Chopper Girl Columnist Megan Margeson Dishes on Performing with the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps and the Upcoming Performance at the Wild Ones Vintage Motorcycle Rally
By Joy Burgess
More than 80 years ago, motion picture star Victor McLaglen helped sponsor and organize the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps. Today, it’s one of only two motorcycle stunt and drill teams in the United States and the oldest motorcycle stunt team in the world. Get a chance to watch the team perform and you’ll be blown away by handstands, standing seat rides, and huge human pyramids built on top of multiple vintage Harleys. But what often goes unnoticed is the depth of trust and the sense of family that makes this team successful.
Our own Megan Margeson (you’ve likely seen her Chopper Girl column) just happens to be a part of the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps, and she’s currently the only woman performing on a stunt and drill team in the United States. She and her team will be showing off their daredevil tricks this weekend at the Wild Ones Vintage Motorcycle Rally, and we caught up with her for a behind-the-scenes look at how she got involved, what’s going on behind those gravity-defying stunts, and more.
Tell me how you got started with the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps stunt and drill team? Was this something you dreamed about doing? Did your parents take you as a kid? Or did you even know about them before joining?
The summer after I graduated from high school, my mom woke me up early one morning and told me I was trying out for a motorcycle stunt team. I had no idea what she was talking about. She’d met someone from the team while they were out, they got to talking, and she told them I was involved in cheerleading. So, I woke up, went and tried out, and I loved it! Since I was just about to start college, I couldn’t commit to it right then, but when I got out of college and got a job, I gave them a call. And now I’ve been with them for three years.
Why did you decide to go ahead and join?
It started off as a fun thing I could do, combining my love for cheering and biking. But it grew to be more than that – they became my family. You can’t do those stunts without having complete trust in everyone on the team. The team is the oldest motorcycle stunt team in the world, so it’s become important to me to try to help keep this history alive. If we stopped performing, it would probably become a dying form.
Were you into gymnastics or tumbling as a kid?
Just cheerleading. I grew up riding dirt bikes. Then, in the 8th grade I came home and told my parents I was trying out for cheerleading. It was totally out of left field, but I made the team. I loved the stunt work that came with cheerleading, and that sort of carries over into the stunt work I do now with the drill team.
Tell me a little bit about some of the tricks you perform with the team.
We do solo stunts, such as standing seat rides, slow circles with no hands, and even handstands on motorcycles. Some stunts only involve one motorcycle, while others can have as many as four bikes. For our pyramid stunt, I recently became the person to climb to the top of the pyramid. It’s definitely been the most challenging stunt for me mentally, and I had to get over some of my fears.
Is it a bit scary when you’re working on new stunts? How do you overcome that fear, or at least control it?
I think the biggest part is having people on the stunt that I really trust. That communication is so important. If we’re ever uncomfortable with something, we have to say it. We don’t force anyone to do something they’re uncomfortable with.
There have been times when we were trying to create a new stunt and I’ve had to say that I don’t think I’m open to trying that. I’m pretty open, but sometimes I’ve had to say, “That’s over my limit.” Trust is huge, and I truly trust my teammates. At my second practice with the team, I fell from a stunt and my safety Andy caught me. I learned trust at that moment. More than once they’ve had to catch me, and they’ve never let me hit the ground.
How much time to you spend practicing?
A lot! We have practice every Sunday, 10 months out of the year. It really is a commitment!
Do you find that stunt riding has taught you more about motorcycling in general?
Yes! I’ve been practicing more of the motoring stuff recently, which means I’m the person who is driving the motorcycle during the stunt. We go slow and steady, but they are very technical stunts. I’ve especially noticed that my turning has improved because I have to do U-turns with five grown men on my bike. Sure makes it seem easy when there aren’t five men on my bike.
What’s special about the bikes you use?
Most of the bikes are retired police motorcycles. They’re all Vintage Harleys – panheads and shovelheads, although we do have a couple of knuckleheads that aren’t currently being used. We do make modifications. There’s a rack on the back fender for us to stand on. We have pegs on the front wheel. The handlebars have an extra bar across. They all have rocker clutch and jockey shift – probably the biggest and most important modification, I’d say. We have to set the clutch for all the stunts so it’s safe to move around while we’re traveling. With any other type of clutch, it would feel jerky and our stunt wouldn’t stay up very well.
Have any women been involved in this type of stunt riding before?
I’m actually the fourth woman on the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps team, and, I believe, the fourth woman to do this in the United States. Previous women on the team included Maria Hartman, Janice Burgin, and Sue Hutchings. The only other team like this in the U.S. is the Seattle Cossacks, and they’ve never had a woman, which means I’m currently the only woman involved.
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened during a practice or drill? And the most dangerous?
Well, the funny thing is that when we’re at practice, we’re often joking around during a stunt, saying things to each other, or even singing a song. I’m known to break out in song constantly. We are always making each other laugh, and everyone on the team has a great sense of humor.
As far as dangerous, we did the Hollywood Christmas parade two years ago. Huge crowds attended and millions of people were watching on national television. During that performance, the entire pyramid came tumbling down (this was before I was on top of the pyramid) and we have a 78-year-old involved in that stunt, so I was really worried. Thankfully, there were only minor injuries and we were able to continue on with the parade, but we did lose a bike.
Tell me a bit about the Wild Ones Vintage Motorcycle Rally you’ll be performing at this weekend.
It’s taking place at the Harley Davidson museum in Milwaukee, WI. It’s super exciting because it’s been a long time since our team has gone to Milwaukee to do anything with Harley. This event benefits the Make a Wish Foundation, and it’s put on by both the Antique Motorcycle Club of American and the Knucklehead Company. We’re doing three shows on Saturday (July 13, 2019), and we have completely different stunts in all three shows so people can see all three and not see a lot of repetition.
What should the fans be looking for when they’re watching?
Look for the communication that’s constantly happening during the stunt. People think we just go up and then come back down, but the entire time there are commands being given. It’s that constant communication that makes it all work. “Prepare to build it!” means to get in ready position to do the stunt. “Build it!” means for the stunt to go up. Those two commands are only called by the motorman of the stunt. “Break it down!” means to bring the stunt back down; anyone can call this command at any time if they feel the stunt needs to come down before the motorman makes the call.
How are you feeling when you finish a performance?
Every time we finish a show and everyone is in one piece, I feel pretty successful. At the end of each show, we line up our bikes and we do a final salute. Then, the entire team walks out into the audience and shakes everyone’s hand, thanking them for coming. That’s my favorite part of the show because we get to hear all that feedback.
Where else can our readers see the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps perform this year?
We do a lot of free shows for different nonprofits. We’re a nonprofit, so it’s our way of giving back. Our next show is a private show for The Young Marines – it’s more of a workshop actually. We’ll demo stunts, show them how it works, and teach them about teamwork and communication. We’ll also be performing at the Honda Ride for Kids in October in Torrance, CA, and the money raised there goes to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
Stay tuned Saturday, July 13, 2019 as Chopper Girl columnist Megan Margeson goes live on Facebook and Instagram for Thunder Press, giving an exclusive look at the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps performance at the Wild Ones Vintage Motorcycle Rally.
NOTE: Photos used with permission of Madison Margeson and VMMC.