Cycling is among the most flexible of sportsby David Goldblatt / October 19, 2011 / Leave a comment
Not so easy riding: Hong Kong’s Ip Hin Bon and Yu Po Man compete in the men’s pair artistic cycling at the East Asian Games, 2009
Variety being the spice of life, most sports develop unusual versions of their mainstream rules. There have been, for example, experiments with underwater rugby, hockey and golf; football is competitively played on grass, sand, and in bogs or swamps; and, in Ireland, bowls has left the greens and taken to the roads.
Cycling has proved among the most flexible of sports. In addition to the traditional velodrome and road racing versions, the Olympics now feature BMX and mountain biking competitions. In 1908 the London Games gave a slot to cycle polo, in which teams of seven riders carrying polo sticks chased each other and a small hard ball across a muddy football pitch. Sadly, the sport has not returned to the Olympics but lives on in a modernised three-a-side indoor game that has achieved recognition by the global cycling authorities, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). The X Games and street sports circuit boast a range of freestyle acrobatic contests. Meanwhile, unicycles are moving out of the realm of the purely comic prop and turning into instruments of fearsome competition—unicyclists are not merely road racing but have taken to mountain climbing too.
From 4th to 6th November, the Japanese city of Kagoshima will host the World Indoor Cycling Championships, which will feature yet two more ways of competing on a bike: artistic cycling and cycle-ball. Artistic cycling is a cross between circus skills and rhythmic gymnastics: one or two athletes perform a series of moves and postures while balancing on a bike that is turning a tight circle on the floor of a gymnasium. Cycle-ball, known as radball in its German-speaking heartlands, is two-a-side indoor football in which you can’t use your feet to strike the ball, but must do so with the wheels of your specially adapted bike.
The roots of artistic cycling lie in music hall and vaudeville. In the last quarter of the 19th century, no playbill was complete without a few speciality acts. Alongside the tightrope walkers, sword swallowers and magicians, trick cyclists found a niche and an audience. Among the earlier troupes were the Cycling Elliotts, who not only did bike tricks but were a seven-piece family band performing light classical favourites and John Philip Sousa marches. Other acts would…