Like many his interest in the two-wheeled life began at an early age as he grew up in the Carson Valley.
“I saw motorcycles everywhere, on TV and everyone was getting motorcycles,” he said. Right here, behind my house, and before these houses were built, we built a bunch of BMX jumps.”
When the family went past Michael’s in Carson City, he and his brother would beg their father to stop so they could hang around the motorcycles.
“I was definitely locked in before I could even ride motorcycles and was all about them,” he said. “When I got my first motorcycle I was 11 years old and it was June of ‘91. I knew that was what I wanted to do but if I pulled it off or not, that’s another story.”
Buyten grew up in a blended family with a supportive stepmother and many times the entire family would go for rides together.
He also competed in football, which he still loves, and wrestling.
For three years he lived with his biological mother and stepfather in Spokane, Washington.
“They weren’t into getting me a motorcycle but in the meantime I did wrestling and played flag football,” he said.
Buyten rode motorcycles during the summers when he stayed with his father.
“Played one year of Pop Warner and we kicked everyone’s butt around here then went to the West Coast Championships down in Sunnyvale and just had our butts handed to us,” he said. “My sixth grade year I did one year of baseball.”
Eventually he decided team sports weren’t for him.
“I tried everything out and I decided that I liked wrestling and motocross,” he said. “For me I didn’t want to have to rely on other people like winning for me. I’m so competitive, always felt I needed to do every part.”
He stopped wrestling as a sophomore at Douglas High School and focused on motocross. He desire to race came from a member of a racing family he looked up to.
“So I was like, ‘Dad I want to race.’ Finally, in ‘92 he let me race, got me and my brothers some CRA 80’s from Big Valley Honda, we started racing and I was definitely hooked,” he said.
And like many, his first race was an eye opening experience.
“You know I don’t know if I had any expectations. I don’t even remember as that was a long time ago. I know it was intense and I was scared on the starting line, cause I didn’t even know what to do,” he said. “I ended up like getting 10th place out of 21 guys in he 80 Beginner class, so that was pretty cool.”
Over the next years he would race against and grow up with Mike Mason, Dustin Miller, Brian Foster, Nathan Tiearney and the late Freddy Weichers, all well-known local racers.
After their motos were over they would go watch and root for local pros Justin Tiearney, Shane Esposito and Kenny Lash. Those heroes also autographed things and gave out items like goggles, which had a big impact on younger riders like Buyten.
“We watched all those guys as they inspired us. Then we’d just go bang bars, thrashing around and banking off each other,” he said. “Those guys kind of like carried me along and we all had fun racing and growing up together.”
After he turned pro, and since he didn’t compete in Supercross or the Outdoor Motocross series, Buyten only considered himself to be a local pro.
After high school he worked as a union carpenter but his life made a major turn in 1999 when he jumped at his first Monster Truck Show at Klamath Falls, Ore. in 1999.
“It was Dustin Miller, Ryan Hansen and me,” he said. “I got a check really easy for $500 on my dirt bike so like I was, ‘I’m into this.’ It was so weird to me that they had us do autographs afterwards and that’s when I realized I kind of had some fans.”
Now he always takes times for his fans if they want something or a poster autographed.
Unlike motocross, in freestyle riders do various tricks as they jump over a distance. For handholds, they cut away part of the side panels on their bikes to either hang on to or grab while the bike is airborne.
While the pros make it look easy, Buyten explained it’s anything but easy.” And it takes a lot of intense practice.
“When you first start doing tricks it’s just an unreal feeling. It’s already scary enough to jump the jump but when you start letting go of body parts off the bike it changes. Then you’ve got to learn a bunch more stuff,” he said.
And some tricks just have to be preformed and can’t be rehearsed.
As a safety precaution a foam pit is used and while it might sound soft, it isn’t. And it has its own hazards due to the potential of a shock from static the bike creates as well as having a 200+ pound bike land on top of a rider.
“It’s really gnarly, a serious thing,” Buyten said. “Everyone thinks it’s just falling but it creates a big static charge and there are a bunch of foam pits that have burned down. So if you’re stuck under that bike and there’s gas pouring down on you that shock from the thing it’ll get you for sure.”
As a precaution he explained there needs to be five fire extinguishers handy as well as some friends that will jump in after the rider and pull them out as well as a crane to retrieve the bike.
Miller has a foam pit that was built with this in mind with good dirt, tires and plastic lining under the bottom. While a rider might get a shock it’s milder than it could be.
Still, a couple hundred pounds of bike landing on a rider is no joke.
“Sitting there upside down you can barely breath and you’re all twisted and stuck in the foam and you can feel gas dripping on you, it’s not that cool,” he said. “Everybody thinks it’s just a foam pit but I pretty much relate it to being in a car accident, like it’s like an instant stop especially when you start flipping 75 feet. One jump will be perfectly smooth and you go, ‘oh that doesn’t hurt,’ then you relax on the next one and it just gets you.”
Eventually the day comes when the rider has to go to dirt.
“One day you’ve just got to man up,” he said. “You dream about this stuff, it’s like you want to do it so bad, you’ve got the heart and want to do it but you just picture going to dirt because that’s eventually where it has to end up or it’s pointless to even do all that process.”
Buyten explained those first few jumps, especially with back flips were pretty scary as, “you can’t see nothing.”
Now he’ll do tricks including back flips, whips as well as the Superman, where a rider lets to with both hands and kind of flies above and slightly behind his bike for a few seconds.
And there is a lot to consider especially if the jump covers 75 feet between the take off and landing ramp, not to mention flying about 25 to 30 feet above the ground.
Doing a trick while the bike is upright is one thing but a back flip is a very different thing.
First time I ever did a back flip I was scared as all hell,” he said. “It’s a process learning it. Once you get comfortable flipping the mini bike only one thing to do, grab the big bike. It’s just more upscale, everything is way heavier, and don’t panic and try to believe you can do it.”
Completing those flips has its own reward.
Then he paused and said, “I’ll tell you what, when you land that thing, it’s really nice. Flipping on dirt is pretty gnarly and when you start flipping ramp to ramp or landing on pavement, that’s another level. Then you start doing all the tricks so it’s pretty hairball to get to where we are.”
Buyten is best known as four-time Gold medalist in the Step Up at the Summer X-Games. He also has three other victories in X-Games held in Mexico, Brazil and San Diego, for the Navy.
“The Step Up contest is definitely interesting on a motorcycle and my best way to explain it is like pole vaulting in the Olympics on a dirt bike,” he said. “You hit a 10 to 12 foot tall quarter pipe lip made out of dirt, we start 30 feet back and pretty much put the bars on your hip and lean forward so you don’t stay looped out and, just like poll vaulting, you’ve got to get up and over the bar and then ride it out.”
The “riding it out,” is a vertical drop and the landing can be quite hard and Buyten feels it’s not really safe.
“The bike will stop and put you over the bars so that impact is pretty rugged,” he said.
Despite its obvious hazards, Freestyle Motocross has been good to him.
My favorite part is that I get to work at my own pace, be my self and own boss. It’s provided everything, a good living, taken me all over the world and I’ve had an amazing career so I’m very thankful for that.
He’s traveled in Central and South America, all over Europe and in early December returned from a trip to Italy.
“Without dirt bikes I wouldn’t have gone around to all these amazing places. It’s cool to experience all the different cultures, their food and how everybody feels about everyday life,” he said.
“The fans just go nuts out of the country, so it’s a lot of fun to go over there,” he said. “I’ve got friends all over the world, in South America and Europe.”
Looking ahead, he’s not sure how long he’ll stay in the game but noted that several freestyle riders are still going strong in their 40’s.
“I never thought I’d make it this far so it’s definitely a bonus to be as far as I am. So I just try and enjoy everything as much as possible, just keep doing what I do and try to pay attention,” he said. “I’m kind of angled around 38 and I’ll see how the old skeleton is holding up then.”
He has been hurt and said most of his concussions came from BMX and the rest mainly from motocross.
He’s also indebted to those that have and are now supporting him.
“First of all just got to thank my parents, my brothers, sisters and friends that have pushed me to help me push myself,” he said.
On his sponsor list are Arma Energy Snacks, O’Neil, Blur goggles and sunglasses, DVS shoes, Dunlop, Maxima and Guts Racing out of Placerville, Calif. that makes the graphics for his bike.
“It’s really cool to been from almost the beginning of Freestyle Motocross to where it’s become now. I’ve seen a lot from when the first 45 foot flip came around and all that. It’s pretty cool to see where it’s going and right now it’s out of control for sure,” he said.
At the end of this month, Buyten, along with Mike Mason, and Dustin Miller hit the road with the Nuclear Cowboyz tour.
OTHER RACING NEWS
•At Saturday’s NNKC awards banquet Austin DeMent was awarded the club’s highest honor, Karter of the Year. At the recent Super Nationals he was the highest placed American in TAG Jr. where he ended up 5th.