We went to Chicago to visit the Rat Patrol. Assuming that certain central tenets of bike club life were immutable, I figured we’d be spending five days drinking beer at bars and in apartments, riding bikes, and swapping war stories. I was pleasantly surprised to instead receive a grand tour of Chicago from a mutant-bicyclengineer's point of view.
CHUNK 666 doesn’t just galavant off to strange (flat)lands to visit other clubs at the drop of an adjustable. Idle hands whilst your host is at the inevitable day job make the devil's dull times. To play the odds of creative mischief, we chose to attend week of the Rat Patrol’s annual festivity, “St. Ratrick’s Day
." Unfortunately, the CHVNK, along with other outta-townas (the Rat Patrol's New Orleans chapter, and Springfield, Illinois’ Klunker League Now) missed the big city-planned parade as well as the semi-legit fringe parade which the RP attended.
Rat Patrol, however, was kind enough to schedule several events to entertain their guests, and Johnny Payphone
was clever enough to take us around town and show us Things of Interest
and, conveniently, get some free labor while he was at it. Not that we minded.Working Bikes:
The mission of Working Bikes
is to ship cargo containers, full of bicycles, to the developing world, primarily Africa. Then a lone American is sent abroad to receive said container and instruct the locals in bicycle repair. The last several such bicycle ambassadors have been RatPatrollers.
Working Bikes buys bikes from metal scrappers at the recycling yard for a few bucks each, and fix 'em up. Most of these bikes reside at their warehouse above a car-battery replacement shop, awaiting the next container. Some of the bikes are sold down the street at their bicycle repairshop/storefront. The warehouse consists of multitudinous mountains of old bikes the likes a Portlander has before never before laid eyes upon.
Hundreds of Chicago Schwinns: Varisty, Collegiate, Racer, Suburban, Stingray, you name it. All selling for $40 a pop. I felt embarrassed to be from Portland, where many of these same bikes could easily be selling for $75 or more.
If I may digress, its plainly evident Portland simply lacks, and has always lacked the population (and the Schwinn factory) to generate this sort of surplus of used bikes, and also lacks the 100 years or so of heavy bicycle-usage that Chicago has. On the flipside of the coin, however, the demand for bikes in Portland is most likely proportionately greater than Chicago's. Also, Chicagoans simply throw away just about everything, which means metal scrappers can recover all these bikes, making it possible for Working Bikes to buy them in the first place. All this trash also makes the existence of the Rat Patrol possible in the first place.Bubbly Dynamics:Bubbly Dynamics
is in the area of the old Chicago stockyards, once the world’s largest. It’s a three story, 100+ year old meat packing plant, or something along those lines. It went abandoned decades ago, and was previously squatted by two guys who acquired the title and used it as a parts graveyard for motorcycles, until one of them, who had outstanding warrants, shot some guy on the property. Enter John Edel
, a honest-to-goodness real life evil scientist/mad genius. When we toured Bubbly Dynamics, it was full of things like Civil War era drill presses, pennyfarthing wheels, and old steam locomotive parts.
The basement of Bubbly plays host to a Rat Patrol building station.
The Rats’ space was a bit sparse because everything had to be moved so Edel could move some equipment around (or something like that, the reason wasn’t really important). Much like the CHUNK 666 Lab, there was an equilivent of the chronic pile, or Tree of Shame, as we like to call it now. Several dozen wooden milk crates were stacked against one wall as makeshift cubbies where Rats could store parts they had placed dibs on.
Bubbly Dynamics’ name is derived from nearby Bubbly Creek, which once was so choked of animal debris from the nearby stockyards that chickens could walk atop of it.
From there we caravanned to the Lamprey house/compound to fetch a Klunker League Now bike. We also snagged Johnny’s faux pennyfarthing: the PickUpStyx.
Actually, to say it’s a faux pennyfarthing is misleading. The bike shares many of the mechanical features of a real pennyfarthing, especially in the way in which it steers. Megulon-5 gave it a shot and actually rode it down the alley before flying over the handlebars. Then Johnny jumped on it and rode it like a pro (it reminded me of the way Thud
can jump on Sproing and ride it all over town, because that’s what Johnny proceeded to do for the rest of the day).
From there we rode downtown and checked at Union Station to see if our bikes had arrived on Amtrak from Portland yet. After being told to check back in an hour we grabbed some cold ones and went down to the river and watched construction workers dig the foundation for the new Trump tower.Rat Ride:
The central activity of Rat Patrol (if you exclude building bikes) is riding through Chicago’s multiplicity of alleys, dumpster diving for food and anything else they may find. I am told the ride we went on was atypical in the speed with which it dissolved from a good 15 riders to ourselves and our immediate housing hosts. The ride meets at the intersection of Belmont and Damen, and I met a few of the Chicago Scallywags
The Scallywags, if you don’t know, are a Christian bike club (tallbikes, mostly). The few I met seemed nice enough, but I’m not going to try to presume that I grasp their gist. What I will say is that they don’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. This not only interesting to me, but reassuring, given the typical bike club’s prelidiction for vices. You mean hacking and riding choppers and tallbikes doesn’t
have to go hand-in-hand with inebriation?!
The first stop of the ride was one of those non-profits that gives food to the needy, like the Oregon Food Bank. A bit odd, an organization pledged to feeding the hungry would be throwing food out. In the foreground of this picture, you can see a RatPatroller bungee-cording two frozen chickens to the rear cargo rack of her bike.
In the background you can see the ridiculousness of another Rat chugging a bottle of cheap maple syrup (all I could think while watching was, “tastes like diabetes”). After a massive pillaging of a dumpster full of fruit behind a chain grocery store, the ride quickly disintegrated. Pinky:Pinky
is the flagship of the Human Television Network
. It’s a tadpole tallbike of zeppelin proportions.
A very large television can rest in that forward cargo space. The steering is managed by a bike chain rack-and-pinion system.
Defiant in the middle of an abandoned lot, across the street from a primary school, and surrounded by garbage and broken bottles and dog poop, there stands the majestic Trash Castle!!
Once, the dragon outside seems to have been hooked up to a gas line so as to breath fire.
The Trash Castle is just one of those things that sorta defies anything beyond straight-forward description. What else can be said about it? It just sits there quietly, speaking for itself. What's it saying? Beats me. Build Day:
Watching another club build bikes is always interesting. Its funny to observe the similar sloppiness and ad hoc
nature of CHUNK's building "style" in other clubs. I was concerned with the lack of proper eye protection when using grinders and saw'zalls. Tsk tsk, RatPatrol.
Like just about every other club out there (except for CHVNK) Rat Patrol uses a MIG welder. I don't blame them. The start up cost to buy one and its portability make it a very logical choice. CHUNK's always used oxy-acetylene, and at this point our experience with it would make switching a bit counter-productive.
It was a fairly tame build day. Johnny and Ben Sauce (from RatPatrol New Orleans) were working on their "death derby" pixie bikes.
Two other folks were building tallbikes. At the end of the day the death pixies were done, and one tallbike was welded, but had wheel issues and would have to wait till proper functional parts were obtained. The second tallbike was completed but the steer tube extension's weld broke while the rider was testing it out in the alley. This allowed me to make a snarky remark about using a MIG welder. Ride to Finkl:
After the build we rode to Finkl
. Finkl melts down used steel into new steel ingots. This is includes bicycles. Working Bikes and (sometimes) the Rats buy their bicycles from the scrappers
who sell the bikes and other steel things to Finkl by the ton. Finkl seems very pro-public image, and provides open cargo doors so that passersby can watch them melting down the steel. It was like a vision of the robot holocaust.
Death Pixie Derby
The "death derby" was concocted by Rat Patrol New Orleans' Neema. Himself, RPNO's Sauce, and Johnny participated. The goal was to make your opponent's bike physically unridable. The bike was to consist of a "pixie" bike, to which no modifications had been made to the basic frame. You could, however, weld protective shielding around it, add rams, spikes, and such. Personal armor was encouraged, and each rider could be armed with a stick to jab into spokes and whatnot.
The arena consisted of a circular fountain at Wicker Park
. They would really crash into each other. On one of the first of these collisions Sauce took a straight jab from Neema's wooden broomstick to the face, slipping by his helmet and giving him a nasty gash about an inch from his eye. This was purely unintentional, but it was so foreseeable that I think you get an idea why only three people participated.
Johnny won, which didn't surprise me. His pixie bike still had its chain guard, and he had welded forks parallel to the ground around his wheels. He simply pinned his opponents bikes to the ground and stomped until the wheel tacoed. My personal favorite part was Johnny's heavy huffing and puffing as the contest dragged on. The T.V. Smasher:
The aforementioned John Edel of Bubby Dynamics had built a TV Smasher. It was currently spending its second winter behind his house. Johnny and I went over there to put some wheels on it so we could tow it around like a trailer behind a tricycle the next day during the big St. Ratrick's Day blow-out.
We had to bring the MIG welder over, so while Johnny rode the future tow-trike, I got to ride the RatPatrol's excellent sidehack.
I rode it for most of the rest of the day and evening, and would have gladly hauled crap all over Chicago on it if given the option.
The TV Smasher is a sort of reverse catapult.
The arm, which is a two-by-four piece of lumber strengthened on each side by bars of aluminum, is anchored to the top of the support beams by garage-door springs, which, somewhat suspiciously, were anchored in turn by measly hoseclamps to the arm and frame.
A winch is used to tension the springs out, and raise the two-foot long, octagonal metal steel spike.< a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chunk666pdx/7177270/in/photostream/">
The television is placed below the spike and the trigger is pulled from about 16 feet away using some sort of a nautical quick-release clamp.
It took us a try or two but we found that the "sweet spot" on the televisions was at the very top of the tv and forward. Since the spike is actually traveling in an arc, the spike would go through the top and then very satisfyingly come out through the screen from behind. I had the pleasure of pulling the chord twice on this thing and it was one of the best feelings of my life. I really tried to get a picture of this bad boy in action but the moment of destruction was almost instantaneous. I figured I could use the movie function on my camera but then Johnny pulled the trigger while I was fiddling with the settings and not only didn't get a picture but missed the smashing of one of the three televisions we were hauling around.
Speaking of which, for reasons beyond me, when we rode by a fire station, the firemen invited us to destroy a TV in their parking lot. We gladly obliged, and when we were done we went into the parking lot next to that and had two foot-down derbies. I passed since I'm still cautious from twisting my knee back in January, but Megulon-5 jumped in and won the first bout, including two impressive dismounting of other riders where everyone was sure he would go down with them, but somehow rode through the crash. He sat out the second bout so he could drink cheap beer.Space Mural:Matt the Rat
, one of the illustrious founders of Rat Patrol, astride astride Abigail the Chicken
led the ride after the TV Smashing was complete (i.e., we had run out of TVs) to a little gem of a find in an alley painted on a garage door. Matt simply called it the Space Mural.
| ||After this we all returned to the Handlebar, a neighborhood restaurant and bar. This was our last night in town and things at least degenerated into drinking and shooting the breeze. I think my favorite line from the night was Johnny explaining to some newbie that "if you want to be in Rat Patrol, then you can't be in Rat Patrol." Pause. "But if you don't want to be in Rat Patrol, then you're in." We admired some of the art on the walls.|
Then it was time to go. I had an early flight the next morning. Once we got back to the Rats' apartment, however, I still managed to stay up until 2:00 drinking and carrying on, despite having to get up around 6:30.