Towering over sedans and minivans, high-bikers shock drivers as they weave through downtown traffic. Composed of two bike frames, one welded on top of the other, their popularity is growing. This increase in fame has led to a slew of admiring fans, the most interested getting involved. Not available in stores, high-bikers must build their own.
Creativity and ingenuity are required in all phases of bike building. For Chris Swaim, this need for innovation correlates with his past experiences and his daily job of designing medical devices. After seeing one of the bikes, he decided to build his own. Once he found two old bike frames, construction began.
“I built race cars with friends in college. We built the frames ourselves so that’s how I learned to weld,” Swaim said.
Attaching the frames is the first opportunity for creativity. A bike frame has no large amount of surface area at the bottom to act as an area of attachment. Accordingly, builders have to find a way to attach the two frames at multiple points.
Some builders, such as Swaim, weld the bottom bracket of the top bike to the seat post of the bottom bike. Swaim then saws off the rear triangle on the top bike. Other builders choose to leave the rear triangle and add an extra design flourish by installing a wheel on the top bike.
In the front of the bike, the wheel fork is welded “where the handlebars are [on the bottom bike], but those are replaced with a big rod of steel,” Swaim said. He also bolts the front fork of both bikes together. This technique acts as an extension of the top handle bars, allowing for turning.
With the wheels touching the ground and feet in the air, the issue of pedaling arises. To solve this, an extra-long chain is needed. Multiple chains are strung together, and this new chain is run from the pedals on the top frame to the gears of the bottom wheel. And though the question of how to connect the pedals has been answered, another arises in its wake. How do you even get up to the pedals?
According to high-biker Ernie White, a part-time ACC student, it isn’t too difficult. White said that a rider just has to tilt the bike towards them and get a running start with the bike to build momentum. From there, the rider places a foot on the pedal and swings their other leg over the seat.
Shortly after this description, White asked to be referred to as “Toblin Stardust.” The nickname is conspicuously reflective of the quirkiness of the high-bike community as a whole.
Thursday nights at 8, a group of cyclists — riding normal bikes and high-bikes alike — meet where Interstate Highway 35 passes over Lady Bird Lake. Hundreds arrive for this social ride sporting dreadlocks, flannel, piercings, smokes and brew. The high-bike riders fit right in until the cycles are mounted.
Melissa Haggen, a pedicab driver, is one of the taller crowd. Her colorful tattoos are indicative of her colorful personality, and as a new high-biker, Haggen is proud of her creation. She was completely hooked on the experience of riding a high-bike. So she learned to weld and now has her own.
“It’s hard for people to be upset when they see it,” Haggen said, beaming.
With a tendency to perceive the increasing population of high-bikers as a fixation similar to social groups centered on classic cars, Haggen is excited to be a part of the growing community. She plans to get involved with rides exclusive to these lofty cyclists. And just as stereotypical, rough-and-tumble male motorcycle gangs run through the streets, Haggen said she hoped the high-bike scene will develop enough for her to recruit a lady high-bike gang.
“This is the first time Austin is having a lot of high-bikes,” she said.
This developing band of bikers has also recently been coordinating races, with one coming up within the next two months.
But as such a unique society, high-bikers don’t just race. They have their own strange custom one would never encounter at a classic car club: bike jousting.
Following in the stead of traditional horse-back jousters, two high-bikers gear up with lances and pedal straight for each other. The goal of each is to knock the other to the ground using the lance. Unlike traditional jousting, these warriors have no armor or any other form of protection.
As outlandish as this group of riders may seem, they have rules. Well, at least one rule that every high-biker echoes, including Haggen and Toblin: Never sell a high-bike.
And while Toblin describes selling a high-bike as “atrocious,” having someone build one for you is also discouraged, “except maybe [in exchange] for a 12-pack.”