Sept. 30, 2004
In 1976, a bicycle manufacturing company out of Logan, Utah set out to crack open the heads of little adventurous children all across America. The makers of the new-fangled “Swing Bike” promised that “with SWING BIKE, you can invent wacky maneuvers which leave everyone else bug-eyed in amazement!”…
From a distance, the Swing Bike looked like a regular ‘70s Stingray-ish chopper-thing, but when the rider unbolted it, a springloaded coupler unhinged under the seat, and the bike became double-jointed… and doubly hard to ride.
The presumably Mormon “Swing Bike” company wasted no time in marketing their soon-to-be-bone-crunching creation by enlisting their religious little brother Jimmy Osmond as their spokesperson.
The Swing Bike previewed for the adoring public on the Donny and Marie Show in late 1976. (Jimmy Osmond even sang on a promotional “Swing Bike” record with an instrumental theme song.)
At $119, it wasn’t a steal, but when all seventeen towheaded children and their five mothers screamed for the most prestigious Christmas present that season, tons of Mormon (and other) fathers forked over the dough.
Of course, it wasn’t long before little tender brains were spilling out across Utah’s and America’s well-paved roads. Lawsuits ensued, the Swing Bike was discontinued, and one of bicycling’s first novelty creations was mostly forgotten.
Cyclecide’s own Jingles the Klown supposes that the Swing Bike might be the precursor to BMX and other kinds of widespread trick-riding activity. The Swing Bike came with special instructions as well as suggestions for “swing bike rodeos” — complicated exercise maps that encouraged the rider and his/her bike to do the hustle, in a sense.
Yes, vehicle customization is as old as vehicles are, and penny-farthing tallbike hellions at the turn of the century engaged in their own brand of thrillseeking — but the Swing Bike might’ve been the first bicycle that implicitly suggested pedal-powered things can do more than run races or carry bodies from point A to point B.
The Swing Bike was one of the first mass-marketed bikes-for-the-sake-of-itself — a bike that played more than the rider. At the least, it encouraged idiot-bike culture; certainly, it embodies an embryonic version of Cyclecide’s philosophy.
Skip to the late 20th century, when some oddball bike mechanics in the the Heavy Pedal Cyclecide Bike Rodeo decide to re-create the Swing Bike, come head injury or high water. The guy who originally designed it patented it in the ‘70s — US Patent number 3,801,1301, to be exact — but technology is now so different, and Cyclecide’s two Swing Bike designs are so much simpler in style, that Jingles reckons the patent wouldn’t even hold.
Actually, we’ve encountered a couple of the original Swing Bikes at some Tour de Fat shows. In our opinion, they were pretty, but they wonked — too heavy, too large, too tall, too unwieldy, and too hard to ride, with an f-ed up center of gravity too far in the back.
Jingles says the original Swing Bike’s fatal flaws were: 1) the spring, which caused limited turning ability and which forced the rider to jerk the handlebars off-kilter to start trick-riding, and 2) the coupler, which gave the sometimes-regular rider a false sense of security.
Cyclecide’s simple, streamlined Swing Bikes contain neither spring nor safety bolt, so the rider must rely solely on balance and skill.
Though we have been in Cyclecide for a couple-few years now, we don’t ride tallbikes, nor do we ride hardly any other of the trick bikes. We’ve had our share of Cyclecide-related accidents — a fractured foot, a concussion, then a shattered foot, then a couple more mild concussions — and our injuries have made us more physically tentative in general, and not as light on our feet as we once were.
Suffice it to say that we only have “calamity” health insurance, and we don’t want more savings-eating surgeries, so we have to watch our own back. We’ve started, out of necessity, to err on the side of caution.
However, we had a bit of an epiphany when we got to Phoenix and unloaded the bus: We looked around and realized that most people on this Bike Rodeo tour know how to ride the Swing Bike. Even though those two hinged fuckers have given Cyclecide their own share of concusisons (even on this tour already — see previous weblog entries), and the bikes will strike again. We might be the one they strike, lest we master the beasts.
We risked being a poser of a rodeo klown if we didn’t know how to ride either a Swing Bike or a Tallbike, and at least the Swing Bikes are low to the ground. It was time for us to stop thinking of our own self as a fragile, nerdy, “indoor-kid” klutz. We had to learn to ride the Swings, to prove we’re a well-balanced cyclist with good reflexes, moderate talent, and continued bravery despite injury.
So after everybody went to bed at the Icehouse — quite weird how early, too, we might add — we vowed to master both Swing Bikes before our head hit the pillow that night. We’ve only ever ridden the green Swing Bike a few times. Of those times, we were mostly shaky, and the time we rode it best we were drunk.
Sober that night, we were determined to ride it as such. The only advice we’ve ever given audience members who try out the Swing Bikes is to steer with the ass. Beyond that, we had no pointers.
We picked up the green Swing. Of course, it was broken. Koit and Jingles were practicing their homoerotic ass-slapping Swing Bike skit earlier that night, and one of them ran into the other one’s tire and tacoed it pretty good. Again.
It turned out Jingles was awake, and he offered us his assistance. As he stood on the wheel to straighten it out, he told us that with the green-and-orange one, the rider should pull the handlebars to the side for balance, but with the red-and-blue one (a different construction entirely) the rider should push. We noticed they replaced the green bike’s seat with, ironically, the metal-flake banana seat from our old ratty French bike that folded in half – a non-swing folding bike for storage.
We listened to Jingles, and then we rode. Sure enough, the best way to steer is to hold your hands in place and point your crotch in the direction you want the bike to go. The first run, we wobbled and footed the ground, but by the second, we almost had it.
Invaluable advice — to pull the handlebars to the side. We didn’t do any turns until later — we didn’t want to get overconfident or press our luck. Every person we’ve seen get conked on the Swing Bikes did so during a turn. Then we tried the other one where you have to push. We actually aced the heck out of it the first time.
It was all about the talking-to.
After only a couple figure-8s around the parking lot, our shoulders and pecs felt worked. We spent a good hour or so switching from one Swing to another. By the time we were done, our stomach and back felt tight, too, from all that pivoting and leaning over.
Matter fact, riding both Swings could have been the best workout-on-a-bicycle we’ve ever had, since we woke up the next day with a greater variety of sore muscles than we’ve ever experienced after a bike ride.
We also woke up with a smug sense of Jedi accomplishment and a trite-but-true metaphor for life: The more you think about riding a Swing Bike while you’re doing it, the worse you are at it… and in order not to fall, you have to let yourself go.
And steer with your ass.
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