21 May 2015

The BMX Ballerina

One of the few genres of cycling I have never tried is BMX.  Part of the reason for that, I think, is that when it was first becoming popular--in the late 1970's-- I was a bit older than most of its participants, who were in their mid-teens.  Also, by that time  I had become so accustomed to riding 27 inch--and, a little later, 700C--wheels that I simply couldn't see how I could ride the smaller-wheeled BMX bike.  Moreover, I became more interested in speed and distance--and, later, longevity--than in fancy maneuvers.  (That's one of the reasons I was a mountain biker for only a few years.)  Finally, I'll admit that by that time I was on the cusp of early adulthood and thought of anything with small wheels as a kid's bike.

I probably won't ever be a BMXer because, at my age, I don't think I any longer have the reflexes or flexibility for the kinds of maneuvers BMX riders routinely do.  But that doesn't mean I don't admire the really skilled riders:  In fact, their feats are among the few things I watch on TV or video anymore.  Even the less-skilled riders interest me in much the same way skaters and dancers do:  As something of a performer, athlete and artist myself, I can appreciate their intricate moves--and, most important, the talents those riders possess, and the drive and discipline it takes for them to turn their visions of themselves into reality.

Funny that I should mention skaters and dancers: Some of the earliest--and, even today, best--BMX moves were done by someone who never claimed to be a BMX rider.  In fact, this person was, by training and profession, a ballerina.  And she didn't cut her teeth (or gears) in the sandlots of Southern California.  Rather, she got her training on the other side of the United States--in New York, where she was born to parents who came from Japan, on the other side of the Pacific from California.

And, because there wasn't a BMX circuit in her time, she performed most of her acrobatics in circuses or on other stages of one kind or another.  She once even performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Who is this amazing performer to whom I am referring?  She is none other than Lilly Yokoi, who was dubbed "the world's greatest bicycle acrobat" during the 1960's and '70's.

Look at some of the moves she was doing years before Dave Mirra and Ryan Nyquist were even born:

The show was The Hollywood PalaceThat particular episode aired on 9 October 1965.  And, yes, that was Joan Crawford hosting.

I can't find any current information about Ms. Yokoi.  In 2009, her daughter let it be known that Lilly, then in her eighties, was retired and living in Japan.



  1. And, she single handedly started the hipster fixie craze.

  2. MT--Great point. Thanks.

    Given what you've just said, should I hate her? ;-)

  3. love what I learned today about lilly :) cool video
    wonder if she still rides in tokyo? maybe so, we can hope.

  4. Meligrosa--It would be great if she were still riding. It'd almost be worth a trip to Tokyo!