Tall bike.Photo: Elly BlueElly Blue is on a monthlong Dinner & Bikes tour around the western U.S., along with Portland bike filmmaker Joe Biel and traveling vegan chef Joshua Ploeg. This is one of her thrice-weekly dispatches from the road about bicycle culture and economy. Read them all here.

Spearfish, S.D.: Last year, on the intergalactic Bikestravaganza tour, Joe and I were flabbergasted to discover a mutant bike culture thriving in this tiny city in the heart of the region a friend calls Outdoorsia. This year we couldn’t wait to come back.

The day before we were to arrive, driving into the sprawling motordom of nearby Rapid City, we spotted a guy on a tallbike merging with traffic on a major arterial street. We asked about it at our event that night and were met with shrugs. “It’s a frat thing,” speculated a buff young pedicab operator. “They make some of the guys ride them.”

Tall bikes.Photo: Elly BlueBut minutes later, the tallbiker showed up. It was Mark Smith, one of the founders of the Spearfish bicycle collective we’d met last year. He had moved to Rapid City for college and brought his own piece of mutant bike culture with him.

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The next day, back at the collective in Spearfish, we reminisced about the year before, when our event was preceded by handmade ice cream sodas and what was billed as a cruiser ride, but was in fact a parade through town featuring nearly a dozen mutant bikes: tall bikes, swing bikes. There was even a kangaroo bike — a Mad Max contraption on which the pedals were set adjacent to one another, rather than opposite, requiring the rider to pedal with both legs moving in parallel rotation, necessitating a hopping motion.

This year, the mutant bikes were mostly hibernating for the winter, as was the new bike-powered ice cream churn (sigh). But local ingenuity was apparent at every turn. A young farmer showed up with a juicer and a box of vegetables and produced pitchers full of frothy, blood-red juice. John Williams, our host at the collective this year, rode up on his tallbike and told us that the town is now rolling with retrodirect bikes — bikes with drive trains engineered to move forward while you pedal either forward or backward.

Green roof bike.Cappy’s bike tree contraption.Photo: Elly BlueCappy, a jovial homesteader whose school bus we’d slept in the year before, updated us on his weird and wonderful projects: the waterwheel, which runs off of an irrigation ditch, now connects to a water tower; he’s also putting a green roof on the bike tree.

I’ve been struggling all month to articulate the connection between bikes and food — the two key ingredients of this great West-wide tour. We thought the combination of vegan cooking and bikes would be hard to explain to people. But throughout tour, our mutant contraption of a show has been embraced as a logical connection. Maybe that’s just because it’s dinner theater. But conscientiousness and social awareness about food and transportation seem to go together — though not always in the form of veganism.

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As he gave us a tour of his DIY contraptions, Cappy unwittingly made the connection between food and bikes in the most unexpected way.

“I hope this doesn’t offend you,” he said, jerking his thumb back towards our vegan feast. Then he told us that he and another member of the collective plan to go deer hunting this winter — by bike.

“We’ll bring a trailer,” he said, rubbing his hands together and grinning.


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