Dancing with a machine

Champion motorcyclist Tommi Ahvala pivots, twists and bunny hops with his bike.
CANFIELD -- Imagine riding a motorcycle down a long, steep ramp on only the front wheel. The rear wheel, perched high in the air is almost over your head; you are facing the ground.
Then, the bike makes a sudden turn, rear wheel landing on the ground just seconds before you climb another ramp, glide over the top and down the other side, swinging the rear end of the bike around to switch directions.
You "bunny hop" over a volunteer who's stretched out on the pavement and then trace his body with the tires of the bike. Heat from the engine warms his skin as the bike comes within an inch of the volunteer's scalp.
Now, imagine doing all that without ever putting a foot on the ground.
For Tommi Ahvala, it's all in a day's work.
Champion: Ahvala is the 1999 national motorcycle trials champion. He's also won the 1992 World Championship and the 1993 World Indoor Championship. Motorcycle trials is an exteme sport that requires balance and precision in throttle and brake control.
In trials competitions, riders lose points if their feet move from the foot rests on the sides of their bikes, said Daryl Baier, president of RPM Promotions, the Lincoln, Neb.-based company that signed Ahvala to promote the sport through performances at various events across the country, including the Canfield Fair. "Trials is literally gymnastics on two wheels," he said.
Ahvala awes audiences with turns, pivots and daring stunts where the motorcycle almost dances on platforms high in the air.
At the first fair performance, Jeff Provance of Austintown eagerly volunteered to have the champion motorcyclist jump over him.
"I did it for the excitement," Provance said. "I knew he could do it -- he's the champion -- and I wanted to see how close he could get." Provance admitted he got a little nervous when he felt the heat off Ahvala's motorcycle.
Background: Ahvala, 29, started riding when he was 6 and was competing in trials by the time he was 10. "My older brother rode motorcycles -- and my father -- when he was young," he said. "It's the safest and cheapest way to get into motorsports."
Trials are very popular throughout Europe, including Ahvala's native Finland, where he is a national hero. The Finnish government even issued a postage stamp featuring him.
In the United States, motorcycle trials are just beginning to catch on, Ahvala said. U.S. sales of specially designed Gas Motorcycles have doubled every year since they were introduced 1998, the year Ahvala came to the states to promote the sport.
Although he no longer competes, Ahvala performs 250 days a year and plans to continue "as long as I enjoy it."
"I'll do it for at least a couple more years." Then, he said, he plans to pursue other opportunities in the business.
The champion motorcyclist competed in at least 12 countries and speaks seven languages which, he said, helps him when he's traveling.
Motorcycle trials will be featured a the 2004 Olympics. Shows at the Canfield Fair are at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. every day.

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