Following the pedal-powered Chico Bicycle Music Fest around Chico
The weekly farmers’ market wasn’t the only mob scene on Wall Street last Saturday, when a crowd several hundred strong crammed into the catty-corner parking lot of North Rim Adventure Sports for the Chico Bicycle Music Festival.
Local artists Dick and Jane, Carly and Lexy and the Chico Soft Rock Choir all played beneath one canopy serving as a makeshift stage, their sets punctuated by a gaggle of nubile men and women scantily clad in gold lamé dancing around collecting change, and the occasional appearance of a shambling mound of plastic known as “The Bag Monster.”
There’s no slight intended toward musicians in saying that what was happening on stage was of secondary interest to much of the crowd. Just as much attention was focused on another canopy housing the heart of the festival, an odd contraption that uses four bicycles to power the public-address system.
“This bar runs a generator, the generator signal gets cleaned through a charge control and runs into batteries, and then the batteries run an inverter,” GRUB collective member Greg de Gouveia explained. De Gouveia helped build the generator based on a design from Rock the Bike, a Bay Area-based company that designs and promotes pedal-powered products. He said the materials for the generator cost about $1,500.
“It’s hugely enriching for a community,” said Samantha Zangrilli, who organized the festival for the second year in a row. “Especially a community like Chico, which is already bike friendly, it’s so flat and there are so many organizations here that are bike related.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand there’s more to bikes than just moving yourself from point A to point B; there’s pedal-powered energy,” she said. “There’s your own human force that you can use to your benefit so that we can tear ourselves away from the huge corporations. There’s lots of simple, self-sustaining ways that you can live your life.”
Around noon, the canopies, pedal-powered smoothie station, instruments and everything else were broken down and packed onto BMX, street and mountain bikes, pedi-cabs and more exotic pedal-powered vehicles. Wheels were attached to the generator and planks cover the rotating bar for protection, and in transport mode the whole rig was easily towed by one normal bicycle. About 200 riders, many costumed, and the whole mass proceeded toward the second of four stops—Cedar Grove in Lower Bidwell Park—pedaling and singing the whole way.
The festival made a third stop at downtown’s Children’s Park before heading to its terminus, the GRUB cooperative a mile south of downtown on Dayton Road. The crowd grew and receded time and again throughout an uncharacteristically humid, 90-degree day, and despite riding and reveling since 10 a.m. the rabble raised a collective war whoop as they rounded the last corner.
The festival operates under the umbrella of the International Bicycle Fund, a 501c3 nonprofit.
“What the IBF does is help bicycle music festivals have nonprofit status,” Zangrilli explained. “There are different bicycle music festivals that happen—the San Francisco one is our founder, our mother festival, and June 19 of this year will be their fourth year. There are also festivals in Eugene, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.”
Back on the GRUB farm that Zangrilli also calls home, she allowed herself a moment to let it sink in: “When I first got here, me and two of my roommates went and sat on the back of the car over there and drank a beer, just looking at the sky and honoring the fact that it was such a beautiful day and everything went right.
“I’m so ecstatic our pedal-powered stage is working. We’ve been working so hard on it for so long and it’s been so iffy, even up until this morning when they got it here and up a bit late.”
Twenty feet away, de Gouveia and company assembled the generator one final time. “We could do late-night movies around town with some dedicated volunteers,” he said of the device’s future use. “We can teach people exactly how much electricity different devices use.
“I think it’s a great teaching tool. You’re not going to run your house on bike power—you’d have to be extremely frugal with your energy usage. But it’s great to understand how much energy different devices use. You get a more personal understanding of how much work it is, and a bicycle is the most efficient way to get energy out of your body.”