Bike ballet gets boisterous in Bayview

The Derailleurs dance a routine on the importance of wearing helmets when riding bicycles at the Cyclecide Swearhouse on Friday, Feb. 11. Henry Nguyen / staff photographer

What do you get when you take a group of charismatic women that mixes funky dance moves with daring stunts on bikes? The answer: the Bay Area Derailleurs bike dance team.

The San Francisco-based Derailleurs threw a cabaret-themed party Friday in the Cyclecide Warehouse near the Bayview neighborhood.

The Derailleurs are like-minded women who organize dance routines utilizing a combination of balance, strength, humor and coordinated dance, to perform stunts and create images using their bikes.

One of the team’s members known as Ash, aka “Agent Elfy Pants,” said that while the performance may look easy and be a lot of fun, each routine is the result of extraordinary effort.

“We perform almost every two weeks, so it’s a lot of stress and a lot of work that goes into our actual performances,” Ash said. “We get a lot of crowd response, though, and a lot of people that love the Derailleurs, so it’s really rewarding in the end.”

The Derailleurs charged the atmosphere with humorous stunts. The tricksters rode a bicycle through multiple jump ropes and created a chain of the whole team, alternating between bike riders and the women who hung between them clinging to a bicycle on either side.

The Derailleurs were a constant black and turquoise whirlwind, throughout their performance almost – always connected to their bikes like it was an extension of their own self.  When they weren’t on stage, the women were interspersed among the head-banging spectators, erasing the performer-audience barrier.

Music is also a big part of their performance.

The riders performed to a series of bike related songs such as “Flat tire” and “Door’d” written by a woman known as “Danny Girl”. The crowd cheered from the warehouse floor all the way to the raised platform above.

Cyclecide, a team of bicycle builders and enthusiasts, helped host the event in their venue as part of a fundraiser. The funds will allow the Derailleurs to travel as a group and challenge other teams both nationally and internationally.

According to Ash, the brainchild of the Derailleurs is member Eliza Strack, aka “Agent Chaos.” Strack started performing bike dance in 2004 in Portland, Ore., as one of the original members of a team called the Sprockettes. Strack originally organized a bike dance ballet with fellow bike devotees as a one-time event for a halftime show at a bike fair, but after the show received positive feedback and requests for the date of the next performance, her bike-dancing career bloomed.

Strack eventually moved to the Bay Area and in 2008, the Derailleurs were formed. At the time of its establishment the Derailleurs were the seventh bike dance team in existence. There are currently 15 teams in the world, Strack said, including three in Canada, two in London and one in Tokyo. Strack said that what now seems to be a movement will hopefully inspire physical self-awareness.

“Because of its do-it-yourself nature, it makes people who didn’t think they were dancers, like us, feel like they can do it,” Strack said. “It makes everyone think that it’s possible to move your body in a different way that is interesting.”

The Feb. 11 show, entitled “Freak Bike Cabaret II”, featured several performing groups alongside the Derailleurs. These groups included “The Can-Cannibals”, an ironically vivacious troupe that performed zombie-inspired burlesque; “The Hobo Gobbelins,” a band with a dark “carnival-esque” feel; and “Fossil Fool,” the bike rapper.

“Fossil Fool”, aka Paul Freedman, runs a company called Rock the Bike, which focuses on creating both custom bikes and pedal-powered electronics such as blenders and stage equipment. However, he also creates custom music bikes that mix art with stereo systems.

Freedman contributed a 13-foot-tall glowing green pedal-powered tree-bike, which served as a speaker system for his tunes while audience members volunteered to pedal during his performance.

“Basically, I have this pathological need to continue making custom music bicycles,” Freedman said. “This time I wanted a really beautiful tree that I could roll around and sing through.”

More than just entertainment, Freedman helped to personify one of the themes that the event and the Derailleurs try to display: A bike will help your health and your city’s health.

“It’s so clear that if you ride a bike you are improving your city and if you drive a car you are making your city worse,” Freedman said. “If you ask someone who’s in traffic stuck in a car whether they want more cars they all would say, ‘of course not, why would I want more cars?’”

“Agent Elfy Pants” said that the team hopes to lead through example and help the environment indirectly.

“One of our basics is to advocate bike safety and to promote bike culture,” she said. “One less car, one more bike kind of thing and lowering the carbon footprint. We’re behind that whole movement.”

Strack, with her sequined turquoise headband, said in the end she hoped she could do her part in helping create a more bike-centric environment through the Derailleurs.

“People haven’t really seen it. It’s new, exciting and gives a different way to think about bikes so that it gets people to ride them,” Strack said. “I want to help everyone transition to bicycles even if it’s just around town.”

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