Some people become successful partly out of hard work and a dose of sheer luck. But long term success also demands a bit of calculation. Meet Aaron Colton .
Famous for being one of those young guys who seem to have no fear and brass cajones, Aaron made a name for himself at an early age for doing stunts on motorcycles others couldn’t or wouldn’t. But wheelies, stoppies and burn outs weren’t the end game; they were just the beginning. And that beginning traces back to when his parents put him on two-wheels and an engine when most kids are called toddlers and walking still looks like a work in progress.
“My parents bought me a Yamaha PW50 when I was two years old. It was actually a crazy set up. My dad (Sean Colton) put a restrictor on the throttle and threw some training wheels on the back. It could go slow enough to where my parents could go on walks with me while I rode it. But it also fouled a lot of plugs that way.”
A PW50 similar to what Aaron would have ridden when he was 2 years old.
Aaron said he rode that little Yamaha until he was about five years old and by six or seven he “kind of drifted away from riding.”
So, at an age when kids might just be starting to learn how to ride, Aaron felt what might be described as a little burned out, if not downright disinterested. Luckily, that didn’t last long.
“I eventually started getting interested in it again as I got older. I was reading supercross magazines and going to related events. So, I started asking for a bike. My parents agreed that if I kept on the honor roll for two years, I could get one.”
Two years go by, Aaron turned 12, and a brand new KX85 is his.
A KX85 similar to what Aaron rode following the PW50.
“I finally had friends who rode, so we’d go trail riding in Minnesota where I grew up. Sometimes I’d ride through town to get to my Aunt’s property. I started to really love riding.”
As fate would have it, Sean Colton had raced earlier in his life and he’d also been flipping motorcycles – fixing them up and selling them for a profit. Some of the guys who’d come by to see those bikes were stunt riders. This was before stunt riding had become a thing. But their parking lot shenanigans captured Aaron’s attention and imagination.
“I’d buy the DVDs of stunt riders and just get blown away by what they were doing. I got interested in this and started watching more freestyle motocross. But there was something about the street side that was more appealing. One of my dad’s friends had a KLX125 at the time, so besides street riding with my dad, this friend of his would be pulling wheelies in the parking lot.”
That did it. Aaron said he started begging for a Honda 50. He liked his Kawi, but “it was loud and annoying.” The little Honda seemed like a better starter bike for a burgeoning stunt rider.
Aaron struck another deal with his parents -- if he could earn the money, he could buy the Honda. So he did.
“I’d get on the 50 and ride for 4 or 5 hours a day. There were times that police would show up and I’d have to walk the bike home. But it got to the point, that for the given amount of time I spent on it, I got really, really good at riding that thing. The big picture wasn’t a thought at the time. I just knew I found something that I really liked to do.”
Aaron was 12, and as he got better on the little 50, he moved up to a TTR125 fitted with street tires.
Meanwhile, his dad had bought himself a bigger bike – a Honda F4I. Aaron couldn’t help himself. He kept asking his dad if he could try pulling some wheelies on that bigger bike. Sean relented and within 45 minutes of parking lot time, Aaron said he was scraping the back fender.
For those unfamiliar with this bike, it was essentially a crotch rocket capable of reaching a claimed speed of about 150 mph. Definitely not the kind of bike Aaron had been spending so much time riding up until that point. But the fact he could get on that bike and do what he did in a relatively short period of time, validated his belief that you have to start small in stunt riding and work up. He also had an epiphany about where he needed to put his time.
“I came away realizing I needed to get hold of a 600. By summer of 2006, I was riding my dad’s bike a lot. By July, I was entering regional stunt competitions. I ended up going to Phoenix and placed 7th out of 60 riders. At the time, I didn’t realize this meant I could go to nationals the following year. I went and won. I was 15.”
Aaron said this really drove home for him that stunt riding was something he needed to spend time and effort on. Shortly after that, Red Bull came ca lling.
Aaron Colton in full wheelie mode for Red Bull.
“They’d been supporting European riders because they didn’t see the stunt culture in the US fitting their brand. It just happened. It was my first year of campaigning for the national championship and they thought I was someone they could back and support. As soon as I turned 16, I was signed as a Red Bull athlete.”
With Red Bull in his corner, Aaron’s stunt riding career took off. He competed in other stunt riding and freestyle competitions and was placing first or second consistently. He established himself as one of the leading stunt and freestyle riders in the country.
I asked him to break down the sport for me. I was also curious about his training regimen at the height of his most competitive years.
“Freestyle riding has four categories – wheelies, stoppies, burnouts and drifting, and acrobatics. It’s a huge risk versus reward to be good in all four, but it’s a beautiful thing when you are.”
Excelling at that beautiful thing didn’t come easy.
“For many years, it (training) was pretty rigorous. Riding 4-6 days a week, 3-4 hours a day. I did this for 4 to 5 years. Now that I’m not competing, I can ride and practice for the things I like the best. I’m one of the few riders who rides a lot of different types of bikes. But I think that makes me a more well-rounded rider.”
What Aaron’s referring to is the fact that he got good at competing in different types of motorcycle sports, like road racing and flat track, in the same way he got good at stunt riding - focus and hard work.
“I put 110 percent into road racing, but it got to the point where I was spending more than I was earning. I could get a $4000 payout to win an XDL event, plus a couple thousand more and come away with $7000. But I’d end up spending all that on a weekend of road racing. I don’t base a lot of my riding decisions on money, but I still had to make a living. So, I stepped away from road racing and took up flat track. I just loved the way racing determines a winner.”
Today, Aaron’s life is a compilation of lots of different activity devoted to his focus on two-wheels. He wrenches his own bikes, the primary one of which is a modified Triumph 675. He has a show that he does for Red Bull. It’s an 18-minute choreographed routine showing the evolution of the wheelie, followed by a longer format performance with an MC, followed by meet and greets. Sometimes these are standalone events or they are performed during intermissions of other shows like the Red Bull air races.
He’s also being asked to do more test rides of new bikes for magazines and manufacturers, and a few of the latter are hiring him to provide input for bikes they might produce in the future. Add content creation to the mix, and you have a guy who is never short of work, which means the hardest part of his job he admitted is task management.
Aaron performing at a recent event near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Aaron with a customized Victory Octane.
“It’s not like there’s a promoter or series organizer that’s telling me what my schedule should be. It’s up to me to figure out what other projects I want or need to be involved in.”
I asked him he has a bike he likes to get on and just ride when he has the time. His first choice was surprising.
“I love riding my Grom. But pretty much everything in my arsenal. Every bike has a purpose. Even my practice bike.”
There is one thing that could significantly impact Aaron’s career, and possibly even create a diversion. Aaron recently became a father to a baby girl, but he said he’s already calculated how this might impact his career.
“That was something that came to mind before my daughter was born. My career is where it needs to be for me now. I’ve been very calculated with what I’ve been doing so far and I don’t see that changing.”
Plus, he said he’s already planning on how to get her on a bike like his parents did when he turned two.
With the popularity of motorsports in the X-games and various freestyle and stunt riding shows and competitions, comes young people who want to try it and either think it can’t be that difficult…or aren’t sure how to get started. Aaron has this advice.
“There’s no shame in wanting to start on a small platform motorcycle. The amount of time and money you spend and save by starting on smaller bikes will pay off.”
After I finished talking with Aaron, I realized that I was still missing some other nugget that might best sum up his overall philosophy and work ethic. I found this from an interview he did for a blog on a KTM site. It couldn’t be more apt.
“People might look at my career and think that everything has gone so well from the time I was thirteen or fourteen, but it hasn’t. There were times when there wasn’t enough money to get somewhere or stay somewhere. There have been ups-and-downs, but I have pushed through it to make it happen. It is not easy in any motorsport to make a living. People might see you at the pinnacle and think you are making a lot of money, and if you are then it is because you have put the amount of work into it to arrive there.”
Hard work and being at least a little bit calculating. Like pulling off a great stunt, it’s a metaphor for success of any kind, especially in the case of Aaron Colton.
From Aaron Colton's Facebook page.