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The Chunkathalon

Brooklyn still offers a few places where you can have good, clean fun away from the prying eyes of those who would seek to prevent it (hence, stickball). One of those places is a fenced-in patch of condemned state property abutting the East River in Williamsburg. If you walk down the last desolate trash-strewn block of North 7th St. to where it ends at the disused MTA power station, you'll find-so long as no cops are camped out and you're not put off by the No Trespassing signs or the occasional burned-out car- a ratty park that offers one of the most blessedly intimate river views of Manhattan. On any given day there, Williamsburg's skateboarders and bikers can be found doing tricks on a concrete expanse about the size of football field that rises about five feet above the weeds and crabgrass (a refrigerator offers a leg up). It was here, on the last Saturday of July, that Chunkathon 2003 went down.

Chunkathalon is an offshoot of the Bike Rodeos hosted by San Francisco's Burning Man-inspired Cyclecide group. Held in West Coast junkyards and on San Fran's infamous Toxic Tire Beach, the rodeos include bands, bikes flying over flaming cars, a 17-foot bicycle ferris wheel, games such as bicycle bowling, and more. This year's Chunkathalon was described as "a series of death-defying contests by which C.H.U.N.K. 666 will purge their ranks of the weaker members while amusing themselves and others," CHUNK 666 being the Portland-based bicycle club whose stated objective is to chug beer and whiskey and cause mayhem in the streets. They follow in the tradition of custom bicycle clubs such as the Minnesota-based Hard Times club, the Chicago-based anarchist Rat Patrol club, and even the Christian chopper riders the Scallywags, and are known for their gonzo costumes, their attention-grabbing modified rides, and their "flaming bike" displays, wherein bikes are doused with kerosene, rigged with firecrackers, and set on fire while being ridden.

Unlike, say, the Puerto Rican Schwinn Club, whose modified bikes are like precious museum pieces, 666's bikes are built specifically to "induce the feeling of intoxication" and "fuck shit up." They are obvious mongrels (a tiny Barbie bike wheel will be paired with a 10-speed wheel) and are often constructed on the spot by welding together various pieces of discarded bikes-forks and handlebars are extended several feet to form a "chopper"; a frame is welded on top of another frame to form a "tall bike" that allows the biker to sit so high up he appears to be riding a horse; wheels are added to form a "trike," perfect for carrying kegs of beer. Along with all of this comes C.H.U.N.K. 666's hilarious jargon- "chunking," with all of its consequent cuts and scrapes, is a means of preparing for the Apocalypse, or "anticarpocalypse," when all regular bikes spontaneously explode and those who have been busy "devolving" via alcohol-fueled tallbike buffoonery will finally find themselves at the top of the food chain. It is also a good way for a social retard to impress a girl.

Although open to everyone, this year's Chunkathalon pitted the CHUNKs against the NYC chapter of the Black Label club, whose members are recognizable by their custom black denim biker jackets and insignia arm slings. Some random guys from Long Island also participated. Incredibly, chunkers had come from as far away as Portland and Seattle to show their shit off, having shipped their bike parts ahead of them and constructed their rides upon arrival.

On the course, about a hundred people milled around as Black Flag blasted out of a boom box that some kid had attached to his handlebars. The crowd ran the gamut from classic Williamsburg hipsters to gutter punks to a few squares dressed in Polo casual who had presumably seen the event listed in the Bike Summer pamphlets. A couple dozen people chugged beer out of brown bags. The smell of weed overpowered the smoke wafting off of three portable barbeques. The announcer- a man wearing a coattailed tuxedo over a negligee top-asked people through a bullhorn to "keep it on the DL, if you know what I mean."

In the center of the course, a few guys had lined up their tallbikes and low riders like Harleys parked outside of a biker bar until the wind caught the tallest and it fell, knocking the rest down like dominos. Most of the bikers were in their twenties, tattooed, not very well groomed (even in the open air, the smell of BO was thick.) At one point the announcer stopped the proceedings to announce that he had found someone's high school ID.

The games commenced with the 16-ounce relay, wherein the competitors took a lap around the track while chugging a tallboy. The winner of the event was Ninja, a slim man in welding goggles who was dressed as, yes, a ninja. (Although last year's Chunkathalon, which took place in San Francisco, included a man disguised as Spiderman, the costumes this year were more subdued. The real freak scene was in the crowd, where I saw a bearded kid in a YMCA shirt who, intentionally or no, was the spitting image of Osama bin Laden, a dread-locked man with cobwebs tattooed all over his face, and a demure-looking blonde whose back was covered with a tattoo of an elephant.)

The next competition pitted a "good" biker against an "evil" biker-the former attempting to rescue a baby (actually a battery operated doll sitting on two milk crates) from the latter, whose object was to knock the doll to the ground before the rescuer could get to it. Evil was a clear favorite, as people screamed, "Kill the f*cking baby." The much loathed judges, perched above the fray on a rolling scaffold, instructed the crowd to pelt the competitors with anything they could get our hands on (after all, this was an "endurance event.") As the bikes whizzed by, the air exploded with shoes, toilet paper rolls, and beer cans and bottles. A beer bottle sprayed me as it shattered at my feet.

The audience favorite this round was a cocky pre-adolescent black kid in a do rag who lept off of his bike (a pink one, strangely) to tackle the baby in mid air. High fives all around. For good measure, the judges decided to spice up the last round by dousing the baby in lighter fluid (a man beside me screamed, "Soak it!") and lighting it on fire. The impact, when it came, was spectacular.

The next round-the derby- was easily the most absurd: the object of the free-for-all was to be the last man to put his feet on the ground. Competitors were allowed to bump each other, but the real danger was the audience, again called upon to make things difficult. At first this entailed pelting the usual shoes and beer cans, but the tameness quickly ended when a bowling ball was launched into play. All manner of objects joined the fray. One biker went down after being pelted with mannequin parts. A man who had found a shelled out refrigerator on shopping-cart wheels was gleefully plowing it into every cyclist that passed. Another man went after the tallbikes with a gigantic bulldozer tire, his drunken friend curled up inside. To my right, a 10-year-old kid cocked the charred baby doll in his hand and made ready to follow someone's shouted advice-"Aim for the head!"

To the crowd's fervent delight, the first round of the derby was won by a cyclist who had entered as number 666. The second round went to a girl who wore a feather top and rode a pink bike. When it became apparent that the last man standing was a chick, the crowd erupted into applause. The girls, however, faired worse in the next competition-the much anticipated tallbike jousting.

The joust pitted the Black Label club against the Chuck 666 club. Facing off at about 100 feet, members of each team attempt to knock each other from their bikes using eight foot poles (foam is duct taped to the end). The early leader was Purple, who wore a purple stocking over his head, a straw hat, and a purple bathmat as a jacket. The crowd grew restless as he knocked person after person to the ground. He was finally defeated by an ogrish looking man on the Black Label team who double fisted victory beers between matches. Black Label dominated until one of their crew-an elfin 90-pound girl-hit the concrete with a THWAP that reverberated in everyone's sneakers. She had literally taken it on the chin from the only person in the competition wearing a helmet- a girl by the name of Safety First. The 90-pounder attempted a rematch, getting back on the horse and comically screaming, "I'll kill you, bitch! You're going down, you little cunt!" Although she was forced off the bike, her friend had no trouble avenging Safety First.

As I left the course to make yet another beer run, I heard a fat man ask one of the spectators what was going on. His thick New York accent gave him away as an undercover cop. Sure enough, a few minutes later an NYPD Emergency Services vehicle pulled into the lot. Luckily the cops found it all very funny and watched from the van instead of writing summonses for trespassing, littering, smoking weed, and chugging open containers. But I knew that with the cops staked out, there was no chance of the glorious fire displays that last year's show had culminated in. Like most of the others, I jumped on my own bike and headed home.

Unexpectedly, as I peddled down Kent St. with the Manhattan skyline at my side, I was filled with a rare sense of pride for the youth culture my neighborhood is so often mocked for. Somewhere in Manhattan one of my friends was probably watching Jackass on DVD while here in Williamsburg the real thing went down under the summer sun for those who knew enough to be there with beers, bikes, friends, and a healthy dose of suspended adolescence. In a city so tough on balls-out fun, it seems almost too good to be true, but here in Brooklyn there are still a few people who are up for it and a few places where it can be had.

--Daniel Maurer

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Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
mail@freewilliamsburg.com | August 2003 | Issue 41
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