Now for something a little different. OK, very different. This isn’t really motorcycle specific, but it’s just so amusing that I knew you’d enjoy it anyway. Jesse Kiser is a friend of mine who attended this year’s Red Bull Soapbox Race in Los Angeles – I was unable to attend as I was prepping for this weekend’s 24 Hour UMRA race. Read on to see what the event was like if you were unable to make it yourself.
Jesse Kiser hates writing his own name. Born in North Carolina, he started racing in a small division of NASCAR at the age 15. The same year he built his first motorcycle, a custom Harley-Davidson softtail, before that it was a Honda XL125 and before that a pull-start mini-bike built in his father’s basement. He’s never been brand loyal to any particular piece of machinery — except flying, he hates heights. He learned about turning wrenches from his father and photography from his mother, studying journalism, he moved to California after accepting a job with HOT ROD Magazine. He started writing about and photographing machinery shortly after high school and hasn’t stopped. He currently owns a Kawasaki KLR650 as a daily driver, a Honda XL350 flat track bike for the weekends, a Harley-Davidson softtail project that’ll never die nor live, a Honda CB360 for sprints to the café and a 1967 Impala for when he feels he has too much money in the bank.
Story and images by Jesse Kiser
The grown-up version of our adolescent dreams came to life last weekend thanks to the Red Bull Soapbox race. An event held sporadically throughout the globe, this time it returned to Los Angeles for a tour of Elysian Park. With over 60 teams approved for racing, there was a huge mix of attitudes. Some were there to win fastest time, others to impress the crowd with their clever, cheeky ideas. Others just wanted to show off their best dance moves.
It was only obvious who was serious once they left the start ramp. But not everyone made it to the end under their own power. A few colossal crashes made for exciting racing, while others simply fought against gravity rather than with it.
For instance, custom Harley-Davidson builders Suicide Machine Company were on a hellishly fast run when they overshot a corner and spilled in epic proportions:
Our favorites weren’t winners, but for some, that’s kind of the point.
While searching the pits, I immediately noticed the giant Hoosier dirt track tire sticking its edge into the sky above the rest of the soapboxes. The team said the decision to build a soapbox started with the giant dirt track wheel and evolved from there.
The bike rocks back and forth between the Hoosier and two rulebook-legal go-kart wheels. The dirt track wheel and the inline kart wheels are mounted in a V shape, so the rider can simply shift from one side or another and ride on either wheel(s). The added go-kart wheels keep the soapbox legal.
Up front the team used the front clip from a small quad. “The idea first originated as a bike with a big front end and side car, but a friend at Burning Man decided on the trike idea. He thought it’d be cool to do a trike as you don’t see them as much,” said Matt, one of the team members.
A group of friends conceived the idea at Waste Land Weekend, a Mad Max Festival. The theme included the main driver as Immortal Joe, from Mad Max: Fury Road. Jeremiah King made a group calling online, requesting a few wives to come out in costume as well as a Mad Max and Nux character.
My personal favorite as it was the most well constructed — at least from afar — was The Rocketeer. It was constructed by a group local filmmakers who wished to bring the movie back to life. The large tubes on the side are cardboard solo tubes normally used as a mold for concrete pillars. Inside is a wooden frame, the construction of which team member Patrick Obma simply referred to by saying, “we’ll see how that goes.”
Entering the first slight corner, the rear of the soapbox slapped a bale of hay. This marked the beginning of the end of the Rocketeer, which crossed the finish line without all the pieces it started with.
Best highlighting the silliness of the Red Bull Soapbox race was the team “Crapper Full.” Characters from the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, built the cart in eight hours and then spent another eight hours to lighten it. The team found themselves 40 pounds over the limit—hence the lightening holes throughout the cart.
A basic structure, the soapbox was built with two front halves of separate four-wheelers. They then build a simple square frame connecting them. The rider’s seat was made up of straps that float above the frame while the passenger sits on his knees in the back, on top of netting.
Sloth It Like It’s Hot
The team recognized the irony of having a slow moving animal as the center-piece for a race vehicle. A group of friends conceived the idea of doing a sloth cart while visiting a sloth sanctuary. The team has two other Red Bull trophies, but weren’t able to nab a third at this event.
Despite sloth-ish times by the end of the day, they had possibly the most complex and well constructed soap box in the field. “…and who doesn’t like gangster sloths.” said Corinne.
As a bonus, here’s some of the other teams with some corresponding photos. For a full list of teams, head on over to the Red Bull Soapbox Race site.
OJ & the White Bronco
Sloth it Like It’s Hot
Custer’s Last Stand
A Van Damme Fast Soapbox
The Party Pooper
The Abbey’s Heel on Wheels
The Bayou Buggy