“We're just trying to make it look pretty.” N8 Van Dyke, an SF illustrator, is posted up in the Marine Westar Services Bayview warehouse, unrolling wheatpaste designs on the concrete floor. In other corners of the building, burly men hustle about towing heavy boxes, performing mysterious, industrial functions. But we're (I didn't do any of the work, per se, but having watched the process for the better part of a half hour I feel entitled) involved in a different sort of badassery – creating ramps for what might be the biggest fixed gear competition like, ever: Saturday's Red Bull Ride + Style.
“When the guys are riding their bikes on them,” Van Dyke tells me. “I want it to look Honey I Shrunk the Kids.” The artist, who has a penchant for drawing dark, somewhat tormented-looking chimps, was assigned to decorate a stacked freestyle structure that resembles a game of 52 card pick-up. Fresh from a trip to Kinko's, he's now plotting to paste his me-sized playing card designs all over the structure's flat surfaces.
N8 Van Dyke plays with his monkey
Also scattered throughout the warehouse is Aaron De La Cruz, swirling his signature black designs over another ramp, plus a brightly-colored monster spider by Arlo Eisenberg. There's also a cooler full of beer and I guess other liquids, thoughtfully provided by Red Bull, which is sponsoring this boy's club of extreme athleticism and creativity as part of the brand's ongoing mission to promote heart-racing, energy drink-necessitating feats of daring, like downhill bike races through Brazilian favelas.
It would appear that this weekend's competition is somewhat of a first. Jeremy Witek and Ryan Corrigan (the only one drinking a beer, what the hell guys), two BMX riders and ramp builders that are in charge of constructing the designs that the artists are decorating for Ride + Style, tell me that they've never heard of a fixie competition like this one.
Van Dyke and Aaron De La Cruz talk shop behind the De La Cruz ramp-creation
Generally, fixie freestyle competitions, Witek and Corrigan tell me, are held at skate parks – but the ramps they're building for Saturday are made specifically for fixed gears, an unusual specialization that provided them with an extra challenge -- no one's done these before. “It's a learning process for us – it's hard trying to figure out what they want,” Witek told me of the people at Red Bull that contracted them to build the pieces. “They don't really know what they want.”
The contest is going down at Justin Herman Plaza, just across the street from Harry Bridges Plaza, where SF fixie riders can be seen practicing their endos and bunnyhops on most days. It'll feature two categories of competition: track (a more common type of fixie contest) and freestyle. This is one of the two cities, after all (New York is the other one), where the bike messenger culture really took root, giving rise to the sport of fixed gear in the first place.
Tools of the trade
To advise on the construction process, a bunch of fixie riders came out to Bayview to test out what the team was cooking up. Witek says they liked what they saw. “They're extremely pumped,” he says. “They're always stuck riding out at stranded skate parks. This is more than just a sport, you know – it's a culture.”
“This is going to be a real eye-opener for the public, they'll be able to see what fixed gears can really do,” he sums up. To get a sense before Saturday so you're not all gawky, you could do worse than going here.
Red Bull Ride + Style
Sat/30 noon-4 p.m., free
Justin Herman Plaza
1 Market, SF