Over the Hills and back again

Lionel Hills gets a renewed interest in entertaining Southside drivers through riding his bicycle backwards and dancing

Lionel Hills. *Photos by Nicole Davis.

He thought his time performing for Southside drivers was coming to an end. For the past nine years, Lionel Hills has entertained the people traveling through the intersection of Thompson Road and Emerson Avenue, sitting on the handlebars of his bicycle, riding backwards, dancing and often doing tricks.

The business where he had ridden closed and a new one opened with longer hours, which wouldn’t allow for the empty parking lot where he rode.

“After all these years, there are times I think people don’t like this any longer,” Hills said. “I recently found out, that isn’t true.”

When he broke the news on his Facebook, his fan page shared the news. Hills had hundreds of comments, messages and friend requests which proved that people do still enjoy his talents.

“I never come to that light without looking for you,” commented one Facebook user.

“Go to another intersection. You make people smile. Don’t give that up,” commented another.

Lionel Hills performs for passing cars by riding backwards on his bicycle, dancing with some sticks for added entertainment.

“You ARE our celebrity!!” wrote another.

There were thousands of comments.

“The day I posted about me not riding over there, it literally brought tears to my eyes,” Hills said. “I couldn’t hold them in. The whole time I was reading that post, the tears were just flowing. I felt the love from the community about what I do. I just thank God for giving me a talent that I can share with everyone. He gives me the strength. Because He loves everybody, I’m learning to do the same. I do it because I simply love people. I try to express that love when I’m riding. People can see that I’m thoroughly enjoying it, which causes them to enjoy it.”

It all started at a pawn shop in 2005. Hills, who was then living on the Westside of Indianapolis, went into look for an instrument – he doesn’t play but loves bands. There, his eyes caught hold of a Schwinn 26 Beach Cruiser with a price tag of $19.99. After consulting with his wife, Stephanie, he eagerly purchased the bike.

“The idea came to my mind to sit on the handlebars, to see if I could ride because we did it when I was young, my brothers and friends,” Hills said. “As soon as I got on the handlebars, I noticed that I could ride. I said let’s see if I can ride with no hands. I was able to ride. I started riding around the apartment complex where I lived. The kids loved it.”

He took the bike to 71st and Michigan Roads and started riding there, adding more and more to his routine. He noticed that his performances were a true attention-getter. He took the act to the intersection at 38th and Georgetown Road for some time before moving to the Southside of Indianapolis, Franklin Township in 2008.

Later that year, he spotted the intersection at Emerson and Thompson. It was perfect. The business, an animal hospital, closed early and on the weekends, leaving for an empty parking lot at a busy intersection where Hills could be seen from all four directions.

“I do it to put smiles on people’s faces, to bring joy to their day because you never know what type of day a person is having,” he said. “I know there are days people have issues that they go through and to see me riding, if I can put a smile on their face, then I’m happy. I love to smile. I love to laugh. I love to have a good time. I believe that smiling is contagious. When I see people watch me, I put on a special performance just for them. Before they know it, they’re on their way because the light has changed. It makes the light seem less long to wait, then they’re going on.”

With gospel music playing through his headphones, Hills is always dancing. He’ll sometimes juggle tennis balls while he rides, but that can be difficult. When the weather is cooler, he enjoys dressing in all black with white gloves, creating the illusion of puppetry. He also blew bubbles one years, chasing the bubbles down while he was riding.

“My sticks, that’s my trademark,” he said. “I can twirl them the whole time I’m out here.”

Hills rides in the Southport Homecoming Parade on Sept. 29.

In 2010, some people stopped to ask if he knew he was on Facebook. A fan page had been created for him, titled Guy on Thompson and Emerson That Rides His Bike Backwards, And Juggles!

“About 4,000 people liked the page before I saw it,” he said. “Ash Bruner is her name, the young lady that created the page. I appreciate her doing it. That’s my fan page. I decided to become a member of Facebook in 2010. I liked (the page) immediately.”

That page currently has more than 9,300 ‘likes.’ Hills is able to interact with his fans that way, and has developed friendships through it. Now on his third bicycle since 2005, one fan even volunteered to purchase the most recent one after hearing of bike number two breaking.

With all of that support, and thinking that he would no longer be able to ride this past September when the new business opened the intersection, Lionel said he felt sad.

“Ain’t no better spot in town than here,” he said.

He needed a new location. Hills works full time as a claims processor for Anthem, and while he loves his job, he said he’s not home 30 minutes before he hops in his Blazer, anxious to take his bicycle out to ride.

Fans began suggesting alternative locations, and some businesses even volunteered their parking lots, but Hills said he wanted to stay at a busy intersection with a stoplight so people would have a moment to watch.

His last day at his former location was Sept. 5. He decided to try riding across the street, in the Hardee’s parking lot, the following Monday. A video was later posted on his fan page of him riding in the new spot.

“I can’t express how happy I am!” a fan commented.

“Yay! We didn’t lose you after all!” wrote another.

Hills plans to continue riding there for now, until the weather gets too cold. He’s not as visible as the previous spot, but said it’s the next best option.

He has also participated in other community events, such as the Beech Grove Fall Festival Parade and the Southport Homecoming Parade on Sept. 29. He said while he has been grounded in the Franklin Township/Beech Grove vicinity, he would love to participate in larger festivals and take his act on the road.

Getting to know Lionel…

-“I play table tennis every week, so when it gets cold, I have an inside hobby.”

-“I also like to paint.”

-“My wife and I have our own ministry, Team Ministry. We’re a small group, but we’re fully functional. We have a weekly prayer line, a Friday and Saturday night service.”

– Most memorable moment while performing: “I was riding one day on the Westside. I was on the handlebars and I tried to go in a circle. For some reason, I fell off the bike and my pants split from my ankle all the way up. I didn’t get hurt or anything. People were watching me. I was so embarrassed, I stopped riding, had to hold my pants leg as I walked to put my bike in my Blazer. As I look back over the years, that was very memorable.”