From suspected terrorists to public artists — anywhere else, the transformation would be remarkable. In Portland, it’s just another Sunday night.
Once a week, a band of Portland bikers take the light rail up to the top of the hill near the Portland Zoo for the Zoobomb ride. Then they let physics give them a hand — hurtling downhill at breakneck speeds, usually on tricked-out kids’ bikes.
There’s some glory in getting to the bottom fastest, but the event still has a laid back, inclusive Portland vibe. People bring their kids, and a legally blind guy (aka the “Blind Bomber”) often joins on a tandem bike.
Sounds like a nice local tradition, right? Back in 2002 — at the height of the terrorist scare — calling yourself a “bomber” could earn you some special attention from Homeland Security.
After a rider was spotted with a sign reading “Bomb the zoo, not Iraq!” some of the Zoobomb organizers were questioned about their “tactical meetings.” Riders were even tailed by unmarked vehicles for a few months.
Eventually, the authorities found real crime to fight, and the Zoobombers got back to racing freely. For almost a decade, they’ve been meeting weekly at 8:45 — early enough for multiple trips up and down the hills. Organizers have also added more events, like bike jousting and the mysterious monthly “Dead Baby Nowhere.”
Riders try to make it a “leave no trace” activity, free from trails of beer cans and snack wrappers. The only lasting sign of the event is the “Zoobomb pyle” of spare bikes for folks who show up without a ride. In fact, the pyle is now officially recognized as public art — a far cry from Zoobomb’s days as a potential menace to society.