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The Expert

Street Luger

Bob Swartz, 45, World Cup Street Luge Competitor

Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page M03

GOING TO EXTREMES: I was always a big fan of Olympic ice luging but never got an opportunity to try it. Then one day in 1995, I saw a documentary on something called street luging. It had all the elements of ice luging, minus the ice. I thought to myself, "I can do that." So I paused the VCR, got some dimensions and decided to build my own street luge. We like to describe a street luge as an oversize, lay-down skateboard. There are pegs that serve as a foot rest, and your head is slightly elevated so you can see where you are going. I took mine for a spin and was hooked. I entered my first competition that year, in West Virginia, and took second place.

ROAD RULES: On the road, street lugers observe all the rules and regulations that govern cars, with the exception of speed. We generally choose hilly roads that aren't heavily trafficked, where cars go slower than we do. I've clocked myself going over 80 mph. I've also been stopped by the police, but never ticketed. They either don't know what to cite me for or think that the luge is really cool.

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FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET: You brake with your feet, and going 60 mph to zero can be done within 30 feet. So I don't wear out my shoes; I glue old, cut-up motorcycle tires to them, then change the rubber every three to four events -- only people with shoe sponsors get a new pair for each ride. Every rider also wears a full leather body suit and a full-faced motorcycle helmet for safety. Accidents happen all the time, but I've only really hurt myself once. I was in a competition in New Hampshire when another competitor hit some bales of hay and wrecked. My foot caught him as I was coming around the corner, and it snapped my ankle.

GUNNING IT: A novice can expect to pay about $500 for his or her first luge; one for competition costs about $1,400. Various Web sites sell them. Gravity Sports International [www.gravitysportsinternational.com] is probably one of the better ones; they also list information about all the street luging events for the East Coast. Currently, I'm building the first jet-engine-powered street luge. It'll be able to go up to 135 mph. It won't be for racing, though -- just for drumming up more media attention and attracting advertisers. As told to Karen Hart

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