One of San Francisco’s secrets is that Lombard Street is not the city’s “crookedest street”. Vermont Street, between 20th and 22nd Streets, is the true winner of that title. But unlike Lombard Street with its highly manicured vegetation and showy homes, Vermont Street is largely unkempt, “out of the way” and hard to photograph. With not a lot of traffic going down the street, it’s a great location for San Francisco’s annual “Bring Your Own Big Wheel” Race (BYOBW) which was formerly held on Lombard Street.
The event happens every Easter, rain or shine. This year, it happened to be raining sideways on Easter Sunday. Relaxing in the warm indoors sounded like the most appealing way to spend the afternoon. But at the last minute, I decided I couldn’t miss out on the once a year event. So I bundled up, grabbed an umbrella and took advantage of the rain to wash off the mud caked on my shoes from the previous Monday’s hike.
Approaching Vermont Street, I could see that plenty of people were not deterred by the weather. Many were in costume and carrying their own plastic tricycles. Being Easter, the most common costumes were bunnies, but some other notable costumes were hot dogs, Wonder Woman, and of course, men dressed as women.
As soon as the race began, I knew I’d made the right decision to go. Words, pictures or even videos can’t fully describe the hilarity of it all. Try to imagine grown people in ridiculous costumes trying to navigate sharp curves in little plastic tricycles made for someone a fraction of their size. And some had most likely had a few too many mimosas at brunch earlier in the day.
Tricycles were not the only “vehicles” present– there were carts that looked like they were meant to be underbed storage, surfboards on wheels, and somehow a few were maneuvering around the corners on garbage bins with two wheels. The most important rule is that your wheels are not made of rubber. This allows for a maximum amount of wipe outs.
There are many different riding styles. Some racers are all about speed and getting down the mountain first. Some are more into the show and interested in playing the character they dressed up as. And others use the turtle’s motto, “slow and steady wins the race.” The stragglers were either heckled or encouraged with cheers as they timidly made their way down the hill.
BYOBW isn’t always a spectator sport. If you have a front row location, you’d better be on guard. I learned this the hard way. As I was taking a picture of some racers coming around the corner, one of them smashed right into me and I went flying. A bonus of having the festival on Vermont Street is that San Francisco General Hospital is right around the corner.
As if the rain was not enough, some people try to sabotage racers by spraying them with silly string and dropping bananas on the street. A woman dressed in a pink rabbit costume appeared to be innocently spreading bubbles with a bubble machine, but her main goal was to distract the racers and slick up up the road even more with soap.
The race didn’t seem to be for time, it was more like a race to the end. At the end of each round, plastic tricycle parts were scattered about. Some people lost key parts of their vehicles and had to bow out, while others started to exit the race as it began to rain more heavily. As I began to start dripping with water and my umbrella couldn’t resist the urge to flip inside out, I decided it was time to head indoors. I can’t think of a better way I could’ve spent the afternoon, and it was completely worth getting soaked for.