Cycling's flashiest entertainer bills himself as Hans (No Way) Rey. That's no way as in, There's no way you can ride your bicycle up that waterfall. Or, There's no way you can go down the streets of San Francisco on your front wheel. Or, There's no way you can bunny-hop to the top of that three-foot-high, six-inch-wide ledge from a standing start.
At 28, Rey has parlayed his almost supernatural bike control, an engaging raddude persona and a thoroughly down-to-earth grasp of marketing into a unique niche in the world of cycling. Part competitive athlete, part consummate showman, he has won countless cycling championships, starred in his own videos, traded yucks with Regis and Kathie Lee, and performed in more countries than road companies of Cats.
"He makes the unimaginable look possible," says Bob Allen, a photographer who has shot many of Rey's outrageous feats. "Even though I've been working with him for years, I'm still amazed by the things he does."
Tall, square-jawed and muscular, with a long, sun-bleached ponytail and a new house in Laguna Beach, Rey could pass for a Southern California surf dude—until you hear the pronounced German accent. Actually, he's a Swiss citizen, but he was born and raised in Germany. And beneath his been-there, done-that public image rests a core of Teutonic precision.
"I'm not a stuntman," he insists. "I can show you five techniques for jumping onto a picnic table. But if you want somebody to ride his bike 40 miles per hour into something, I'll tell you to call somebody else. What I do is calculated risk. It's not like I'm trying to kill myself."
Rey honed his chops in trials riding, a highly technical and—in this country—highly obscure sport that pits cyclists against grueling obstacle courses. Riders pop wheelies, pirouette on their front wheels, and hop till they drop while thrashing over logs, rocks, water hazards and, on occasion, junkyard cars.
Rey started competing in Germany when he was 12, just as trials riding was finding a European audience, and quickly became one of the emerging sport's first stars. His race log includes numerous European and world championships, and he has dominated the U.S. circuit, which runs from April to September, since moving here seven years ago. But what sets him apart from the pack, more than his talent, is how he has taken trials techniques out of the trials arena.
In 1987, on German television's top-rated game show, Rey jumped his bike onto a four-foot-high square that had been created by connecting four balance beams, and then circumnavigated it. "There were 42 million people watching on TV," he says. "It was pretty intense." Two years later he one-upped himself by bike-dancing on the roof of a gridlocked car on Los Angeles's 405 Freeway.
Rey has been on the show circuit ever since. He earns $1,000 for each appearance and has wowed crowds at conventions, shopping malls, nightclubs, soccer games and rock concerts. Backed by sponsors such as GT Bicycles, a bike company for which he has ridden since 1987 as part of a team; Adidas; Swatch; and a German automobile clutch manufacturer, Rey logged 160,000 frequent-flier miles in 1993. During one five-week stretch last fall, he played 65 gigs in eight countries—and still found time to enter the World Mountain Bike Championships, in Vail, Colo., where he scored a second and a third in the stock (standard 26-inch mountain bike) and modified trials, respectively.
Although it's impossible to watch Rey in action without hoping he is enrolled in a reputable health plan, he says he has never been seriously injured while performing. "The bike actually becomes an extension of my body," he explains. "It's like when you want to put your finger to your nose and it goes right there. It's the same with the bike. When I want to put my front tire on the curb, it lands right there."
For his next trick he hopes to make it in Hollywood. So far, the reaction has been, "No way, Rey." But Allen, for one, doesn't count his friend out: "Hans looks at the world as a trials obstacle to be conquered on his bike." As Rey himself puts it, "Every time somebody says, 'No way,' it is for me an incentive to do it."
Preston Lerner is a freelance writer who lives in Burbank, Calif.