Michael Mooney always climbs back on his bike after a fall. Last year, clad in a top hat and coat with flowing tails, he mounted his 44-foot-tall bike and tried to set a new Guiness World Record during the 2007 Lexington Avenue Arts & Fun Festival.
He fell off. (A fall off his 12-foot bike earlier that day had left him with a broken kneecap.)
But this year, the 38-year-old LAAFF co-founder aims to try again.
That’s no surprise. Bicycles have long been part of Mooney’s life: He grew up riding BMX bikes, rode cross-country on a mountain bike and spent several years as a professional downhill racer. In 2000, however, Mooney broke his foot while riding. After that, he took a three-year, self-imposed “bike time out”—only to be seduced by the quirky lure of unusually tall bikes.
Mooney is often seen riding his 6-foot bike, both around town and on the trail. But he clings to his dream of breaking the Guiness record. On Sept. 7, the father of two will make his second attempt to ride tall and get his name in the book. His 4-story, purple contraption cuts a towering, triangular silhouette, weighing in at an unwieldy 450 pounds.
Xpress met up with Mooney recently at a garage in Fairview, where he’s fine-tuning his lofty cycle, and quizzed him about his quest.
Mountain Xpress: What’s a tall bike?
Michael Mooney: It’s usually a two-frame bike where the frames are stacked on top of each other. The wheels are regular-size, so it’s just a really tall frame. I typically ride my 6-foot bike, but I have several others, including the Tanya Harding Special [a 12-footer] and a 44-foot-tall bike.
How did you get interested in tall bikes?
I saw Jim Lauzon of LaZoom Tours with a tall bike on Lexington Avenue a few years ago and asked if I could ride it. [After that], I was hooked. When I get on a tall bike, I feel like a kid. Sometimes I laugh out loud [because] it’s so much fun.
How long have you been building them, and what’s the technique?
I’ve been making them for four years. I figured out the basics of how to put them together, and I put my own spin on it because I’m a mountain biker. It’s best to start off with a working bike and then add another frame. The most important thing is to line up the steering tube. And it pays to have a friend who knows how to weld.
Besides you and Jim Lauzon, how many people are riding tall bikes?
I’ve loaned out some of my tall bikes for folks to try. But there are clubs in bigger cities.
How often do you ride?
Whenever I can sneak one in, which is tough, since I’m a family man and run a contracting business.
Where do you ride?
I do a lot of trail riding, but I like it all. I like riding around town, because you’re your own parade. Everyone is smiling and waving, and it’s a great conversation-starter. I love it when people stop and say: “That’s cool, man. Let’s party!” It’s [also] safer riding a tall bike than a regular-size street bike in town, since I’m so visible. You aren’t worried about anyone running into you.
What’s your motivation to break the record?
The current record is [a] 100-meter [ride] on an 18-foot-tall bike—[that’s] two laps at the festival. I’m doing it because it is something fun to do. It keeps me active and creative.
Tell us about last year’s record attempt.
I finished building the bike at 3 a.m. on the eve of the festival, and [I] had a two-hour nap before I had to open up, interact with vendors and basically manage the entire day. So I really wasn’t on my game. Right before the record attempt, I was riding figure eights on my 12-foot bike, and there was a piece of rebar in the concrete that took me down. [I] broke my kneecap in four pieces. I duct-taped my leg and figured if I got started [on the 44-foot bike], I could pedal with one foot. I got a good push off the platform, but couldn’t get my pedal stroke around, and that was it.
The fall looked scary. Will you be using a similar safety system?
It may have looked harsh, but it worked perfectly. I’m a nut, but not a stupid nut. I totally trust the system. We worked out a detailed eight-page proposal that we shared with the city and [the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration]. We practiced at least a dozen falls on the 12-foot bike to test the system. Although OSHA didn’t need to approve it, they gave us a letter of blessing, and the city checked off on it because they were convinced that there was no danger to the crowd.
What will you do differently this time?
For one, the bike will be completed well before the festival, and I’ve delegated more festival duties so I can focus on the record attempt. The tall-bike circus will begin at 5:30 p.m. with some warm-up acts, but I won’t be riding the Tanya Harding Special this time. I’m only focusing on the tall bike.
What will you wear for this year’s attempt?
The toughest thing is coming up with a costume. There’s [a] debate [over whether] I had a wardrobe malfunction last year—[perhaps] the tail of my costume got caught in the railing. I may wear a kilt.
[Jack Igelman lives in Asheville.]