When Chad Cheeney was seven years old, he wanted to be a professional
football player. He yearned to be the star of his local high
school team, make first string for the Oregon Ducks and eventually
wear the same blue and orange uniform as his hero, John Elway.
As a member of the local pee-wee football league, he planned
to take ballet classes to develop balance, strong legs and an
airy lightness on his tippy-toes.
His mother ecstatically signed
him up for his first ballet class. She drove him to the local
dance school in Bend, Ore., but Cheeney never made it through
the door. He took one look at the little girls in pink tutus
and tights and never uttered the word ballet in his parents’
“There was nothing cool
about ballet class,” he says. “And besides, that
was before I got my first mountain bike.”
Mountain biking has been the
primary focus of Cheeney’s existence ever since. With
quadriceps the size of some people’s waists, physical
pain and cardiovascular punishment are his fortes. Several years
ago, he completed the Big Sur Ultramarathon without any previous
marathon experience, just the time spent in the woods on his
beloved bike breathing crisp Northwestern air.
to Durango, the venerated mountain bike capital of the world,
eventually became Cheeney’s objective. Attending Fort
Lewis College, the alma mater of his distant cousin, former
Mountain Bike World Champion Greg Herbold, became his vehicle
for coming to Durango.
Cheeney is now in his final
year of study as an exercise science major at FLC and a member
of the school’s cycling club. However, he has never shaved
his legs to shave nanoseconds. He loves cycling purely for the
feeling of speed and the exhilaration of exhaustion.
And for the past few years,
Cheeney has shared this feeling with others in the form of the
semi-annual Bike Derby – a loose conglomeration of bike
enthusiasts who gather at a local mountain biking venue to participate
in offbeat games of skill. It’s a wild longing from deep
within for an unbridled celebration of bicycle stewardship.
Last week, on a Test Track
concrete slab overlooking Durango, a multitude gathered to praise
the bicycle. Cheeney was the official organizer, promoter and
sponsor of the event. Participants found no doormen collecting
cover charges and no figures of authority watching over them.
Every Bike Derby has a costume
theme. For last week’s fifth bi-annual Derby the theme
was “Carnies at the Carnival” with aficionados serving
as clowns, magicians, ring-masters, hula-hoop girls, sideshow
performers, game booth operators and bearded ladies in full
drag. As a collective, they spent five hours in the woods laughing,
screaming, singing and drinking beer.
A0If psychologist Carl Jung
had attended, he may have commented that the Derby fulfills
a primal urge to individuate oneself from the rest of society.
Sigmund Freud would have countered
that it represents an unresolved oedipal complex. The Dalai
Lama might have reminded Derby attendees to “Learn the
rules so you may be wise in breaking them.”
To enter the three events,
participants signed up on a clipboard full of dirty, beer-soaked
notebook paper. The directions and instructions were then bellowed
through a bullhorn, which may or may not be reported missing
from an unspecified law enforcement official.
Once the sign-up was complete,
a series of muddled yet efficient contests began. The first
event, a warm-up of sorts, was the ghost ride. Riders pedaled
toward a start line, abandoning the bike prior to the line.
A step or fall over the line resulted in disqualification. The
longest ghost ride won.
The second challenge, the
thrift-store bike downhill, was the main event. Riders had to
navigate a steep, twisty singletrack into a bumpy and dangerous
root section before pedaling uphill to the finish line –
all on the same $8, second-hand children’s bike. The boldest
riders finished the course in less than 20 seconds.
A galleryA0congregated near
the section where the most wrecks were likely to happen. The
mob loved carnage and sadistically celebrated each time a rider
crashed. There was even the occasional chorus of boos when a
rider narrowly avoided driving his or her body into the hard
Whatever remained of the ghost-ride
bike was used for the third event: the Huffy toss. Using any
method possible, the participant had to spin, run and huck the
bike from behind the line. Once again, a contestant was disqualified
if he or she stepped or fell beyond the line, and there are
no second chances at the Bike Derby. Contestants who threw the
bike into the crowd were quickly reminded that no one is safe
from the reciprocity of karma, not even at the Derby.
When all the beer ran out
and the last event rumbled to a close, the remaining participants
cleaned up the mess. In darkness they stumbled, tripped and
rolled down the hill to meet at Cheeney’s artificial wood-paneled
his dome light for guidance, he tallied up the results and awarded
prizes, the grand one being a new bicycle frame courtesy of
a local bike shop. Other prizes included vintage and retro bike
clothing, bike equipment, thrift store clothes and wigs. As
proof of his Derby mastery, defending champion Cheeney took
top honors again this year. To show his generosity, he graciously
donated his new bike frame to thrift store downhill winner Eric
Porter. And when all the awards were handed out, everyone locked
their cars and rode their bikes downtown to continue the festivities,
with Cheeney leading the charge.
is the perfect guy to be ringleader of that circus,” Herbold