These guys are not into it for the money and the
fame (though undoubtedly a little bit of both would be welcome.)
They are in it for the pure, unadulterated, down and dirty fun.
They do this for themselves, and for the simple love of the sport.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like these guys aren’t
pro at heart. The truth is they’re incredibly determined to
perfect their skills – and they’re holding nothing back.
There are around eight of them – all dressed in a uniform
of t-shirts, shorts and rubber slippers and some weathered leather
gloves. They content themselves with caps for their heads and have
a grand total of two helmets with them. There’s none of the
other paraphernalia one would expect a trick bicyclist to possess
– no protection for the knees or the elbows, no fancy shoes.
What they do have though are good bikes. Having shelled out 12,000
– 16,000 for their bikes (at a place that sells them for cheap),
they’re understandably proud of their beauties.
Name: Steve Lukewalker
Occupation: Computer repairs
I am reliably informed that a lot of it is in the brakes (The weight
of the bike and the state of the shocks are also of concern.) Before
they perform a trick, they get down on their knees in the dirt and
do the necessary adjusting. The front breaks and rear brakes are
never adjusted to the same strength, producing different results
for different tricks. The back wheelie, also known as the endo,
for instance, needs the front brakes to be stronger. It also requires
one to throw ones weight backwards – or risk going flying
over the front handlebars.
Name: Sanjaya Priyantha
Speciality: Front Wheel
Now, if you’re a part of the camp that doesn’t
think falling off a bicycle can do all that much harm, you’re
probably right. However, while most of these riders have never broken
a limb, blood and gore there’s been a plenty. In fact if we
were to sit down and really do some counting, it must be admitted
that they’ve lost whole layers of skin – off their hands,
knees, elbows and shins predominantly. Yes, ‘ouch’ is
the word you’re looking for.
They’re all from the same neighbourhood,
and so it may seem natural that they do this together. Already the
younger boys have started learning from their ‘elders,’
ensuring that this little gang of bicyclists already have an adoring
fan club. But how did the first lot master their skills? Well, the
answer lies in the not-so idiot box. They haven’t been doing
this for so long really. Steve, one of the most experienced says
that he’s only been learning for a year-and-a-half. He’s
one of those lucky souls, who can master almost anything in a few
The boys tend to hang out at the car park near
parliament grounds (also the place where you can get a bite to eat).
They can be found practising in the evenings on most days of the
week and will be willing to show you a few tricks if you ask nicely
– and I did.
However, three riders are missing in action when
I go for my interview, and so I get to meet the other five. There’s
Steve, whom I just mentioned. I’m fascinated by his surname
– Lukewalker – all it’s missing is a ‘sky’
in the middle. He and Tharuka start off the festivities with a few
back wheelies – back wheels up in the air and spinning, while
they balance on their front wheels. After this, we move on to the
front wheelies (front wheels up, back wheels on the ground). Dinusha
is good at cycling backwards. No small achievement, I’ll have
you know. Imagine your entire body (including your head) facing
one way, and your hands steering you in the opposite direction –
and oh, yes, you have to peddle backwards too.
Name: Dinusha Chathuranga
Speciality: Cycling backwards
Ho-hum – I’ll pretend that I wouldn’t
break into a sweat, if I tried that one, especially as I’m
about to confess to wheel-o-phobia (the fear of careening along
on one wheel). To all appearances, Rukshan and Sanjaya have no such
qualms. They specialise not just in the front wheelie, but in ‘travelling’
– also known as the art of keeping your front wheel up in
the air, while you pedal like mad and hope you don’t land
on your tush. I’m amazed that these guys can keep this up
for quite a while, cycling all the way to the end of the path (about
200 meters), before they finally touch down. Now “Pana”
(affectionately nicknamed Panasonic by the boys) can do this with
just one hand, something that even Steve hasn’t mastered yet.
The bit that has my jaw dropping is when Steve
simply gets onto his bike and stands for around 50 meters. He’s
standing straight – not touching the handlebars – and
looks to all intents and purposes as if he’s on solid ground.
Not at all like he’s balancing on a little rod of aluminium,
held up only by two wheels; not at all like he just might fall and
smash his face in. “No, dearie me, the boy doesn’t have
the sense to be afraid,” is what my grandmother would say,
if she had a chance to see him.
According to Steve, however, that is the key to
their success. One has to start with being unafraid, stay unafraid
and end unafraid; even when in-flight, so to speak. Once you fall,
you just have to be determined enough to get right back on and dare
the hard, poky ground to do its worst.
That and of course, a sense of balance. While
magazine policy means we carry the warning “Don’t try
this at home,” Steve thinks that trick cycling is something
many people could master. He should know; he loves to teach the
willing. The one thing he stresses on is being unafraid. All in
all, a good policy for life, wouldn’t you say? After all,
who knows just what one might do were we to stop quaking in fear
at the thought of failing.