Tricyclists burn plastic at annual Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race

Participants in the annual Bring Your Own Big Wheel race speed down Vermont Street on Easter Sunday. Eric Soracco / staff photographer

Thousands of determined riders took to the streets of one of the city’s most treacherous hills in a daring downhill slalom Sunday, while riding…plastic tricycles?

The participants assembled at 20th and Vermont streets for the 11th annual Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race to barrel down Potrero Hill on three-wheelers. The unconventional race drew droves of costumed cyclists including a giant Elmo, Mario and Luigi, and even a Mr. T.

“The props, the costumes and custom-made trikes really make this event its own entity and a spot on the map,” said Jon Lovering, a spectator in the audience who was supporting several friends participating in the race.

Guillermo Sanchez, a local dressed as Scooby Doo, said that this was a spotlight of his entire year.

“This is my favorite thing to do all year because I like being surrounded by all the crazy people like me,” Sanchez said. “My favorite thing is the originality of the whole event because I think that it is genius, fantastic.”

Enrique Nable, who chose to dress up as the Flash, loved the event not because of the successful rides down Potrero Hill on his tiny Big Wheel, but because of the mishaps.

“Crashing and burning on these things is the best because there’s not a lot of events like this that let you ride big hills on kid wheels,” Nable said. “This sort of SF event lets you act the fool for a day.”

Besides the outrageous costumes, the Big Wheel bikes themselves were each unique from one another. Most bikes received at least minor additions, such as reinforcements to keep them from breaking or decorative pieces; however, some creations were slightly more elaborate.

Kristian Akseth, a third year participant in the downhill ride, decided that this year he would dress up as if he were Amish. To accompany his costume, Akseth spent 59 hours crafting a finely made Big Wheel bike composed entirely of recycled wood.  In his first years participating, Akseth said he experimented with a steel frame and plastic wheels, but had decided to switch it up.

“I thought to myself, why not make wooden wheels?” Akseth said. “Then after I had done that the rest sort of fell into place.”

After this year’s attention and success, Akseth plans to make a Big Wheel with stone wheels on it and possibly dress up as a caveman for next years race.

SF artist and musician Jon Brumit started the BYOBW Race in 2000. Brumit has performed all over the globe doing unique projects such as creating musical instruments out of suitcases and pots, and creating vinyl remixes.  Brumit sponsored the first race with his own money and the event has run on donations ever since.

As an independently run event, the Big Wheel race relies on volunteer efforts and the donations of attendees to keep operating.

“I volunteered in order to check it out because I figured what better way to investigate than to put myself in the middle of it,” said volunteer Karen Fagundes. “It’s fun and it’s a community activity.”

Fagundes said the beauty of the whole thing, as with most of the spontaneous events that happen in SF, is it allowed a break in the age barrier and let everyone have fun.

“It’s nice to see adults enjoying themselves while doing kid activities,” Fagundes said. “There’s no time for people to say, ‘oh, that’s a kid thing and I’m not a kid’ because we’re all getting older sooner rather than later.”

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