Fifth gear pinned off a giant cliff on a YZ250? Meet moto BASE jumper Bradley O'Neal.
Photos by Clair Marie | @thebasegirl | www.basegirl.com
If you’re anything like me, then your morning routine may involve a little bit of Instagram scrolling as you awake from the fog of a nice night’s sleep. This weekend, a scroll through the feed brought my attention to a huge moto BASE jump launch in Caineville, Utah (see below) that had me thinking, “HOLY SH*T! I need to interview this dude and learn more.” A quick IG message later and we got on a great phone call, conversing about what possesses you to launch something like this along with what goes into the background of becoming a moto BASE jumper. Meet Bradley O’Neal, the dude who really just wants to jump his dirt bike higher than anyone else ever has…
First off, most people that watch this are probably thinking, "This guy is nuts! What makes him do something like this?!" Break down how something like this comes to be -Like what's the pathway that leads up to moto BASE jumping? Well, the whole idea with moto BASE jumping for me comes from riding since I was young and then getting into sky diving and BASE jumping. It just kind of evolved from an idea into something that I really though I could do, but the biggest thing is that it came from the love of free riding and jumping. There's obviously a limit to how big you can go riding, and there's a limit to how low you can go BASE jumping, but bringing the two together has turned into all of these new options and things that I can do. I've really just been dreaming about doing free ride lines that end with a gnarly moto BASE jump. The whole point for me is to just see how high I can go on a dirt bike. Distance jumping has been going on since Evel Knievel, and it's been done over and over with the record being broken hundreds of times. I feel like the surface has barely been scratched on how high we can jump dirt bikes, and I'm just trying to see where I can take it.
So you got into BASE jumping randomly?I actually randomly went skydiving with a bunch of friends for a friend's birthday when we were younger, like right when we were legal to jump. We all went for a tandem skydive, and I had already had the idea of moto BASE jumping but didn't really think of it as a possibility. When I went skydiving it was super fun, I really enjoyed it, and spent a lot of time doing that and it became a hobby and then it became a job.
Don't you have to jump a bunch of times before you can even go solo?To skydive solo, you have to jump a couple of times and then you go into a program where they teach you how to skydive by yourself. Most people require 100-200 skydive jumps before they will teach you how to BASE jump.
The only other person I can think of off the top of my head that moto BASE jumped was Travis Pastrana, am I correct?
Yeah, Pastrana has done it into the Grand Canyon. A couple of people have done it -this dude Antti Pendikainen from Finland did a super sketchy one over some trees and a river that a lot of people have seen. Him and I started doing stuff around the same time but I think his was sort of a one off stunt that he did and kind of dipped out on it.
Post-jump carnage. | PHOTO: Clair Marie
Your bike seems very likely to become a sacrificial lamb during the jumps, how has that been to navigate. I've been working on it for the past decade trying to make it a sustainable thing. Mostly at first I was just making sure I was going to stay alive and I was just destroying these shitty Craigslist bikes until I figured out I was good. Now the process is switched to saving the bike too so I can actually build a sick bike that is capable of doing what I need.
This latest jump, the bike parachute went off kind of right as it hit the ground. Was it jacked?It was actually totally good! I just blew the rear wheel out. Everybody thinks it's totally smoked and gone, but the parachute totally got a little bit of canopy that slowed it down and angled it to land on it's wheels, which was my goal. It the bike can land somewhat soft and on it's wheels than it will be pretty good because these bikes are beasts, you know? So it took the hit and shattered the rear wheel, and actually bent the rear axle. But I got all of that fixed; I've been camping out in front of Rocky Mountain ATC-MC in...[asks buddy in the car] 'Where are we at?' I don't know, its somewhere in Utah. I've been camped here the last couple of days just buying parts and getting it put back together. I just finished it 20 minutes ago.
Do they know what you are up to? Like, "Who's this random dude fixing a blown out wheel in our parking lot?"[Laughs] They kind of caught on after I dropped the video, and this morning when I went in everybody realized what was going on. I've been there since Saturday just buying different stuff and going over the bike to make sure it's all good. Luckily a bunch of people that help me out stepped up and got all the parts covered for me so I could get back on the road.
So you currently live in your van, right?Yeah, I'm from Las Cruces, New Mexico and grew up there and Colorado, but I've been traveling and living in my van for the past three years doing this.
Did you grow up racing or were you just a free ride guy?I raced a good amount in all the local Colorado stuff, and then I did the amateur national stuff on 80's and 125's as an intermediate. I did ok, and would qualify, but I was never really super good or had a big budget. I was also not very competitive and didn't care that much about racing, I've always loved free riding and just riding. That's what I grew up doing and still what I love.
This jump, it looks like you're fifth gear tapped. Is that a safe assumption?Yeah I was wringing the neck on that thing, dude! Fifth gear, as fast as I could go, just twisting the grip off. [Laughs]
Gnarly. What exactly is the bike?It's a total Frankenstein YZ250 that I think is like four different year models put together and right now it's actually a YZ300 because I put an Athena 290cc kit on there. I have it geared for higher top speed without losing a bunch of power up the tranny of the jump. Yeah, it's a good bike it rips for sure!
I saw Tom Parsons commented on your post that the run up was just as gnarly as the actually BASE jump.
Yeah for sure -that one jump before the hit was way gnarly. We actually spent a whole day just shoveling and removing rocks from it. At first I could only hit that thing going like 55mph and I was launching like 120 feet. It was way too poppy and I couldn't carry the speed I needed. I got it mellowed out to where I could hit it at around 73mph and it was still hairy, but it worked.
Bradley’s Frankenstein YZ250 | PHOTO: Clair Marie
So how fast were you going when you hit the actual jump? My bike was topping out at around 78mph with the gearing I have on it and I was just right about that. I think I probably hit the lip at around 75mph.
And you're in a wheelie!Dude, the whole thing wheelied when I hit the transition of the hill because we laid carpet out and it had so much grip. It was popping a wheelie but the power was just perfect, and I had it in a perfect little manual and ended up having to compress to go for distance and height on just the rear wheel. So it was like a unicycle preload, it was so weird feeling but it was dialed! [Laughs]
What does the feeling compare to? Anything?It's totally it's own deal. The craziest part at first for me is being a dirt bike rider first and foremost my entire life, it is so wrong to leave your dirt bike. Especially a jump that big, that's just death. You NEVER leave your dirt bike if you can help it. That was a hard part to get used to and then it doesn't feel like any type of BASE jump either. There’s no BASE jump where you’re ever going up and then opening the parachute. We always jump off something, fall, build our air speed, and then deploy our parachute. Here I'm using the speed of the dirt bike and the angle of the jump I'm hitting so it's a totally different type of configuration for this. It's a lot of specially modified equipment that I've come up with different ideas about and then I have sponsors like Squirrel, which is a wingsuit company, that have helped me make things like this possible. The only feeling I can compare it to is being on a rollercoaster when you get that initial drop. So you get the initial hit at the bottom where you get all the g forces, then you get that unloading at the top and have a zero g feeling, then you get another fall again. It's like a double gut drop. It’s hectic.
And the payoff of landing on the ground afterward in one piece must be the craziest adrenaline rush.Yeah, it's so awesome. This was only the second time that I've tested the parachute on the bike because I've been working on that for a long time and barely got it done. I did one out in Colorado about two months ago off of Rampage-style downhill line. That one I was actually way more scared that day because it was the first time I had ever tied myself into my bike and had to actually jump, deploy my parachute, my parachute rips me off the bike, and that extracts the parachute for the bike. The landing area there was super gnarly too. I was horrified about that last jump, and this one I felt a little better about. I had done the last jump on a really ratty bike with a really terrible parachute, and my equipment this jump was so much better. So it wasn't quite as scary, but still gnarly.
BASE jumping is generally illegal right? I feel like it's a tight little culture.Yeah, it's kind of like a skate culture on steroids. But in Utah they have the most legal BASE jumping areas in the US. The thing is that it's usually not illegal to BASE jump, but the trespassing on the property that is a big ass building you're breaking into and getting on the roof and jumping off of. I've got charges before and was on probation in California before, all kinds of stuff. It's a nightmare when you do get caught.
This is kind of a different direction. Is this jump illegal?That's the thing; I don't think this is so far.
I feel like if anyone saw you out there they would be like, "Whoa buddy! What are you trying to do?!"There were a bunch of random dudes out there just cruising for the weekend. And it took massive amounts of shovel work along with laying the carpet out. They were just kind of standing around, like 8-10 people, and they had no idea what I was doing when I hit it. They just thought I had a backpack on and I was going to try and boost this hill! [Laughs]
And you're wise words are "Do not try this at home."
Yeah, that's the biggest thing I want people to know. Like, yeah I'm crazy or a lunatic or whatever, but this is what I spend my time on and my days are spent making this stuff work and analyzing it and making it possible. I do the homework, and I'm not just sending it and out there hoping I don't die. There is a plan, and there's so much work that goes into it. My biggest fear is someone trying to do what I did without understanding it. People are going to see that line, and it's a super famous feature in Caineville. I spent a week moving dirt, shoveling, moving sand bags and more to make this possible, and it was still BARELY possible. If you're a BASE jumper and you have a 450 and want to try it -it's not going to happen, homie. Don't. It's not going to work out...
“If you're a BASE jumper and you have a 450 and want to try it -it's not going to happen, homie. Don't. It's not going to work out...” | Photo: Clair Marie
Have you ever done stunt work? I just barely started getting jobs, and got my first real job this year for a Netflix show. That's actually how I got this dirt bike. Six months ago I didn't have a dirt bike and had broke my leg last year riding at the Metal Mulisha compound. I had to sell everything because I couldn't work and didn't have money. So I got a job with Netflix working as a stunt guy and helping out with parachutes and they bought me the dirt bike for the show and that's how I got to keep it. I would love to do moto BASE jumps for movies. Like the Point Break movie -they did a moto base jump in that out of the building and it was fake. I could have done that for less than the CGI cost them. I'm definitely down to do stunt work but my main goal with it is to explore how high we can go wit the dirt bikes, and I love that the scene is kind of going that way with the quarter pipe contests and Nitro Circus' new ramps that are different. My ultimate goal is a huge ramp that I can do live shows and I'd love to just see how high you can jump a dirt bike and land it.
You working on anything people can look out for?My main stuff is just free riding and BASE jumping and I want to keep combining the two to create new content. Free riding is my main thing with moto, then the moto BASE jumping is what I spend the most time and energy on. I would love to get the point where I'm making edits, and getting to explore different moto BASE jumping locations and features. I would love to be able to get into X Games Real Moto because I feel like I could make that pretty entertaining!
Who do you want to thank that helps you out?I just signed with Chomps a few months ago, and they are the coolest company. They came out of nowhere to help me out. They got hooked up with Colby Raha, and he's a really good friend of mine and we used to live together. He actually helped get me that deal so I owe a lot of that to him. Shift stepped up this year and just sent me a ton of gear and that helps out a lot. Austin Prida from Thrill Seekers is one of my biggest supporters; he's done so much for me. Squirrel is the parachute company that helps me out too, and their main thing is making wingsuits but they make the best stuff for really low BASE jumping or slider of BASE jumping, and that's kind of what I specialize in.
To the people who say you're crazy...what's your answer?
I definitely get it, yeah I am. I feel that everybody say that and I know it's true to an extent. But also, it's like a controlled chaos. I'm really serious about it, and put all of my time and effort into it. So yea, it is nuts, but I'm not just out there redneck sending it. Its kind of redneck sending it, but with some thought behind it!