Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Small Bike Revolution

I took a trip over to Dave's house with my good friend Drew, I wanted to get some photographs of the living space, and see what I could find within the plethora of dusty bike parts, miscellaneous musical electronics from the 90's, and other oddities that seem to capture my interest while being there (I should had snapped a photo of the "Worlds Best Pants" Trophy). Drew and Dave were preparing for their upcoming trip to Portland, and were mostly focused on putting the finishing touches on their small bikes, while also arguing fruitlessly about how they were going to fit both the bikes into make-shift cardboard box package that was cut to airline specific requirements for checked luggage. Their bikes looked pretty slick, and although they were made mostly with parts of other abandoned bikes, they looked like they were sturdy and reliable conveyances. I wasn't about to jump in with the whole box conflict, and figured there was no wrong way to cut a big box into a smaller box, so I let them work it out.

Dave has been collecting bikes of all varieties ever since I've known him, and I could only assume that most of the bikes were salvaged from dumpsters and alleys around Milwaukee. Not a single bike was ready to be ridden, but given a little ingenuity and determination one could get a bike up in rolling in about a half hour's time. While they were working on their own bikes I took a look around for parts to build my own small bike for the evening. Before long I had all the basic parts to build a one of a kind machine, one that every grade schooler would envy. I found a pair of handle bars that came off an exercise bike, dug around and found a "BMX" brand saddle to put on, inflated the tires and tightened the wobbly hubs, and tried to tighten everything else so it wouldn't fall apart while I was on it. Evidently in Portland they meet once a week on top of a large hill by a Zoo to do what's deemed "Zoo Bombing". The story goes that everyone meets on top of the hill at a certain time, so they can all careen down it simultaneously on small bikes! Sounds like a riot to me... Here is a shot of one of the collective small bike piles...

Although I knew I wouldn't be able to experience the Zoo Bomb myself, I was certainly eager to hit the streets of Milwaukee and find some hills to bomb with Drew and Dave. I got adjusted to my frankenstein small bike, but after doing a few wheelies and jumping a curb, I realized that everything I had previously tighten had become loose again. My handle bars still looked awesome, but now could be moved forwards and backwards about five inches, at times, deeming them mostly useless. In a similar way the wheels still spun pretty good, but instead of maintaining a straight path, would wobble back and forth and shift significantly while turning. Needless to say I adapted to the bikes minor flaws and continued to ride outside while Drew and I waited for Dave to come outside. Eventually Dave was ready to hit the road, so we headed to the nearest destination, which was the 6th St bridge, a great view of the city and also a good hill for my first bomb.

There is a simple joy I get when riding bikes, especially when it is one that I put energy into fixing up. Not only does a bike have no fuel emissions, but reusing old bikes is a very simple and direct way of recycling trashed materials. Granted these bikes won't be great for the daily commute or touring, and my bike personally was less than solid, they function rather as a unique form of entertainment and skill sharing that helps to reinforce the unique qualities of the biking community, which is a hodgepodge of people and experiences within itself. I really enjoy the bike's ability to bring so many different people together, as well as seeing how many different ways people will decided to use their bike. Over the last four years I've lived in Milwaukee I've seen the increase in popularity of bike polo along side with the single speeds and fixed gear craze, which can also embody the same ingenuity, if one wants to build their own. The world has endless ways to benefit from the bicycle! Although I don't know any other small bike riders here in Milwaukee, I know they're out there... and if their bikes are not small lets at least hope they are TALL...

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