Bikin' Broncos

Some people consider them only half a step above the Hell's Angels. To others, they look pretty damn cool with their cut-off pants and messenger bags. They're bicycle couriers, those misunderstood and vilified daredevils who dart around downtown in flagrant defiance of the laws of both traffic and physics.

But this Saturday, Denver's bike couriers get to be the White Hats at the Road Rash Bash! Bike Courier Rodeo, a day-long competition at the Construct arts co-op that will showcase the skill, daring and equilibrium of the Queen City's two-wheeled speed demons.

"It's a program to celebrate bike couriers in Denver," says rodeo producer and coordinator Robert Selman, a longtime courier whose road name is Robot. Selman is also the acting secretary of the Denver Professional Bike Messengers Association, a non-profit group that has sponsored the Road Rash Bash since the rodeo migrated here from San Francisco more than a decade ago. The brainchild of Jason "J-Bone" Abernathy, president and founder of the DPBMA, the Bash has become an underground institution in town, drawing corporate sponsorship and a broad range of attendees.

As accessible as it is, though, you won't find any bull-rustlin' or bronco-bustin' at this rodeo. Selman and his cohorts spend weeks every year refining old contests and cooking up new ones, trials that challenge even the most asphalt-scarred and bumper-bruised couriers.

"We try to simulate the kinds of activities couriers go through on the streets of downtown Denver," Selman explains. "We have a thing called the track stand competition, where a courier stands on his bike on his pedals and handlebars and tries to stay in one position for as long as possible. The record is an hour and thirteen minutes. We also have the no-handed race, the backward race and the skid contest; the longest skid ever was 276 feet. Then there's the dime sweep, where we throw a dime on the ground and everybody has to try to pick it up while on their bicycles. And that's not easy to do. We're always reaching for a higher level of skill."

Besides the sheer glory of competition, rodeo-goers will bear witness to live music provided by local acts Triangular Thunder, Mean Uncle Mike, Inshibot, the Rabid Ragdolls, Slow Crawl, the Strange Us and Crimson Haybailer. Doors open at 8 a.m. and the bands start at 3:30 p.m., but the festivities are expected to rage until midnight. "These activities are extremely fun to watch and participate in," says Selman. "It's an aggressive industry, and to entertain these guys takes an awful lot. Our ultimate goal is to make this a big party."

In addition to organizing the annual Bash, the DPBMA works to create a more positive image for the maligned bike-courier profession by putting on art shows, establishing safety guidelines and even formulating a code of messenger ethics.

"We've always been considered a bad element downtown," Selman admits. "We've been blamed for 90 percent of all bicycle infractions, but when the city actually figured it out once, we were only liable for 4 percent. There are a lot more people on the streets than there used to be, and there's a lot of road rage. But we're professionals. We're very aware of what's going on around us. It's not just cars and trucks; you've got baby carriages and old ladies and people walking up and down the street to consider."

So maybe bicycle messengers are more cowboys than desperados. Just don't expect the rodeo's participants to straddle their custom track bikes gussied up in chaps, boots and ten-gallon hats. "No, it's not really like that at all," says Selman. "To get these guys in cowboy suits, you'd have to kidnap them, drug them up and put them in them."

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller

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