Reversing Part 2
by The Gonterian


Still from the Gonterian's 'Reversing' movie

It's been a year since Reversing. What's been happening? I've been working on the second of a series of movies about fixed gear riding. I've chosen to ride fixed (both forwards and backwards) for the vast majority of my riding. In fact, I've done more fixed gear trail riding this past year than during the whole of the two years prior. It got me out of the doldrums.

Fixed gear is a well-documented tonic for bike burnout. Reversing takes it a little further. It adds an element of offbeat pseudo-impracticality that can go a long way to renewing your enthusiasm. In the hopes of capturing your attention and imagination, I've been working up a set of rationales for slowing down, stopping, and trying to back up. Here's my top ten:

1. Reverse is a bit of bicycle "freestyle" that even a fortysomething can learn. Caution: you will fall down while learning, and likely occasionally even after you learn.
2. You'll have something else to do besides trackstands and skids when you have time to kill. Try skid-stop-to-reverse, that is cool.
3. Little kids will believe you to be superhuman, since they'll never have never seen this trick in cartoons, movies, or the X-games.
4. Little kids' moms will be impressed with your ability to pacify their little ones who were upset just moments before they saw you do your thing. Don't underestimate the value of this. Seriously.
5. Older kids will comment freely, for better or worse, and will watch and score you like they were at a bmx or skate competition. However, it won't last. My repertoire of two different reverse tricks holds their attention for 15 seconds or less.
6. It's good to watch the unpredictable ways "adults" react. Some stare in awe, failing to grasp how it works. Others ignore you or look away, as if reverse was a form of paganism or devil worship.
7. Reversing gives you an additional way out of your trackstand in addition to going forwards or putting a foot down. Reverse looping out of a long trackstands is a way of measuring your balance (and putting icing on the cake.)
8. Even if, like me, you're slower than snot and insist on running 38mm+ tires at all times, you'll still be able to do something that the skinny tire roadies, BMX bandits and "tri-fitness" riders just can't do.
9. With persistence, you can learn to reverse in a straight line. This is very entertaining at intersections when there is too much traffic for loops.
10. You can make videos of yourself doing it and post them on the internet. You could become famous!

Are you still doubting the sense of this craziness? Sure, it's partly entertainment for yourself and your friends and especially people in cars. And I'll admit you won't use it much. But learning to back up will bring real improvements to your balance and feel on the bike, and your trackstand balance will become a sixth sense. (If you really want to know where your balance is at, try trackstands with your eyes focused above the horizon... and, for extreme training, try it with your eyes closed.)

In part one, I focused on getting your basic skills together. This means learning to trackstand reliably and mastering the hi-low or 6pm/12pm pedal position where one often loses control and balance. There's still time to review...

Building on those chops over the last year has further honed my reversing skills. I can now do three-point turns on all kinds of trail surfaces. I can even ride straight backwards, finally. Once or twice I've even managed to reverse up a curb! Here are some advanced tips based on that experience.

2. Practice trackstands, especially on your weak side. Practice both standing and sitting. My raw polling indicates a lot of variation amongst riders about this. I find both comfortable, but sitting is sustainable for longer periods.
3. Try moving your visual focus. I learned to reverse the same way I learned to trackstand: by fixing my gaze on the inside of the front wheel. A car driver may get indignant if they see a bicycle backing up towards them. Following a couple of collisions, I've begun working on riding while looking over my shoulder.
4. Not sure about the physics of this, but, while I can do reverse loops both sitting and standing, straightlining means standing up. (Maybe it's different for you.)
5. Nail your rollback, the most practical of trail uses. Once you get comfortable reversing on pavement, find a trail with an abrupt flat-to-uphill transition and try rolling slowly into it so that you lose momentum and start to roll backwards. With practice, you'll feel comfortable taking a half-stroke or so backwards onto the flat and dropping into the all-important trackstand. From there, you can ride off with a smirk.
6. The downhill. My newest pseudo-skill. I discovered, quite by accident, that it's far easier to ride a straight(ish) line downhill than on the flat. It may not feel too comfortable the first time, tho. Pick a quiet stretch with soft landings either side.

Missing my #1 tip? Here it is, and it's good for all back-ups, basic or advanced. Ready? Success is a matter of getting from one control position to the next. Half-pedal strokes are all it takes. Think about getting from one (3-9 o'clock) position to the next. Once you can to go a half-rotation backwards to a controlled trackstand, you'll know that you've got it.

Over and Out.


John 'Gonterian' Gonter resides in Burlington, Vermont where there are more fixed gear commuter bikes than anywhere he's ever seen. He has his own blog.

v1.0 written August 2006

John's original piece on riding backwards is here (no slacking) and his movie trailer is here.

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