Before BMX riders like Dave Mirra and Ryan Nyquist were even born, let alone doing tricks like a decade or backwards manual, Japanese American cyclist Lilly Yokoi, the world’s greatest acrobat on a bicycle, was doing them first… in high heels and sequin costumes… before BMX was even a thing.
While Yokoi’s performances were based in the circus, her technique and skill were unmatched during the late 50’s and 60’s. What began as a group with her sisters, who were all cyclists, soon evolved into a solo routine in 1956, according to Flashbak. Yokoi appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, ABC programming, and was featured in a documentary titled Rings Around the World, a reflection on the circus and the great acts discovered throughout history.
Not only could she do a full handstand on her handlebars in one graceful swoosh, she was also one of the highest paid solo performers in the circus and variety world at the time. Graceful and kind, she was well-loved within the business and was constantly sought after for different performances around the globe. Cyril Mills of Betram Mills Circus reflected on her talent and personality:
“…she was about the highest paid circus artiste in the world and having had to do battle with all the great circuses, I still had to wait two years until she was free.”
He added, “I think she was one of the greatest performers I ever engaged. She was an artiste down to her fingertips, her costumes were magnificent, and she had a smile which was so infectious that her audience was with her in the first minute.”
Check out this video of one of her famous performances and imagine her today killing it on the ramps with these guys.
Images via capovelo.com and cirk75gmkg.fr