12: Derby!

Today’s entry pretty much has nothing to do about Ibis or making bikes. But it has everything to do with riding bikes and the camaraderie that brings, which is what it’s really all about.

Way back when, we were lucky enough to participate in a lot of derbies. What’s a derby, you ask? Who better to ask than our friend and frequent MTBR contributor named “Derby”. We found this post on MTBR where Derby was explaining the origins of his name.

The first known bicycle derbies started among riders warming up for bicycle polo matches in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in the mid 1970’s. In the ‘80’s there were regular derbies held in summer full moon nights on Mt. Tam. And there are still annual April Fool’s derbies on Angel Island and New Year's Day at the top of the Marin Headlands (although the radar tower where the aerial derby was long held has recently been removed). A derby is basically just riding around a somewhat confined area trying to avoid dabbing your foot down and maintaining balance at very low speeds as riders try to block and sometimes more aggressively put you off balance. There are no rules, so brake grabs, shifter twists (in the Suntour thumb-shifter days), and loosening seat post quick releases are common derby hazards if not paying attention to riders approaching from behind.

We’re not familiar with the Golden Gate Polo part, but everything else Derby says about derby is true.

Here’s an aerial view of one of the Angel Island April Fool’s day derbies.

Angel Island History

Minor Detour for a history lesson. Angel island sits in the middle of the San Francisco bay, the less famous cousin of Alcatraz. Back in its day, Angel Island was the Ellis Island of the west coast. If you remember your history, on the east coast, most of the immigrating masses were met by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. On the west coast, between 1910 and 1940, many were met by the wooden buildings of Angel Island. These immigrants were Australians and New Zealanders, Canadians, Mexicans, Central and South Americans, Russians, and in particular, Asians. On arrival at San Francisco, passengers would be separated by nationality. Europeans or travelers holding first or second class tickets would have their papers processed on board the ship and allowed to disembark. The rest, Asians, Russians, Mexicans, and others, as well as those who needed to be quarantined for health reasons, would be ferried to Angel Island for quarantine.

Those days are gone, and Angel Island is now a State Park. In some of these photos, you can get a glimpse of the abandoned barracks in the background.

OK, history lesson over.

You get to Angel Island by ferry, here’s Brent and Sky and not sure who the guy in the middle is.

Here are a few shots of derby:

At the end of the day, everyone rode their bikes back across the island and caught the ferry home.

But we always had a bike pile on the ferry too.

Nike History, but not about shoes

Oh crap, back to history again.

Between 1954 and 1974 many US cities were ringed by Nike missile sites. The sites had ground-to-air missiles, intended to protect against attack by enemy bombers. Each Nike installation was split into a radar/control site, high on a hilltop for good visibility, and a launch site somewhere lower down and a mile or two away for better protection. If you want to geek out on the Nike sites, google it and you can waste quite a bit of time.

Here’s a map of the Nike missles sites around the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see the ones in the middle of the bay, those were on Angel Island, but we didn't derby there.

As Derby mentioned, the New Years Day derbies were held high on Mt Tam on such a Nike site. We used to derby ON TOP of the taller tower pictured here. Before get got there, it held a target-tracking radar under a geodesic dome. Unfortunately the tower is gone now. You can imagine the excitement of these derbies, not a continuous fence up there. And the one that was there was pretty wimpy.

Big Bike

Now, another interesting tidbit from Derby:

I think Mark Norstad's (Paragon Machine Works) “Big Bike” is now in the MTB Hall of Fame Museum. It was about 8 feet tall made of 4 inch OD, ¼ inch wall thick steel pipe and car parts including the wheels and steering wheel. It weighed about 400 lbs. It took a running start to ride it and you couldn’t put your feet down so stopping required planning a landing next to a picnic table or leaning against a wall or such. Few ever were brave enough to ride it. Mark rode it at one Angel Island derby and needless to say it survived intact and literally crushed the most fierce attacks from all ridden and ghost ridden bikes.

We unearthed a picture of Mark’s Big Bike here:

Since we're on the GG Bridge and not relating anything to Ibis History so much, check out this image from Scot's archives. He had a friend who was an iron worker on the bridge, and to to go to the top of both towers one time.

See you New Year’s Day! Or April fools day!

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