Monday, May 21, 2018
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Nuclear Cowboyz combine X Games athleticism with theatrical pizzazz

Nuclear Cowboyz. It sounds like a B movie, one that should have "versus" in the title.

The reality isn't too far off.

For the uninitiated — those who would never use a "z" in place of an "s" — Nuclear Cowboyz is a show that combines the sport of freestyle motocross with the plot of, well, a B movie.

In the case of Nuclear Cowboyz 2012, whose North American tour roars into the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Friday and Saturday, it's a battle set in Los Angeles, circa 2150, where two motorized tribes, the Soldiers of Havoc and the Metal Mulisha, battle The Tempest, an evil force, and her Cyborg Army. The combat is waged through motorcycle stunts from some of country's top riders and combined with music, special effects and even dancers. (Those would be the Nuclear Cowgirlz.)

"What we really hope to accomplish is to make it appealing to everyone," producer Juliette Feld says. Her goal: Wow the X Games crowd, sure, but attract new fans. Entertaining all ages is something that the company founded by her family, Feld Entertainment — of Ringling Bros. Circus fame — knows how to do.

"For the attendance this year, we've seen huge pickups in families coming to the show," Feld says.

Feld Entertainment got into motorsports in 2008, when it bought the popular Monster Jam series as well as some freestyle motocross (FMX) competitions. The FMX properties gave the company the idea for what would morph into Cowboyz.

"We're bringing the best stunts and the best riders in the world together in this theatrical environment," Feld says.

One of those riders is Mike Mason, 30, a three-time X Games medalist, who says that just because Cowboyz isn't a competition, doesn't make it any less risky for the riders. Riders often perform jumps a foot or two from one another, all in a show filled with pyrotechnics and other potential distractions.

"With Cowboyz, there's more danger with so many people in one spot at one time," Mason says.

"We're a lot more choreographed. The tricks are a lot more planned out. We're not going to go for one trick that we've never tried in the middle of a 12-rider train and end up jeopardizing everyone."

Mason says that risk is part of what draws fans to the 3-year-old show, which has been given a complete reboot for 2012. Yet Mason is quick to point out that risky doesn't mean reckless. The riders and other performers rehearse for weeks before the tour begins and constantly refine the show during its 14 weeks on the road.

"We make sure everything is doable before we put it into the show plan," Mason says.

Another thing that makes Cowboyz unique is the inclusion of two "quads," or four-wheel ATVs, which you don't see in X Games competition. ("A little added bonus on top of the dirt bikes," Mason says.) The quad riders perform some of the same stunts as the dirt bikes and have a big role in the show.

One of those riders is Colten Moore, a young Texan who is a double threat in the freestyle world. Moore, 22, won a gold medal in last month's Winter X Games in freestyle snowmobile, or "sled" in FMX parlance. (Moore has an older brother who also competes in both disciplines.)

"The flip (especially) is a little more difficult on the quad because it's bigger and heavier," says Moore of the difference between performing stunts on a four-wheeler when compared to a dirt bike.

And when Moore returned to the Cowboyz tour from Winter X, he had to re-adapt to the show instead of snow.

"I'm on the sled for about a month straight and then I get back on the quad — it's a little weird. Usually, a few days of riding and I can get back . . . to normal again."

It's that kind of skill that impresses Feld.

"I've been in rehearsals, and I've seen this show for years," the producer says, "and I'm truly awestruck every time I watch it."

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