Ridin’ high
Local riders delve into ‘crazy bike culture’

Nick Jones (left) and Zach Counter demonstrate the use of their tandem “truck bike” last week in downtown Durango. The two are among a group of locals who are putting a new spin on cycling by building Frankenbikes and using them for pursuits like jousting and hard surface bike polo./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Kinsee Morlan

When Zach Counter, Noah Leggett and Nick Jones ride their bikes down Main Avenue in Durango, people notice. Last fall, the young bikesters got together in Counter’s welding shop and created what are known as tall bikes – two, sometimes three bike frames welded together to create bikes that tower over their normal-sized cohorts.

The old, big-wheeled penny-farthing could be considered a distant cousin of the newer tall bikes, which have been popping up lately among bike clubs across the globe

“The idea’s been around for a long time,” says Counter, 23, pulling at his neon cycling cap, which compliments his big, bright plug earrings. “I don’t know, we like weird bikes so we wanted to make one.”

“We’re not the first ones to do it,” agrees Leggett, 19, who, just last year, rode across the country on a single-speed then rode a tandem bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles. “It’s just sort of a natural progression to the next level. It just kinda makes sense. Cars respect you because you can fall through their windshield. People like them – they seem to make people happy, and that’s nice to do sometimes.”

Counter is the professional welder in the bunch. The others, which includes Leggett, Jones, Jeff Wollenberg (the young owner of Papa Wheelies bike shop), and whoever else happens to be at the welding warehouse at the time, help by finding the bike frames and wrenching together the mechanics of the things. Some have brakes, some don’t. They’ve also put together xtracycles – bikes with extra cargo

Although most of their bike-art creations are currently pretty broken down and in need of some repairs, the crew says Durango can expect more bicycle spectacles to roll their way this summer. They’ve been playing a few casual games of hard-court bike polo in a church parking lot on the south side of town and tall bikes make the game even more exciting.

“It’s fun,” says Counter, who describes the soft-court polo people play on their mountain bikes at parks as “too slow.”

This summer, the boys also plan on playing a few rounds of the game the tall bikes have become most famous for – bike jousting. The game is basically what it sounds like: two brave riders mount their tall bikes and, armed with some sort of homemade lance in their hands, ride full-speed at one another. The ultimate goal is to knock the other person to the ground.

“There’s a lot of crazy bike culture,” laughs Counter. “Like the stuff happening in New York with the Black Label Bike Club; they do jousting all the time. They even do fire jousting, where the end of your lance is on fire, but, uh, we’ll see what kind of painful things we’ll get into.”

Counter and the others are no strangers to pain. Leggett just regained the ability to bend his elbow after a series of three bike crashes in one night. Counter can point to every one of the scabs on his legs and tell you how he earned each one.

“This one’s from a fixie,” says Counter, pointing to a big scab on his shin. “This one’s a mountain bike, and that one’s from the night of the DAWDLE.”

DAWDLE, an annual art walk that takes place every May in various downtown venues, was partly organized by Counter, Leggett and Jones, all members and co-creators of the Durango Youth Coalition (DYC), a local group of young activists. So, while the boys will mock you if you ask them if they’re part of a bike gang or club – “We don’t have matching jackets,” laughs Jones – they do admit to being active members of the DYC, the group taking over the former home of Articulation at 1050 E. Second Ave. on June 1.

“We’re going to help Bicycle Lemonade hold an art-show fund-raiser at the space,” Jones says.

“And we plan on doing a bike lab,” adds Leggett, “where we teach people how to fix their bikes.”

Zach Counter takes a spin on his “tall bike.” The crew is partnering with the Durango Youth Coalition on a bike lab and other unusual two-wheeled pursuits/Photo by Stephen Eginoire

But other than that, their plans for the space are a little hazy. They know bikes will be a major part of what they do, though, because bikes are a big part of everything they do. One thing they know for sure is that they won’t be selling their famous tall bikes at the space. The boys are pretty serious and passionate about bike culture. While they do think that everyone should own a bike and rely on pedal power rather than cars and gasoline, they don’t want to be sellouts.

It’s understandable. With the huge fixie fad that started with bike messengers in San Francisco in the early 2000s, bike riding has become more of a fashion statement than an environmentally friendly mode of transportation these days, and the boys don’t want their tall bikes to be a part of that.

“I used to be pissed off about that,” Leggett says. “That it’s all part of a fad, but then I realized that that’s awesome. If bikes are cool again, that means people ride bikes. I don’t have a problem with that at all. So, if you’re going to be hip and do it, that’s fine. And if people keep doing it after the fad passes, that’s even better. I’d much rather have people get hooked on bikes than cell phones or cars or something.”

“If someone wants to know how to build a tall bike,” adds Jones, “we’ll show you how.”

To get into the heads and find out the true motivation and politics of these Durango bike kids is nearly impossible. When asked what kind of statement they hope to make with their attention-grabbing tall bikes or whether or not they want to spread their bike-riding and bike-making ways to the masses, they answer this way:

Jones: “I feel, like, we just kinda ride bikes because we just, I don’t know, ride bikes.”

Counter: “I hate walking.”

Leggett: “It’s straight for the hell of it; we’re not doing it for anybody.”

Jones: “We’re not trying to make a movement or preach to other people about how they should ride bikes.”

Counter: “We just really like bikes.”

Jones: “Yeah, we really like bikes. They’re fun.”

Leggett: “It’s cheaper than gas. I’m sure we’ve got some sort of higher cause….”

Jones: “Yeah, but that’s not why we all started riding bikes.”

Counter: “Walking hurts my body.”

Leggett: “Bikes just make sense: They’re practical, and we’re just having more fun being practical, I guess.” •