Boys, Bikes and Beer
This Year, 55,000 Came to Vienna’s Annual Throng of Austrian Cycling Addicts
It was Saturday, April 14th, and despite it being early in the morning, the Rathausplatz was packed with people. In its eleventh consecutive year, the Argus Bike Festival had once again attracted throngs of bike freaks, casual city bikers, and complete newcomers to the sport from all over Austria.
This annual event went through something of a rebirth in 2006. That time around, the inclusion of the Bike Mega Sale and the Vienna Air King dirt-jump contest in the program lead to a record 55,000 people attending the event, double those of the year before. And with both of these events returning this year, plus new tents focusing on the theme of Mobilität (mobility) in the city, it was no surprise to see the main square bursting with tents, stands and bystanders.
The Bike Mega Sale brought bike stores as well as manufacturers from all over together to hawk their wares, some of the stands already empty after a morning of swift business.
A raft of bike parks from all over Austria also took the chance to advertise theirs as the spot for any serious mountain biker worth his money. There was even a police tent, where you could register your vehicle.
But it was the bicycle stunts that drew the biggest single crowd. A row of high jumps had been erected right in front of the steps and up to the entrance of the Rathaus, where dirt-bikers showed off their latest tricks -- awe-inspiring back flips and some serious superman moves, where the biker gets off the bike mid-air, goes into the superman position, and gets back on the seat before landing.
Several drunken fans lay lounging in the sun, commenting on every jump with loud cheers and a variety of distinctively Viennese exclamations of support and approval: "Oida, Gib ihm, I pocks net," yelled a skinny guy in grubby clothes, almost stumbling off the steps.
His friends grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him back, calling him a Wappler for not being able to stand up straight. Then I realised that I recognized him, he was a fellow biker too.
Approaching him, I was handed a cold beer instantly. Apparently he had busted his leg the other day and had to drop out of the competition, so he decided to get drunk and support his buddies instead, he told me. Just at that moment one of the bikers crashed spectacularly, after a failed 360 spin. Instantly, people rushed to his side and started talking to him, trying to get a reaction.
The biker opened his eyes, sat up and took off his helmet: shook his head, got up and started tending the massive scratch showing through his torn shirt. But priorities as they are, he was handed a beer first, and a first aid kit second.
After doing a couple of tours of the grounds, I bumped into another friend, in the middle of an animated discussion with an Italian bike-freak, who had fitted a 120-decibel air-horn to his city bike.
Pushing the button, a thunderous honk almost flattened everyone surrounding us. He uses it when some arrogant driver cuts him off on the road, he said.
My friend shook his head in disbelief, arguing that a sudden blast so loud could easily shock a driver into make a sudden move and flattening the biker, not to mention the effect of that thing on old people. The argument went on.
But I was certain of one thing: I was going to get one for myself.