Sunday Boulder Daily Camera
Daily Camera
September 26, 1993

Local News

Big Wheels bring out daredevils

By JIM SHEELER
and STEVE KNOPPER
Camera Staff Writers

Orange sparks surrounded Mike Blansham's feet as his canary yellow Big Wheel plummeted down nine brick steps at the Randolph Center parking garage in downtown Boulder. He hit bottom, flipped headfirst, and rolled toward a glass door.

Upstairs, one of the 30-some bystanders murmured something about a "death wish." Somebody else used the word "suicidal." But Blansham smiled, shook it off, pulled the bead off his Piglet bubble-bath container - conveniently spiked with Captain Morgan's spiced rum - and took a healthy swig. Then, with his vehicle slung over his shoulder, he hiked the steps find took another plunge.

Blansham's contraption - souped up with special plastic rods and a thick board for a seat - was one of 25 Big Wheels

inexplicably zooming down the Downtown Mall and its surrounding areas early Saturday morning. About 40 crazed daredevils, some of whom had commuted from Iowa City, San Diego, Los Angeles and Denver, assembled for the Sixth Annual Big Wheel Classic late Friday night.

"For those who haven't ridden a Big Wheel in 10 to 15 years, it's a truly moving experience," said rider Mary Beth Armbruster, whose brother founded the race. "Big Wheels take you back to your roots. You're a little bigger, but it's the same feeling."

Just after midnight, when the last remaining Mall patrons straggled out of nearby bars, a fleet of Big Wheels - in a blur of hot-pink tires and plastic seats stuffed with heavy phone books- -tumbled from

Broadway to 13th Street. The more adept drivers managed to stay afloat. Those less dexterous met their fates against the pavement, the park benches, the brick ledges or, if they were particularly unlucky, the wooden bridge above the children's park.

"Blood," said 23-year-old Heather Rettig, "has spilled only a few times."

Matt Armbruster, a University of Colorado graduate and unemployed Lakewood aerospace engineer, wandered around the proceedings wearing pigtails and a flashing light lodged in his pants. Since 1991, he said, the derby has been run twice a year. "I was sitting in my apartment one night," he said, "and suddenly I said to myself, 'You know what would be fun?' And three weeks later we were doing it!"

The Downtown Mall forbids dog-walking and bicycle-riding, but near as anybody can tell, Big Wheel riding is still constitutional. Still, within minutes, three police cars showed up to the derby site at the comer of Broadway and Pearl Street. The officers, though, seemed more concerned with bar goings-on than the surreal parade of mobile plastic and flesh. "A lot of things are illegal," said one policeman, shortly before heading to another emergency.

After treks through Old Chicago and the West End Tavern, the tricyclists wobbled their way down the mall, whooping, cheering, drinking, and crashing into one another at top speed.

"I came out here for this," said Denise Lagway, who drove from San Diego with Big Wheels strapped to her car. "You only live once."