Friday, February 20, 2009

Tall Bikes

Last night we watched B.I.K.E., a not very good documentary about tall bike culture. We wished it was less about a really messed up filmmaker trying to get into the Black Label Bike Club in New York, and more about how you make the really cool bikes. However, as soon as we saw the first bike we realized that we in fact had witnessed several members of the Black Label Bike Club in Minneapolis in October. We were going to a play on a Saturday night at the Guthrie, and beforehand went to our favorite Thai restaurant, down the street from the Cedar Cultural Center. It was a weird night because something called a "zombie crawl" was going on so there were tons of people out in the street in various costumes with fake blood on their mouths, going from bar to bar and park to park. A tall bike was locked to the parking meter in front of the restaurant, and later about six or seven guys on various kinds of tall bikes came riding by. They definitely "ruled" the streets.

The whole thing started in Minneapolis, and is kind of a punk-goes-eco-protest movement. You make bikes out of found objects and junk and host meals with food found in dumpsters, and protest consumerism and the war in Iraq. That seems to be the platform. Then there's this whole "Fight Club" aspect to it, where to get into the club you compete in jousts on the bikes which look really scary and dangerous-- and at least one ambulance was called in the film.

As with any rebellious movement, it is filled with people who are not going to be able to hold it together for long. And except for the bikes, it seems much like any other rebellious scene. The people on drugs are going down fast, and the people getting married and having children are going (or growing) out of the movement altogether. Again, domesticity curbs the rock-and-roll impulse, and in this case some of the juvenile, masculine, violent energy. It's an interesting American story. And the bikes are cool.


WolfsGotYourTongue said...

I saw some of this culture in Portland in 2004. There's this whole alternative-art-scene that happens in some obscure neighborhood that I'd be hard pressed to remember even if I was standing right there. My friend had wanted me to sell my paintings on the street, thereby completely participating in the madness. I politely declined as we walked past a house with tall bike jousting... I believe there were male and female jousters in a very small front yard going right for each other. I was confused and mesmorized at the same time. Who are these tall bike jousters? I thought to myself... and 5 years later I remember my question as the answer presents itself.

In Santa Cruz there was a tall bike gang that would go riding by the Sacred Grove occasionally.. again, I just thought it was a hip trend in bicycle creation.

And lastly back in 1999, in Fullerton, at the train station, I distinctly remember this gang of tall bike deviants making noise and raising a ruckous!! Again, I didn't think to look into the phenomenon but rather assumed and concluded a 'hip' subculture of tattooed men.

I suppose it says a little something about the movement, and their ideals, that unless you see the movie or are part of the group, you may never even wonder if there is a purpose, meaning, or protest involved in tall-biking.

Susan Sink said...

You got it. The movie made a lot out of this giant protest in NYC each year, but that was about bikes and seemed only very tangentially to include the tall bike folks. They clearly could not have organized any major "action" if their lives depended on it. But hey, cool bikes!