This is San Francisco’s Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race—the adult tricycle race that courses on one of the city’s steepest inclines. The challenge invites racers out to put their best foot forward, along with their fastest Big Wheel. The Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race started purely by chance but has brought locals and visitors out for wholesome fun and competitive good times.
The brains behind the competition belong to Jon Brumit, who claims that he stumbled upon an abandoned Big Wheel tricycle in the year 2000 and couldn’t help but imagine himself flying down the city’s Lombard Street. That vision turned into a reality that following Easter, after Brumit passed around fliers throughout San Francisco, inviting people to race down alongside him with their own Big Wheel tricycles.
The racer-count on that Easter Sunday 2000 was one. Brumit took that same abandoned Big Wheel to Lombard Street, and with a gathering of 13 people watching, Brumit plunged down the second curviest street in San Francisco. He took home the first (and only) place slot.
Brumit’s race went on annually for six years, going by the name Bring Your Own Big Wheel (BYOBW) and always held at the top of Lombard Street on Easter Sunday. The event’s roster slowly added more contestants every year, and by 2006, the lineup went from one Big Wheel to 30, each rider seeing if their tricycle had what it takes. The spectators increased too—from the group of 13 gathered to watch Brumit win his own race to a couple of hundred onlookers watching contestants descend Lombard. That handful of races acquired modest popularity until one of the annual events made it on YouTube.
When Bring Your Own Big Wheel hit the internet in 2006, it took the following year’s race to show how many people were anticipating either taking part in skidding down Lombard Street or watching the madness ensue. The 2007 event brought hundreds of people to the single San Francisco street, congesting traffic and upsetting the Lombard residents to the point of banning the race from the stretch of road.
The race may have gotten run off the curvy roadway, but it quickly picked back up barely four miles (6.4 kilometers) away on Vermont Street. Though not as well known as Lombard, when tested, Vermont Street proves to be even more crooked than its infamous adversary. But just as the race settled into its new track, the fate of the annual event was still being decided. It was feared that those living on Vermont Street wouldn’t approve of the race as the Lombard residents didn’t. With the facts of having to meet specific city laws to hold such a race and that its founder was moving out of the city, it appeared that 2008 would be Bring Your Own Big Wheel’s final run.
Disproving almost everyone’s fear, those living on Vermont Street supported the BYOBW movement, allowing the race to have a permanent spot to take place for the rest of its 18-year-and-going run. The event is based on donations and money put up front by the BYOBW Crew. There is a Code of Conduct to adhere to for the racers and spectators, but there’s only one rule: contestants must bring Big Wheels or handmade low-riding trikes.
People and hay bales line up curbside along the race “track” every year to watch grown adults slide, skid, and crash into one another on children’s plastic tricycles. Now, Bring Your Own Big Wheel holds two races: “Kids” and “Adult Children” so that both the big and small can compete and tumble down Vermont Street’s off-set curves. And because San Franciscans take every chance they can to dress up when it isn’t Halloween, participants are welcome to don costumes of their liking, themed or not. A few racers over the years have shown off outfits such as the Mario Kart video game characters, hot dogs, dinosaurs, cowboys, and the occasional festive Easter Bunny.
The recent 18th annual race, held April 1, 2018, Easter Sunday, brought almost 2,000 people who gathered up and down Vermont Street. This race—just as its past runs did—put a literal application to the phrase “crash course,” with epic wipeouts striking at every corner as racers tried to nail those no-joke winding streets. Admission to and participating in the race remains completely free, whimsical at heart, and a thrilling escape from the “adult” world.