It all started with a photograph. Joshua Thwaites, a member of the Santa Rosa-based bicycle group Whiskeydrunk Cycles, was thumbing through a copy of The Noblest Invention: An Illustrated History of the Bicycle, when he stumbled across an old black-and-white picture of four cyclists circling inside what looked like the bottom half of some oversize whiskey barrel. He showed the strange image to his friends, and after doing some research they determined that it was a snapshot of Keith’s Bicycle Track, a traveling stunt show from the 1900s. “We decided we needed to build it,” Thwaites said.
And so the quirky group of bicycle lovers set to work recreating the turn-of-the-century contraption. They sketched out plans, gathered materials, and finally cobbled together the vintage-inspired board track. After about two weeks of construction and $3,000-worth of wooden boards, wire ropes, and other reinforcing materials, the Whiskey Drome was born. Thwaites was the first to give it a spin. “It was a hoot. It was a dream come true,” he said of his maiden voyage.
The relatively rickety wooden structure, which tilts outward at a 65-degree angle from the ground and measures 26 feet in diameter at the top and 18 feet at the bottom, looks like the stuff of a daredevil’s dreams. A video of Thwaites and other members of the Whiskeydrunk crew doing laps inside the Drome earlier this year shows each of its 215 wooden boards swaying slightly with each rider’s revolution. But around and around they go. “It’s kind of dizzying,” Thwaites admitted. “What I tell people is that the single most important factor is whether or not you believe you can ride it.” (Perhaps that requisite faith was lacking the time a rider found himself flying over the racetrack’s cylindrical wall. It’s only happened once, according to Thwaites, and “fortunately it was safe,” or at least, “not as bad as it could’ve been.”)
The Whiskey Drome is just one of many bicycle-themed attractions and activities planned for Jack London Square’s first-ever Pedalfest (Water St. between Clay and Harrison sts., Oakland) on Saturday, October 22. It is, most likely, the biggest bike festival ever to hit Oakland’s streets, and a befitting celebration in a city crawling with cyclists of all sorts. Because the event includes everything from BMX stunts to a vintage bicycle show and a children’s bike parade, it’s safe to say that there will be a little of something for everyone with an affinity for two-wheeled transport — whether that be the helmeted, safety vest-wearing commuter crowd or the fixed-gear-riding cool kids.
Recognizing Oakland’s bicycle boom, organizers from Jack London Square teamed up with the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (which the festival benefits), and the Oakland shop Bay Area Bikes to plan the Pedalfest premiere. The result of their efforts: five blocks filled with pedal-powered ice cream making, a pedal-powered stage, a folding bicycle race, a New Belgium beer garden, bicycle vendors peddling their wares, and plenty more. And, just to be nice, organizers have arranged complimentary valet bike parking and free ferry rides for bicyclists coming from San Francisco. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., free. 510-645-9292 ext. 233 or PedalfestJackLondon.com