Bike Man

By: Melissa Fears

Cars honk, people stop and wave, others are just plain fascinated by this man. A blue and white striped polo hugs his arms as he fixes his plaid hat that is cocked to the side. Smiling back, he goes back to his business; spinning a basketball, twirling batons and juggling tennis balls all while riding his bike backwards and listening to gospel music. The man behind it all – Lionel Hills.

Growing up, Hills learned along with his friends how to ride a bike just like any other kid, except Hills had a special knack for coordination and balance. It just came easy to him he says. He began riding backwards and never looked back. Bike riding didn’t top the priority list as he grew up however, and it soon became a thing of the past.

It is 2005, the year fate stepped in. Wandering into a small pawn shop looking for a trumpet, Hills and his wife never knew that this little store off of Keystone Avenue on the northeast side of Indianapolis would hold just the key to finding his dream.

 “Then I just saw it…. and thought ‘Wow!’”

A perfectly distressed white and mint green Schwinn bike sat there waiting to be taken home.  “I asked the lady is this really $19.99?” he says. “I asked my wife if I should get it, and I’ve had it ever since.”

“It is crazy,” Stephanie Camp-Hills, his wife, says. “A $20 investment brought all this,” she laughs. 

“I play the keyboard and I know it just has to have a certain feel to it, so that’s why I haven’t tried to buy a new bike for him,” she says.

“I have thought about getting a new bike, but it just wouldn’t be the same,” Hills says. “I can control this one and its light. I can carry it with one arm. It does what I want it to do, not the other way around,” he jokes.

“I know it’s the bike for me.”

His wife says that some of the people he knows just don’t understand how “old-school” he is, and he just loves the old-time bikes.  Fans of his from his dedicated Facebook page, have offered to chip in and buy a new bike. Hills just laughs it off.

The Facebook fan page came out of nowhere to him. One day a friend told his wife about it and he was in awe.

With over 4,300 fans and counting, the page was created by Roncalli High School student Ashlynn Bruner. The page has allowed fans from across the state to comment on their thoughts and give tips to others on when to find him.

“I started the page because I drive down Emerson daily and he always makes my day better, and he deserves to be noticed,” Brunner says. “I am trying to get him in the Guinness World Records for something.”

Once the Facebook fan page started up, and hundreds of people were adding themselves as a fan, Bruner didn’t know what to think.

“I was extremely surprised I got that many fans,” she exclaims. “I didn’t expect even 500 but there were 500 in the first 20 minutes.”

The page has been a hit with nearly everyone involved. It has turned into a page where fans of his can upload and share videos and pictures that they have taken. They can also leave comments on what they think and tip on when to best find Hills riding.

Waiting until all the cars have come and gone is when Hills ventures out to his familiar spot on the corner of the Thompson and Emerson intersection on the Southeast side of Indianapolis. He waits until after his nine-to-five job at WellPoint and when the Beech Grove Pet Hospital closes for the night.

On the weekends he has ridden straight through for nearly five hours. “I just go to church and head out there,” Hills says. “Sometimes I don’t even eat I am so ready to get out there.”

Sitting on his silver slip-covered couch at his southeast-side home, he recalls all the fun he has had over the past few years and cannot stress enough how happy he was that he finally started riding again. 

Flashing his gummy smile, he makes no qualms to mention the fact he has no top teeth. He keeps on smiling. After moving here from Arizona and being raised in Louisiana, Hills has learned to make the best of life.

“My wife decided she wanted a change and wanted to move here, so I said yes dear,” he says. After living on the northwest side of town for awhile, he prefers the quieter atmosphere of the southeast side better now.

Upon leaving the nest, the couple’s four children, three girls and one son, have scattered all across the country living in several different states. Their youngest daughter still lives nearby while attending Ball State University.  Hill’s quirky riding hasn’t seemed to rub off on any of his family just yet. None has gotten the courage or passion to try doing what he does. “I would never,” his wife exclaims. “That is his thing. The kids never wanted to try riding backwards either.”

People ask him every week he says why he does what he does. “I can’t do what I do riding forwards or the regular way,” he says. “The handlebars would poke me in the side. I can turn how I wanna turn now.”

He is glad when people stop. He relishes in the company and support he gets from making people smile. Hills says some people tell him he makes the long stoplights seem not as long and he loves to make people’s days. People tell them frequently that they almost run into the cars in front of them when they stop and stare. “I’ve almost run into someone looking at him myself,” his wife laughs.

“You ever know what a person is going through, so I love to make someone smile,” Hills says. “I appreciate all the comments people have made. I had no idea, but I’m happy about it.”

People have stopped and asked if her husband was homeless, his wife mentions. “They thought he was homeless person trying to make money,” she says. “It’s so funny to me. Our daughter overheard people talking nearby where he used to ride. Where a lady thought he was homeless and was saying she felt sorry for him, my daughter said that’s my my dad, he makes plenty of money,” she continues.

“There’s a couple of smarty pants that tell him to get a job; He has a job- a good one!” she laughs.

“I am not out there to get tips, but if they enjoy me enough to tip me, I may accept it,” Hills says with a laugh.  “I just do what I do.”

Parades and shows may be in the cards one day, but not just yet. Sadly he says, when he has been asked in the past, he always had to work.

“I really like to show off for the kids,” he says.

Hills recalls with great joy an out-town older couple who brought their grandkids to come see him perform after they had seen Hills once while they were visiting in the past. The couple sat in the back of their van across the street enjoying their freshly bought pizza as the children ate and watched in awe.

Showing off comes naturally to him. He loves to add new things to his repertoire as he says. From juggling tennis balls, twirling batons and spinning basketballs, he aces them every time. He avoids spinning basketballs on busy days in case he does mess up as it can go into traffic.

Dedicated and motivated, he can be seen in his familiar triangular corner even in the chilliest of days. With snow hanging off his black hooded jacket, he is out there riding to his heart’s desire.

“This winter was challenging,” his wife says. “I couldn’t believe he was out there in 21 degree weather all bundled up.”

“I was still out there riding because I enjoy it so much,” Hills says. “When I’m riding it’s like a whole other world, what I see around me. I listen to the beat of my music. I’m happy, it relieves stress or whatever. It just disappears.”

His music of choice is listening to upbeat and contemporary gospel. Kirk Franklin is a favorite of his. Most people question why gospel. He explains that a medium tempo is better while he is riding as it helps him keep a beat and do his tricks. 

Pedaling around with his oversized headphones is a key part in him riding he says. “I can’t ride without them,” he states matter-of-factly. “It’s not the same without music. It’s like a random trick; it’s not the same excitement. The music makes me happy, and I like to dance with the music.”

The headphones and Hills are so in tune sometimes that he forgets about the rest of the world his wife says. “Sometimes I pull into the parking lot across the way by the Kmart and just watch him,” she recalls. “He doesn’t even know I am there. Sometime he is so into what he is doing; he doesn’t see or hear me.”

“I swear he sees everyone but me,” she laughs. “I will be blowing my horn and I just say ‘Oh heck.’”

 “She’ll ask me did you hear me blowing my horn and I’ll say no dear sorry I had my headphones on,” Hills laughs.  “She is great; she always supports my riding. She just lets me ride.”

His riding is something he wants to do as long as he can. Someone told him once that his joy was contagious. Not everyone is a fan however. A car once threw a cup of water at him he remembers. “Stuff happens, some people yell at him to get a job,” his wife says. “He has a job I always say.”

For now, he just wants to keep doing what he loves and make people smile while he is doing it. “I always try to wave so people won’t be disappointed,” he says flashing his signature grin.

After catching more than 4,000 people’s attention, he is on the right track to mediocre stardom, which is just fine with him.

“I would like to be on the local news;” he says. “Something low-key for now until I come up with something more grand.”

“Something is gonna come up from it; I just don’t know what or when,” Hills says.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: