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Big Wheels for Big People

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Are you completely over the high cost of gas and looking for another way to make that morning commute? You've thought about buying a scooter or maybe a new bike but none of those things are fun enough to make you turn in your car keys. Maybe a visit to your childhood is in order.

Patty Callopy Zambo is a pack rat with a purpose. The evidence is all over the walls in the north side home she shares with her husband. Gothic street urchins take dirt naps in small coffins made of found wood. A giant heart made of animal skin pierced by long wooden spears covers an entire wall. A basket near the door is home to a pile of second hand hoodies on which she has sewn appliqué patches of cute mummified tiger kittens. She also collects adult sized big wheels.

CALLOPY-ZAMBO: I'm obsessed with my big wheels. I saw all these kids doing like the scooter gangs and a lot of the cyclist have like their cycle posse and I thought it really funny to have a big wheel posse.

She's not talking about the old School rides. The ones with the red body, yellow handlebars and big black front wheel. Hers were built by The Big Wheel Rally Company and are made out of chrome. The company halted production in 2005 so they are hard to find. Patti says she along with her husband and friends searched thrift stores and the web looking for used big wheels without any luck. Some time later a bike accident left her laid up with a broken shoulder.

CALLOPY-ZAMBO: John and Laura came over to cheer me up and they found one. And I remember them rolling up to my front porch like “look what I got you” to cheer me up. And I was in a sling for like two months so I actually had the big wheel so I actually kind of got around on it for a while, just in the neighborhood. So it actually worked out really good.

But before she could ride her new toy Patty had to make a few modifications.

CALLOPY-ZAMBO: Basically just took it to the chop shop; elongated the stems and they were pretty much ready to go. Just a few…couple welds and they were ready to roll. It's the same as where you were little, like the way the crank is it rotates the wheel. There no ball bearings involved in it. So, it's like a straight up big wheel, it's all from the front. So they're really a big work out! If you ride those…yeah.

Its opening night for the show entitled Monster Madams Present Mutant Mayhem held at Revolution Tattoo in Logan Square but nobody is in the gallery. Everybody is out back in the garage waiting for the festivities to begin.

LARRIE: When they're just starting they get on it for a little bit, it's an adult and they are just trying look cool with it. When they start and kick it into like second gear they're instantly six years old again. They look exactly how they were when they were really kinda tiny. Watch them it's insane. Put them on a three wheeler like this with their knees kicking up into their chin and they're all instantly out of kindergarten.

Spectators line the alley was as contestants warn up for the big race. It kind of reminds me of going to watch the horses run. About thirty riders between the ages of nine and seventy two, vie for Big Wheel Glory.

FICARRA/CHALKER You know he's got the long legs. His heads shaved he's aerodynamically…I was just going to say the bald head is more aerodynamic – he's going to have an advantage there. – although that guy he's about the sixe and shape of an eight year old so he fits better on the Big Wheel so he may be able to rock it out.

The bald aerodynamic guy they were talking about calls himself Rich G and he's got a plan.

RICH G: I am an experienced Big Wheeler.
FIELDS: so do you have a strategy
RICH G: yeah. Ride hard ride fast

Unfortunately, Rich was smoked in his first race.

FIELDS/FICARRA: So are you a jinx – am I a jinx - because you're dude lost. I think you jinxed him. I'm bad at betting. I'm not a gambling woman. So what did you lose on this race? Are you going to have to move, give up your car what? - No nothing…another glass of wine. That's a good consolation prize.

Patty has five Big Wheels now, each with its personality. My favorite is the one she rides. On the front suspended between the handlebars is a pink woven basket carrying plastic human skull. Cute and functional for those trips to the store.

CALLOPY-ZAMBO: Zambo and I ride around the neighborhood on them. We go to lunch on them.

By midnight the races were over. That's after the cops came. I guess the site of adults racing riding Big Wheels down an ally at that hour is a bit suspicious. Trying to catch them was another thing.

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