8 Motorcycles, 1 Globe of Steel

Danger always surrounds motorcycles. Especially when sixteen feet of steel in the shape of a globe also surrounds the motorcycle. Make that eight motorcycles—going at speeds of up to 65 mph.

But for the Torres family, stars of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show, DRAGONS, zipping around the Globe of Steel is an everyday routine. Though they’ve been performing the act for 15 years, this is the first time they’ve attempted eight motorcycles. The death-defying feat is a world record for the five Torres brothers and three cousins (seven men, one woman).

The Torres Family in the Globe of Steel

The Torres Family ride 8 motorcycles in the Globe of Steel. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

In order to pull off the stunt and live to tell about it, the Torres’ use a system of whistle blowing and engine revs to cue each rider for his or her set pattern inside the globe. Aside from the obvious threat of collision, there’s also the risk of a bike chain snapping, a cable’s clutch breaking, and a bike choking.

The thrill and their passion for the sport, of course, outweigh the risks.

“We feel a rush of adrenaline mixed with the aroma of gasoline,” says Jose Angel. “And to be honest with you, there is no better feeling than just that.”

The few broken bones and bruises they’ve endured along the way, he says, “All come with the job.”

The Torres family hails from Paraguay, where they competed in motorcross events before discovering the sphere of steel that would become their livelihood. That epiphany came when the circus visited town and presented “El Globo de la Muerte”—the Globe of Death.

“We were already fascinated by the name,” Jose Angel recalls. “There were two bikes and they were awesome. The adrenaline, the speed, the maneuvers. We felt that we were part of the show already.”

They met the performing duo after the show, who invited them to give the globe a shot.

Entering the Globe of Steel

The Torres Family prepares to conquer the Globe of Steel. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

“We thought it was easy, but we realized it was not,” Jose Angel says. “It took us several months to just take off because the reaction of the bike is way different inside the globe. We had to learn how to shift, how to use the clutch, how to use the back and front brakes.”

Within a year they perfected the act and were invited to perform in various Latin circuses. Now, having taken the art to a new level with eight riders, they’re ready to push it even further.

“We will try nine and we would actually love to try it now!” Jose Angel says.

What’s one more motorcycle? And who’s the lucky member of the Torres family who gets to ride it?

© Marc Hartzman

The Hair Hanging Wonders

An early 20th-century Barnum & Bailey circus poster depicts an extraordinary act featuring three Chinese performers drinking tea with their legs crossed—as they hang in the air from their hair. In the background, several other acrobats can be seen swinging from their tresses as well. Today, the daring act lives on in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, which is celebrating the Chinese Year of the Dragon with its show, DRAGONS. Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves form the remarkable Hair Hanging Wonders duo. With their hair tied to metal rings and a swivel, Medeiros hangs from Neves, who is suspended upside-down high above the arena floor. As she hangs, Medeiros calmly juggles and spins dizzyingly like a twirling figure skater.

Hair Hanging Wonders

Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves, the Hair Hanging Wonders. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

Their act also involves a long silk attached to Neves’ mane, from which Medeiros twists her way down toward the ground. She considers it their most difficult routine. “I need to be really careful not to give an extra push,” she explains. “Holding by my hair is one thing. Holding someone else is using totally different muscles, and you’re upside down. You can prevent movement in your own body, but not in your partner’s body. You always have to be ready. Always.” If dangling from your hair sounds excruciating, that’s because, well, it is. “It’s really painful, it’s not for everybody,” Medeiros admits. “Some days are good, some days are bad,” she says. “You just smile to the public. I love it. I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s something different and I like to be different. Nothing is easy in any job. But if you love it, you can be happy.” Hair happens to be an extremely strong substance. The tensile strength of a single strand can support about .25 lbs. A healthy head of hair having 100,000 strands could then support more than 20,000 lbs. Of course, the act takes much more than hair strength. The feat requires great muscle strength in the neck and back as well. And these muscles have to be exercised regularly. Medeiros trains about every three days to maintain her abilities. “Once you stop, you start over,” she says. “I need to continue constantly. If I stop for one month, I have a hard time.” According to Medeiros, whose genes have fortunately given her strong, thick hair to begin with, her locks have also gained strength from hanging. “Once you start to hang by the hair, it builds muscles. It gets stronger and stronger.” In addition, she’s diligent about hair care. No blow-drying. No chemicals in her shampoos. And she keeps a particular diet. “I drink a lot of vitamins that are good for hair. I eat a lot of eggs and avocado,” she says. “I used to hate avocado, but it’s good for strong hair so now I love it.” Medeiros began training as a gymnast at the age of 5 and started studying circus skills in 2001. She eventually partnered with her husband, Andrey, in a high wire motorcycle stunt—which they received as a wedding gift in 2004 and still perform today. It was about five years ago when Medeiros decided to turn her head of hair into a new act. “I started with my best friend, we wanted something different, no one is doing it,” she says. Andrey helps make the act possible. He’s the only one who ties the hair around the metal rings and swivels that allow the duo to safely hang. “It’s not 100%, but I trust my husband, he’s the only one who can tie my hair, I don’t even trust myself,” she says. “He ties Widny as well. Accidents can happen, but I trust him. He knows how to do it.“ © Marc Hartzman

The Very Serious History of Silly Putty

For more than 50 years Silly Putty has been stretched, squeezed and squished by silly and not-so-silly people of all ages. More than 3,000 tons of the popular putty has been produced — enough to fill 200 million colorful plastic eggs. But before it was copying Sunday comics and bouncing off walls, the military was hoping it would help thwart Japanese plans to invade countries that produced rubber for tires, gas masks, boots and other military necessities. The government sought a synthetic substance that could perform the same functions and be produced in secure locations.

In 1943, a chemist named James Wright working for General Electric stumbled upon the unique putty by accident. He combined boric acid and silicone oil in a test tube and created a new rubbery substance. As he began to play with it, he discovered it bounced higher than rubber, stretched to great distances, snapped with sharp tugs, and could pick up ink from any printed matter. Unfortunately, none of those qualities made much sense for a tire.

Without a practical purpose, the putty, known as “nutty putty,” was passed around among friends. In 1949, it eventually found its way into the hands of a toy storeowner who decided to package the goo and sell it for $2 in her catalog. It proved a popular item, but she chose not to include it in subsequent catalogs. Her marketing consultant, Peter Hodgson, however, saw the putty’s potential and purchased the rights from GE in order to sell the stuff himself. Borrowing enough cash to fund the putty’s production, Hodgson packaged it in small plastic eggs and named it Silly Putty (nothing else offered a proper description). He distributed the eggs to Neiman-Marcus and Doubleday bookstores, but got his big break when a reporter for the New Yorker wrote a blurb about the bouncy blob and set off an avalanche of orders.

The rest is history, which includes Silly Putty’s ride aboard the 1968 Apollo 8 mission where it kept astronauts occupied and prevented tools from floating about in the cabin. As it turned out, Silly Putty had a practical purpose after all.

© Marc Hartzman

 

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