The Fat Tire Experience: Inside Stories from Outsiders

New Belgium Brewing was founded on unconventional wisdom, so we love to hear stories of others living life the same way. Read more about these people and groups are doing cool, unconventional things with bikes.

Junkyard Cross

Created and organized by Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia, the world’s only Junkyard Cyclocross race takes riders through a junkyard, over cars, through toxic puddles and around broken glass. It's in its eighth wildly popular year.

Stephen Bilenky
Stephen Bilenky

Stephen Bilenky, who founded the shop and cyclocross series that bears his name, started working in a bike shop when he was 12. He opened his own shop in his 20s and turned to building frames from scratch. By 1984 he was focusing exclusively on custom frame building at a time when there fewer than 50 handcrafted frame builders in the U.S.

"I'd always been fascinated by the workmanship on fine quality bicycles," Bilenky says. Now he works with a dedicated team of eccentric artisans committed to creating what he calls "sculpture in motion."

In addition to making award-winning bikes, Bilenky's team is dedicated to presenting the community with memorable events. They host the Junkyard Cyclocross Race and produce the Philly Bike Expo, a celebration of everything bicycle.

The first Junkyard Cross race, held in December 2006, was born from a lunch break discussion about ideas for a holiday party and open house. 

"There was beer and there was the junkyard next door, and of course, bikes," Bilenky says. "Why not combine all three?"

What makes the race -- which is free to the public to watch -- so great is the danger, the surprises and the "anything goes" atmosphere. "Abandon your preconceived notions about cyclocross, all ye who enter here!" he says.

The race keeps getting bigger and better, with more participants and more spectators. A grass roots phenomenon with 30 racers the first year had more than 200 racers from all over the world in 2013. Publicity has grown with those numbers. Google "Bilenky Junkyard Race" and you'll find dozens of YouTube and Vimeo videos from fans and supporters. Everybody wants in on the action.

So what's the craziest obstacle the race has ever had? That's hard to say.

"There were so many, and each year it's different," Bilenky says. "Was it the front-end loader (and blowup doll)? The teeter-totter seems to stick in people's minds. And who could forget the time there was 16 inches of snow on the ground? And the year that we had a semi-trailer open at both ends with a thick coating of ice on the floor. You couldn't even step in there without slipping and falling down, let alone try riding a bike through it!"

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