Helmets with full-face protection and gloves are standard for the sport.
Chest protectors, knee pads and elbow pads are a good idea too, as can be the pants worn for motocross racing. After all, racing downhill on an abandoned or darkened stretch of city street on a tricycle – yes, a trike! – comes with a certain amount risk even if it’s eclipsed by the thrill.
Lindsey Kynett is the owner of Little Bird Computers here in Helena and on weekdays can be found at The Shop, a communal workspace on Last Chance Gulch. His company repairs tablets, cellphones and computers. The idea for the company was born from a business class and he supplements it with income from a part-time job in the lumber department of a retail store.
On weekends and evenings, however, Kynett, 34, takes his place in the seat of a trike with friends who’ve gathered for a “session.”
So he’s working in his space at The Shop one day and he’s online. He and others with him catch a video between repairs of someone speeding along a street on a trike, spinning as though out of control.
“I was like, 'Oh my gosh, those look so fun. I have to build one of those,'” he said.
The sliding that the rider demonstrated on a trike is called drifting, a technique stock cars use on dirt tracks to avoid braking when going into turns.
Kynett built a trike and rode it two weeks later, on Father’s Day.
“We found some old BMX bikes and chopped them up and welded together this kind of crazy, we call it 1.0. But that was the first drift trike that we made,” he recalled and laughed.
He and others rode the non-motorized trike down hills here in Helena. A blast, he said.
Buddies bought or built trikes and together started Queen City Drift Club. Others who shared their interest joined them.
That was 2014. Today, there are eight or nine riders in Queen City Drift Club, a name chosen because a lot of the “crews,” as riders in clubs are called, incorporate a city or geographic name into their club name, Kynett said.
“We ended up going with Queen City Drift Club so that we could make the T-shirts that looked like AC/DC, so it would be QC/DC instead. That’s kind of how we landed on it.”
High visibility colors are the club’s choice for T-shirts.
“We usually ride at night if we’re riding in town just because the traffic’s minimal. So it’s a little safer in that aspect,” he said and added that high-visibility T-shirts and headlamps add to riders’ safety.
On the club’s facebook page, Kynett is shown shooting down Broadway, abandoned at night and shrouded by the amber glow of the streetlights, when he cocks the front wheel ever so slightly to get the trike to spin 360-degree turns as he finishes the ride.
On weekends, riders can be found on a length of abandoned pavement on the former Boulder highway. About 1 ½ miles of the road is smooth and ridable. Closing it off to potential traffic at the top and bottom of the hill allows the club use of the road.
“It’s a lot of fun.”
The couple of landowners along it will sometimes set up lawn chairs to watch the show, Kynett said.
Growing up, he rode BMX bicycles on dirt tracks. Skateboarding appealed to him and came next.
“I remember getting my first skateboard when I was 10.”
But neither, he said, compare to what he gets out of riding drift trikes.
“Drift trikes has been one of the biggest thrills that I’ve found,” he said. “And I think a lot the guys that we ride with too; it’s a really surprising feeling. I think at first you kind of feel silly with this idea -- you’re essentially riding a Big Wheel. Everybody had a Big Wheel when they were kids and you remember how fun they were.
“So as an adult, I’m essentially riding this tricycle which seems silly to a lot of people. But once you start riding it, I’ve never seen someone come to the bottom of a hill with a bigger smile than the first time someone’s rode a drift trike.”
“The feeling’s incredible,” he said.
The rear axle on his drift trike is less than 2 inches off the ground.
“I think when you’re that close to the ground and traveling upwards of 50 miles per hour, it’s such a rush. It’s just really exciting. It really is a lot of fun. It’s downhill racing, and I think drift trikes, just like BMX racing or whatever, just the way it ends up you’re in a pack of guys. You’re always two or three people wide going through turns, doing tricks and doing 360s on them.”
It’s a young sport, and in the last year gaining in popularity as people in more areas are hosting events, Kynett said, noting that it spans generations and gender.
He rides for Flatout Drift Trikes and is on a team for flatoutdrifttrikes.com. – his first sponsor. Kynett also rides for Demon United, which produces safety gear for several sports. Die Epic, an apparel company, also sponsors him and the club’s events.
“It’s nice to have companies that are getting behind us and helping us create these events to draw in more riders,” he said.
Companies like Red Bull, Monster and Rock Star may see the sport and the value of supporting it too, Kynett said.
As interest grows from riders who promote the sport, companies that make riding gear will also be able to further support drift trike events financially, he continued.
But this isn’t a sport where riders are out for cash prizes. Gear from manufacturers may be the accolade won for longest drift or being first to the bottom of a hill.
Instead this is done “pour le sport” as its essence is described in French and used in English.
“I think even if you didn’t have prizes I think we’d find that people are wanting to ride with new people or try new hills. So a lot of people who are into the sport of drift trikes right now are in it because they love it,” Knyett said.
“There are no riders who are getting paid to do what they do. They’re just doing it because they love it.”
Queen City Drift Club hosts open sessions where people can come and try a ride. The club’s facebook page is a place to reach out to the club as well as learn about upcoming rides and events. Kynett’s son Miles, 5, got one this year.
“We’d love to take anyone out that’s interested, and we’ve got enough trikes that we can accommodate pretty much any age or size,” Kynett said.
Building a trike can be done for perhaps $100 or so, but it won’t be designed for the speeds or forces that come with downhill rides and tricks.
Some have pedals on the front wheel that allow for the rider to accelerate after drifting sideways through a curve, which drains speed.
Flatout Drift Trikes and Flatout Modern Line produce trike frames, as does Billet Works, whose are made to order. Both of his sons ride Huffy drift trikes. A child’s drift trike will cost perhaps $150 to $200. A entry-level adult drift trike could cost $400.
Add disc brakes, a pedal front end and high-end handle bars among other features, and the price rises just as it does for BMX bicycles and mountain bikes, Kynett said.
“The level I’ve progressed to at this point though, I would never trust myself to go at these speeds on something that was built in a backyard,” he added.
Those who build their first drift trike move into the professionally made ones quickly because of either mechanical failure, such as bearings or a hub failing during a ride and a wheel coming off, or the control issues that riders experience, he said.
His advice to those interested in drift trikes is not to put the money and time into a homemade one that will constantly require repairs but instead buy one that’s built, tested and comes with a warranty.
“It actually saves you a lot of money in the long run, I think.”
Members of the Queen City Drift Club have evolved in their approach to the sport. Just as they realize the advantages of buying trikes, so have attitudes changed on protective apparel.
Riders with the club have moved beyond scoffing at protective clothing, Kynett said, and the club wants to be a team that sets a standard. Helmets were a first step.
“Actually, now, everyone we ride with for the most part has all of their safety gear on,” he continued.
“When you start out, you’re just kind of riding this trike down a hill and it’s really fun. But then when you start getting into the drifting and the tricks and stuff, I think it’s just self-preservation to have pads on because you’re crashing at high speeds on asphalt, so it just allows you to basically get up and keep going.”
During the second competition that Kynett participated in last year, something in the road caught a rear wheel. His 40 mph crash into a ditch cost him a few broken bones in his right foot. Other than some “road rash” as scrapes on pavement are called, that’s the worst he’s experienced.
The club held an event there last year and riders came from various states for a competition. Riders also were part of this year’s Evel Knievel Days in Butte, where they showcased their trikes and then rode them.
A rider from Colorado on impulse took the 6-foot ramp that had been set up for mountain bikes at the event and overshot the dirt landing area.
“He ended up with a broken shoulder, broken elbow, broken wrist, broken nose, concussion. No one’s ever tried a drift trike jump that big that we know of,” Kynett said, adding it’s the worst wreck he’s ever seen.
When riding in Helena, drift trikes are treated like bicycles so riders are aware of traffic laws.
“We just ride late at night when no one’s out and try to keep to ourselves,” he said.
“We’re trying to create a culture and community of riders that keep those things in mind,” he said of safety and adherence to traffic laws for rides on city streets.
Police officers who encounter them on Broadway will stop and wait and remind them to use safety gear and have headlights on, Kynett said.
On Broadway, riders may see top speeds in the mid-30s. But on other hills where competitions are held, trikes are running at 50 or 60 mph.
And in that instant when he’s drifting, sliding sideways only inches from the blur of pavement beneath the wheels, “everything else just goes away so you’re in this moment. When I’m going in a drift, I’m really not thinking about anything other than that.
“Everything else kind of goes away. I think that happens in skateboarding. From the moment you start a trick until you land again, you go into this place mentally where you’re so focused on the trick itself you’re not thinking about anything else.”
“It’s like time slows down. You’re going so fast and you’re watching the guys next to you.”
“And it seems like it takes forever, that’s the best part.”
“That the attraction for me with drift trikes. You have so many of those moments when you’re going down a hill,” he said and added it’s only at the bottom of a hill that a rider realizes what a great ride it was.
Thoughts about crashing are put aside. It’s all about the moment, the turn, the slide, the drift. There’s no thought about crashing.
“You put that out of your head and you just go for it,” he said.
Pour le sport.
“As long as my body’s physically able to do it, I will probably continue to do it,” Kynett said.
“I’m going to do this as long as I can, for sure.”
“It’s too much fun.”