November 8, 2011
Here’s a midweek feature for you. Chipps recently met up with Matt Gilman. He’s a trials rider and works as a head bike mechanic at his local shop. But that, as they say, isn’t all… Matt’s really quite an inspiring person for at least one incredible reason.
(Riding pics all courtesy of Aki LaCount)
OK, that looks pretty impressive. But surely you need to be able to backflip off trees to be impressive on a bike these days?
Well, not always…
OK readers, can you hop up a kerb? Can you trackstand? Me too. It’s not that hard, eh?
Great… Now do it blindfold. Close your eyes, get on your bike and just balance on the spot.
That’s how Matt Gilman sees bike riding – and life in general. Matt is blind.
Back in 1989, Matt was diagnosed as being diabetic. He didn’t let it get in his way and got into bikes, getting a Saturday job at a bike shop when he was 14. In 2001, a trials bike showed up at work and, like all mechanics everywhere, he took it for a sneaky ‘shakedown ride’ and decided that trials bikes were the thing for him. Matt took to trials and started riding and improving weekly. Then, in 2004 he started to suffer from blurred and darkened vision. A trip to a retina specialist confirmed that he had Diabetic Retinopathy. He needed laser surgery to kill the blood vessels that were growing on his retina. In all, he’s had 22 surgeries on his eyes to slow the effects of his diabetes-led eye disease. The end result is that, now aged 30, he has one completely detached retina, one partially detached retina and, in order to save what little sight he had, his other eye has been filled with silicon oil. He can distinguish light from dark in one eye, but that’s about it.
Not surprisingly, he was terribly upset and depressed about losing his sight and for two years he didn’t touch his bike. Then, in 2006 he thought ‘Screw it! I want to ride my bike’ so he got his trials bike into the living room and tried trackstanding, the easiest trick in the trials rider’s arsenal. He found that he couldn’t even balance on the bike. When he got on it, it felt that he was falling over (go on, try it…) and he couldn’t even do something as simple as staying on his bike. Dispirited, he put the bike away.
The next day, he started again and spent hours working on his rusty balance. He slowly got the hang of it again, all the while, not letting on to anyone that he was trying, in case he failed. Eventually, he called a friend and asked if he wanted to go riding. He turned up with his bike and, to the shock of his friends, rode again. Not only riding, but trying to ride trials again.
How does he do it? With practice and a lot of self-belief (and not being that scared of crashing too). He’ll walk up to the obstacle and feel it with his hands, to get an idea of the height and surface. Then he’ll point his bike at it and ride until his front wheel touches the obstacle (or the edge). Then, it’s just a case of riding that mental image he has of the obstacle, but in real life. Having learned to ride when he still had his sight, he knows what is possible, as he used to do it. He’ll use this self-knowledge and add a great deal of guts and go for it. He’s not always successful. In fact, he often comes off, but he gets back on and does it again until he can. So far, he can ride up and off just about everything, bridging gaps and dropping drops. He’s still got a 2.5 bike length move that he’s working on, but you’ve got to have something to aim for, eh?
In the last five years, Mat has continued improving on his bike. Now 30, he’s the head mechanic at a bike shop and rides trials bikes, both for pleasure and and for shows. He has a number of videos on Youtube, the first of which he posted as a response to over-patronising trials forum comments, where well-meaning posters assumed that he wasn’t actually riding ‘real’ trials but just pottering about. Those videos appear to have made their mark though and Matt is getting more and more known through his riding. He’s now hoping to branch out to do demos and motivational speaking full time.
Having met Matt at Interbike this year, I was impressed by how cheery and positive the guy is. He obviously loves bikes and was at the show to meet up with sponsors like Chris King, Continental, Trial Tech and Inspired. In fact Matt jokes that he must surely be a team mate of one of his heroes, Danny MacAskill as they both ride the same bikes. Accompanied at the show by his brother in law, Louis, Matt was wandering the aisles and checking out the bikes. Once a bike geek, always a bike geek. He has great plans to get out, do shows and hopefully inspire other people that what might be considered a life (social, work, or otherwise) -ending situation needn’t be, with a bit of enthusiasm and a lot of hard work.
Matt’s videos show some pretty impressive riding, though what they don’t show is that each successful move might have taken 20, or 100 attempts. Matt doesn’t seem deterred by failure (although we’re hoping that he’ll show some of his less successful attempts next time to give an idea of how hard his stunts actually are). He has some other, more professional, videos in the works and has a pro video editor who’s going to help put them together. In the meantime, have a look at Matt’s site for more about this impressive man.
And one last word. Would he change things if he could? ‘Nope’ he says, ‘If I could do it all over again. I wouldn’t change a thing’