Yesterday I reveled in urban bicycle culture at the Dead Baby Downhill. Ok, so the name is offensive. Perhaps a more palatable name would be something like “The PEMCO Insurance Safe Streets Ride”, but that event would be no fun at all. Dead Baby is the name of the bicycle club that hosted this massive ruckus of bicycle street culture. The Dead Baby Club is like a motorcycle club, or gang if you like, but on bicycles. No babies were harmed or killed or made to be dead in any way, shape, or form. In fact, if the event was anything, it was a celebration of life. Personally I’m more offended by having corporate logos stuck on every event and public facility. Are we past the name now?
This was possibly the best bicycle celebration I’ve ever been to. It was a multi-faceted festival. There was a race, but it wasn’t the only component of the festivities. Think mega Halloween party with a best-costume contest, parade, music, beer garden, food, and shows…but on bicycles. It was exceptionally well organized.
Male and female winners of the messenger race will be getting plane tickets to the CMWC (Cycle Messenger World Championships) in Panajachel, Guatemala (September 4-12, 2010). That’s a substantial prize.
Hundreds of cyclists and racers amassed at the Canterbury Ale & Eats on Capitol Hill (first place I ate at when I moved to Seattle in 1984). Lots of DIY (Do It Yourself) bicycle culture was in evidence. The high point was a 7-human-powered vehicle designed, engineered, and fabricated by boy-genius Haulin’ Colin. The machine was built from a re-purposed truck and it’s my understanding it utilizes the original gear box. The finish line was in Georgetown, perhaps the last remaining genuinely hip Seattle neighborhood. For several blocks, Georgetown streets were packed with what I’m guessing were well over 1,000 cyclists. Bikes were hung on every fence and chained to every pole for blocks.
There were bands on every street; BBQ, falafel and other food trucks; bike tricks; tall-bike jousting; and water bottles filled with beer from the beer garden. The mood was very friendly, peaceful, and full of bicycle love. Sadly, if you weren’t there, you missed something amazing. On the positive side, the event will happen again next year. This was the event’s 14th year. Even if you don’t have any tattoos and all your cycling gear is spandex plastered in corporate logos, you will feel welcome at the Dead Baby Downhill.
I went to the Seattle Times website and there was zero coverage or mention of this event. Why is this? In my opinion it’s because they are out of touch with grassroots culture (and likely under-staffed). If a PR firm doesn’t send them a press release and follow-up media kits the event is unlikely to exist to them. This event is done without corporate sponsorship and sale of naming rights. It is the opposite of the corporate sponsored events we have grown used to. In all the riding and talking with cyclists of all stripes I’ve done over the past months, I never heard anyone ever say “I’m training for the Dead Baby Downhill”.
I ride with and participate in events sponsored by Cascade Bicycle Club, Bicycle Alliance, COGS (Cyclists of Greater Seattle), and Tacoma Wheelmen. These groups put on some great events. They are established and considered “legitimate” organizations. They are dedicated to bicycle safety, and advancing cycling and bicycle commuting as a mainstream activity.
Events like the Dead Baby Downhill and Westside Invite are the tattood children (and grandchildren) of these mainstream organizations. The massive popularity of grassroots events like the Dead Baby Downhill is evidence of the success of advocacy organizations like Cascade Bicycle Club and the Bicycle Alliance. Thanks in part to their efforts, love of cycling and the bicycle have gone mainstream. Perhaps some of the participants are not as clean-cut or respectful of traffic signals as many older generation cyclists would like, but that’s the way many youngsters like to play. It’s like wanting to instill the love of music in your kids. Even if you’re successful it doesn’t mean you’re going to love the same music they do. I am seeing lots of beautiful bicycle tattoos on guys and gals. Do you love your bicycle enough to emblazon its image across your chest? It’s a safer bet you’ll still wear it with pride in 50 years than the name of your first girl or boyfriend. I’m reaching out to cyclists of all ages and tribes to realize we’re part of a big family based on our mutual love of the bicycle. Now let’s have a big group hug!