Group rides, fun, food: it all goes hand in hand. In many ways—except for the flames, maybe—mounting a bike on a grill is the next logical step. Enter Grilled by Bike.
The first official Grilled by Bike event was in 2014 during Pedalpalooza, an annual three-week bike festival in Portland, Oregon. The ringleaders Eric Iverson, Eilif Knutson, and JP Kewley expected to see 50 people. The event was publicized on the Pedalpalooza calendar and Facebook. Well over a hundred riders showed up to the unusual potluck with meat and veggies to share.
“This guy had a keg bike,” Eilif said, gesturing at Eric.
“I had it set up where you could set a red Solo cup in a cup holder and I could hit the tap with my thumb so we could fill beers while riding,” Eric added. “That was gone in 10 minutes.”
There have been around 20 Grilled by Bike events since Pedalpalooza 2014. The Grill by Bike Facebook group is open and anyone is welcome to lead a ride. Eric and Eilif estimate that there are at least 13 different grill bikes rolling around town. The latest Pedalpalooza ride had over 200 participants.
Grilled by Bike exemplifies the DIY attitude, but does it all while riding at high speeds in extreme conditions. Their group motto: Ride on Fire.
“There’s no blueprint online, no how-to build a grill bike,” said Eric. “So everyone’s is completely different. I zip-tied my grill to the front of my cargo bike. The zip ties haven’t melted or anything. Another guy used extendable trekking poles mounted to his bike like kickstands so he could level it perfectly.”
Eilif’s grill bike is truly something extravagant. It’s a Yuba Mundo cargo bike with a steel I-beam off the back, dangling a half-barrel full of charcoal by chains. He found the half barrel on a Grilled by Bike team ride through the Oregon Outback and carried it home with him.
Eilif counsels beginners to start small. “Mount a little Smokey Joe to your rear rack, bolt it on there, and see what happens. Separate your grill from your rack. Pro-tip: Use aluminum struts. You might melt a tire or two, but that’s how you start. ”
The grill must be attached to the bike. Grills on trailers aren’t “pure,” as Eric and Eilif would say.
It’s not as dangerous as it seems, they insist, although of Oregon is in drought this summer and a significant portion of the state is already on fire. Eric mounted a fire extinguisher to his grill bike.
“It’s just for show really. I don’t think we’ll have to use it. We’ll extinguish all the coals before we ride.”
The worst damage last year was a few circles of scorched grass from Eilif’s burn barrel. “We poured beer on it so it didn’t spread,” Eric said. “It would put a bad name on Grilled by Bike if we set a park or somebody’s yard on fire.”
There haven’t been any significant burns or injuries. Eilif used to ride in a heavy Carhartt vest but doesn’t bother anymore. “Usually just your hands get burned. You get a lot of embers bouncing out if you’re trying to check on stuff while you’re going. It’ll hit you and bounce off. It’s just a sting.”
“I’ve had a couple shirts get a little hole in them,” said Eric. “The smoke, though, is what gets ya.”
The smoke is why Eilif doesn’t have his grill on the front of his bike anymore. “I’ve woken up too many mornings coughing, feeling that dust in your lungs for the whole day.”
“You’ve got be careful about your chemicals in your charcoal.” Eric warned. “Do I want that in my lungs? I try to use the all-natural hardwood.”
“If you’re going to do it in front, at least put some nice charcoal through your lungs,” Eilif agreed.
In the winter, when it was wetter, the hardcore Grilled by Bike members joined a Zoobomb. Zoobombing is a practice more than a decade old of going down Portland’s steep hill beginning at the Oregon Zoo, mostly on tiny children’s bicycles. Eric used his swing grill bike, which has an extra hinge in front of the saddle. “It’s like steering a wet noodle,” he said.
“His front tire blew out.” Eilif recounted. “He was skidding on his front rim. He went down like you’d expect a cowboy on a horse to go down if the horse gets shot or killed. There was all this dust, like he was in the desert, but it was just charcoal. He was rolling. I think he had run over his lid just a couple moments before. It was a great crash, but he was fine.”
“Not a scratch.” Eric said.
Ride on fire, crash on fire, eat a hot dog after, no matter how scorched.
Lauren Hudgins (@lehudgins) earned her MA in Publishing and her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Portland State University in 2014. Living car-free, she bikes about the gloom of the rainy Pacific Northwest to keep her endorphins flowing. When not working as a social media strategist, she blogs about food foraging and feminism with the PDXX Collective.