BY NATHAN PAYNE firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — James Kenyon and Brad Gullekson tend to get a few strange looks when they tell people what sport they've claimed as their pastime since early 2012.
And the man-sized tricycle strapped to the roof of Kenyon's green Subaru station wagon and another hanging out the rear hatch don't help.
They're a melange of steel tube welded to a front section from a BMX bike that vaguely resembles the plastic Big Wheel tricycles most 30-year-olds remember peddling in circles on their parents' concrete driveways in the 1980s. But that's about where the similarity ends.
Most parents can't imagine their youngsters hiking the plastic versions to the top of a steep road and bombing down the asphalt at speeds as fast as 50 mph.
The pair are on the leading edge of a growing sport that pits the grown men and women against gravity, friction and inertia. They are two of the first drift tricycle racers in Michigan — an international sport hitting steep streets across the United States and the world.
"It's definitely an extreme sport," Kenyon, 29, said. "It's a different sort of fix."
Kenyon first decided to dive into the fledgling sport when he spotted a YouTube video of someone drifting around a corner on a steep mountain road atop one of the homemade three-wheelers. At that time he couldn't find anybody who manufactures the gravity-fed machines.
The video was similar to ones the men now post on YouTube themselves.
Kenyon showed the video to Gullekson, 24, and the pair were immediately sold on building their own.
They spent the winter of 2012 planning and constructing their first trikes. Tax return money bought Kenyon a welder and about $100 in materials went into each of their rigs.
"It kind of picks up where your excitement left off as a kid," Kenyon said, adding that the sport is so new the tricycles evolve almost daily. "There's not a right or wrong way to do things."
The men started by building a trike that combined angle iron from an old bed frame and the front fork from a salvaged Huffy BMX bike they found rusting away in a snow drift.
The drifting part comes from sections of PVC pipe riders secure over their rear tires to reduce their three-wheeler's grip on the road surface. The ability to drift is a necessity because, like snowboarders, the riders must slide sideways and weave to slow their downhill progress, Gullekson said.
Both Kenyon and Gullekson have raced their trikes in an international competition in Vermont for the past two years. They haven't yet won, but placed pretty well this year and have learned a lot.
Meanwhile the men who work at the front desk of a local hotel have been trying to be local ambassadors for the sport. Kenyon has welded a handful of new trikes during the past two years, building a fleet the pair have offered to bystanders who want to give the sport a try.
"You have to be a boy scout," Kenyon said. "You have to be responsible."
They have ridden roads in areas across the city from Holiday Hills to Incochee Crest. Most of the places they focus have little traffic during the afternoon when they hit the streets and offer a few steep, curvy sections, Kenyon said.
The rides usually top out at about 30 mph, much slower than what would be needed to host a competition, Gullekson added.
The men hope that someday the sport will takeoff enough in popularity that they could host a race in Traverse City. The only only roadblock they see is the need to shutdown a section of one of the steeper roadways that runs west from the city like M-72.
Still others are skeptical about whether the new gravity-fed sport will takeoff.
Matthew Mulligan, sales manager for Brick Wheels, said he's seen just about every kind of wheeled sport come and go.
Mulligan watched some of the Kenyon and Gullekson's YouTube videos.
"I thought it was pretty cool," he said.
Since there aren't many people making and selling drift trikes in the world and most riders make their own, Mulligan doesn't expect a lot of buyers to come looking for them at the story.
But he won't rule out the possibility that riders will come to the shop looking for upgraded parts that will make their trikes roll faster, like ceramic bearings.
It's the homemade nature of the sport that appeals to Kenyon, who didn't know how to weld before making his first trike.
The co-founder of the Northern Drift Wizards wants the sport to say a little outside the mainstream. That way it will continue to be relatively cheap and accessible for anybody who wants to give it a try, he said.
If you want to know more about the Northern Drift Wizards, go to www.usadrifttrikes.org/2012/08/northern-drift-wizards.