On Trackstands

by F.

I was out riding my bike the other day and stopped at a stoplight. I stayed there, doing a trackstand, which is where you balance on a bike while stationary, without taking your feet off the pedals. You’ve probably seen messengers doing it on fixed-gear bikes. It’s not super hard to do, but it looks somewhat impressive.

I looked down at the ground and thought, “It’s pretty amazing that my body is able to do this. I mean, this is bizarre, if you think about it.” And then I thought, “But wait a minute. My body does something just as amazing every day. It stands up.” It balances on these two little surfaces called “feet” and then it proceeds to wander around the environment doing things. And then it does other amazing things like catching a football, going up stairs, and running to get the bus.

And, in fact, I think this is the secret to doing a trackstand: getting used to balancing on the bike as if I you are standing. Getting to where it doesn’t feel alien—not like, “There is this bike and then there is me.” More like, “There isn’t any difference: I am the bike.”

I sometimes imagine than the bike is a prosthesis that I’m attached to. I’ve been in an accident and this thing is the solution to my need for locomotion. If I want to stand up, I have to stand up with this bike attached. If I want to move forward or backward, I have to do it with this bike attached. This is what standing is now: standing on this bike. It helps me make the cognitive shift toward being a trackstanding animal rather than a standing animal.

It’s no harder, really. Standing is quite hard and we do that without thinking about it. Just repurpose the same mechanisms and you’re a trackstanding fool.