Bicycle Diaries: The devil made me do it

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6.10.06

The devil made me do it

Nope - this isn't about Flip Wilson, even though he bikes regularly. Nor is it about massholes or cagers. Plenty of virtual ink has been spilt on them already. And who can criticize the Chicago Police Department? They corked for us on the Chicago Oktoberfest Critical Mass.

We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell - Oscar Wilde

This is about Didi Senft who has become famous throughout Germany and the world as El Diablo. A longtime fan of the Tour de France, he had noticed that German TV commentators describe the final kilometer of each stage as the Red Devil's Lap.

If the devil does not exist, and man has therefore created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

So in 1992, Didi began to dog the cyclists along the entire route including the killer inclines in the Pyrenees and Alps. A few years later, El Diablo became a fixture at other major cycling events like the Tour de Suisse, Giro d'Italia, and the Cycling World Championships.

Beauty and the devil are the same thing - Robert Mapplethorpe

I first saw El Diablo this summer on the BBC while following the World Cup. If you saw him too you noticed that he had arrived on what could be the largest bike in the world. Topping out at 7.8 meters (over 25 ft.), he's constructed the bike out of 100 meters of aluminium pipe and 80 bicycle wheel rims. Its tires consist of 100 footballs that fans have lovingly thrown at him over the years.

A stale mind is the devil's breadbox - Mary Bly

Obviously, El Diablo isn't your run of the mill, crazed football fan. His twin passion is building bikes and other human powered vehicles. The fleet of more than 100 includes a recumbent double-decker tandem as well as a giant rickshaw 12.4m long, on which the passenger sits at a dizzying height of 6.65m above the ground. Ten bikes have been awarded entries in The Guinness Book of Records.

Give the devil his due - Miguel de Cervantes

Much like the Chicago Critical Mass, El Diablo provokes a wide range of reactions. Police in Switzerland routinely harass him for marking the Tour de Suisse route with his trademark pitchfork. When travelling to the 2003 World Cycling Championships in England, he was detained by airport customs officials who had apprently never seen a passenger in a devil's costume.

The devil is and always has been a gentleman - Diane LaVey

On the other hand, his fellow Germans, not typically known for their outward displays of wacky enthusiasm, literally go nuts when he shows up - so much so that 8 German companies and 2 local governments have sponsored him for the last 10 years.

Don't you know there ain't no devil, it's just god when he's drunk -Tom Waits

Bikers as a whole love El Diablo. Interviewed by PezCycling News in 2004, he observed,
All in all, the cycling community is a big family. Everyone knows everybody. So it happens that you have a cup of coffee together with the riders or a drink with the policemen who follow the TdF [Tour de France]. This way, I usually get the race results of other day's stage, as I don't have a TV with me and as I don't speak any other language than German… On the other hand, there has been some trouble with the police from the different departements as well as in the Giro d'Italia. When I was painting the road (which was brand-new, especially made for the Giro), they asked me to follow and I really had to insist not to be arrested. In the past, they have always been tolerant to the fans...
The devil is in the details - German Proverb



I was inspired by El Diablo during last Friday's Chicago Oktoberfest Critical Mass. I really wanted to gussy-up for this roll. That's me on the left with Peter, a neighbor and fellow bike enthusiast. But you see - back East in the German farming communities where I was raised outward displays of wacky enthusiasm were most definitely frowned upon. If you can't act up and out while rolling, when can you?

I think there's a bit of the devil in everybody. There's a bit of a priest in everybody, too, but I enjoyed playing the devil more. He was more fun - Gabriel Byrne

So very slowly, both El Diablo and Critical Mass have been encouraging me to lighten up. While I didn't come close to El Diablo with my red fez, xerocracy badge, and That Which Rolls t-shirt, I did throw all fashion caution to the wind.

What the hell!?!?!?

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