It’s easy to feel like a daredevil when you ride your bike in heavy traffic on a cobblestone street on a rainy day, do a wheelie or two in the park or make your way down a narrow path on that hill outside town. Bicycles are ideal for testing the limits of your courage or just showing off if that’s what your thing is.
The bicycle has been a vehicle for daredevilry since at least the early 20th century. For example, there was a performer named, aptly, Diavolo, who rode his bike in a 360-degree loop-the-loop at an unidentified American amusement park in 1905.
And then there’s the Norwegian Eskil Ronningsbakkenn, known to YouTubers as Eskil禅. He first came to the attention of the small world of daredevil aficionados in 2010, when he rode his bicycle backwards for seven hours, covering a distance of 42.4 kilometres, without touching the ground.
Three years later, he upped the ante by riding down a steep and twisting mountain road at a top speed of 80 kph, again backwards. The gradient was up to 10 %, the pavement was wet, there was traffic coming the other way (okay, just one car, but still…) and a steep drop on one side. He used no safety lines or a harness – and then he rode the bike back up the mountain, backwards, of course.
In 2018, Eskil禅 took his act to another level by riding his bike on a tightrope over a gorge, 1,000 meters above the ground (he claims) and – talk about showoffs – performing a handstand mid-course.
Eskil禅 is also a circus performer and one of his gigs is with a group called the Garden of Madness, a fitting name for his daredevil acts. As he explained on his website, “we humans have an innate driving force that makes us challenge our boundaries towards ever-new peaks.”
Eskil禅 notwithstanding, these days most of the bicycle daredevilry is performed with mountain bikes on mountains, such as the feat performed by Casey Brown and Cam McCaul, who flew down Corbet’s Couloir in winter.
Part of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming, Corbet’s is one of the steepest and most challenging ski slopes on the planet, where “skiers go to prove their mettle (or more often, to retreat in fear),” according to Christopher Steiner of JacksonHole.com.
Starting off at a 90-degree angle, they flew down the slope, which has a multitude of steep dips, twists, and turns. At the bottom, Casey had a nasty spill, bloodying her face. “My brakes wouldn’t work, there was no slowing down,” she said. “That’s the fastest I’ve ever been on a bike.”
And, finally, there is a German bike mountaineer Harald Philipp who takes his two-wheeler on paths many mountaineers might avoid. He carries the bike up the mountain and then launches himself down steep and treacherous slopes, often where there is no path. But Harald is not reckless; when he comes to a stretch that he feels he cannot master, he gets off the bike and carries it.
“Risk has a certain appeal,” he says. “When you go to the outermost limit of your comfort zone and don’t know if you’re up to the challenge, that’s when it gets really interesting. For me, the next two-and-a-half-second stretch is a whole universe. I become one with my bike.”
Because they’re so much fun to watch from the comfort of your sofa, here are three more videos, showing Johannes Pistrol riding down the Steinerne Rinne in July 2014 (the real fun begins at about 2:30), an unnamed cyclist tackling a very tough Tyrolean mountain and Chris Akrigg conquering “a hill in Spain” and other obstacles he found en route.