Tokoroa's little known motocross star

Flash is out of control. She's ducking between table legs, and customers' limbs. She's turning heads of people just trying to enjoy their morning coffees.

She's yapping, she's barking. She's creating a scene, as her owner, Kiwi FMX pioneer Nick Franklin, tries to gather her up.

Halfway through an answer to a question about how he got started in freestyle motocross in his hometown of Tokoroa, he's trying to control his rare Griffon Bruxellois dog in a crowded Newmarket cafe.

It's a strange scene, watching Franklin scramble around trying to grab his exotic, well-bred mutt - and Franklin sees the humour of it all.

"She's got a mind of her own," he says as he sits back down, Flash squarely on his lap.

Sporting a Pete Doherty-style haircut, and darkish rings under the eyes of his defined, angular face, Franklin looks more like a indie rocker than an often-broken, bruised world-class FMX rider.

The boutique dog seems to confirm that trippy rocker image, too. Yet Franklin has spent his life lining up jumps on Kiwi farms, and in demos around the world. Jumps he'd sometimes make - and look good doing it.

Jumps he'd sometimes bugger up, breaking bones and setting back his progress in a sport with few second chances.

Flash looks up at her master and reaches up to lick Franklin's chin. He pulls away, before nestling his head back towards his dog, rubbing her ears with his free hand.

Much like the sport, or rather sporting lifestyle, that he pursues, Franklin's life has been filled with as many gravity-defying moments as it has major bailouts into concrete- hard dirt.

And while he doesn't get the newspaper column inches now that Feilding's Levi Sherwood does for the Red Bull X-Fighters circuit, Franklin was actually New Zealand's first rider to take part in the series.

The 31-year-old Tokoroa lad competed in the Valencia and Madrid rounds of X-Fighters back in 2002 and 2003, nailing a third placing in Madrid.

Of course, back then the X-Fighters event was in its infancy without the sponsorship or media attention it receives now. Never mind: Franklin's actions were that of a pioneer for Kiwi FMX riders - lighting a path that the likes of Sherwood would later travel down.

And it's not like Franklin is sitting on his arse these days either. Consider his recent summer.

After arriving back in New Zealand after his yearly six-month sojourn to Belgium, where he bases himself for the European demo circuit with the FMX4EVER team, Franklin has barely stood still.

First he was involved in the ever- touring, ever-popular Nitro Circus when it stopped at all the big stadiums around New Zealand in January, which 80,000 people took in live.

Then he was off to Kuwait in March, where he rode in an X-Fighters Jam, before heading back to New Zealand to win the FMX Farm Jam, in Otapiri Gorge, Southland. A week later he was off to Russia, to compete in another jam demo, and by the time this piece is published in the paper, he would have done another in Chile.

"In the New Zealand winter, when it starts to get cold here, I run off to the European summer and tour around there," Franklin said.

"I come back here around December. I sit around, relax a bit, do a few comps around New Zealand, and get back into it in Europe.

"It's a full on lifestyle for sure, but the passion is there, so why not?"

Why not, indeed. His name is such on the world stage that he won't really have worry about bills the way most Kiwis have to.

A typical provincial lad, Franklin is incredibly grateful for the life, and lifestyle, his sport has provided him.

Growing up on his parents' Tokoroa farm, Franklin initially cruised around on horses, dreaming for the day he could get a dirt bike.

"Finally when I was 10, I got a dirt bike. I started riding it and raced through until when I was 19," he said.

"I had a little bit of success, was third in New Zealand in my class or something, but then got a bit burnt out."

Franklin got a job quality testing in the lab of the Kinleith Mill down in Tokoroa, but the scream of two wheels was proving too much. Freestyle was calling.

He gave New Zealand X-Air a crack in 2001, finished sixth, came back the next year and won it - and that was it.

The fire was forever lit.

"I always figured if I earned something similar to my old job at Kinleith, I'd be happy," he said.

"Every dollar I earned went into it. New Zealand didn't have a huge freestyle scene. We rode a Big Boys Toys and had a bit of stuff going on, but I'd have to fly overseas for comps and demos. I spent all my money on that, the travel.

"I'd borrow bikes from mates there. It all worked out good. Once I went to Europe, that's when the doors opened."

He'd get picked up by Red Bull as one of their first pro athletes in New Zealand in 2003 - and has barely stopped to look back on things since.

One of Franklin's focuses when he's back round the traps in New Zealand is getting back down to his parents' farm in Tokoroa - where, along with Taupo BMX star Jed Mildon - the first person to ever do a triple back flip on a BMX bike, he works on new jumps and new moves he can use in Europe.

His jumps are typical Kiwi DIY, formed from three shipping containers sourced from the Bay of Plenty beaches after the Rena ran ashore.

The roll-in is framed by a towering macrocarpa tree, a corrugated iron woolshed and a set of well-used sheepyards. Kiwi as - and Franklin loves giving it a thrash with Mildon, a bloke he has immense respect for, because of his drive.

"We're just doing it for ourselves to start with - but we want to be able to have other people there, and to train other people," Franklin said.

"We want to push our sport in New Zealand, you know. If it's the sport you love, well I've done well out of it and want to continue to do well, I want to make it flourish."

ASK Franklin to look back on his journey as a FMX rider, and you'll get a considered look. A hand brought to the chin, a glance into the difference.

It's a male model pose, with a tiny toy dog panting in his lap. But then you hear his response: one of immense gratitude. Franklin's a Kiwi boy through and through - just glad to be able to get out on to his bike and give it a hoon.

"Mate, I loved dirt bikes since I rode my mate's one when I was seven or something," he said. "I always dreamed of being a world champion motocross rider.

"I was good, but I wasn't Ben Townley. I wasn't Josh Coppins. I could keep on putting more and more into it, but I was never going to be a world champion.

"Your dreams are a little bit shut down, but I've learnt as long as you stick with something, doors will open.

"I found there was a whole new world out there. A whole new way of riding a dirt bike. Man, I was looked at it as a two-year thing. I thought, 'If I can do this for two years, and go back to Tok, it would be awesome'.

"Every year, it just goes another year. Man, now I ride in 25 countries a year. It's pretty much that. I don't know how many countries I've been to now - it's got to be over 60 countries. Maybe more.

"I'm so grateful, you know. I'm a pretty regular dude, from Tokoroa."

Sunday Star Times