Lea Schaepe of Potsdam, Germany, can do a lot more than ride a bike while standing on the handlebars. Practicing the 130-year-old sport of artistic cycling, Lea has learned to ride her bike in many unconventional ways. Having won a dozen national competitions in Germany, Lea’s taking her bike to the streets!
Cycling races began to hit their stride in Paris, 1868. Among the many racing sports, one man, Nick Kaufmann, showed audiences something new. He performed acrobatics on his bicycle. Wooing crowds with his unique displays—in a sport that was gaining widespread popularity—Kaufmann made the connections he needed to organize a competition revolving around artistic cycling. In 1888, he became the world champion of “Professional Cycle Trick Riding.”
The sport has morphed over the years and now is really only popular in Europe—championed in particular by Germany. Modern competitors demonstrate various tricks indoors, earning points as they perform. Much like ballet or gymnastics, participants compete in five-minute rounds before a panel of judges.
To perform the delicate balancing tricks and backward motion, artistic cyclers use fixed-gear bicycles. The gear ratio is typically 1:1 and the tires are of proportionate size. The handlebars are similar to those found on a racing bicycle, but are upside-down in comparison, giving the cyclists room to maneuver. The front wheel also has to be free to spin 360°.
Using these special bikes in conjunction with many long hours of practice, riders perform handstands, wheelies, body-surf, and attempt as many other tricks as they can in their allotted time. Judges evaluate participants on the number of tricks, execution, form, and degree of difficulty.
Believe it or not, performances can consist of up to six people. Multi-person teams can use multiple bikes, switch, ditch, and share!