Bike couriers ride tall in the saddle at the Road Rash Bash! Rodeo
Denver Westword, August 26, 2004
By Jason Heller
Some people consider them only half a step above the Hell's Angels. To others,
they look pretty damn cool with their cut-off pants and messenger bags. They're
bicycle couriers, those misunderstood and vilified daredevils who dart around
downtown in flagrant defiance of the laws of both traffic and physics.
But this Saturday, Denver's bike couriers get to be the White Hats at the
Road Rash Bash! Bike Courier Rodeo, a day-long competition at the Construct
arts co-op that will showcase the skill, daring and equilibrium of the Queen
City's two-wheeled speed demons.
"It's a program to celebrate bike couriers in Denver," says rodeo producer
and coordinator Robert Selman, a longtime courier whose road name is Robot.
Selman is also the acting secretary of the Denver Professional Bike Messengers
Association, a non-profit group that has sponsored the Road Rash Bash since
the rodeo migrated here from San Francisco more than a decade ago. The brainchild
of Jason "J-Bone" Abernathy, president and founder of the DPBMA, the Bash
has become an underground institution in town, drawing corporate sponsorship
and a broad range of attendees.
As accessible as it is, though, you won't find any bull-rustlin' or bronco-bustin'
at this rodeo. Selman and his cohorts spend weeks every year refining old
contests and cooking up new ones, trials that challenge even the most asphalt-scarred
and bumper-bruised couriers.
"We try to simulate the kinds of activities couriers go through on the streets
of downtown Denver," Selman explains. "We have a thing called the track stand
competition, where a courier stands on his bike on his pedals and handlebars
and tries to stay in one position for as long as possible. The record is
an hour and thirteen minutes. We also have the no-handed race, the backward
race and the skid contest; the longest skid ever was 276 feet. Then there's
the dime sweep, where we throw a dime on the ground and everybody has to
try to pick it up while on their bicycles. And that's not easy to do. We're
always reaching for a higher level of skill."
Besides the sheer glory of competition, rodeo-goers will bear witness to
live music provided by local acts Triangular Thunder, Mean Uncle Mike, Inshibot,
the Rabid Ragdolls, Slow Crawl, the Strange Us and Crimson Haybailer. Doors
open at 8 a.m. and the bands start at 3:30 p.m., but the festivities are
expected to rage until midnight. "These activities are extremely fun to watch
and participate in," says Selman. "It's an aggressive industry, and to entertain
these guys takes an awful lot. Our ultimate goal is to make this a big party."
In addition to organizing the annual Bash, the DPBMA works to create a more
positive image for the maligned bike-courier profession by putting on art
shows, establishing safety guidelines and even formulating a code of messenger
"We've always been considered a bad element downtown," Selman admits. "We've
been blamed for 90 percent of all bicycle infractions, but when the city
actually figured it out once, we were only liable for 4 percent. There are
a lot more people on the streets than there used to be, and there's a lot
of road rage. But we're professionals. We're very aware of what's going on
around us. It's not just cars and trucks; you've got baby carriages and old
ladies and people walking up and down the street to consider."
So maybe bicycle messengers are more cowboys than desperados. Just don't
expect the rodeo's participants to straddle their custom track bikes gussied
up in chaps, boots and ten-gallon hats. "No, it's not really like that at
all," says Selman. "To get these guys in cowboy suits, you'd have to kidnap
them, drug them up and put them in them."
Road Rash Bash!
8 a.m. Saturday, August 28, the Construct, 3519 North Brighton Boulevard,
free (donations encouraged), 303-292-2245, www.theconstruct.org or www.gravydogz.com