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KID AT HEART

Thomas champions trike drifting in CV; builds ‘big wheel’

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KID AT HEART

Jason Fisher maneuvers his drift trike through the skate park at the Lathrop Generations Center.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED July 25, 2014 12:35 a.m.

Anthony Thomas doesn’t shy away from the label, or begrudge those that gawk and needle him with questions down at the skate park. 

At 30 years of age, he’s a big kid – with a kid-sized bike to prove it.

Actually, it’s a modified trike, a three-wheeled machine that chews up winding down hills, shreds skate parks and may one day turn extreme sports on its head. 

The sport is called trike drifting and its gaining popularity worldwide thanks to the proliferation of YouTube videos and daredevils like Travis Pastrana, who performed a backflip on a trike during a Nitro Circus show.

“It allows adults to be kids again,” Thomas said. 

Trike drifting isn’t for the novice or faint of heart. It requires a love of speed, technical skill and free-flowing artistry, and a high threshold for pain. 

At first glance, it appears as if grown men and women have hijacked their children’s tricycles and sought out their neighborhood’s tallest hill. 

Oh, but it’s so much more than that. Professional trikes are made of steel exhaust tubing and feature specialty welds, custom designs and high-speed bearings, and can cost hundreds of dollars. 

By comparison, Thomas’ trike is a Frankenstein model, built on a budget with pieces borrowed from elsewhere. He calls it “BUFF,” an acronym that pays homage to his time spent in the United States Air Force. The 2002 Manteca High graduate worked on B-52s, which many in his unit affectionately dubbed “BUFFs” for “big, ugly, fat...”

“You understand what the last ‘F’ stands for,” he said with a chuckle.

Thomas first learned of the trike drifting while surfing the Internet about a year ago. He saw a Facebook post from a bike shop he used to frequent while stationed in South Dakota. The shop posted pictures of trike drifters with the shout-out “Look what’s in town,” piquing Thomas’ curiosity.

“I said ‘Hey, I can build one of those,” the soon-to-be father of four said. 

Well, not exactly.

While Thomas had constructed the plans, he needed his cousin, Jason Fisher, to bring them to life. The two pieced together Thomas’ first trike in Fisher’s garage over the span of three days.

“I figured it was just like when we were kids and we had Big Wheels,” said Fisher, a fabricator by trade. “He came to me with a picture and a video and said he wanted to do it. I told him no problem; I got the tools and the know-how.”

The build cost $50 and took the front end (big wheel and pedals) and rear axle from a child’s Green Machine tricycle, the main frame from a Mongoose BMX bike, a salvaged motocross seat and dolly wheels covered with PVC. The pipes allow the back-end to slide, or drift. 

Thomas and Fisher are lifelong gearheads and currently building a second model. Version 2.0 will be longer and wider to allow for more stability. It will also feature a bigger front wheel and pedal stroke for more flat-land speed. 

“We grew up around go-karts and motorcycles. Things with wheels – It’s in our blood,” Thomas said.

The initial test run was performed in the space behind the Target in Manteca. But to see how “BUFF” would handle serious downhill momentum – there are no hills in the Manteca/Lathrop/Ripon area – Thomas and Fisher hauled the trike up to Valley Springs.

There, Thomas was given his first lesson in the dangers of trike drifting. His foot became lodged under a back tire after turning too sharply and he instantly wrecked. 

“About broke my ankle doing it, too,” he said. “That didn’t deter me. I’ve fallen down plenty of times. I got up and got back on it. ... Road rash was a big thing for about a week.”

Since then, it’s been relatively smooth sailing. Thomas and Fisher have formed Central Valley Trike Drifters, which has 125 likes on Facebook and about 10 full-fledged members, and they’ve linked up with another local drifter.

Hunter Wheeler is a recent Sierra High graduate. Thomas says Wheeler has tackled hills in the Santa Cruz Mountains and near Jackson. 

“It’s not mainstream yet,” said Thomas, who rides once or twice a week and prefers skate parks, particularly Lathrop’s new Generations Center. “The bigger names know about it. It’s small but growing.”

Thomas says trike drifting is legal because it is considered a bike. “As long as you obey simple bicycle rules – stay in your lane – it’s legal,” he said. “There are people out there that go out and ride in busy streets and it makes you look bad. It’s like any other sport – there are those bad seeds.”

Thomas considers himself a good-will ambassador for a sport he’s sure will find a foothold amongst the X Games community. He answers every question and does his best to accommodate requests to test ride his trike. When he pulls up on his trike, the stares come from all directions...

“Especially from my wife,” he said. “She knows I’m a big kid at heart.”

 

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