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Big Wheel Rally returns to Des Moines

12/5/2012

One of Matt Armbruster’s professionally-engineered big wheels can be ordered online at www.bigwheelrally.com. Photo courtesy of www.BigWheelRally.com, Matt Armbruster

It’s hard to take a grown man seriously when he’s wheeling around on an over-sized Big Wheel. But clear the bicycle lane, Ingersoll Avenue, because these guys are barreling through, repressed childhood and all.  

About a dozen years ago, Austin Gill was surfing the Internet when he stumbled upon an early ’90s Big Wheel Rally event. It was essentially a motorcycle rally but on Big Wheel tricycles.  

“It looked like a blast,” said Gill. “So I called my friend (Randy Kramer), and we decided to resurrect it. We had our first one in 2001, and it’s gotten bigger ever since.”   

About 60 suped-up Big Wheels and riders show up for the bar-to-bar rally, starting at Zimm’s on Ingersoll Ave., at 11 a.m. Another 250 come to watch and share in the fun.                 

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“It’s just an opportunity for friends to get together and have fun,” said Gill. “We’ll start with live music at Zimm’s, then head to GT’s about 2 p.m., then the Yacht Club and finish out the night at Carl’s (Place). We’ve got live music at each place.”                

“It’s like a giant fraternity party,” said Mark Slocum, Director of Children’s Cancer Connection, the charity of choice for the Big Wheel Rally. “It’s a pub crawl on Big Wheels. Some people really take the Big Wheels seriously. There are sites with tips on how to modify a big wheel for adults; just Google it.”                 

With devoted direction by Gill and Kramer, the Big Wheel Rally has been successful in raising money to support programs for kids with cancer in the past.               

“Last year we raised nearly $40,000,” said Gill. “This year we hope to break over the $40K mark.”                 

With no entry or registration fees, Gill and Kramer have garnered support from friends, family and local businesses over the years — people who just want to give.                 

“We just ask for a free-will donation, and people give,” said Gill. “We’ve got a lot of great friends and supporters who understand the charity. We also do a couple of raffles. For $10 per ticket, people could win tickets to the Bacon Festival or a suite at an Iowa Cubs Game.                 

“Everybody pitches in, our overhead is zero, so everything goes straight to the Children’s Cancer Connection,” said Gill. “The bands donate their time, the raffle prizes. It’s just great.”               

“Most of the money is used to provide scholarships for our oncology or sibling camp,” said Slocum. “We really appreciate their support. It really helps kids that would not otherwise be able to go to camp.”               

There is still time to modify your Big Wheel and join the fun. Google “how to modify a Big Wheel for an adult,” and get to work. A few beers, some steel tubing, foam rubber and a bunch of duct tape may be just enough to get you and your Big Wheel to Carl’s Place in one piece.               

On the other hand, you may just become the “meat” in a rear-wheel taco when the spindly little axle folds up under your back-end. If you’re not wanting to take that chance, Matt Armbruster has been hosting a rally in Boulder, Colo., for 24 years. He quit his aerospace engineering job and now manufactures adult-worthy Big Wheels — dubbed High Rollers — full-time. Look him up. CV

SIDEBAR The Big Wheel Rally starts at 11 a.m. at Zimm’s, 3124 Ingersoll Ave. Details can be found at www.bikeiowa.com, or look for Big Wheel Rally Des Moines on Facebook.

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