Eagle, butterfly bikes to take wing at Hotter’N Hell

Aug 21, 2017

When it comes to the Hotter’N Hell Hundred, it’s always a zoo out there, considering the 10,000 to 12,000 cyclists that show up annually to the largest single-day biking event.

But it will be even more of a zoo, thanks to an appearance by the Austin Bike Zoo, a group of engineer artists that do more than tinker with bikes. They morph them into pedal-powered creatures.

Think an 80-feet-long bike snake.

Or a bike bat with an 8-feet-long wingspan.

Or a 12-feet-high, light-’em-up praying mantis.

The group — an interesting amalgamation of engineer-artists who create these feats of engineering, but with an artistic flair — will be at the Hotter’N Hell Hundred in the starting line area from 5-7 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Multi-Purpose Events Center.

Then you can find the creatures milling about throughout HHH weekend.

The Texas Commission on the Arts touring roster group came to the attention of Margie Johnson Reese, executive director of the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture.

In 2016, the Arts Alliance wanted to incorporate the arts into the grueling biking event — it’s both a 100-mile USA Cycling competitive race and an endurance ride in various distances. So the organization tackled its first community art project in Wichita Falls, a collection of art bikes.

This year, Reese thought the Austin Bike Zoo would be another inventive way to incorporate the arts into one of Wichita Falls’ signature events.

“As a grant-seeker, we look at every kind of grant money there is. … So I applied to the TCA for the funding. A portion of the fee is being covered by the state and another portion by our own fundraising.”

The Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau is also providing support for the appearance.

The Austin Bike Zoo came about as a collaboration between bike-builders, puppet-makers and performers and is helmed by co-founder Jeremy Rosen, who is a mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.

“They are mechanical engineers — the team that does this work — and artists,” said Reese. “Jeremy Rosen is the brain behind this work. They do, in fact, take bicycle parts and do take other pieces of iron and piping and so forth and create animals that will be on top of them (the bikes), and all of them are ridable. … Some of them are battery-powered to make the wings move up and down. Some are as heavy as 1,200 pounds.”

Reese said that HHH-goers can expect to see a bald eagle whose maximum wing span is 12-feet long, along with a praying mantis and a butterfly.

The team will bring the bike zoo to Wichita Falls in pieces, store them in a secret location and then will assemble them for the HHH.

Not that they will be the only colorful bikes around.

Reese said, just like in 2016, various art bikes are being displayed at Sikes Senter.

“We commissioned local artists to just go crazy with their imagination. … They will be moved, along with other art bikes, to Finish Line Village (at the Hotter’N Hell grounds behind the MPEC).

Chip Filer, Hotter’N Hell executive director, said in a news release that of all these artistically-minded bikes : “The art bikes add another dimension to the HHH weekend experience that will appeal to riders and nonriders alike.”

It’s also not the only Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture public art project up for viewing. HHH riders likely will see the “Don’t Fence Me In” public art project at Nexus Park at the median of Kell East and Kell West at Austin Street, downtown.

“Don’t Fence Me In” includes fence pickets painted by members of the community.

The Arts Alliance is trying to figure out what to do with the exhibit once it comes down after Hotter’N Hell.

“The public is invited to go to our website. They can enter suggestions on where parts of the fence can go after that location. We’d love to hear from the community,” Reese said.

What Reese loves about the Austin Bike Zoo is that it isn’t just art. It’s also engineering and a different form of artistic expression from the traditional painting or drawing.

“These guys are artists, but I think it’s important for kids to see how many different ways you can be creative,” she said. “… We want people to see how many ways you can use your imagination.

“The community says we’re not artsy, but we are.”

The Hotter’N Hell Hundred kicks off Aug. 24 with the opening of the consumer show at 3 p.m. at the MPEC Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall. The four-day cycling event will span through Aug. 27. It will include not just the consumer show, but a carb-loading spaghetti-feed Aug. 25 and breakfast the following morning, criterium races, a mountain bike competition, half marathon and other running events, Aug. 26 concerts at Finish Line Village, and the Endurance Ride and USA Cycling Road Races that day.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul

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