Tom Conlon (writer),
Bo Bridges (photographer)
In the early ’90s, a group of motocross racers gave a middle finger to the bloated, corporate-run sport. Tired of being told what to do and how to act by the suits behind the scenes, this small pack of riders split off to invent an entirely new sport called freestyle motocross (FMX) . Guys like Mike “The Godfather of FMX” Metzger, Carey Hart, Travis Pastrana, Larry Linkogle, and Brian Deegan began bulldozing their racetracks and replacing them with jump parks where they borrowed the tricks they saw in BMX and adapted them to dirt bikes. Freestyle whittled motocross racing down to the bone. It took all of the boring crap that happened between jumps and left it in the dirt. One team of tattooed misfits called the Metal Mulisha didn’t just push the limits of what was possible on two wheels–they beat the shit out of it. The result was flashier, more over-the-top, and infinitely more dangerous than motocross racing, and it wouldn’t be long before it eclipsed racing’s popularity completely. Whether the Metal Mulisha could survive that transformation was another story.
Brian Deegan, founding member of Metal Mulisha: I grew up in Omaha, racing dirt bikes since the age of 10. I raced through the amateur circuits and won championships. I ended up going out to California when I graduated high school. I told my dad, "Give me a year to give it a shot. If not, I'll go to college." I ended up getting a deal with a race team and won the Los Angeles Supercross. I ghost rode my bike across the finish line and threw up the middle finger. I had a bad attitude, and I couldn't get much help because I was kind of a punk, you know? I walked away from the sport and started the sport of freestyle motocross around 1997 with Mike Metzger, Travis Pastrana, and all of those guys.
Larry Linkogle, founding member of Metal Mulisha: Supercross is controlled by the grips of corporations. The corporate claws. You can't do this, the only way you're going to get into this is if you know this person…you know how the politics are. And the politics of that sport just drove me so bananas that I couldn't take it. I always rebelled against the politics, so I always got the worst equipment, I always got the worst gate pick, always got the worst of everything from the corporations because, here I am, I'm the rebel.
Deegan: There were too many rules. They wanted you to look a certain way, very clean cut. And we were more into colored hair, tattoos, and piercings. We were ahead of our time.
Linkogle: Motocross corporations wanted the golden child—the guy that holds an energy drink in the air and walks around with 10 million embroideries on his collared shirt like NASCAR. Here I am wearing a GG Allin shirt, cutoff Dickies, and mismatched socks.
Deegan: Our deal was that we're just riders. We're going to ride our bikes, and we don't need sponsored gear. Freestyle motocross was all about personality and individualism. I built my own personality on being the bad-boy rebel, the guy who showed up wearing all black with no sponsors, just big plastic spikes coming off my shoulders like GWAR. Went out and did heavy metal and death metal and just set a standard that was we were the rebel gang of dirt bikers.
Linkogle: That's how Metal Mulisha started. My friend Nathan Fletcher, the pro surfer, and I decided to make up a name and start all of this propaganda.
We were both huge Metallica fans, and Nathan came up with the name Metal Militia after the song. I was like, "Hell, yeah, dude. But let's spell it wrong." I don't like the way "militia" looks, so we spelled it like it sounds. That way, it really makes it look like we don't give a fuck. The whole thing with Metal Mulisha was that it was nothing. It meant nothing.
Mike Metzger, freestyle motocross champion and Metal Mulisha contemporary: Larry and Nathan, probably in a drunken stupor, started writing Metal Mulisha all over the place with Sharpie markers.
Linkogle: We'd scribble it on our bikes. We'd make stencils. We'd spraypaint it on everything. People would ask, "What's Metal Mulisha?" And the response was, Metal Mulisha is nothing, but someday it's going to be something.
Deegan: Larry and I started writing Metal Mulisha on our bikes and helmets with marker. We wore all black and just ran with the whole image and attitude, but we backed it up by winning events.
Linkogle: Nathan took off to pursue his surfing career. Brian Deegan and I started hanging out a lot, and we became really close friends. Brian really grasped on to a lot of talented riders and got them to join our crew.
Deegan: I met Ronnie Faisst racing motocross back East. He was all tatted up and just seemed to fit the image. We got along—he was over the racing scene, too.
Ronnie Faisst, early member of the Metal Mulisha: I moved in with Deegan, into this little house. Neither of us was making any type of living, so we had no furniture, just a TV sitting on a milk crate. I guess I was in the Mulisha right off the bat because I was his roommate.
Deegan: We built the first jump park ever on Larry's property, and only Mulisha guys were allowed to ride it. People were tripping.
Linkogle: It was pretty much "Fuck racing." All I want to do is hit the jumps anyway. So we ‘dozed my course and turned it into a gigantic freestyle course. That was the first-ever freestyle course. It was like a giant skate park for dirt bikes. This was unheard of. People were like, What the hell is going on?
Faisst: We built another one on some land we rented at the local motocross track. We fenced it off and put up big signs saying "Metal Mulisha Only — No Trespassers." People got so pissed. It even listed guys by name that weren't allowed to ride. Metzger was on the list. Brian and Larry always did stuff like that just to get under people's skins.
Deegan: We met Twitch at one of the first-ever freestyle events. He was cussing out of the middle of nowhere during a riders' meeting, and I was like, "This guy is sweet."
Faisst: He just stood out right when we saw him— just a tattooed, scrawny kid with the worst mouth. Everyone that got into our group, they were outcasts. People who didn't fit in. It's almost like the more jacked-up you were, the better chance you had of being in our crew. Twitch was perfect because he was just this white-trash bad mouth from San Diego who told everyone to F off. He used to flip everyone off. He was just a punk. Right when we saw him, we were like, This guy is in for sure.
Jeremy "Twitch" Stenberg, member of the Metal Mulisha [speaking to Fuel.tv]: I have Tourette's. I got diagnosed when I was about 5 years old. The government used to think I was retarded.
They used to pay me, like, a couple of grand a month until I turned 18.
Deegan: We nicknamed him "Twitch."