Max Astell’s home-made bikes are small, tall and fun for all

Written by Alison Rudig

“It’s exactly like riding a regular bike,” Astell said. “The only difference is getting on and off.”

Inspired by “Chicago Freak Bike’s” website his freshman year, Astell joined the Jefferson Rat Patrol Bicycle Club. It all began with a Trek BMX bike he found on the road. Since then, he started a bike co-op in Jefferson and accepts old or new bike donations.

“I strip them down, take all of the bad parts and throw them away, then sort through the stuff that’s reusable,” Astell said.

Astell usually builds the bikes by himself because of the lack of interest in the building process in Whitewater. He has a few friends, such as biology major Harley Piles, who helped Astell with a business idea to take bikes and weld them into a bench and transport students from the dorms to downtown and back on the weekends.

“Portage your pals to the pub,” Astell said jokingly. “We built it, but it was just too hard to do once there was more than one person on there; it was just too difficult.”

Tall bikes started out as lamp-lighter bikes used to light street lamps in the 1800s. It was a bicycle on stilts. Since then, Per Hanson of the “Black Label Bike Club” designed the tall bike design currently used. He had the idea of stacking one bike on top of the other, connecting the steer tubes with a piece of pipe, and moving the chain around.

“Everywhere I go it is impossible to avoid people saying, ‘Hey, how do you get on that thing,’” Astell said. “Just riding from class to my house, which is a six-minute ride, I will be stopped by ten people.”

Although Astell prefers to ride tall bikes instead of short, he heeds a word of caution.

“You hit branches all of the time just riding down the sidewalk; my helmet has the scratches to prove it,” Astell said. “In some ways, tall bikes are safer because drivers will pay a lot more attention to you. You’re also above traffic so you can see what is going on a little better. If a car hits you, you’ll fall on top of the car instead of going under. But in a similar situation it can be more dangerous because you are a lot further off the ground.”

Those wanting to learn more about tall bikes can stop Max Astell the next time they see him riding to and from classes on campus.