[spare]As we rode down Grand River Avenue sitting six feet up, looming over the cars that sped past us, I couldn’t help but wonder what other people do in their spare time. Are other people’s Thursday night rituals – drinking until they are good dancers, wandering the streets looking for a partner and a party – really that interesting? How long can people talk about their strategies for playing beer-pong? I suppose we could have invested our time into something like collecting tight-fitting pink polo shirts to pop the collars. We could have done a lot of things. But sometimes, you just gotta ride.
Thursday night was ride night.
Our Thursday nights always started out in the parking lot of Ferris Park Towers, an apartment complex in Lansing, right behind the Capitol building. My friends Chase and Brian lived there, and in the storage spaces were our bikes, our nightlife, our beer-pong to an extent.
Thursdays weren’t really for mountain biking the trails or for BMXing and getting some sweet air. The thing about our bikes was, well, they were tallbikes. They’re a lot like normal bikes…only taller. The bikes consisted of two or three bike frames welded together (we had seen higher, but never made any ourselves), with an extended chain so you could pedal from your seat on the top. We had about six functional tallbikes at any given time, but usually one was having problems of some kind. Since we had more people (around 10) than tallbikes, some riders just rode their own regular bikes. It wasn’t necessarily about riding tall, just about riding.[bike]
It was always exciting for me to see new faces. We kept an extreme open-door policy; whoever wanted to ride could. This wasn’t about judging, again, it was just about riding. So we would bring people from our classes, or people who we knew would be interested.
Most people scratched their heads trying to figure out how to get up on one of the bikes. We would show them: put your right foot on the frame, then push off and bring your other foot around onto the pedal, then swing your right leg over the top so you’re sitting on it – then it’s just like a normal bike. It’s kind of confusing, I guess. You just need to do it in order to get a feel for it. It seemed so easy to us, and after a couple tries it was simple to them, too.
Getting down was usually the next thing people inquired about. We would tell them it was really easy to get down – you just jump off. It sounded like a joke, but that was the only effective way to do it.
Every trip we decided who would ride which bike. It was mostly a matter of which bike you liked the most, or which you hadn’t ridden in a while. A few people had bikes they rode regularly, but nobody was really guaranteed anything. The bikes didn’t belong to anyone, they were all community. Some nights you would end up riding the Fuji Cruiser, a two-frame-tall bike that rides terribly, but we never bothered to fix, since after all, it was ride-able. There was always the clamor of squeaking chains following that bike. That was the democracy of tallbikes.
Then we would ride.
Never sticking to a designated route, it was wherever people wanted to go that night. Usually we rode through downtown East Lansing and through campus a bit, listening and watching for bystanders reactions.
“How did you get up there?”
“What are those things?”
Pointing and laughing.
Confused stares.
Camera phones readied.

My favorite, though, was once when we were riding on Grand River. A 20-something heading to or coming from a party rolled down his window and asked, “Are you serious?”
“No, we’re just kidding,” my friend Devin shouted down to him from his bike.
“No, for real, are you serious?” We really didn’t know what kind of a response he was trying to elicit. We rode on. Through parking garages, into parks, down winding neighborhood streets – it was just about riding. Keeping discussions as we went, singing songs occasionally, we rode with a carefree attitude and an easy-going spirit.
Every couple weeks, the police would stop us on our ride. Lights flashed behind us and we would dismount to talk to the officer. It was normally the same thing: some mom with too much time on her hands would see some weird-looking bikes passing through the neighborhood, or some driver calling and saying he was freaked out by these kids on bikes that were taller than his car. After being questioned by the officer we were told to be careful; sometimes they would say we should really have better lights on those things. The officers would always end up asking the same question: So, how do you guys get up on those things? [police]
Once, though, it wasn’t an innocent run-in. It was Critical Mass, the monthly ride where individuals from across the greater Lansing community (not just the tallbikers who rode every week) come out to show support for bikes as a means of transportation. This particular ride last fall had over 100 riders, but only a few on tallbikes. We were riding down Michigan Avenue when the cops came. We were in the far right lane riding and the cop came up in the lane next to us and started swerving into ours, trying to tell us to get on the sidewalk, but ultimately only being dangerous.
He rolled down his window and told Devin (the closest one to him) we all needed to get off the street. “I don’t think that is going to happen,” Devin said. Devin didn’t seem as if he was provoking – he was just honest. He really didn’t think it was going to be possible to wrangle these bikers off the street. The officer did not appreciate his honesty.[tallbike]
The officer stopped the car, got out and proceeded to pull Devin by his belt off his tallbike. It was about a six-foot fall. Devin caught himself – we’re all used to falling off tallbikes; it happens a lot. Devin was then thrown into the back of the cop car. When a superior officer came, the first officer claimed he was just trying to keep us safe.
And so you have it, the story of the tallbike. Now, more often than not, the bikes just sit in my garage. We ride sometimes but don’t have a regular ride night anymore. If anybody wants to try it I’ll show you: you just put your right foot on the frame, then sort of push off, and then…well, you kind of have to do it to get a feel for it.

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