The Routine: Zach Shaw, 29, BMX rider

I do at least one trick every two seconds - like a 540-degree spin with no hands on the handlebars
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The Independent Online

Zach Shaw, 29, is one of the top 10 BMX riders in the world. He started jumping things on his bike at the tender age of eight and in 1993 became the first person ever to do the 360 flip, now known as the 'Zakflip'. Now an 'old school' rider, Zach continues to get top results. He came fifth in the 2001 X Games and earlier this year he won first place in street and second place in the half-pipe at the Dubai Desert Extreme contest.

What are the strengths of a professional BMX rider?
The disciplines of BMX riding are very diverse. There's flatland, dirt riding, street riding, and half-pipe. To compete in all these disciplines, you need all-round physical strength because you use every muscle in your body. I've seen marathon runners get on a BMX bike and try and ride up and down a few times on a half-pipe and be totally out of shape.

So what keeps you in shape?
There is no official UK organisation for BMX riders, or an official UK ranking system. We all have to look after ourselves. But you have to train. I will go to an indoor skate park on most days and skate, ride and practise on the half-pipe.

Do you follow any diet?
No I don't, because I'm riding full-time. It is so intensive that I am 100 per cent fit and my body just burns it all off.

How do you develop the skills needed to perform the tricks of a BMX rider?
You learn from your peers, really. You watch the older riders. That's always been the greatest thing about this sport. You point the younger riders in the right direction, give them tips and hints.

How long do you get to demonstrate your skill when in competition?
We usually have a 45-second run and then a 15-second buffer, the 15 seconds being the time we have to finish our routine. Despite it being so short, it is extremely intense. You're absolutely exhausted after 45 seconds. A lot of the contests we do are in the States and you have to compete in 100F-plus heat, so it's quite a strain.

How many tricks can you perform in one run?
Well, it's as many as you dare to fit in. You hit each side of the ramp of the half-pipe every two seconds and each time, you do between two and four tricks. It's best to do one or two, however, because they are so complex. For example, a "no-handed 540" is a 540-degree spin with hands off the handlebars. The tricks are getting much more complicated.

You must have had some terrible injuries.
Yes, I've had some horrific falls. I've had four knee operations and have had my right knee reconstructed. When you're jumping on the half-pipe, you come down from great heights and if you're about to lose control, you try and jump off and land on your feet like a cat. This causes a lot of strain on your knee joints.

Is experience important in order to avoid doing serious damage to yourself?
Your career can end in one contest if you're not experienced enough. It's a long, long process to learn the skill.

You feature in a recently launched computer game (see details below). It must be strange to see yourself on the screen.
The game is about as close to BMX as you can get without getting on a bike. I was shocked when I saw my character, because it looks so much like me. All the riders helped develop the game to make sure the handling was as realistic as possible. When you're injured, you can play the game and keep new ideas for tricks flowing.

Interview by Manfreda Cavazza. Zach will perform at the Board-X Festival in Battersea, London, 9-11 November, 0870 902 0444, www.board-x.com. 'Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2', PlayStation 2, £39.99

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