Bikes of a different stripe
The ear-to-ear smiles on the Klementis’ faces in photos of their bicycle career belie what’s happening just beneath the surface.
Yes, the trio – twin brothers Egon and Helmut, as well as Egon’s wife Elfriede – had plenty of fun during their 35-year career performing bicycle stunt shows across the globe.
But popping wheelies while riding in front of a bike’s handlebars, sitting on top of each other’s shoulders while balancing on a stopped bike or plying audiences with the occasional bottle of champagne poured by Egon while standing on his bicycle-riding brother’s shoulders were also matters of strength, balance and intense concentration, said Helmut Klementi during a Thursday interview.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody,” Klementi, 77, said with a chuckle, acknowledging the act’s potential for injury.
And a career as stunt bicyclists wasn’t exactly what Egon and Helmut’s parents had in mind when encouraging their sons to take up a profession during their childhood in Austria.
The allure of a life in show business was too much for the twins to resist, Klementi said. He recalled himself and his brother sitting on their bikes, dreaming of running away with the circus.
With years of practice and a little luck, amateur performances gave way to the professional ranks, which allowed Helmut, Egon and Elfriede to make a childhood dream come true.
The trios resume includes stints in Paris, Brazil, Las Vegas, three years in the center ring of Circus Vargas and a 1958 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Klementi’s performed at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe between 1978 and their retirement from show business in 1989.
They also made their home here.
Lake Tahoe’s beauty, clean air, low crime rate, as well as acquaintances in the area, drew the Klementi’s to the South Shore.
“It’s amazing, that here they are, local people in Tahoe,” said Sharon Doughty, a co-owner of the Ski Run Center, noting the Klementi’s remarkable career. “This is where they chose to retire.”
Elfriede still works for Harrah’s while the brothers spend much of their time focused on their other artistic endeavors, Klementi said. For Helmut it’s photography, while Egon also paints and sculpts.
Helmut says he still rides bicycles on a regular basis for exercise, but leaves most of the tricks to the kids these days. He looked plenty comfortable balancing on one of his old stunt bikes at the Tahoe Art League’s Showcase Art Gallery Thursday.
“You realize now how difficult the act was now, because people would have copied it, but they didn’t,” Klementi said with a smile.
Helmut Klementi will discuss his family’s career in the bicycle stunt world from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Tahoe Art League gallery in the Ski Run Center.
Klementi’s presentation will be part of a block party at the center including live music, sales, food and graffiti art demonstrations.