Photo by Kenneth Aaron of Neighborhood Notes Photo by Kenneth Aaron of Neighborhood Notes
Kenneth Aaron, Neighborhood Notes Kenneth Aaron, Neighborhood Notes

Sixteen feet above the corner of Burnside and SW 13th, perched on top of a steel pole and a pile of chained-together children's bikes, glints a tiny gold-plated bicycle. Here stands Portland's newest and most improbable monument.

On May 29, Mayor Sam Adams attended the rowdy opening of a work of public art for Zoobomb, marking a significant shift from the olden days (over five years ago) when the group of bikers clashed with the city over their weekly ritual of charging en masse down the hills of Washington Park. The city approached the group two years ago, offering a $10,000 grant to build a permanent home for Zoobomb's iconic but technically illegal pile of bikes locked for years to downtown racks.

Artists Brian Borrello and Vanessa Renwick started the project on the right foot by agreeing that major decisions should occur up on the hill, with actual Zoobombers signing paperwork by bike light, rather than in the rooms of city hall. Thanks to its inclusive, bottom-up process, the sculpture is a wild success.

Key to its success is that the "monument" is actually a parody of a monument. The traditional monument trappings (the height, the gold, the ceremonial unveiling) poke fun at the absurdity of building a city-funded monument to the city's most infamously anarchistic community. Within hours of the phallic monument's erection, bar-crawling Zoobombers happily swarmed the sculpture and posed pants-down around the pole. When a police cruiser quickly rolled up, one 'bomber shouted, "Don't worry, we're legitimate now!" The lofty gold-plated mini-bike is the perfect tongue-in-cheek icon for a thrill-seeking group that seizes every opportunity—legal or illegal—for a good joke and a good time.

The group's new icon is also appropriately apolitical. Sure, the sculpture is pro-bike, but the plaque at the monument's base includes no didactic words about carbon or climate. Instead it reads simply: "Little bikes, big fun."

"We've brought together a lot of people who never promised to agree on anything except that we like riding bikes down a hill really fast," explains Zoobomber Mykle Hansen. "We don't necessarily want to be respected, but we want to be understood. So hopefully this cements our relationship with the city in a really good way."