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A monumental day for Zoobomb, and for Portland

Portlanders point with pride at the new Zoobomb Pyle, the City’s latest public art monument.
(Photo: Brian Borrello)

Friday was a day that will live forever in Portland’s bike-cultural history.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams
(in middle in white shirt) poses
with the crowd at the Zoobomb
Pyle public art unveiling event
on Friday.
(Photo: Dan Liu)

What started seven years ago as a fringe activity by a few fun-seeking mini-bike lovers, has blossomed into a civic and cultural institution with deep connections to our City; Zoobomb is now a tradition has been duly recognized by a public art monument on one of Portland’s most highly-trafficked streets.

A pile of mini-bikes that is used as a loaner library for folks who want to partake in the weekly ride used to inhabit a standard, u-shaped staple rack. On Friday, Mayor Sam Adams and a host of community leaders helped commemorate a new, functional work of public art that will serve not just as a place to store Zoobomb bikes and equipment, but as a visual testimony to what makes Portland, Portland.

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“Portland’s bike culture is not only fun, it’s absolutely necessary for the future success of this city…”
— Mayor Sam Adams

The event began with a meet-up at the old “Holy Rack” at SW 10th and Oak. Zoobombers old and new rolled up in every manner of costume (most of them animal-themed for reasons I still can’t figure out), joined by their more staid-looking, two-wheeled bretheren. As I worked my way around the crowd, I bumped into veteran Zoobomber, Solid Gold (a.k.a. Corey Sevigny).

Solid Gold told me he could remember riding down the hill from the Zoo and getting arrested and hassled by cops at every turn. Those legal run-ins will likely never completely subside (and they’re nowhere near as bad as this KGW story would lead you to believe), and Zoobombers still get tickets now and then, but thanks to what Solid Gold called, “active diplomacy” over the years, Zoobomb has struck a workable truce with TriMet, the Police Bureau, and the City of Portland.

The parade featured an eclectic mix of bikes.
(Photo: Dan Liu)

Whether it’s working with TriMet to extend their Washington Park MAX stop hours, or sitting down with the Police to share concerns and work through issues, Zoobomb has worked hard to become a recognized and respected Portland tradition.

Friday’s event was a chance to celebrate that recognition.

At the start of the parade from the old rack to the new one, one person said, “It’s like a wedding.” A man who looked more bike commuter, than mini-bike bomber, rolled over to the event after seeing it promoted by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. He wanted to see something outside his normal commute. When asked what he thought of the scene, he said cautiously, “Ummm. It’s a blast!”

Artist Vanessa Renwick helped envision
and create the work along with
Brian Borrello.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Co-creator of the rack monument, local artist Vanessa Renwick beamed. She said her favorite part of the rack was “The cherry on top!,” a reference to the gold-plated mini-bike adorning a spiraling pillar that rises triumphantly two stories above the sidewalk.

After a parade that featured minis, talls, choppers, commuters, and even a homemade bakfiets, the crowd gathered at the foot of the new Pyle at 13th and W. Burnside. Shannon “Shantastic” Palermo, a longtime Zoobomber, Sprockette, and one of the people who worked long hours over the past several years to make this project a reality — grabbed the megaphone.

Shantastic welcomed Kristin Calhoun, the public art manager for the Regional Arts and Culture Council (the RACC commissioned the $10,000 project) . With an enthusiastic, “Welcome Zoobomb!”, Calhoun introduced everyone to the “People’s Bike Library of Portland” and then passed the megaphone to the librarian of the past five years, “Handsome Dave.”

Mayor Adams.
(Photo: Dan Liu)

Dave, who is one of Zoobomb’s most active and effective diplomats, thanked the many people who help make Zoobomb and this new monument possible. Then, he introduced Mayor Sam Adams as “A friend of mine, possibly one of the best Mayors Portland has ever or will ever see.” (Only a few people booed.)

Adams cut the ribbon After a countdown (just like they do each Sunday before careening down the hill), and spoke into a megaphone sporting a sticker that read, “Drink beer, ride bikes, go fuck yourself.”

Adams recalled when Dave first approached him with the idea of a permanent rack. “It was three or four years ago that Mr. Handsome said, ‘you know what, we need a place to catalog and store our bikes’… He said we want to do a sculpture… and he said, ‘Oh and we want you to pay for it!'”

A few faces from the crowd.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Adams, a stalwart supporter of the arts, told the crowd, “Useful public art is what we need more of here in Portland.” Here’s the rest of his speech:

“Portland’s bike culture is not only fun, it’s absolutely necessary for the future success of this city, to reduce our footprint on the environment, to make ourselves a lot more healthy… and it’s great, quirky stuff like this that makes Portland, Portland, and I was really proud be a little part of it.”

Adams helped make this project happen through a new program he created called “Art on the Streets.” The program is a collaboration between the RACC and the Bureau of Transportation to put art work in the public sphere. The RACC did not make a $10,000 grant for this project, it was funded through the City of Portland and RACC with tasked with coordinating it. The same program will help pay for upcoming artistic components of the Clinton Street Bicycle Boulevard demonstration project.

After Adams stepped off the monument, people lined up to create the first pile of mini-bikes on its specially-made base (metal loops act as hooks for the bikes). Eliza Strack currently lives in Austin and the Bay Area, but she is also one of the first women of Zoobomb and a founding member of The Sprockettes.

Here’s how Eliza wrote about the experience:

“I pushed through the crowd and handed it forth, bowing in honor of the golden b(eye)cycle winking in the sun. As I retreated to the crowd, my whole body was shaking. My hands were in disbelief. I paced in a circle and half-sigh/half-laughed and this darn smile was holding me so tight, I felt like the kiln was burning it into my clay, smile-shaped cheeks forever.”

I now pronounce you,
City and Zoobomb.
(Photo: Dan Liu)

As the bikes piled up, a long chain was wrapped through each one, and Mayor Adams returned to click the padlock into place. Zoobombers then jumped up and crawled all over the pile, about 18 bikes strong, then posed for a group picture with the Mayor.

Someone shook the stack — the thing has some flex. The gold plated minibike swayed in the wind.

Then there was a short sing-along by a small, ad hoc chorus. The song, whose lyrics were printed in a program flyer at the event, was called 16″ Rims. It’s based on Janis Joplin’s famous “Mercedes Benz” tune:

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me
Some 16 inch rims
My friends all have tall bikes
I must make amends
Ride hard all my lifetime
No luck at the bins
So Oh Lord! Won’t you buy me
Some sixteen inch rims.

Oh Lord! Won’t you help me
Kill my TV
That sweet blackedned pavement
Is calling out to me.
Threw a Molotov cocktail
I killed that SUV
So Oh Lord! Won’t you help me
Kill my TV

Oh Lord! No need to buy me
A night on the town
I’m riding my bike Lord
So it’s free to get around
Got some wine and some pizza
From a dumpster that I found
So there’s no need to buy me
A night on the town!”

The crowd sang along with gusto. Dancing in the streets followed by The Sprockettes and then by everyone else.

It’s important to remember that this is not just for Zoobomb. It’s for all of us. It’s from a City that encourages and recognizes the power of creative expression and activism embodied not just in a physical monument, but in the spirit of every Portlander.

— See more of the action and faces from the crowd in our Photo Gallery.

[Reporting for this story was significantly aided by Managing Editor Elly Blue.]