Annual Oddity Pairs Tough Guys and Barbie Bikes
COLORADO SPRINGS (MCT) - The whole thing was probably a bad idea from the start: Spend 10 bucks on a yard sale kiddie bike built for a 5-year-old, strip off the training wheels, then line up for a full-contact, mass-start ride down a mountain.
It's called the Pixie Repack - "pixie" for the pintsize bikes, "repack" for what riders have to do to their rear hubs once the high speeds make the bearing grease go up in smoke.
"It was a bad idea, but we seem to have a lot of people who are very good at it," said Jon Hurly, one of the riders.
So when a pack of bikers finished the first running of the Pixie Repack four years ago, they had such a good time they decided to do it again the next year. And the next.
A few more riders each year started hunting for little pink Barbie bikes at lawn sales.
Some even started customizing the frames and adding extras, such as hand brakes.
In a way, the annual exercise in the absurd gets to the heart of what bicycling is all about.
"It makes you feel like a kid again," one of a dozen racers said as they perched at the top of High Drive, ready to bomb down.
"Yeah, a really dumb kid," another murmured.
In front of them, the dirt road plunged 1,700 vertical feet into Bear Creek Canyon in Denver, twisting through switchbacks like a gravel version of an ice luge. The road ahead was fraught with pixie-eating gullies and head-size boulders. The bikes were wobbly and poorly built - better at breaking than braking.
"The road is easy. It's the bikes that are hard," said Tyrone Arcila, who was riding the lone full-size bike in the crowd. He had a small video camera strapped to his helmet, ready to catch the spills. And the spills are the point.
The bikes are hard to control. Shoving your fellow riders is allowed. But if you dish it, you'd better be able to take it.
Why do it?
"Because everything is too serious," said Jon Csakany as he crouched on his tiny bike, fastening his helmet.
Most of the riders lined up next to him were true bike nuts with multiple full-size bikes worth thousands of dollars each. Many race for real. Some are pros.
"But this takes all the stress out of it. This is just for fun," said Csakany, who has done the Repack two years in a row.
Did he have any advice for newcomers?
"Prepare to wreck, there's really no way not to," he said.
The pixies lined up. With an informal holler and a cloud of dust they were off.
They yelled. They laughed. They skidded around turns with both feet skidding along the dirt, hanging on for dear life.
The scene was remarkably like one that helped start the sport of mountain biking more than 30 years ago.
In the 1970s in California, another group of bike nuts started racing bikes downhill. They, too, were serious bikers - road racers, mostly. They started fooling around on secondhand "paperboy bikes" - rusty Schwinn cruisers with fat tires and a coaster brake. They called them klunkers, and they were the precursors of the modern mountain bike.
Like pixies, klunkers were seen as little more than kids' cast-offs - cool and fun, but kind of silly.
Riders raced them down a dirt fire road called the Repack Road, so named because the heat caused by braking on the road's 1,300-foot drop could melt the grease in a bike's rear hub, requiring riders to repack the bearings with grease after each run.
As the Repack became more popular, the competition grew more serious until riders were adding gears, disk brakes and motorcycle handlebars to their old Schwinn f rames.
Two riders in the crowd, Gary Fischer and Joe Breeze, started the first mountain bike companies. Messing around grew into a huge industry.
Asked how mountain biking started, Breeze said, "We were just having fun."
Sounds a lot like the Pixie Repack.
It's not that riding kiddie bikes is suddenly going to explode in popularity the way mountain biking did, but it does put riders in touch with those first, informal days of a sport.
The pixie riders shot down in a cloud of dust, their mouths full of grit. They hurled around one banked turn, then another, then another.
The road got steeper. The bikes went faster.
A spectator tossed a few large rocks into the middle of the road on a blind turn, hoping to get good wipe-out photos- he did.
Riders capsized in clouds of dust only to pop back up. One guy caught a flat tire but kept rolling. No one escaped unscathed, but no ambulance was called, either.
Kiddie-bike events such as the Repack take place all over the country, though not with such huge hills.
You can't call pixie biking stupid, because the Stanford University bike club does it every year. You can't say it's just part of some weird counterculture, because the Air Force Academy has sanctioned pixie races in Falcon Stadium.
All you can say is that, while much of the bicycle world has become a highly-engineered, expensive amalgam of weight-obsessed products, pixies still allow you to do your own thing.
"You're not so worried about technology," said Will MacDonald, who was riding a little girl's bike called "Peppermint Swirl" that he had chopped and lengthened so his knees wouldn't hit the bars.
"It's more creative."
The Repack finished in Bott Park in Old Colorado City, five miles and about 15 minutes later.
There was no sponsor, no trophy - not even a real finish line. The guys had talked about chipping in a buck for a prize, but never got around to it. It wasn't so much a race as a celebration of bikes and being goofy.
There were just a bunch of dudes laughing as they recounted their wrecks, and a bunch of grease leaking out of hot hubs.
© 2008, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.