On a sweltering Raleigh afternoon, a shirtless gladiator rides a children’s bike.

His chiseled abs seem welded together as though with rivets. Two overgrown pectoral muscles are swelling symbols of his 500-pound bench press. Beads of sweat drip onto a pair of glistening shoulders that bear a collection of stretch marks, the battle-scar testament to his daily crusade. And his contoured arms outstretch like the wings of an eagle taking flight.

But the gladiator is not gripping the bike’s handlebars. He has no use for them. He is the No Hand King.

“I’m a warriorperiodto be able to do what I do,” he exclaims, flexing his back muscles in the sun. “The kids come to me like I was Michael Jordan. They say, ‘No Hand, you’re my hero.’”

For two decades, this titan of tilt has indeed mesmerized East Raleigh residents, who worship at the altar of his one-wheeled wizardry. The gladiator has no use for T-shirts, nor does he need the front wheel of his bike. He rides wheeliesno-handed wheelies, no lesscontinuously for several minutes. Up and down his street he glides, a whir of torso and torque. As he casually carves street corners, his abdomen anchors his center of gravity. His front wheel is cocked sideways in mid-air, protecting him like a shield. Every so often, when the wheel nears the pavement, the King whips it back up by accelerating.

But the No Hand King, whose real name is Rodney Hines, is not content with being a local ruler. He seeks to expand his reign across the entire cycling kingdom by biking to California over the course of one month. He plans to peddle 3,000 miles at a rate of 100 miles a dayall with no hands, all on a wheelie. The King challenges anyone to such a wheelie race to California, including Kurt Osburn, who set a Guinness World Record by becoming the world’s first person to wheelie from coast to coast. In 1999, he made his voyage in 73 days, wheeling with hands from Hollywood to Orlando.

“That other guy can’t keep up with me,” the King scoffs. “I’ll eat him for breakfast.”

Osburn, he contends, cheated his way to the Guinness record with a fixed gear bike, which allows for better control.

“Fixed gear, that’s shady. It’s nothin’ but a rigged-up unicycle with handlebars,” says Hines. (He often rides the streets of downtown Raleigh while balanced atop a unicycle.) “He set his record in 73 days, and I’m like, ‘What took you so long?’ I can do that in 30 days or less. I have the strength of a lion and endurance of a hyena.”

But the King cannot make the sans-hands conquest without help. He needs sponsorship. Any excess money, he says, will go toward U.S. military service men and women. To prove his patriotism, he straps American flags to the backs of his bikes, allowing the red-and-white stripes to whip in his wake of no-handed glory. He also needs a truck to tail him on highways “to keep the haters from running me off the road.”

The King cannot confirm that he has ever cycled 100 miles in a day on one wheel, as he contends he can. But he is confident he can outduel Osburn: “Like Ali said, fighters know when fighters are in shape. I want to set it up like the Tour de France. His hands up, against me and my no-hands.”

Hines has been pledging his cross-country trek for several years now. In the interim, he has trained like a heavyweight prepping for a title fight that’s never been scheduled.

“No drugs, no pills, no protein milkshakes,” he explains, taking a swig of a cherry soda. “I don’t take nothing but cakes and cookies. Straight No Hand King power. Eat you a Snickers bar and work out, burn all that up, you’re good to go.”

At 48, he says he is in the best shape of his life, tipping the scales at “a good” 162 pounds. He prepares for his moment by lifting weights every day in a makeshift gym he created inside a medium-sized Raleigh storage unit, where he also offers weight training to a handful of clients.

“Like Bruce Lee saysyou must train every inch of your body so when you want it, it’s there,” he muses.

A crooked black golf cap sits on his bald head. His brow is furrowed and his cheekbones sunken, but the King betrays a youthful continence. Popping wheelies is like life: The key to riding with no hands is to pace yourself, says the King. The only things that force him to the mortal world of two wheels are a strong gust of wind and a sharp bump in the road.

As a teenager, the King caught a string of larceny and breaking-and-entering charges. One day on his cell block, he spotted a fellow inmate balancing on the back legs of a folding chair. He remembered the thousands of wheelies he’d popped on his BMX, so he challenged the inmate to a contest. For the next 70 minutes, he sat perched atop the chair’s back legs with preternatural ease.

Hines took his balancing talents to the wheels when he was released from prison at 23. He began wheelie-ing his way down Raleigh’s Person Street, spinning his wheel of wonder through traffic, coasting down hills and across dirt paths. He popped 6-mile wheelies to Crabtree Valley Mall and a Wal-Mart in Garner. Children stopped him in awe. He offered lessons and told them, “My dream came late. Don’t do what I did. Listen to your mom and dad.”

Bryan Regan, a local photographer who has worked with the one-wheeled biker for years, confirms his community status. “He’s a mentor to kids in the neighborhood,” he says.

Person Street residents nicknamed him the Wheelie King. Around 2005, he changed the title to No Hand King. Bike Magazine profiled him, as did The News & Observer. (In the 2007 N&O piece, author Josh Shaffer contacted Osburn, the Guinness record holder, who in an email message accepted a similar challenge the King had made that year. They’ve yet to race.)

To bide time while he awaits a moment that may never come, the Greek god of wheelies has adopted his own mythology, spinning axioms like axle hubs and punctuating his lessons with a common coda.

“So as a man thinks, so he is,” the King says. “That’s deep.”

“Like a scientist once said, to master something, you need to put 100 hours into it until you don’t got to think, like putting on a shoe,” he says. “There it is. That’s deep.”

The King wheels to the corner of his street, near the house he shares with his wife. Walter Coleman, a truck driver who grew up with the King in Raleigh’s Walnut Terrace complex, praises his friend’s discipline.

“To see a man come from nothingno father, in prisonto having two cars in the driveway makes me proud of him,” he says. “He had a dream and he achieved it.”

Regarding his next dream, Hines has a message for Osburn.

“I have over 30 years of experience working wheelies with no hands. I’m gonna stress you out. I’m gonna scratch you out. And then I’m gonna get rid of you. Put that in,” he instructs.

Remember, the key to riding with no hands is to pace yourself.

“I don’t rush,” says the King. “But sooner or later, the moment is gonna come. The Bible says, ‘Speak these things as if they were.’ Now is my time. I’m ready.”