing and when it’s up on the front wheel it just coasts. It’s fun for burnouts also, but it’s a little tricky because it’s just like a light switch, on or off, and it’s tough to modulate the throttle when the traction is broken loose.
“It wheelies as well. We’ve been able to wheelie the thing pretty far back and slow it down a bunch. But it put me in check when I first got it because I can wheelie pretty much anything that’s capable of wheelie-ing and I took that thing out and launched that thing up and I got close to the balance point and it just about put me on my ass. I was just like wow, I can’t believe this is happening, I thought I was going to loop out. The power is really fast. It’s been a long time since I had that feeling, about to loop a wheelie.”
Carbajal currently has eight bikes in his garage, an even four-four spread between middleweight sportbikes and Victory models. His favorite to take out, in terms of a daily rider though, is his Magnum.
“My Victory Magnum is consistently the bike I pull out most to ride on the streets. That thing is just comfortable, you can throw stuff in the bags and its fast. I don’t really own any liter bikes as far as the sportbikes go, but the Victory Magnum I have is 1731cc with a supercharger on it and that thing gets around faster than some of my sportbikes. It’s not missing any of those elements as far as speed goes, it’ll go from 60 mph to 110 mph like that, real fast. It has the speed, it’s just a big bike. It’s not the best bike for commuting and trying to lane split because it’s a little scary at times but it’s a fun bike to ride.”
As for stunting, when pressed with the question of only having one bike to use from now on, he again turns to Victory. Not only for the prowess of the machine, but again, for the quality of crowds that come out for a V-Twin demonstration.
“To be totally honest with you, I’d say I’d take my Victory Octane because it’s a bike that’s pretty much capable of what all of my bikes are capable of. I’ve been performing forever, over a decade now, and the V-Twin industry is great. I didn’t picture myself being here, in the V-Twin side at this point in time, or ever for that matter, but once I was actually able to ride the bikes, I’ve learned to enjoy what they’re capable of.”
But Carbajal’s portfolio gets broader by the day, and his latest endeavor, vlogging for his YouTube channel, is starting to gain traction as well. It’s a way for Carbajal to provide a more personalized experience for his fans, giving them a glimpse into what it’s like to be a professional stunt rider.
“The moto vlogging thing is popular and I don’t know of any other stunt riders that are performing shows, working in movies, film and television that are talking about it in that sense, so I decided I’d give it a try. It seems to be taking off. I started last year barely paying attention to my YouTube channel and went from 1600 subscribers to almost 20,000.”
Tony Carbajal is a man with plenty to do, and he’s loving every minute of it. It just goes to show that you never know where following a passion will take you.
If you haven’t seen Carbajal in action, check out the video below as he and teammate Joe Vertical drift a few supercharged Victory bikes round the track. Be sure to stop by Carbajal’s YouTube channel as well to keep up with his latest moto adventures.