The Strangest Sport on 2 Wheels
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Artistic cycling is at least 50 years old — so it’s way past time you learned why the rest of the world loves it.
The bicycle is back in vogue for its cardiovascular benefits, Earth-friendliness and efficiency for getting from A to Z, and the “fixie,” or fixed-gear bike, has become a standard element in the urban hipster arsenal. But in Europe and Asia, the fixie is famous for an altogether different type of ride: artistic cycling. It’s an art form and a professional sport that combines gymnastic dexterity with two-wheeled motion. Imagine ice skating plus synchronized swimming. On bikes.
Performances are set to music and performed before huge crowds. Male and female athletes perform singly, in pairs and in carefully choreographed foursomes for international titles. It’s an eye-popping display of athleticism, with cyclists twisting their bodies into figure eights and balancing on shoulders, seats and handlebars, all while controlling their bicycle as they maneuver around a circular wooden court.
There were 140 athletes from 17 nations participating, all wearing skintight bodysuits bearing their nation’s flag.
The fixed-gear bikes allow the athlete to move in any direction with precise, quick changes and to balance on one wheel and perform a multitude of tricks. You’ve probably seen similar moves by kids on fixies, but it’s not like watching the stunts being performed by professional athletes. And this is a sport. Lam Kam-Bong, who trains competitive indoor cyclists for the Hong Kong Indoor Cycling (HKIC) association, describes the arena. “We train in an indoor sports hall where the bicycle is ridden in an eight-meter [26-foot] circle to perform the artistic figure.” Cyclists have five minutes to display their skills during competition. A rider needs strength, agility and balance to meet this demanding physical challenge, Kam-Bong says. He’s keen to get more people involved, but it takes time and dedication to get good.
In late November, the 58th Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Indoor World Cycling Championships took place over three days in the Czech Republic, featuring five categories for artistic cycling performances, along with a men’s cycle-ball event. This annual competition isn’t a remote backwater event: 140 athletes from 17 nations, including Italy, Spain and Canada, participated — all wearing skintight bodysuits bearing their nation’s flag. Overall, Germany took home more medals than any other nation, despite a no-show by their eight–time world champion in single artistic cycling, David Schnabel.
Fans of the sport would like to see artistic cycling gain more recognition: More than 2,000 have signed a petition for it to be considered as a new Olympic category. In Hong Kong, Kam-Bong promotes the sport with young audiences by organizing youth-centric programs that offer free bikes and coaching sessions. He hopes the sport will grow overseas and is pleased that it’s already picking up notice in Canada. Despite the sport’s difficulty, proponents hope to orchestrate a surge of interest. Given the popularity of similar Olympic sports, the relatability of bicycles, and the spectacular drama of these daring performances, the time may just be right. Cue the music.