Interview with Blind Trials Rider; Matt Gilman

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Can you give us some background on who you are, name, where you live, married, kids, profession?

My name is Matt Gilman. I live in Baltimore, Maryland, I am married to a wonderful person who has supported me through everything that has happened to me with my vision. No kids as of yet, though the wife is starting to get the bug. Well my profession… I don’t really have one at the moment. I have been a bike mechanic for …umm 15 years now. I am currently trying to get back into a shop. So hopefully I will be there soon.

How did you get into trials?

I got into trials kind of by chance. I was working at the shop and someone who I used to dirt jump with came in. He was there to trade a mod trials bike in for a bmx bike for a neighbor’s kid. He won the trials bike in a duel solemn race. He thought it would be better to provide a new bike to a less fortunate child, then to have a trials bike that wouldn’t be used. So when it came in to the shop as a trade in I started playing around on it and quickly got the bug. A good friend of mine already rode trials, so I called him up and said I got a trials bike. That’s the start of it all.

Were you born blind?

I was not born blind. I could see for 24 years of my life. I became blind due to diabetes in 2004. I had vision on and off for about a year and a half. I would have a surgery and would be able to see for about a month or so then I would have a hemorrhage with a blood vessel in my eye, then I wouldn’t be able to see anything. I had, I think 22 or so eye surgeries. My left retina is badly torn and I can’t see anything out of that eye. The right I can see a little bit. The doctor put a silicone oil in my eye to stop the bleeding, which worked but now I have to look through oil. Plus the retina was torn in that eye as well just not as badly. I also have replaced lenses in both eyes. The right has a fiber growth growing on the lens and a milkyness on the cornea. All of these things make it near to impossible to see. I can see light and some really contrasty things. The best way I can describe it is, take the foggiest day you can think of and hold a bottle of olive oil up to your eye and try and get around. Each month my vision gets worse and worse. The oil is good in the sense that it is keeping blood from blocking my vision but it also eats away at the eye over time. The doctor wants to do another surgery soon to clean up everything to keep it from getting worse. He said I may get a little vision back but not much if at all.

Is it difficult to execute tricks since you can’t see? Or do your other senses get heightened in turn help you perform better.

Well I would say it is more difficult then it normally is. I just had to learn how to do things in a different way then every other rider. THe hardest thing is having to place your wheel in a tight spot, you know something narrow. i usually can’t do that so well. There are a few things that I know I will probably never be able to do, such as balance lines. Like riding the length of a log. I just can’t see when my wheel is going towards the edge. There are some trials moves that it is almost impossible to do because it requires good sight and if I were to attempt them I would more then likely get really hurt, and that’s not what I want to do. I will push my self to become a better rider and who knows I may get to a point where I may start doing things like that. I never thought I would get to the level Iam at now. The one thing that I do more then ever is use my front wheel as kind of a hand. I will touch my wheel to things to see how far I am from the obstacles. I will also use my tire to mush over an edge so I know that I am on the corner. All other senses don’t really help. Sometimes they gett in the way. When I ride rocks, everything looks the same to me. I will think I will see something off to my right that isn’t there. I will ask a friend what is that and they will say nothing is there. So my mind plays tricks on me. At this point I will close my eyes and just ride while my tires tell me what is around.

Do you have videos or photos of you doing trials?

I do have both. I am getting started on another video now that the weather is getting better. These 2 links are to my You Tube video and to my Facebook fan page. The Facebook has photo’s, my video and some other info. I am also in the process of trying to get some demo’s going. I am going to be doing a demo for the American Diabetes Association in may. I am trying to figure out how to get some obstacles to the site. As I can’t drive and no one I know can get much in their car.

My Facebook fan page -Facebook | Matt Gilman – Blind bike Trials Rider
Anyone can view this page weather or not you are a member.

What is your favorite trick to do on your bike?

I don’t really have a favorite move. I really like the old school way of riding trials. I like to roll up and down the biggest things that I can. I like getting on one obstacle with my rear wheel and on another with my front, this is called spanning. When you are spanning things it takes lots of balance. Then to get out of the move takes lots of practice. Recently I really have been into riding rocks as they provide endless lines and more challenging moves to go from one area to another. Plus if you can ride rocks you can ride everything else there is. I think this will improve my riding immensely. Maybe after riding rocks i may be able to ride narrow balance lines, haha.

What kind of bike do you ride?

I ride a trials specific bike. I recently got a new frame from I am riding the Meta VTT. This bike is a long frame, this helps me do really big rolls and span big gaps.

Do you need a spotter to tell you what to expect when riding trials?

Yes and no. when we ride things orr places that I rode when I could see, I remember what it looks like and what is around. Usually I am safe there. When we ride rocks and new places then yes I definitely need someone looking out for me. Some of the things I ride I can really get hurt on either by falling off of something high or i have and can run into something, such as a tree or pole. Most of the time people will tell me how close or how far something is away from me. When I ride things like a trials section I will need someone to tell me if i am going the right direction. I get off course really easily. I think I am going in one direction and some how I have drifted completely off course and this becomes dangerous. I have fallen off of many things when people are not paying attention. That’s the way it goes. I will keep riding no matter what.

Can you provide us photos and videos of you riding?

If you go the the Facebook page you can find all the photo’s there plus my video. Once I get another video out, it will get posted up there. I usually update it as I get photos or anything of that nature.

We’d like to thanks Matt Gilman for taking the time to answer our questions. If you haven’t already, please take the time to watch his video, it really is pretty cool!

RL Policar

RL Policar is an avid mountain biker and the Editor In-Chief of and Between the two sites, he's published well over 4,000 articles (and growing).

8 thoughts on “Interview with Blind Trials Rider; Matt Gilman

  1. Yeah!

    Way to go Matt… you are an inspiration to all of us! Looking forward to riding with ya this season. Matt didn’t mention it, but he just got to meet Ryan Leech at a competition up in Canada recently. Great interview guys, I love to see trials get the recognition that it deserves.

  2. Trials is one of those skills I wish I had. I mean, I already have the good looks, but to have Trials under my belt…then I’d be a happier man.

    Matt, kudos to you. It really is amazing how you can do the things you do.


  3. What Matt didn’t tell you is that he was a pretty damn good BMX street rider before he got into trials AND one of his old shop mates was a pro trials rider back in the late 90’s. He had a great start. Above the skills and beyond the blindness, Matty’s just a fantastic guy…fun to be around. Good on you Matt. Hope to see you here in Portland one day but if not, I’ll certainly see you again whenever I get around to heading back to MD.

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