Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It's Just Like Riding a Bicycle... Backwards

Thomas Cycles Backwards
One day not so long after having moved into the house we currently live in, I was sitting in the front porch, writing, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the figure of my neighbour Thomas - the owner of the farm next door - circling the yard on a bicycle. Now, to see another person cycling through the farm was in itself unusual. But even aside from this, something about the way he moved through space was sufficiently dissonant to yank me out of my own little world and force me to have a proper look at what was happening. Seated on his bicycle's handlebars in a bolt-upright position, the sexagenarian gentleman was pedaling backwards - cruising around the yard in this manner with an air of utter nonchalance.

Thomas Cycles Backwards
I had seen this trick performed a few times before - usually, on a BMX or fixed gear bike and quite briefly, the very point being that it is a trick, a performance - and not a sustainable style of riding. Thomas, on the other hand, can cycle backwards in a way that makes it appear utterly normal and natural - as if he could easily, if so desired, ride an entire brevet in this fashion. Over time, I would learn he can do this for seemingly endless amounts of time and practically on any bike - be it a modern racing bike or a vintage lady's roadster.

Thomas Cycles Backwards
On the latest occasion, he was riding a bright yellow '90s mountain bike, which had once belonged to his son. Having my camera handy, I asked whether I could take some snaps and Thomas agreed.

"Aye you might as well. It'll be nice to have a keepsake. Who knows how much longer I'll be able to do this."

"Aw come on!" I said, surprised by this morbid turn of thought. "You'll be able to do this for decades still I'm sure."

"Well, you see. Physically I'm able. But as you get older, the confidence goes. And confidence is everything."

Elaborating on this, Thomas explained that the mad skillz I was witnessing were actually a diminished version of what he was once capable of. For instance, as a teenager he could pedal backwards while carting around his sisters as passengers, but is no longer confident enough in his balance to do this.

"Any crashes or accidents?" I asked imagining all this.

"Oh nothing too bad... although come to think of it, I did come off pretty badly one time. Punctured an artery on my back!"

"Punctured an artery?!" The words had been said in such a nostalgic, lighthearted tone, I thought that perhaps I misheard.

"Oh aye. Blood squirting everywhere. Had to plug it with my finger till they got me to hospital!"

What can I say. The people here are hardier than yours truly.

Thomas Cycles Backwards
It was his father who taught Thomas to do the trick in the first place. On my request, he proceeded to show me how to mount the bike and get started. Moving the left pedal into a position roughly parallel to the ground, he seated himself on the handlebars while holding on to the grips, placed one toe on the ground, pushed back on the raised pedal with the other foot, and took off without a falter.

I watched, but could not replicate the maneuver (which should come as no surprise, considering I can barely manage drinking from my water bottle while in motion!). But I did love watching, impressed with the elegant and joyous ease with which it was executed by my dapper neighbour.

Thomas Cycles Backwards
"You know, I hadn't tried this in some time until recently," Thomas said, "and I wasn't sure I could do it still. But once I tried... well, it was just like riding a bicycle."

Circling around the yard, the respectable grandfather looked like a mischievous, happy-go-lucky teenager. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, of which a reader has been kind enough to remind me: "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

40 comments:

  1. One of my brothers had a knack for that, back in the 1970s:
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153669785643933&l=f60b5e79ab
    (Hope this link works!)

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  2. That aint nuthin.

    Delbert Firebaugh

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    Replies
    1. I can play the Cello behind my back...

      Yo-Yo Ma

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    2. I can play the Accordion with my TEETH!

      Flaco Jimenez

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    3. Hey Flaco, I've heard you, try using your fingers! Lol...

      Yo

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    4. "Hey Flaco, try using your fingers", very funny from a man who is 2 broken thumbs away from being a DRUMMER.

      Flaco

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    5. I WILL CUT YOU!

      Yo

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    6. Flaco, Dude, He really will...

      Pinchas Zuckerman

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    7. Varla sagt: Genug!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqD9v04REpQ

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  3. OH MY GOD! How can you possibly be impressed with this?

    I spent THE VAST MAJORITY, nay, THE ENTIRETY of my youth perfecting this and a thousand other skillz like trackstanding, wheelies, riding two bicycles at once etc. SPECIFICALLY to impress Girls, and not once, NOT ONCE did anyone describe it as "Elegant" or "Impressive". Even now I find myself throwing down AMAZING feats of this sort to impress my Wife and Daughters to no effect. I have gone so far as to ride 2 Razor Scooters simultaneously down a moderately steep hill, at the risk of my very life, only to be accused of being "Like, SO dumb".

    You and I have GOT to get together. You would totally be into me.

    Spindizzy

    This is so unfair.

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    Replies
    1. It is almost too easy to impress me with bike trix - though I am particularly susceptible to them being done on a roadbike. Bunny hop over some farm equipment whilst clipped into a skinny-tyred race machine and I swoon.

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    2. I am also easily impressed - I love watching the youngsters here at the local skate/bmx park where they tear up and down on their bmx bikes, practically vertically. In the case of the gentleman you photographed, he was actually not trying to impress anyone - just messing about on his bike - so cute :)

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  4. Interesting in that this just came up on Facebook only a few days ago - rather amazing in a similar way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBl1D8ja3zU

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    Replies
    1. I saw this recently - fantastic - I also love watching Danny MacAskill riding his bike - so clever.

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  5. Oh, you've got a long way to go. As a sexagenarian myself these things were part of growing up, and I agree much of living is learning to stay young.

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    1. I'm afraid since I haven't learned this stuff by my mid-30s, I probably never will. Too old for new tricks!

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  6. I really applaud yon neighbor for still being able to achieve his trick from younger years on his bike. Sometimes my friends scratch their heads and wonder why I'm riding all these bikes. They think I should start acting my age. Yet I think I look younger and am fitter than others my age who are more sedentary. I'm going to ride bikes until it's not safe to do it anymore.

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    1. I feel younger at 36 than I did at 26. And my 49 year old SO does not even look like he belongs to the same generation as his contemporaries, for the same reason as you state. The human animal is meant to move and play, and it is these things that give it spirit. "Use it or lose it."

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    2. Good for you - my intentions also - keep those pedals turning :)

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  7. Let me guess...he is complete rubbish going ahead in the normal way. Oh please say yes.

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  8. Well I'm impressed and more than anything by the sense of fun this gentleman has - he is happy to be able to still master a skill he developed as a young man - great photos and story - also like the George Bernard Shaw quote - older people can still be playful and skillful :)

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  9. A friend (who is 65) is a professional performer of 1920s -through-40s novelty and ukulele tunes. He sells stickers at his shows.
    "Act Dorky, Live Forever."
    He's happier than many of his peers, I can tell you that.

    In the first picture, your neighbor's dog is either laughing himself or taking notes on how to do it.

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  10. Collies. Those dogs are on this earth to keep an eye on the people.

    My wife see's me dragging a BMX onto the porch roof and I blow her off, my Border Collies tell me not to be a Dumbass and I sigh and climb back down.

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    Replies
    1. They also like to manage photo shoots. Next to impossible to take collie-free pictures of anything on the farm.

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    2. And WHY would anyone want a BorderCollie free picture??

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/77836183@N08/9547376366/in/photostream/

      bm

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  11. This post inspired me to break out the fixed gear, which had been languishing in the basement for a few months.. Did not ride backwards, but I had an opportunity to practice my track stand on the way to work. Held it about 2 seconds. Hey, I'm making progress.

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  12. He's got to be pedaling forwards, since that bike doesn't have a fixed gear hub. He's basically steering with his butt. Which is still an impressive skill. Really pedaling backwards requires a whole different level of skill. I suggest you loan him a fixie -- you must have one around somewhere -- and see if he can do that, too. Just keep medical supplies handy.

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    Replies
    1. He is pedalling backwards in relation to himself (vs the bike), no?

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    2. Well, yeah, but it's also possible to pedal and ride backwards, on a fixie. That's his next step, as I see it.

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    3. Since the bike's rear derailleur is clearly pictured, there's only one way for it to go: forward. It would be fun to see somebody sit on the handlebars and pedal his fixie backwards. I'm certainly not the guy to do it, though.

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    4. Oh I know. I believe I have seen Emily O'Brien (of Dill Pickle) do this, possiby whilst drinking a smoothie. And knitting.

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    5. Cross posting from BSNYC: Nicole Frýbortová https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=119&v=P3WnQ246f1g

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  13. Most of my friends and I could do this when I was young and for unlimited distance, but it's only fun until you master it and then it's just sort of cumbersome. I have not done it in years nor have I even thought to try it again!?
    If you find I've broken some bones or injured myself it's all on you! LOL ;-)
    - Masmojo

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    Replies
    1. Reminds me - I need a 'do not try this at home' disclaimer clause!

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  14. I just have to comment and say that I love everything he is wearing and agree, indeed, that he is quite dapper! I like his style and his skillz.

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  15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ri5mwbiWgDk

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  16. Somebody should market backwards clipless pedals.

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  17. The sheepdog thinks it's messed up, and you should always trust the sheepdog. Well, almost always. Not in matters of raw steaks on the picnic table. But in most other matters, yes.

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  18. My dad could ride backwards like your neighbor, on his 1930's era Ranger. I think its all in having learned as a kid.

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