Ringing his silver bell 10 feet from the pavement, “the tall bike guy” coasts eastbound along Laurel Street as pedestrians cheer on what can only be described as a one-man parade.
A customer on the porch of Woody’s Tavern gives a thumbs up to the man on the behemoth bike as five teenagers skateboarding in the opposite direction nod coolly, saying, “Sick ride,” “Sweet” and “What’s up?”
As the tall bike guy approaches a stoplight that threatens to break his momentum and balance, he sets his foot on the bed lip of a red pickup truck, whose passenger immediately leans out the window and says, “Do a wheelie.”
Fifteen yards ahead, the light turns green and the tall bike guy kicks away from the truck, pops a wheelie and after a laugh from the truck, moves down Laurel Street to be greeted with more double-takes, smiles and waves.
There are a handful of oversized, circus-like bikes roaming around Fort Collins, so no one person can stake claim to handle “the tall bike guy.”
But today, just north of campus, the tall bike guy is Silas Siegrist, a junior CSU student.
Though his bike is most often seen parked at his apartment next to the Rio Grande Restaurant in Old Town, Siegrist says he enjoys riding throughout the community and from time to time with the other members of the tall bike squad that call themselves members of “high society.”
“High society,” Siegrist says, is a sort of off-the-cuff identifier for those who ride tall bikes of all frame shapes and sizes, bringing smiles to people going through the motions of their day.
“It brings out this youth, this smile, this excitement,” Siegrist said. “It’s the greatest icebreaker.”
“It brings communities together,” he added.
Riding the tall bike gives him empowerment to make people’s day, he said, and to get that person who normally stares at the concrete to raise their head and smile.
Siegrist recalled one time riding down Mulberry Street when an entire Greyhound-sized bus stopped so the passengers could snap some photos and take in the rare tall bike.
But most often, people are just curious to know how he mounts the bike.
Like Travis Bottini, a senior landscape and horticulture major, who saw Siegrist walking the bike near CSU’s west lawn in late April.
“How the hell do you get on this thing?” he said.
It’s invariably the first question he’s asked. And it’s one worth asking.
As Siegrist describes it, getting on the tall bike is a lot like mounting a horse – run along side the bike, build momentum, climb up the frame and put the right foot on a low level bar, left foot on the pedal, and swing the right leg over.
It seems easy enough, and it usually is for Siegrist, but don’t be fooled. Even a pro like Siegrist can struggle at times, not just with getting on but also with staying on and getting off.
“It’s not a moment to moment (ride), it’s definitely a block to block ride.”
When Siegrist rides he is always on the lookout for a sign or a light pole to stop and catch his balance on, which one of the engineers of Siegrist’s tall bike, Taylor Nixon, explained is actually easier than most might think.
Nixon, a CSU mechanical engineering graduate, compared riding the tall bike to balancing a baseball bat in the palm of your hand versus a pencil; the bat is actually easier to control because of its greater weight and height.
As long as the rider can deal with the fear factor part of the equation, he says it can even be easier than riding a regular sized bike.
‘It started on a whiteboard’
The idea to create the tall bike came from two of Siegrist’s friends, Nixon and Steven Vogel, who also graduated from CSU with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Nixon said the initial reason Vogel and he built their first tall bike four years ago was out of curiosity and determination to build a more technically sound bike after seeing a student on campus with a haphazardly constructed tall bike.
After gathering supplies and drawing a plan in 2005, the two got to work in the engineering lab, and soon, one of the first tall bikes in Fort Collins was born.
“We realized how much of a joy it is to build tall bikes and to ride tall bikes,” Nixon said.
Nixon can’t recall the exact number of tall bikes he has helped build, but says he’s helped with at least seven. When asked if he would want to make a business out of it and sell tall bikes, he said if he did try, it would be out of pure joy and love of tall bikes with the profit as a byproduct.
Nixon says building a tall bike takes 10 to 20 hours, depending on the material they have and whether they have to scalp parts from recycled bikes. A lot of welding is involved, something Siegrist said he has learned to do well after making repairs on his own bike.
Siegrist’s bike was built in 2007 by Vogel, who ended up giving the bike to Siegrist in March of 2007 when he spotted it laying against Vogel’s shed and asked if he could ride it for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Fort Collins.
Vogel just asked that he attract good attention to it.
“(Siegrist) has loved it like his own ever since,” Nixon said.
Since 2007, Siegrist has ridden the tall bike in multiple parades including the Eaton Frontier Days Parade and, of course, the Tour De Fat, the zany costume and bike festival hosted by New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins.
“People just love it,” he said. “In parades it’s a huge hit.”
But for Siegrist, who can undoubtedly be seen more as summer begins, the best parades are those that come unannounced, on a week day, and with only one act — “the tall bike guy.”
Staff writer Kaeli West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.