The bikes, a jumble of banana seats and swooping handle bars, looked like a piece of modern art; a growing fungus of metal and spokes. For nearly the past year, 15 bikes have been locked up along SW Oak and 10th, the collective property of an ad hoc group called the Zoobombers. Every Sunday the fun-loving gang of twenty-somethings ride the Max to the zoo and cruise back down the hill into town on little tyke bikes. The Zoobombers keep the pile of bikes handy for anybody that wants to join in on the fun.
The large pile of bicycles has become such a familiar sight that onlookers were shocked when police pulled up to Rocco's Pizza two weeks ago, clipped the chain around the bike sculpture and loaded them into their squad car. Although there were no registered complaints about the bikes or bicyclists, the police confiscated the bicycles on the grounds they were obstructing pedestrian traffic. As police stuffed the bikes into their squad car, onlookers jeered.
Now, stunned Zoobombers are crying foul. The police claim they tried to warn the group of the impending removal, but Zoobombers say none of them received any written or oral notice.
Normally the rides are held on Sunday evening, before The Simpsons. "They apparently thought no one would be around to witness the confiscation," says Robin Dale, "but four of us did an impromptu Zoobomb on Friday night!" Dale caught the act on his digital camera and promptly uploaded the pictures onto the internet.
This incident is the most recent bump in the road for the Zoobombers, who have weathered a surprising amount of resistance. They recently celebrated their first anniversary with a "bomb" that included more than 100 participants. Yet in spite of their growing popularity, they have had several run-ins with the police.
"We're not violating anything," says Dat Nguyen, a long-time Zoobomber. "We pay our fares and put our bikes in the right spot on the Max, but the police harass us sporadically." Nguyen added, "Tri-Met has told the cops not to hassle us."
A month and a half ago, police raided a westbound Max train carrying Zoobombers. During that incident, the police issued citations and barred some of the Zoobombers from riding Tri-Met property for the next six months. Within the week, Tri-Met determined the officers had grossly overreacted and demanded that all charges should be dropped--and they were. Also, last November, after being spotted at a Critical Mass with a sign reading "Bomb the Zoo, not Iraq," several Zoobombers were profiled as potential terrorists by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Some Zoobombers have speculated the most recent action is retribution for previous police run-ins, but the police claim they are merely playing by the rules.
"It's illegal to leave a bike on the sidewalk for longer than 72 hours," explains police spokesperson Brian Schmautz. "The bikes had been obstructing the sidewalk for the last three weeks and there were empty bike racks nearby. Pedestrians were forced to walk into the street." He added, "You call that pile 'art'?"
To reclaim the bicycles, the Zoobombers must show proof of ownership--a request that's impossible, they say, since the bikes are mostly repaired thrift store finds. If unclaimed after 30 days, the bikes will "be destroyed," according to Schmautz.
Even so, Zoobombers are persevering. Rides will continue on Sunday evenings. Pleading for some leniency, they have drafted letters to The Oregonian and Rosie Sizer, Commander of the Central Precinct. In addition, they have enlisted the help of civil rights attorney Alan Graf.
"It's like you can't have fun in this town," says Graf. "Give them their bikes back!"