During an hour-long interview at Ace of Cups last week with the Righteous Mothers Bicycle Club, I was stopped three times by strangers asking if any of the tall bikes clumped together outside with various chain locks were mine. Always, without fail, the look on the stranger's face was one of wonder.
The club's used to it. Last year during one of the city's half marathons, group members were riding their tall bikes down High Street, past a group of runners, who stopped, partly from exhaustion and partly from amazement, and stared.
Stops at red lights regularly bring the same reaction, usually followed by a request from a bystander to take the bike for a spin. They often oblige.
“A lot of what we do is really not to be a joke,” said Righteous Mothers member Andy Capp, 37, of Clintonville. “It could be misconstrued as a circus, but we really enjoy the joy we bring to people when we come to a stoplight, and we show them [the tall bikes], and they take off with our bicycle. … They always come back with an ear-to-ear grin, like, 'Holy s---, that's the most fun I've had on a bicycle.'”
Righteous Mother member Nick Fisher, 26, of Clintonville, added, “It's kind of euphoric, and people aren't mad at you, people are in awe, people aren't s----y to you. Everyone's like, 'Oh, how'd you get on that?'”
The answer to that question will have to remain a mystery. The Righteous Mothers weren't forthcoming on that secret, and when it was time for me to leave Ace of Cups, they stayed behind, ready for another round of beer, jokes and smokes.
What follows, however, is everything else you'd likely ever want to know about this club and their infamous tall bikes. Not mentioned, though, is how rad these dudes were. And I’m not alone in saying so. Everyone interviewed for this series of stories brought up the Righteous Mothers over and over. And not just for the tall bikes. The group’s been instrumental in setting up bike events around the city, including the bike fair held prior to the World Naked Bike Ride.
Fisher: Teddy [Reese] was a part of the Third Hand Co-op, and a lot of us are old friends. He showed up with a tall bike, and I thought it was cool. Then the club started a couple years down the line, and then all the sudden we started sprouting tall bikes everywhere.
Capp: It's a fairly new rule [that you have to build a tall bike to join Righteous Mothers]. It keeps the weekend warriors out: “You've got to find everything you need, you've got to do it and ride it, and then we'll think about it.”
Anthony Williams, 40, Short North: Some people wanted to be in [Righteous Mothers] just for the spectacle of it.
Chrissy Mather, 37, Weinland Park: I love tall bikes; they're so much fun. It's like riding a horse, but it doesn't eat or poop.
Christine Pollard, 32, North Campus: I love everything involved — breaking it down, cutting the tubes and putting it back together.
Fisher: Any time I build a bike ... whether it's a freak bike or a regular bike, [I’m] never quenched.
Williams: I don't know that I would say I'm addicted to it, but I'm definitely drawn to it; it definitely feeds my creativity in a certain way. After the first one, I immediately started getting ideas for the next one.
Capp: The sky's the limit once you start cutting bikes in half. There's an endless possibility of how much fun you can have with other people or for the benefit of other people. I think genuinely, deep down inside, none of us would be doing any of this tall bike, freak bike stuff if we didn't appreciate the smile on a stranger's face.
Teddy Reese, 35, of Weinland Park: [Tall bikes] draw so much more attention to the cyclists themselves. If people enjoy seeing bicycles on the street, they really enjoy seeing tall bikes. If people don't like seeing bikes on the street, they really don't like tall bikes. It's like throwing it in their face.
Capp: There are so many bikes that we have made that never made it out of the garage. “Well, that one sucked.” We're always trying to figure out what's the dumbest thing we can build that doesn't kill us.
Pollard: The current one I'm riding I've had for over a year. I love this bike. I call it “Sky Rider.” It has a tree on the front. I've fallen off it countless times, and I'm looking forward to [building] more.
Capp: The No. 1 thing to building yourself a tall bike is to be a diligent alley shopper. Mine, [Black Bastard], came from word of mouth. I was sitting in the bar drinking, and a guy there said, “Hey, I'm doing a demo on a house; there's some bikes in the garage. I know you guys do weird s--- with them.” They happened to be two identical bikes, and that was that.
Teddy Reese: Tools, or access to tools, is the biggest thing to overcome. Besides that, we're in America; we're in a disposable culture. It's all here at our fingertips. Whether it's Craiglist or not, there's so many resources available.
Fisher: I use mine mostly as a town rider, and to do that you kind of want to spend a little bit of money to buy some nicer parts, so it maintains itself a little better. But you can find nice parts here and there or make [a tall bike] completely out of junk, and it costs nothing.
Alex Reese, 36, Weinland Park: It actually took our club a while to acquire grinders and welders and cutters, so you could go into our shop and build something.
Capp: It took us a while to realize it was that important. We were doing it in someone else's place. … It took us as a group saying, “Listen, if this is what we want to do as a collective group, we need to get some stuff.”
Teddy Reese: Three or maybe four years ago we were in San Francisco for a bike co-op conference, and we met a group that was a bicycle carnival act. They had tall bike jousting at night and spoof stuff, like the first bike trip to the moon … and bicycle-powered carnival rides. There was a ferris wheel that four people would ride and operate. So that stuff was really encouraging and really sweet. There were three of us in the club who were at that event, and that kind of brought back the free bike spirit. That was my big push to get into a club and start doing fun, creative bicycle community stuff.