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Big Wheel Keep on Rollin': A Tricycle Epiphany Spurs a City Tradition 

Tuesday, Nov 11 2014

In the waning days of the 20th century, artist Jon Brumit peered out the window of his truck and spied a derelict Big Wheel on top of a mound of trash. So he took it.

Brumit is now 43 years old, so you can figure out his age 15 years ago when he did what he did. "Old enough to know better" is his honest answer. Glancing in his rearview mirror at the plastic tricycle in his truck's bed, he was struck by a singular thought: "I should race that thing."

Not long thereafter, a dozen curious onlookers showed up to gawk while Brumit piloted his reclaimed Big Wheel down Lombard Street. And, on Easter Sunday in 2015, hundreds of people old enough to know better will do the same, on the even-curvier Vermont Street, during the 15th Annual Bring Your Own Big Wheel event. "I am so totally shocked," says Brumit.

Following rancor over blocked traffic and marred shrubberies, the event migrated to its current location. Brumit, like so many artistic types with spouses and children, has since emigrated from San Francisco; he now lives in Detroit and looks on approvingly from afar as the event's founder and lunatic emeritus. Legions of young people wearing bunny costumes, Santa outfits, or Martian getups skitter down the hill every year, careening into hay bales and, let us hope, avoiding the porta-johns. A handful of steadfast organizers now undertake a task Brumit never cottoned to: the grown-up job of interfacing with the city to permit the Big Wheel plunge and organizing and paying for those porta-johns, hay bales, and police overseers ($1,400, $1,000, and $800 last year). There's no dollar figure, incidentally, on meeting with Vermont Street-area residents to assuage their concerns that the day's fun will spiral into a bacchanal. But it's invaluable. The event's current organizers routinely eschew media coverage; like the childish spirit that informs it, the race cannot grow too much or it will cease to be.

Crazy-ass daredevil downhill pursuits often leading to bodily harm (a Big Wheel can hit 25 mph) are not unique to San Francisco. Any number of questionably sane people have mutilated themselves in pursuit of a small oval of cheese rolled down Cooper's Hill in Brockworth, England — a centuries-old tradition.

In San Francisco, however, our dangerous games cling to the trappings of youth. And, in this city especially, Bring Your Own Big Wheel presents a paradox: Onerous, exceedingly adult work is required to ensure a glorious day of infantile play for people old enough to know better. What's more, these childlike frolics are now one of the few free, family-friendly endeavors remaining in a city in which both of these adjectives are downright rarities.

At least for the present it remains, in the words of its founder, "The most hilarious Sunday afternoon ever, on the Day of Our Lord."


About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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