The Bikin' Fools

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The bikin'fools go racing


have they gone mad?


Our heros

Pat Soran's story

notes from ellen skagerberg


Happy kinetic crew.BMP (2959254 bytes)

The Bikin' Fools after day one - still dry


Happy Linz.BMP (1688118 bytes)

Linz, hopelessly overcome with euphoria

Official instructions for launch.BMP (2888758 bytes)

Bikin' Fools receiving last rites







Sheriff picking up flotsam.BMP (2721654 bytes)

Sheriff picking up flotsam from the wreck of the SS Bikin'Fools




What’s a Bikin' Fool to do?

When confronted with this much sensory input, it becomes a challenge. The brain of the participant has to process an overwhelming load of fun, frivolity, excitement, camaraderie and competition. The Y2K running of the Kinetic Sculpture Race in Arcata California provided a class 1 opportunity to burst the funnometer of the Bikin' Fools.

Like many other participants, the Bikin' Fools found themselves scrambling to get the magic contraption working and on the road. The Fools would be riding the ex-Calistoga Elementary School, four seat ‘trike’ in the competition. Some fine-tuning and modifications would take up the evening hours of the participants for the week approaching the event. The Bikin' Fools could be seen at the shop crafting sand treads and rearranging some of the items on board.

The intense work schedule gave the crew a sense of being on a mission. All energy was focused on the task at hand. Frequently suggestions arose about technical matters. They were considered on the basis of: Do we have enough time to implement the modification? The treads for the rear wheels were made, tested and reworked. A plan for better sand flotation for the front tire never materialized.

On the weekend before the event, the Bikin' Fools took the rig to the Russian River and tested out the systems. The treads were put to a punishing test. Although they basically held up, there were some problems that would be solved. The big question was about the flotation system. Kids rode the vehicle in the past. The pontoons needed to be moved forward with the addition of more weight, to keep the craft properly situated in the water so that the paddle wheels would function. In river the bike seemed stabile and secure although the front struts holding the pontoons did seem to be slightly stressed. During the week, Mike would build a larger float for the rear to accommodate the adults. The addition of this buoyancy would add more pressure to the forward pontoon struts.

The day of Friday May 26th was spent scrambling to gather all of the loose ends of the project. Eric arrived at the shop and the rig was hoisted onto the Toyota. Shawn and Eric would ride together while Mike and Teresa would carry the flotation and hardware in their truck. Late in the afternoon a call was placed to Lindsey. The group would convene in Hopland at the Brewery. After a long wait for a cold dinner, the Bikin' Fools hit the road for the three-hour drive to the North Coast.

Fools - Hopland.BMP (2800854 bytes)

The Fools at Hopland - carbo loading

Mike led the entourage to the end of Cannibal Road at Loleta. There, at Crab Park Eric and Shawn set up camp while Mike, Teresa, Lindsey and Pat headed off to the Best Western in Eureka to grab some Z’s before the beginning of the three-day event.

The morning dawned overcast and drizzling. The Fools had assumed that it would be clear as it was in Calistoga when they left. Yet it was not cold or overly wet. It mattered not as the energy and anticipation of the event began to grow at an alarming rate. The other entries into the race began to gather at the Arcata Town Square. Most notably, Hog Wild, Sparkles, Sargent Pepper, The Returning Nightmare of the Iguana, Tiki Torture, Melvin’s Circus, the Kinetic Camero Drum Roll, Hot Flash, Fifi , Queen Jacqueline in the Christmas tree, the Toad Boiler, Choppy and the New Corporate Image were among the notables gracing the plaza.

Yakima crafted many of the ‘big ticket’ entrees. Hog Wild, The Iguana, Sargent Pepper and Tiki torture were huge vehicles weighing upwards of 900 pounds. Two powerful women would pilot Sparkles, the giddy, happy heavy weight sponsored by Mumm. The craftsmanship of these rigs was awesome. The amount of time and money represented was immense. There was not a machine present that did not evoke either a wide grin of approval or one of sheer awe. The animals carried enchanting expressions rivaled only by the best Disney characters.


There would be all of the last minute adjustments. Several crews worked frantically to iron out the glitches. The Yellow Submarine arrived late. The square was a buzz of activity and excitement as the officials announced the required brake test. This served not only as a safety issue but also as a pass and review for the crowd. It gave the audience a first hand view of the ingeniously and artful vehicles that would race the 38 miles over land, sea and sand to Ferndale.

The Bikin' Fools got in line for the test while others proceeded before them, each accelerating down the slight incline and braking to a stop in front of the judges stand. When the Fool’s turn came, they pedaled fiercely downhill only to have the chain come off the new chain ring that was installed at the eleventh hour. The rig passed the brake test but was now functioning with only two riders pedaling. A hasty repair was made. Next on the list of unpredictable frivolity and humor was the Drum Roll attempt at a brake test. The unusual contraption made of three fifty-five gallon drums rolled swiftly down the incline. As they approached the judging stand, a squealing noise was heard, but no perceptible slowing of the vehicle occurred. It was clear that the Drum Roll was in dire trouble and about to T-bone the antique fire truck that blocked the road at the end of the test area. The dynamic duo on board were frozen with concern as their interesting rig jetted towards disaster, the brakes now making more noise but still having no effect. Finally, several very brave volunteers appeared out of the crowd and manhandled the out-of-control vehicle to a stop.

Drum roll.BMP (2569438 bytes)

The Drum roll

Lindsey, Eric, Shawn and Teresa would be the starting lineup on the bike while Mike and Pat drove the support rig to the sand dunes at the ocean. With anticipation approaching the boiling point, the order came to start circling the square. The entire entourage made a couple of laps, some going in the opposite direction. Confusion and chaos reigned. Suddenly without warning the race was underway. The Bikin' Fools began to pedal furiously. Bad news! The tandem chain came off again, relegating the SS Bikin' Fools to 50% power. It was slightly downhill. The speed of the rig was sufficient to keep the Fools with the pack. Mayhem ruled.

A quick chain repair was again instituted and the Bikin' Fools continued at a blistering pace. They passed, one by one, most of the contestants ahead of them. The first part of the race was about seven miles from Arcata to the peninsula dividing Humbolt Bay from the Pacific. Along the course race fans cheered with enthusiasm as the peculiar vehicles passed. Time slipped all constraints and entered the ozone. The funnometer nudged the rapture zone. The Bikin' Fools had entered the main current of incredulous joy.

The course ran through the small village of Manila. People sitting on their front porches waved and cheered as the heroic procession filtered through the little hamlet. Soon the first rest stop appeared. Great throngs of fans and supporters gathered as the gladiators of gladness prepared for the sandy dunes and a couple of miles of beach crossing. The Bikin' Fools quickly went about the task of affixing the sand ‘chains’ to the tires. These devices made from three-inch schedule 80 PVC pipe would ‘float’ the rear tires across the sand and allow rapid progress. The bike could only be ridden on the downhill sections due to the lack of granny gears and sand chains on the front tire. Once off the dune part of the beach, the Fool’s headed to the harder sand near the water’s edge where the going was quick and relatively easy. Other contestant’s tracks were visible in the sand and several rigs were just ahead including Hog Wild.

The Bikin' Fools never slowed as they hurled across the sand. In what seemed like just a few minutes, the mileage flew by. Ahead the Fool’s could see where the course headed back into the sand dunes and towards Dead Man’s Drop. In the more narrow trail the Fool’s got stuck behind the Christmas tree piloted by the Queen Jacqueline. This was likely a blessing in disguise as the Bikin' Fools seemed unable to let up at all. Without some sort of governance on their output, it is likely that the entire crew may have suffered a spontaneous, group coronary failure. It was that much fun. Time did not exist. There was only the sense that the funnometer might explode.

Fools - sand dunes.BMP (2858454 bytes)

The dunes before Deadman's Gulch

After shredding the dunes, the Fools found themselves perched at the top of Dead Man’s Drop. A previous contestant nearly rolled over. Another shot off into the brush. The problem was that the steep drop was not straight down. A slight off camber turn had to be made in the middle of the challenging descent. With differential braking, body english and sheer will power the four pilots of the SS Bikin' Fools successfully shushed this major hurtle.

When the bikers finally reached the pavement it was time to remove the sand chains and prepare for road riding. Upon reaching the junction there was a delightful treat in store for the participants. A very kind and generous lady was parked there handing out cups of delicious corn chowder. This sort of spirit permeated the entire event.

Teresa would replace Eric for the next section of the ride. The course followed the highway across the long bridge connecting Samoa and Eureka. Several other rigs pedaled the miles in cool windy conditions. The bike was still relegated to two pedalers, the one chain continued to be a problem. For much of the way across the long bridge Choppy nipped at the heals of the Bikin' Fools. He was ‘flying’.

Finally the race entered Eureka and headed towards the mall that was located on the south end of town. The course snaked through the streets and then across a small bridge and onto a jogging path. Finally the buildings of the mall came into sight. As the contestants entered the parking lot throngs of cheering fans greeted the finishers. The Bikin' Fools’ entered as conquering heroes, at least in their own minds (what else matters?) At the finish the live radio announcers gave a blow by blow account of the race thus far. The happy but weary contestants mulled around exchanging war stories of the first day of the race. But there was work to be done on the rig. The chain dilemma had to be fixed.

Fortunately there were spare parts. Mike and Shawn set about the task. They removed a pesky gear hub that had failed and replaced it with a good one. Then they removed several links from the chain and replaced it on the original chain ring. This combination would prove to be bulletproof for the rest of the event. With everything in order the bike was taken to the Sears Service Center where it would rest for the night with the other rigs. The next item on the menu was to find the brewpub. There the contestants set about to replace hard-spent electrolytes and carbo-load for the next day.

Mike, Teresa, Pat and Lindsey returned to the motel while Eric and Shawn drove back to the campsite at Crab Park. Although it had been drizzling on and off most of the day, the two found their gear relatively dry. The soft grass would provide another comfortable evening for the campers. At dawn, Eric and Shawn rallied. There would be no problem in getting out of bed. The thrill of the previous day had set the pace for the entire weekend. Shawn and Eric joined the rest for breakfast. Little did they know what was in store for this day.

At the mall, the contestants began to filter in. The rigs were retrieved from Sears and prepared for another day of fun and festivity. The start of the race was changed from the parking lot to Marie Callender’s. In the interim the Bikin' Fools went to McDonalds for a free beverage. As they were returning to the starting line confusion again reigned. Some said the start was at the mall, others said Marie Callenders. By the time the Fools got to Marie Callender’s, the race was underway. The entourage flooded onto the highway headed towards Field’s Landing where the bay ‘crossing’ would take place. Along the way the Fools passed several contestants including a hard pedaling Hot Flash.

At the launch ramp at Field’s Landing, the Bikin' Fools set about to ready the rig for the Bon Voyage. Confidently the pontoons were attached and the larger foam block was affixed to the underside of the rig. When the machine was ready to go, the Fools turned their attention to the action occurring on the ramp. Hot Flash was preparing to enter the water. Her crew performed a skit in preparation for the launching. A block of dry ice was placed on the back of her rig to produce visual effects when she entered the water.

Hot Flash afloat.BMP (2696954 bytes)

The Hot Flash sizzling the bay

In preparation for the water work, the crews are required to demonstrate the ability to bail off the rig quickly in the unlikely event of problems at sea. In addition the ramp official made the fools perform some tricky moves, such as all standing together with their feet touching. Once past this ordeal, the Bikin' Fools were ready to launch. The crowd of several hundred people watched and cheered as the four intrepid bikers eased down the ramp and into the water. The paddle wheels worked well and the Fools made steerage towards the first turning point. Progress was slow but steady. The Coast Guard cutter that was standing nearby, moved closer to the course. The Bikin' Fools had specific instructions to go around the boat with the American flag. Since the Coast Guard cutter had such a flag, the Fools elected to shorten their course and make their turn around that boat rather than the official launch that was twice the distance.

The Launch.BMP (2936238 bytes)

The Launch

Although the rig was progressing well, there was clearly much pressure on the front support struts holding the pontoons. A decision was made to change pilots and take some weight off the front of the bike. Lindsey and Mike traded places. Although this helped the situation, the struts were still bowed upwards at an awkward angle. The bikers pedaled the second part of the triangle. However when they began to make the turn onto the final leg, the current suddenly came into play. Now progress was nearly halted and the bikers pedaled furiously to make headway.

Perhaps the extra effort put more stress on the machine. Suddenly and without warning, the left front strut catastrophically failed. The bike pitched hard to port. The riders scrambled like rats on a sinking ship to gain the high ground. Help was summoned from a nearby boat. The rig seemed stable for a moment. The assisting boat began to tow the disabled and listing S.S. Bikin' Fool towards the dock. But fate intervened. In an instant, the kinetic sculpture rolled further over, Mike announced in a very calm but firm voice: "She’s going down!" The magic machine shed its pontoons, foam block and disappeared below the surface.

Trouble aboard the SS Bikin'Fools.BMP (2901654 bytes)

Trouble aboard the SS Bikin'Fools moments before she slipped below the surface

There was no time to even think about it. Eric’s first thought was: "Dang, it’s over, we’re out of the event." Dumbstruck the crew stared at the few bubbles rising to the surface. Shawn had managed to wrestle the bulk of the gear loose from the back of the bike before she went down. It was loaded onto the sheriff’s boat. Another boat took Lindsey, Mike and Shawn back to the dock while Eric and the sheriff attempted to locate the rig by dragging an anchor across the bottom of the bay.

Confusion reigned for the next half-hour while the Fool’s scrambled to get help. There was never the sense that it was over. Finally a couple returning from a fishing expedition in their small boat were hailed. The offered to help. They had an anchor that looked very much like a grappling hook. After many passes across the area of sinking, the bike was snagged. It was so heavy that it was impossible to raise. About this time, the Sea Scouts arrived on the scene with their larger launch and winch capability. The rig was brought to the surface and another more stout rope was attached to the bike. The launch slowly backed up until it was straight out from the launch ramp. Then the large, long rope was ferried to the dock and laid out up the ramp. The radio announcers called for help from the crowd. The reaction was spontaneous and immense. People poured off the dock, grabbed the rope and began a major tug-of-war with the beast. Slowly the crowd made progress up the ramp and soon the bike began to appear from the depths of the bay. It emerged on its wheels and was festooned with seaweed as if it had been dwelling on the bottom for years. A huge cheer roared from the spectators as the drama unfolded. The feeling of gloom and defeat changed to joy and elation. The Bikin' Fools were still in this thing!

Bike - seaweed.BMP (2858454 bytes)

Picking the seaweed off the S.S.

The crew set about removing the seaweed and taking inventory of the machine. It was unscathed with the exception of the broken pontoon strut. With renewed joy the Bikin' Fools loaded up the rig and returned to the race. They missed the muddy beach take-out part of the bay experience. This had saved time. Once on the road the Fools began to overtake other competitors. The Returning Nightmare of the Iguana and a few others slipped behind the wheels. The course was set. It would be several miles and at least one giant climb before arriving at Crab Park. The climb up the hill was gruesome. At one point another contestant came by under tow. When they approached the official on the hill, a quick bribe occurred and the official said; "I saw nothing."

At the top of the hill, Sparkles was taking a break. The Fools pressed on. Now the scariest part of the entire adventure was about to happen. The descent down the other side of the hill was terrifying. The rig was never intended to exceed speeds much faster than running. The left rear wheel was badly out of true and wobbled with increasing intensity as the speed accelerated. The wind blew the hair straight back. Phone poles flew by like a picket fence. Finally at the bottom the speed slowed, the terror ended and the bikers again pedaled. It was a few miles out Cannibal Island road to Crab Park. On the way, there was the large marshmallow farm with five-foot high marshmallows adorning the fields. Once past this oddity, the Fools passed The New Corporate Image (Mattole United). They were miraculously still under way and still exuding the cool, mellow vibe of people who had slipped the surly bonds of corporate America and found peace and meaning in the hinterlands of the North Coast. Tiki Torture rumbled towards the end of Day Two as the Fools hammered the last two miles to the campground.

All of the contestants were required to camp within ‘spitting distance’ of their kinetic sculptures. The air was bursting with festivity, celebration and fun. As the teams rolled in, the party intensified. The heightened feelings were contagious. The Bikin' Fools were solidly established on interstellar overdrive. Their unusual day and unlikely return to the event underscored the magnitude of the experience. The funnometer approached the upper extreme of structural integrity.

Sparkles - dunes.BMP (537030 bytes)

Sparkles galloping across the dunes

The Fools gathered at the ocean to watch the sunset. It had been a lovely day and the setting sun underscored the depth of beauty that existed at that moment. The awesome sculptures stood poetically in the soft fading light, resting for the final day of the event.

The big-ticket item on the final day was the slippery slough. This mud bank had been specially prepared with water and extra mud to be a challenge to ascend. After the Le Mans start, the procession filed out of the campground in single file. The Fools were near the head of the pack as tension transformed into power at the pedals. One by one, the Bikin' Fools picked off slower traffic where passing could occur. Then the course turned onto a narrow lane and the procession traveled in a single file. The Fools had managed to get ahead of Hog Wild and Sargent Pepper but the Toad Boiler was nipping at the heals of the bikers. Once across a narrow bridge, the entrants had to confront a large mud hole in the road. This deep pit slowed several rigs that ‘high centered’ and could not get traction. The Fools were able to negotiate the obstacle and proceeded to the wooded section. This terrain looked exactly like the practice run that had occurred a week earlier.

Several spectators lined the course as the rig dropped over a slight hill and accelerated. A child and mom appeared directly in the way. All of the Fools on board began to yell at the kid; "Get out of the way, get out of the way!" The fact that the kid was behind yellow tape and there were logs across that road, none-the-less the Bikin' Fools proceeded to drive right off the course and nearly T-boned the kid. The proper direction for the Fools to take was a slight right turn. Embarrassed, the fools quickly apologized and continued towards the Eel River.

Tiki at Crab park.BMP (2941254 bytes)

Tiki Torture at the end of Day 2

There had been some question whether the rig would need the flotation devices. As it turned out, the river was low enough that it could be pushed across the wide river. There was only one set of tracks ahead of the Fools. Once out of the river, the slippery slough was the next hazard. The Toad Boiler had gotten ahead at this point and was struggling up the slimy embankment. The Fools quickly formed a strategy for ascending the muck. They would get off the bike and grunt one foot at a time, and in unison, move it another foot until they topped the bank. The system worked and the bikers were able to shred up the hill making it look nearly easy. The crowed cheered for the success but were disappointed to not see more slipping, sliding and general muckery. The Bikin' Fools were now the lead vehicle in the race with the Toad Boiler a close second. A motor cycle volunteered to escort the team into town. Spectators lined the road and cheered as the Fools pedaled the last five miles towards an unlikely victory.

When the town center came into view, more throngs of people awaited the arrival of the sculptures. Toad Boiler and another single rig passed the Fools on the way into town. Yet the Bikin' Fools were the first multi-pilot sculpture to cross the finish line. The course marshal instructed Shawn to make a circle in front of the announcers stand. At that moment the world disappeared behind the intense rush of glory that overwhelmed the Bikin' Fools. From the bottom of the sea to victory lane, it was the pinnacle of success. This was the fleeting moment that sizzled all of the pleasure synapses in the brains of the flogged bikers.

Even though the Fools didn’t technically win the event, it was one of those occurrences where no one looses. All were blessed to be a part of this eccentric, wild gathering of people who thrive on serious frivolity, wholesome fun and sincere companionship. The competition was secondary; the glory experienced by all was primary and would remain as a beautiful memory.

Iguana in Ferndale.BMP (2414310 bytes)

Nightmare of the Iguana in Ferndale

All that was left was to find the brewpub and continue the reveling until the awards ceremony. The ceremony was immersed in laughter and fun. Several trophies were awarded to the crafty sculptures, crews and other deserving contestants. The Bikin' Fools were awarded the "Best Pit Crew" for efforts to retrieve the rig from the bottom of the bay. Drum Roll received an award for the most technically interesting. The New Corporate Image received an award and in a poem, they expressed thankfulness for not ending up where the Bikin' Fools did; under water.

    Mattole United.BMP (2880054 bytes)

Mattole United

The weekend finally yielded to the grim reality that constitutes most of the rest of the year. As the Bikin' Fools packed up, sad that it was over, there remained an incorruptible gem that would shine for eternity. It was the jewel in the spirit that nourishes one’s heart and soul, the energy that sustains life in the funnometer’s red zone.