Written By James Gogarty
Interpreter Lucie Průšová
On August 19th I returned home from my summer work out of town, where the food was mediocre at best, and I was fiending for some fresh veggies and couscous. As I hastened ravenously down the street to the local potraviny I noticed some fanfare in the distance. From behind, “Pozor!” was announced, and I stepped aside to see a team of bicycles surrounding a fit middle-aged man determinedly pedaling a yellow unicycle. A few meters ahead, I inquired about this spectacle, only to discover that one Vladimír Vidim, local bicycle shop owner, was attempting to break the world record for the longest unicycle ride in a 24-hour period. This would be not his first try at the Guiness Book of World Records. Vidim´s name appears in the book more than once, including world records for riding a penny-farthing, the classic bike with the large wheel in front, 405.53 km in 23 hours nonstop and, in 2004, for riding a road bike continuously for 702 km in 24 hours. I continued on my way thinking what drives a man to break such obscure and intense records.
Several weeks later I am waiting with an interpreter in a beer garden in Roztoky u Prahy for Vidim to show. Soon, I see him running down the street. The temperature is a cool 15 degrees Celsius and dropping, and Vidim, wearing only bike shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, is breaking a sweat as he sits down. His whole demeanor is tense and excitable, and his eyes dart back and forth between the translator and me as we introduce ourselves.
“My mother,” Vidim reveals, “tells everyone I was riding bikes before I could walk.” Regardless of if this is true, now, at 42, he must ride a minimum of three times a week or he feels nervous and tense. Two weeks is the longest he has ever been with out riding. He confesses to not being much of businessman, often closing up shop early, even when customers are there, to go biking. In 1997 he made his first world record on the penny-farthing, riding 336.6 km nonstop in 18 hours and 10 minutes, only to break it himself later. The grueling intensity of these rides gives him a “beautiful feeling” with the mix of adrenaline and endorphins racing through his body. “But I must constantly tell myself that I am tough enough,” Vidim says. “It is the psychological factor that is most difficult.” During his unicycle record attempt the large crowd, which normally motivates him, acted instead to undermine his focus. “I spent most of the 24 hours trying ignore all the shouts and cheers and just concentrate on my balance.” It was in the 12th hour when Vidim´s confidence began to wane, and, after falling a few times, he questioned if he could finish.
When asked about how he prepares himself for a record attempt, Vidim smiles and whispers, “I must keep it a secret until the last possible moment.” His friends and family often become frustrated with his social withdrawal and rigorous training regimen. One week before attempting a record, he stops riding and prepares himself psychologically, further isolating himself from others. Amazingly, he only started riding the unicycle two years ago, after years of designing the one-wheeler for a friend in the circus. What began as a hobby was soon directed toward another record. His circus friend said it would be impossible. This only pushed Vidim´s resolve further.
While some have called Vidim a fanatic, Dr. Ivana Kubešová, a psychotherapist working at the Prague 6 Pedagogical-Psychology Office as well as in her own private practice, asserts there is no simple definition of what constitutes fanatic behavior. “There are many different views,” she says, “but in my opinion a fanatic is someone who is blind to social boundaries in pursuit of their enthusiasm. You can see this commonly in religious fundamentalism. On the other hand, there are those who push themselves further than most but are aware of what they are doing and do not violate prevailing social norms. These are extreme fans.” Vidim is quite aware of what he is doing and maintains both a family and a business. He does have other hobbies, if you can separate making bicycles from riding them. Vidim is enthusiastic, very enthusiastic, about riding but he doesn´t fit the definition of a true fanatic. Perhaps the “extreme fan” label suits him best. (The term “fanatic” is almost always exonymic—applied by others rather than by an individual labeling his/herself.)
Vidim would continue past the halfway point, with breaks only for food, water and the call of nature, and, on August 20th at 6 p.m., he set the world record for the longest unicycle ride in a 24-hour period at 213.97 km. “Minutes after,” he confesses, “I was planning my next record attempt.” What exactly will that record be? We´ll just have to wait, Vladimír Vidim´s lips are sealed.
Vladimír Vidim's World Records (with support from František Třešňák):
according to Guiness Book of World Records and Agentura Dobrý den
1) 336.3 km in 18:10 hours nonstop on penny-farthing historical bicycle
2) 406.53 km in 23 hours nonstop on penny-farthing historical bicycle
3) 702 km in 24 hours nonstop on road bicycle
4) 24.11 km in 1 hour speed record on penny-farthing bicycle
5) 20 meters in 25.16 seconds slowest ride on penny-farthing
6) 40.78 km in 4:21 hours nonstop on unicycle
7) 213.97 km in 24 hours nonstop on unicycle
previously published in Provokator print magazine