Thursday, October 30, 2014
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Riding tall bikes for Christ

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The Scallywags are a Minneapolis group, whose members ride tall bikes -- really tall bikes. (MPR Photo/Sam Choo)
If you've ever seen a member of the Minneapolis Scallywags Bike Club pedaling down the street, you'll probably never forget the image. They ride tall bikes -- made from bicycle frames stacked and welded together. The Scallywags ride to bring attention to their faith in Christ.

Minneapolis, Minn. — These tall bikes are really tall -- two or three times as tall as ordinary bikes, some even taller. They build the bikes themselves by welding stacked frames together.

Ben Clark is the unofficial leader of the Scallywags. At a party celebrating the bike club's fourth anniversary, Clark talked about how the group got started.

"A lot of us were going to the same church here in Minneapolis, and we all had an interest in bikes," says Clark. "A friend of ours had a welder and we just started chopping stuff up, and it just kind of progressed from there. We just got more into it and it just started growing, started growing really strong."

Besides enjoying an challenging ride on an unusual bike, the Scallywags have a higher purpose in mind.

"All the Scallywags in Minneapolis and around the country, -- that's really what's brought us together is our faith," says Clark.

"We want to be a group that brings people in that want to ride with us, and that they want to live out their faith in the open. It's kind of hard to hide," says Clark. "We don't want to be behind four walls of a church, we want to be out on the streets, just open and ready for anything. And so, yeah, we're full-on followers of Christ."

Clark and the other Scallywags regularly ride in local parades and other events. And they get a lot of questions about their bikes. The first question -- how do you get on the thing?

"It's kind of like a skateboard," says Clark. "You have one foot on it, like you would a skateboard, and you're pushing it along. And then, as it gets going faster, you're balancing it out. You got your hands on the handlebars and one on the seat to keep it balanced straight up. Then as you keep on going, you just kind of climb the bottom frame, climb up to the second frame, then you mount it like you would a horse. Sling a leg over and start pedaling."

Clark says that getting up and going is only half the battle, because most tall bikes aren't built with brakes. So the next question -- how do you stop without running into something?

"The most common way to brake is to take your foot off one of the pedals and put it on the back wheel, and just kind of let your shoe cause friction to stop the back wheel," he says.

While starting and stopping can be pretty tricky, Clark says tall bikes have their advantages.

"You can actually see over traffic. When you're on a regular bike, a lot of motorists can't see you because you get hidden," says Clark. "But with a tall bike, we've noticed that a lot of cars will gawk at it -- which brings attention, which makes it more safer for us."

The Minneapolis chapter of the Scallywags is just one of many tall bike clubs scattered around the U.S. -- and the Scallywags have plans to help form clubs in other countries.

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