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Bike Co-op merges faces of bicycling and punk

TAMPA — Dave Japenga moves around the dank room beaming, his bare feet slapping against the concrete. It's late Monday night and the flow of people coming in has gone from trickle to steady.

The place smells of grease and mold. Rain is pounding on the roof as a turntable screams lyrics of anarchy over fast-paced guitars, the kind found only on the best punk records.

The 19-year-old sees new faces holding up the walls and wastes no time extending his hand.

"Hey, I'm Dave," he says with a smile. "What's your name?"

They have come for the Tampa Bike Co-op, a monthly meeting for cycling enthusiasts, and he wants everyone to feel welcome.

For the past four months, he and several others have merged the faces of cycling and punk in this drab room at the Skate Park of Tampa.

Here, stereotypes of recreational bicyclists are pushed aside.

Instead of Lycra jerseys, they wear Every Time I Die band T-shirts. Protein bars are substituted with vegan lasagna, and water bottles are replaced with cheap soda and Coors Light.

Here, bike polo stars are born and "critical mass rides" — like the one scheduled to overtake lanes of traffic throughout Tampa tonight — are brought to life.

• • •

Major metropolitans like New York City and Portland are known for their co-ops where cyclists voice their ideas. But the concept is new for Tampa where the culture has been slower to evolve.

Locally, the co-op is a forum for all types of bicyclists to discuss issues and concerns, as well as help the needy by donating bicycles to the poor. People show up to learn bicycle maintenance from local experts or the best routes to work. Used bicycle parts and frames are available for small donations.

For Lily Richeson, the co-op has always been about reaching out to those in need. "Everyone always says, 'I've been wanting to do (a co-op) forever,' but it's like, just do it then," said Richeson of the band Inertia!. "Why not just try it and see what happens?"

So she and Japenga made a few phone calls and got it started. The first Monday of each month they meet in the Transitions Art Gallery at the skate park armed with spare parts and potluck. Some show up with no bicycle, others with a few to give away.

"You just build things up, man," he says, digging through a bucket of cranks and brake levers. "We're trying to do the whole reduce, reuse thing."

As the night progresses, dozens wheel into the room. Japenga says each month they draw about 40 people, and the number keeps growing. At its climax, the room has about a dozen fixed-gear, or single-speed bicycles, lining its walls.

Japenga leads the night. He is short and built with half-sleeve tattoos on one arm. He sits cross-legged on a cluttered stage wearing a black shirt with "Share the Road" sprayed across the back.

He starts with an explanation of the "critical mass" ride, the group's first. The idea is for cyclists to take to the streets en masse, drawing attention to the biking community and demanding respect.

Such events are not uncommon in St. Petersburg, where critical mass rides can draw 100 riders or more. In Tampa, co-op members don't know how many will show up but plan to take over an entire traffic lane along their yet-to-be determined route from Lowry Park Zoo to Ybor City and back. The event has been publicized on local bicyclists' blogs and with fliers.

"Some will go to stick it to the oil companies, or for awareness or to just ride with friends," Japenga tells the group. "Everyone is always welcome because we all have a right to the streets."

He cautions them not to take a cyclist-vs.-car mentality, which can lead to road rage: "It gives drivers an ill-perception of cyclists."

• • •

A few weeks later, on a Monday night, the sky is black and members of the co-op gather in an outdoor hockey rink at Florida Avenue and Kirby Street. As the sun goes down, two guys sweep away puddles from the afternoon's storm.

They're here to play bike polo, an emerging sport popular among hipsters in big cities, and now with the Tampa co-op. Twice a week, the group meets at various venues to play a twisted version of the game using beaten bikes as steeds and ski poles with PVC piping as mallets.

Slowly more people ride in from the side streets. Among them is Pete Young, a 25-year-old who works in computer logistics by day but is a one-man wrecking crew of bike polo tonight.

"We've only got about an hour of daylight left," he yells as he rushes to clean the rink.

The main event is a three-on-three bout. Young shoots and jukes his way around opponents. Above, the sky grumbles as he drains yet another goal.

He's at an unfair advantage. He recently went to Madison, Wis., where he played with cyclists who have been into polo a long time. The guys up North taught him a lot in only a few days, he says.

He chuckles as two of his friends collide behind the goal. In Tampa, he says, "We're newbies at this thing."

Eric Smithers can be reached at esmithers@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3339.

>>fast facts

Critical mass

What is it? A cluster of cyclists take to the streets en masse to show drivers they belong on the roads, too. Exact routes are often not decided ahead of time and details are spread largely through word of mouth among the biking community. The bicyclists usually take up a lane of traffic on busy streets, dressed in festive clothing to attract attention. The events have occurred in cities across the world and are not uncommon across the bay in St. Petersburg. In some instances, bikers have gotten hurt.

When is it? The Tampa Bike Co-op holds its first critical mass ride at 6:30 tonight. Cyclists begin at Lowry Park Zoo. The route was undecided at press time, but leaders planned to ride from the zoo to downtown, to Channelside, to Ybor City and back to Lowry Park. Anyone can participate. Riders are encouraged to wear helmets and to come equipped with lights.

If you go

The Tampa Bike Co-op meets at 7 p.m. the first Monday of every month at the Transitions Art Gallery in the Skate Park of Tampa at 4215 E Columbus Drive. For more information, go to tampabikecoop.wordpress.com.

Bike Co-op merges faces of bicycling and punk 07/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 28, 2008 8:34am]
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