Saturday, May 28, 2005

North American Cycle Courier Championships

For the last four years running the local bicycle messenger organization, P.U.M.A., has hosted a three-day alley-cat/race/competition over Memorial Day weekend: the West Side Invite. I'd like to think CHUNK 666 have a pretty healthy relationship with the local courier population, so we'd make it a point to show up in some capacity, or to work a checkpoint. This year, however, Memorial Day weekend was host to the 2005 North American Cycle Courier Championships.

Many months ago Thud, who was helping with some of the organizing, asked me if I'd help put together an obstacle course/gauntlet type thing. After one or two meetings with guantlet co-organizer Tommer (who did a lot of the conceptual work of the course as a whole), I completely forgot about the gauntlet since I got caught up organizing the second Organ Donor Invite. What I'm trying to say is I didn't get around to actually building CHUNK's contribution to the NACCC obstacle course until the weekend before.

Tom originally had the idea to build these "spring-loaded pedestrian" contraptions that would pop up as the contestant rider and then you could whack it with your u-lock. A neat idea, but the execution was a wee bit complex, but this idea evolved into one of building a quintain.

I know, you're saying "what the hell is a quintain?" Well, the word is derived from the Latin quintana, meaning a street between the fifth and sixth maniples (a Roman legion subdivision, containing 60 or 120 men) of a camp, where training exercises took place. Its basically an arm on a pivot with a target on one end and (traditionally) a sandbag on the other. When you charged and hit the target the sandbag swings around hits you on the back. Apparently, if you hit it true and fast, you will outrun the sandbag. I have a hard time visualizing this.

We built the lower frame the Sunday before the NACCC. We figured a tennis ball or two on the end of some laundry line would be a good substitute for a sandbag. We got the base finished and attached the cheap-ass lazy susan I got as the pivot, and this all having taken about 3 hours (we were exclusively using scrap wood so there was a lot of rummaging and deciding which weathered, cracked, chipped piece of wood we were going to go to the trouble of pulling all the rusted, bent, stripped nails from), we sort of rushed things and tried using some PVC pipe as the arm rather than another 2" by 4".

However, by virtue of being round and hollow, attaching a target sturdy enough to take a decent wollop proved pretty much impossible. The next day after work I rode the Sidehack over to Zebra station and moved the quintain to my back yard where I could tinker with it. I replaced the PVC with a wooden arm, and built a real solid target. I also replaced the tennis ball(s) with a kickball enmeshed in some surplus-store camouflage netting, which made it look a bit more menacing.

On Saturday morning I got up and loaded the quintain, a stout 4-foot joust lance, a ton of safety cones, two 6" by 6" wooden beams (for bunny hopping over), and a cooler on the sidehack for the ride over the river to the course.

It was quite the sight parked in front of my porch while I made breakfast. People would walk by and rather than the usual "cool bike" comment I would get more of a "well… there's quite a contraption." I told them it was a time machine.

We got to the site (very cool) and set up the cones and all the other stuff for the obstacle course. I duct taped some floatation device foam stuff to the non-target side of the arm so people wouldn't freak too much about getting hit on the back of the head by a piece of wood.

The quintain did all right, and people loved the course. But since I had spent the week worrying and figuring out how to build a better target, the pivot point was quickly revealed to be the true weak point on the quintain. After letting people "practice" and "try out" on the quintain during the hour or two while we set up the rest of the course and did some dry runs, the very first officially timed running of the course resulted in the arm being yanked partially off the lazy susan, pulling itself off two screws. We duct taped that back on. A lot of the screws in the base worked themselves loose as the day continued, but the q-train held up admirably enough.

Drunk and tired, we loaded back up and went and milled around at the start/finish line for a bit. Then we rode back across the river. Sadly, a mere twenty feet from my front stoop the target snagged a tree branch and ended up tearing the lazy susan in half.

But fear not, gentle reader. The CHUNK 666 quintain can be easily fixed. We're definitely gonna go back to the tennis balls though. That kickball just proved to heavy to pick up the velocity to give a rider a good whack on the back.