CHAMPION MOVE: No Hands Ark Spin. Photos supplied by the author
Japan’s best loved and most successful flatland rider was recently in Doha performing before appreciative audiences, writes Aney Mathew
The seemingly young lad comes riding breezily in with his BMX bike; he waves to the crowd and proceeds to perform what look like some ‘cool’ bicycle tricks.
Soon however, they are no more just ‘fun’ tricks of a teenager on his bike; they are some serious moves — scuffing, rolling, hopping and spinning. The lad and his bike seem to leap into the air and then land gracefully, as if it were no effort at all; he goes on to execute several back wheel combos and then before you know it, he is balancing himself on the handle bar, his hands in the air — his cycle still in motion.
No, this is no teenage stuntman; he is Yohei Uchino, the reigning BMX Flatland World Circuit Champion — who by the way is not 18 as you would expect, but 31.
Yohei Uchino from Japan, the first Asian to win the BMX Flatland championship, was recently in Doha performing and showcasing his abilities to appreciative audiences.
Uchino — Ucchie to his friends and fans — is a Red Bull athlete; he took the Flatland World Circuit crown in 2012, which was followed by another victory in 2013. He’s aiming for a repeat this year.
Ucchie is not only Japan’s best loved and most successful flatland rider but a rather popular face on the BMX circuit.
The outstanding attribute of Ucchie’s stunts, is that he makes it looks so effortless even while performing challenging moves — his movements are fluent. He seems to weave the stunts together seamlessly, as he shifts from one trick to another, making it all flow with a rhythm.
Community caught up with Ucchie to get a glimpse of the man and his machine and to get an idea of what inspires him. Speaking in halting English, he talked about his genesis into the sport, his passion and his dreams.
It’s interesting to hear how Ucchie had chanced upon the BMX scene — quite by accident. As a keen skateboarder, 17-year-old Ucchie and his friends had headed for a skateboarding competition. But when they arrived at the venue they realised they were at a BMX Flatland championship instead.
Watching the event was a turning point in Ucchie’s life; it was love at first sight, he was totally hooked. He hung up his skateboard for a bike and there began his journey into the BMX world.
“I was so excited watching the BMX riders that I wanted to do the same. I began attempting tricks on my bike. Soon after I finished my schooling I moved from Kobe to Tokyo to train under a master. My master Kotaro taught me the lifestyle of a successful BMX rider.
“Beyond tricks, stunts and stylish moves, I learnt other aspects such as how to direct my passion for the sport successfully, how to find sponsors and so on. Above all he inspired me to come up with my own style, combo moves and signature moves”, explains the flatland hero.
Ucchie seems to have picked up his lessons quite well. The ‘Ucchie Spin’, a signature style is a favourite among fans. He executes it by standing on the peg of his back wheel, his arms crossed and accomplishing a wheelie of sorts. The Ucchie spin is the result of another happy accident — he was trying to achieve the ‘time machine spin’ which is a forward spin, but ended up doing it backwards and hey presto a new signature move was born!
“Before I came up with the Ucchie Spin, this particular move was considered impossible”, he explains. His ‘bar ride’ is another innovation. As a matter of fact, Ucchie has several original moves.
“The moves I perform during shows are mostly my own, I don’t like to copy”, he says very simply.
So what does it take to become a world champion? “I practise at least five days a week, up to seven hours each day. But the important thing is, you need to love what you do; it’s about passion not just practise” he points out.
“When I’m doing tricks, I don’t think of anything else — I just follow my body and my bike and follow the natural flow of movement and perform the tricks — letting no other thought distract me or stress me out. This helps me achieve the incredible spins, jumps and moves which BMX tricks demand of a rider. I strive to reach the limitations of the human body and keep challenging and pushing these boundaries even further.”
Some of the moves performed during championships like the back flip are not only difficult but can even be quite risky. It’s rarely tried and requires very high skill. I’ve had several accidents trying to perfect difficult moves, but fortunately nothing major”, says the BMX sensation.
“Of all the different championships and competitions I’ve participated in, the Red Bull Circle of Balance was the most challenging. The riders perform in front of a paid audience and expectations are very high. You do feel the pressure”, he admits.
Ucchie has had the honour of travelling extensively to showcase his signature moves and back wheel combos. “I’ve visited about 25 countries”, he says, trying to do a quick mental math.
“Of all the places I’ve been to, my favourite has been Pune in India. People there are very kind and very happy. BMX flatland riding was a new concept to most and they were so thrilled; they were cheering loudly, unlike the Japanese audience who are quiet. I enjoyed eating spicy Indian food and shopping for Indian clothes”, he says smiling.
Describing his dream, Ucchie says, “I don’t want to stop participating in championships and am looking forward to the upcoming one in May this year. But beyond competing and winning, my dream is to start a school that will promote several events such as dancing, skateboarding and BMX riding (teaching very complex moves). I want to concentrate on areas where Japan is not strong, so we can develop those areas and become strong competitors at the world level.”
Ucchie’s charm is not limited to the flat piece of land where he lands his bicycle tricks. Down to earth and unpretentious he is very accommodating of the various demands put on him, whether it is posing for photos, signing autographs or readily teaching simple bicycle tricks to people who want to try a few cool moves on their own.
Ucchie has always had the blessings of his loved ones. “My family has always been very supportive of my passion. My parents let me pursue BMX riding when I graduated from high school without any objection. I met my wife Momo at a party several years ago, she was a fan of mine; today, she continues to support my enthusiasm. I have a three-year-old son, Rinatro, who is already rehearsing to become a champion. Of course, he is too small to try tricks, but everyday he practises receiving the championship award like he saw me do, on TV. He throws his arms in the air in a sign of victory. We go through this little victory session every day”, he concludes with a big smile.
Even as Ucchie prepares himself for yet another victory at the upcoming World Circuit Championship, Qatar wishes the BMX champ luck and looks forward to him achieving a hat trick that will be another champion move!
BMX denotes Bicycle Motocross.
Flatland is a freestyle BMX riding style, performed on smooth flat grounds that do not include any ramps, jumps, or grind rails —which is where the style gets its name. The sport requires great balance, agility and patience. The bike has pegs off the side of the front and back wheels which are used to hold the rider’s body in place.
This discipline of BMX involves countless hours of practice to enable a rider to have complete control over the bike. It consists of several different styles, and within each style there are a limitless number of tricks.
1) ENTHRALLING: Bar Ride in Osaka.
2) CROWNING GLORY: Yohei Uchino after winning the World FLAT ARK Championship; (inset) Son Rinatro rehearses.
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