Oct. 18-19, 2004
as told by Jake and Luke by the fire & the world’s tallest bike (yes it is YES IT IS)
The Hard Times Bike Club began one long winter over a decade ago, when some bored gearheads from Minneapolis named Jake Houle and Airaq Shook drove a ridiculous home-made chopper named the “Golden Cow” into their friend Per Hansen’s shop to fix it after Jake rode it like a jackass and broke it.
The boys went and got some Black Label beer, busted out the tools, thought of some other odd designs, and months later, they emerged with a gaggle of junked, re-constituted bikes — mostly tallbikes.
They unleashed the beasts on the unsuspecting public, riding them around and causing traffic accidents. They gave a few extra bikes to friends, and others came by the shop to make their own alter-cycles. A Minneapolis institution was born.
In 1992, the boys made the group official, naming themselves the Hard Times Bike Club after the cafe where a bunch of them worked. Taking the “ooh, scary bike club” joke one step further, they all made themselves some “colors” — uniform, handmade biker vests with the club’s logo on the back.
Some would say that these colors looked more than a little similar to the colors the Hell’s Angels wear. Soon, and on more than one occasion, various Hell’s Angels the Bike Club ran across got seriously pissed about it, going so far as to corner HTBC members, take their colors off their bodies at gunpoint and destroy them, and threaten to break kneecaps if any suspiciously similar colors were worn again.
Bike Club members who once enthusiastically embraced both the club and the joke became intimidated, and some even dropped out of the scene — until someone suggested they change their name to the Black Label Bike Club (after the cheap and delicious beer they all consume like mother’s milk) and change the colors along with it.
This brought all the members who’d grown afraid of the stupid Hell’s Angels bullshit back to the fold, and made everyone excited again. The Black Label Bike Club grew rapidly, even going national: they now have chapters in New York, Austin, San Francisco, Montana, Tokyo, Reno, and “Nowhere” (for all the nomads).
But before the chapters branched out, when the Cirkus Redickuless went on tour in the mid-’90s with the Know-Nothing Cirkus (many of whom were HTBC), and then they all stayed and cleaned up Burning Man before anyone else, it all melted together and Cyclecide happened. Freak bikes plus traveling freak cirkus equals Cyclecide.
They joust, they drink, and they bleed; they ride bikes, they destroy cars, they help people in need. (These are reported to be some of their secret commandments. They even have a commandment-bearer, who guards their secret commandments. Aw)
Palmer’s is the Bike Club’s official watering hole. It sits on a patch of asphalt in Minneapolis’ West Bank neighborhood, right around the corner from the Hard Times Cafe. Bike Club members regularly make up a large portion of the Palmer’s staff, so like any other self-respecting herd of broke kids, the HTBC go where they can get hooked up with cheap booze.
Also, here’s another selling point for the bar: The cocktails there can kill you. A Palmer’s shot is the equivalent (depending on the bartender) of three to five normal-people shots, so the act of having a few Jack and cokes — a seemingly innocent venture in most watering holes — will, if you drink at Palmer’s, most likely land you in jail, the hospital, or the back seat of a strange and beautiful person’s car by the end of the night.
We’d been talking about going to Palmer’s since we set foot in Minneapolis, but hadn’t made it there even though we’d been in town for a week. We desperately wanted to go with the rest of the Bike Club crew after our Minneapolis show, but by the end of that blustery day, we were too tired and frozen to ride a bike anywhere.
It’s a good thing, because the folks who did brave it out to Palmer’s that night reported back that we’d taken too long to strike and load the show — everyone in the Bike Club who was waiting there for us had already gone home to pass out by the time the Cyclecide contingent arrived. Well, we had all been drinking since noon.
The next night after the show, we finally scored a ride across town, and an outing to The Bar was planned. As a pre-party to Cyclecide’s big field trip to the home team’s endrunkening facility, we were invited to Jake and Luke Houle’s house for a Bike Club / Scallywags / Cyclecide burn-barrel party in the back yard.
“The Big House” is a typical bachelor-gutterpunk-style lair, with beard-hair in the sink, empty beer cans, crap everywhere, f’ed-up pictures and graffiti, and spotty modern conveniences. The Houle brothers live there together Jake’s the BLBC president; Luke’s a something else important in the club, we can’t remember what.
Jake and Luke Houle both cut a square shadow — stocky, smooth-faced, corn-fed farm boys who are half “Indian” (as they call themselves), half white, and together, half the size and weight of an army tank.
When we rolled up on the Big House, younger brother Luke was holding court with some Scallywags in the backyard while older brother Jake played the drums inside their dirty, smelly, junky, Punk Rock Animal House house. We all grabbed a Black Label out of the case and sat around the fire, Jarico telling war stories from the road, and Luke and Koit trading tales of growing up on their respective farms in the Corn Belt.
We asked if there were any tallbike-building clubs out of Minnesota before the Black Label Bike Club came along.
Luke said he didn’t think there were — but that Midwesterners all know of someone who knows someone who’s built weird bikes before in their barns during the long and boring Minnesota winters. Vehicle customization is a product of cabin fever, we think.
We looked at the piles of bikes beyond the fire’s glow in Luke and Jake’s backyard. Tandems, trikes, tallbikes, a two-person trike, frames upon frames and parts upon parts, and behind it all, leaning up against a tree … the famed World’s Tallest Tallbike, a red-and-white monstrosity that’s 15 feet high at the seat. We’d heard about this giant before, and it was a rare and beautiful experience for us Cycleciders to witness it.
Their five-or-six-frame behemoth must be mounted either by scaling up the side while four people hold it upright, or by climbing out a second-story window onto the seat. It’s been featured in several HoliDazzle parades in the Twin Cities, and always serves to freak people out.
The Bike Club got mad when they found out someone else made the Guinness Book of World Records with the supposed “World’s Tallest Bike” — and not only was this other dude’s bike made out of poles instead of bike frames, it’s also shorter at the seat. Only the handlebars are taller.
So all the Bike Club has to do to get into the Guinness Book is slap some ape-hangers on that monster and fill out an application.
Luke rode Jarico and Linda on a special romantic date in his rickshaw bike through the park to Palmer’s, and the rest of us piled in cars (we know, but it was too far in the cold) to go to The Bar. There were plenty of familiar faces there, and our fellow Whisky Ho, April, was slinging drinks.
We actually knew the bartender at Palmer’s. We felt a weird mixture of dread and glee.
We only had two cocktails — or was it three? — and then we all went to the Hard Times Cafe for a late-night bite. This writer been to Palmer’s before, but this was our first time at the Bike Club’s namesake eatery — and we can barely remember any of it.
We know the cafe is cute and junky and open at 2am, and there’s a cool big outside covered patio with a giant table where we all sat down to eat and we fell asleep on Koit’s shoulder. We caught a cab home…? Or maybe someone gave us a ride. All we know is we woke up the next morning with severe headaches and a sense of thankfulness that all we did after a night at Palmer’s was doze off.
That next night, we fulfilled a perverse touristy requirement by venturing out to the Mall of America. For those who don’t know, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota is the #1 visited attraction in the United States, with over 525 specialty stores, 50 restaurants, 7 nightclubs, 14 movie theaters, an indoor amusement park complete with rollercoasters and water flume, and one Hooter’s. It is a nightmare, and a city unto itself.
A few Cycleciders stayed home in disgust, but the rest of us were chomping at the bit to see how our more consumption-oriented brethren and sistren entertained themselves during the long Minnesota winters. We came, we gawked, we strolled around in the belly of the beast for about an hour, splitting up into gender-specific browsing herds.
We paused to stare at the full-on indoor carnival, then quickly freaked out and had to regroup in the bar where Christina’s brother Robert works. He’s a kitchen manager in the arcade-restaurant next door to Hooter’s, and he hooked us up with the only backstage pass to this pantheon of consumerism that people like us could tolerate: Free arcade games and bowling for all of us for three hours.
It was awesome. In a way that we never want to do it again. Ever.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jarico and Laird searched and searched for the magical transportation solution that would allow the Bike Rodeo to continue its tour. They finally settled on the RV-and-box-truck combo, and shopped around for the perfect RV — or at least for a company that would let 12 klowns live on one of their RVs for a month and then drop it off halfway across the country.
They found one, and brought it over to Geno and Christina’s — and the Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby it wasn’t. A modern, flimsy cardboard box on wheels is what it was, and there was no way it was going to fit all 12 of us comfortably. But it was our only choice. We all reluctantly packed up to head down the road to St. Louis.
We used to have a ritual when leaving a town to go to the next venue, back in the days when we had the bus: One of the Bicas boys in Tuscon gave us an obnoxious noise-toy during the ‘03 spring tour — a toddler’s noisemaker shaped like a farm silo that lights up and plays a tinny, whiny version of “Old MacDonald,” complete with pig noises, cow moos, and a rooster crowing at the end.
As the Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby pulled away from whatever house or venue at which we were staying or playing, Jarico would blast “Old MacDonald” over the loudspeaker — a sendoff; a farewell; a final blast of Cyclecide-style irritainment for whoever was waving goodbye.
Since the wreck, the Old MacDonald toy had been packed away, and it felt funny not to have it anymore. But on the way out of Minneapolis, chaos provided a new noise-toy for Cyclecide’s next phase in life: While the salesperson was showing Jarico and Laird around the newly-cleaned and serviced RV before Jarico drove it off the lot, she lifted up one of the benches to show the storage compartment underneath, and what was in there?
A rubber chicken. And not just any rubber chicken — a rubber chicken with an open mouth and a surprised look on its face like a blowup doll’s.
When the chicken’s stomach is squeezed, it makes a horrendous, long, drawn-out, gasping-through-blood sound, then emits a simultaneously high-pitched and guttural squealing noise that more closely resembles a pig being slaughtered than a chicken being choked. Ack, that noise … combined with the look on that poor chicken’s face … this thing was begging to be made a permanent member of the Cyclecide show.
“Oh jeez, I’m sorry,” the saleslady said, embarrassed and trying to find a way to dispose of the chicken. “I don’t know how THAT got in there.”
“Oh, no,” Laird said to her. “That settles it. This is definitely our RV.”
P.S. MORE FACTS ON THE MALL OF AMERICA
• Mall of America is the largest fully-enclosed retail and family entertainment complex in the US.
• Seven Yankee Stadium would fit inside Mall of America.
• Mall of America’s 13,300 short tons of steel is nearly twice the amount in the Eiffel Tower.
• Walking distance around one level of Mall of America is .57 of a mile.
• Spending 10 minutes in every store would take a shopper more than 86 hours to complete their visit to Mall of America.
• More than 1,500 couples have been married at Mall of America since opening in August, 1992.
• Mall of America is located on the former Metropolitan Sports Stadium which was home to the Minnesota Vikings and Twins. Home plate can be found in Knott’s Camp Snoopy.
• Knott’s Camp Snoopy – Peanuts creator Charles Schultz is a native of St. Paul.
• There are 30,000 live plants and 400 live trees planted in Knott’s Camp Snoopy.
• The nice waitresses at Hooter’s will sometimes trade shirts with you in the ladies’ room if you like the one they’re wearing better than the one you just bought from the Hooter’s store. (Invariably, after this process, all the boys at your table will amuse themselves by pretending something much more steamy than chicks trading shirts just happened in the ladies’ room.)