Leave it to the bike-friendly city of Portland to bring us the most hostile bike spectacle in North America. In what is known as the “Ben Hurt Chariot Wars”, participants dressed like punk gladiators riding their custom-built chariots fit for the apocalypse– chasing one another around a makeshift obstacle course until just one team remains with their craft intact. Slamming into chariots at full-speed and swinging away at the competition with padded clubs is all considered fair game.
The spectating experience is equally unique, as fans are encouraged to toss beer cans, flour, and smoke grenades at competitors– in addition to the occasional firecracker and obscenity.
The headline event is part of the three-day festival “Mini-Bike Winter.” And in case you’re beginning to wonder, there are a few things that distinguish it from, say, the average riot. For instance, this year’s course, built on 100-square-feet of asphalt, was designed to test each team’s speed and maneuverability.
John Dutch and Josh Neverfindme of the “Zoobombers” clan are the organizers of the event. Most weekends they can be found riding pint-sized kids’ bikes down Portland’s posh West Hills at breakneck speed– much to the chagrin of the neighborhood’s residents.
These are the rules of the event according to Dutch and Neverfindme: “The rules are simple: build a pedal-powered chariot with a traditional hitch. Teams compete until the chariot can’t continue, or one of the competitors gets removed from the chariot itself. If any member becomes disconnected from their chariot they are out. If the chariot can’t continue rolling, it’s out.”
Watch footage of the chaotic event:
Jon Penfold and his teammate Nick Schlabach emerged as this year’s winners. Penfold, 29, unveiled his team’s strategy for this year’s battle, stating, “You attack, and then run. Attack, and then run. It’s a war of attrition.”
When his teammate was asked how he felt after winning, the 26-year-old Schlabach said, “I wanted to puke.” Penfold and Schlabach’s chariot was also armored with a bubble-shaped cage which provided essential protection.
In typical rebel fashion, the police showed up before sunset, bringing the day’s festivities to an end. But that didn’t stop this group of punk gladiators from continuing the after-party well into the night.