Rough Riders

Black Labelers compete in tall-bike jousting, in Dumbo.Photo: Black Label Bike Club

Down under the Manhattan Bridge one recent sunny Saturday, a black-clad 24-year-old named Ryan Doyle spun around three times, discus-style, and hurled a battered bicycle frame into the air. His 200 spectators—from Greenpointers with pierced lips to an opera singer passing by—ooh’d, aah’d, and scrambled to get out of the way as the bent-rimmed Raleigh crashed to the pavement.

The six-foot-six, 264-pound Doyle, with black war paint under his eyes, would go on to win the first event at “Run for Your Life,” a Pabst-fueled afternoon of two-wheeled madness organized by the Black Label Bike Club, the rowdiest of a half-dozen gangs now roaming New York’s streets on custom-built choppers with twelve-foot forks, tall bikes constructed from up to four frames welded together, even a steamroller bike whose sole purpose seems to be to crush beer cans. The gangs are part of a nationwide movement of bike-centric, for-the-hell-of-it limits-testing—they call it “pro-fun.” Local members, a mix of art students, bike messengers, and other Brooklynites, often live, eat, and hang out together all the time—like a family, albeit one committed to inflicting pain on each another for fun. “If you’re not willing to get hurt,” Doyle says, “then why even do it?”

At these Jackass-style Renaissance Fairs, held in the postindustrial alleys of Brooklyn and Queens by Black Label and its friendly rival C.H.U.N.K. 666 (organizers dutifully obtain full block-party permits), anyone can test out the mutant bikes and compete in bicycle polo, food fights, and a contest called the Whiplash, in which two cyclists, tied together with a long green rope, pedal furiously away from each other until one is yanked to the ground.

“No one’s here to see a clean joust—the more blood, the merrier,” says Krystyna Printup, a 20-year-old member of the all-girl Mustache Riders who won fame last fall in tall-bike jousting: Atop bikes six feet high, two “knights” have at each other with PVC-pipe lances until one (or both) goes down. “I fell and was unconscious and jumped out of a moving ambulance and didn’t go to the hospital. I ended up breaking one of my wrists,” Printup says. Still, she made it to the after-party.

“Everyone loves the crashes,” Doyle says. “Everyone loves seeing how unfragile people are.” And in spite of Black Label’s outlaw image, the club rarely gets hassled by the authorities. Once, the police discovered 35 bikers drinking under the BQE. “They just sat there looking at us,” says club member Ben Mortimer, “and we just sat there looking at them. I was like, ‘If they see us joust, they’ll know what we’re doing and leave, but if we just stay here looking guilty, they’re gonna stay all night.’ So we jousted, and they were like, ‘What the … ? We don’t want to be here.’ ”

Rough Riders