Chesca Miles has no limitsShe trains in secret, but the world’s only model-turned-stunt rider is making a big noise in streetbike freestyle, outshining both men and women thanks to innate talent and putting in the hard yards
Even at a remote, disused Essex car park, Chesca Miles attracts admirers. Three teenage boys have abandoned their game of street cricket. A passing biker in full leathers sits on the sidelines. They’re watching Miles expertly manoeuvre a motorbike into positions it was never designed to get into. Blue smoke and the screech of tyres fill the air as she adds fresh black arcs to the grey rubber lines she’s built up on the tarmac over months of practice sessions. She slows, then with a quick rev of the engine, pulls the front wheel up until the bike is vertical, perfectly balanced on a small patch of its back wheel, 200kg of metal tamed.
The top of her head is just above the front of the 600cc bike as she stands with one foot on the back of the seat conventionally reserved for pillion passengers. She then returns the front wheel to the ground, the force pushing her forward into her seat, and without a pause she’s off again, burning up to the top of the car park. “Most people like what I do,” says the 24-year-old, in a Home Counties accent. “I’ve also had loads of guys say, ‘You should be in the kitchen, love, not on a bike.’ But they’re just the ones that are jealous that I’m better at riding than them.”
It’s almost four years since Miles fell in love with the male-dominated world of streetbike freestyle, a type of stunt riding that’s part sport, part art form and similar to BMX flatland, but instead of a bicycle, the tricks are executed on a heavy motorbike. Though the scene is growing, it’s still niche in the UK, not least because suitable practice space is at a premium. What started as bikers trying to outdo one another on the streets has matured into a recognised sport, but without space to practise legally, it remains underground. It’s also highly technical, requiring perfect precision in balancing the throttle and brakes to control a bike that will brutally punish the slightest error.
“Stunt riding defies all the laws of motorbiking, but I love that,” says Miles. “It’s my rebellious side coming out. The adrenalin rush you get with every new trick is amazing.”
Since Miles discovered a rare piece of deserted ground three years ago, she’s been here at least four days a week, sometimes for eight hours at a time, learning to manoeuvre her specially modified 2012 Honda CBR600FAB in new ways. “At first it was really intimidating,” she says. “I was the only girl with all these stunt riders, and I was on a little pit bike. When I moved up to the 600cc size I ride now, it was even more terrifying. I tried a wheelie and froze, the engine still running. Eventually I made myself do it.”
Miles’s resilience has made her one of the few female pro riders in the UK, and one of only a handful worldwide. “Most girls don’t want that risk,” she says. “I wish there were more. Of course I have bad days, but generally I’m prepared for breaks and bruises. Guys telling me I’m not good enough just makes me work harder.”
Her CV is the stereotype of girly. She trained as a beautician, then took up modelling, appearing in magazine shoots and ad campaigns. She’s a keen singer and music producer, and has a small studio at the home she shares with her grandparents in Surrey. She’s also a dancer who practises ballet, jazz and hip-hop. Yet she spends most of her time on her bike, locked into a more brutal choreography.“My mum would rather I stuck to something more feminine,” she says.
“Modelling gets my adrenalin going because you’re on a shiny floor in impossibly high heels. But I wish the days away: I know where my love lies.”
From a distance it would be easy to dismiss Miles as a gimmick, a pretty girl playing at being a biker. Doubters would be silenced after seeing her in action. Miles may be a diminutive size eight, but as she sits on the moving bike in a ‘high chair’ position, her legs over the handlebars, her toned muscles jump to attention as she casually tightens the Velcro strap on a shinpad. She switches position and begins drifting, the practice of purposefully losing grip while keeping control, turning the bike in tight circles. “It’s full throttle and balance, nothing else,” she says. “Drifting takes a lot of practice, but it’s my favourite.”
In less than three years, Miles has become one of the best drifters in the world, and the only female. “There are so few riders doing street stunting, it’s hard for people to understand how difficult it is,” says British ex-pro biker Steve Keys, who has seen Miles progress. “The control Chesca manages to keep is amazing. People go on about MotoGP riders drifting, but it’s far easier to do at high speed. At slower speeds, the bike’s trying to throw you off. When we were at Silverstone for the MotoGP, riders were asking her how she does what she does. I think Chesca’s dancing helps with the balance and flexibility that it requires, and gives her her own style. Streetbike freestyle is like a dance on two wheels.”
Miles has demonstrated her skills at events like the British Superbikes final, appeared in a music video for band Spiritualized and won parts in films Rush and Fast & Furious 6 (although a broken ankle after a fall during practice meant she had to pull out of the latter). Success has brought fans; over 800,000 on Facebook. “I have to keep my practice location under wraps,” she says. “It would get overcrowded with riders. I’ve also had fans turning up for autographs. Some have tracked down this place from a glimpse of road in one picture. It’s mad.”
Miles’s success is the result of a love affair with bikes that started years before she could legally ride one. Aged six, she sat glued to the television, shunning cartoons in favour of MotoGP races. She picked out future world champion Valentino Rossi as a favourite, wore a Rossi T-shirt and filled sketchbooks with drawings of him in action. “My family knew I was a tomboy,” she says. “I was into BMXs, skating, drum kits, go-karts, but mostly bikes.”
Miles’s father, Richard, having been begged for a Bugatti rather than a Barbie, wasn’t surprised by her decision to become a stunt rider. “Chesca’s never let the status quo stop her,” he says. “She’d beat the boys at go-karting, then they’d be shocked when she took off her helmet and let her hair down. She’s always chosen what she wants, then gone and got it. She’s never asked for help.”
Judging by her diary, Miles has lost none of her determination. There’s no clubbing or shopping. Daily practice and two-hour gym sessions every other evening, performances and dance lessons fill her free time. But that didn’t stop Miles accepting a new biking challenge. After meeting Steve Keys in a MotoGP pit lane in 2013, Miles became the third member of an unlikely trio, comprised of Keys and fellow bike lover Danny John-Jules, of Red Dwarf fame, to take on the gruelling task of riding to and climbing five mountains in five European countries in five days. “I knew Chesca would be tough enough for it” says Keys. “After 1,400 miles of riding with her, I realised she was something special.”
Keys has taken Miles to various tracks to test out her potential. At Kinsham, a West Midlands circuit used by former Supersport world champion Chaz Davies and former MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner, she had a chance to measure herself against the greats. “We knew those guys recorded laps of around 45 seconds,” says Keys. “In one afternoon Chesca got down below 50 seconds. I didn’t think she’d get anywhere near that and I’ve been in racing a long time. I’d say she’s a better rider than me. There’s no reason she couldn’t be racing in the Moto3 World Championship by 2017.”
It’s a prospect Miles relishes. “Originally I wanted to race,” she says. “It’s different to stunting, which is very precise and quite slow. On track, I jumped on a bike and just went for it. I’d love to compete in MotoGP. After breaking into stunt riding, racing against guys doesn’t faze me. I think one will help the other.”
As the Essex light fades, Miles cuts the engine and takes off her helmet. Her hair is damp with sweat after hours of riding. She has to drive 60 miles back home tonight, work out, then tomorrow is the first of two consecutive days of track testing. “I just want to train hard,” she says. “Having long-term goals for riding feels like putting a finish line on it. I don’t feel there’s a limit to where I can go with this.”