“If you busted your head open right now, she could give you a field suture,” says Todd Duane Miller, referring to a rider at the bar named Katt Brensinger, who works as a surgical tech and is handy with a medical kit.
It’s good to know. Life is unpredictable on a bicycle in Las Vegas—even with a helmet on.
Part of me expected things to get crazy while riding with Hammer & Cycle; maybe there would even be blood. My Hollywoodized, manufactured stereotype of tough-looking guys and pretty women in club vests, patches and tats hanging out in smoky bars had me dreaming up scenarios of flying whiskey glasses, reckless riding and even some sort of rumble.
But aside from injury stories—Baby Crash earning her nickname after falling “no less than eight times” and someone’s wrist being speared by a cactus needle—the ride through the backstreets of Las Vegas, on the Strip and across Sahara, is pretty mellow. It’s actually euphoric when you factor in the nice night, the group bonding and the connection with early Downtown architecture.
Anyway, should anything happen, Katt has her first aid kit. That story of a speed bump jumping out and tackling her in a dark parking lot doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to happen again tonight.
We’re not communists, I learn early in the evening. Despite Hammer & Cycle’s name, the group is “politically agnostic,” and a chainring with a pedal replaces the sickle in their red-and-yellow logo.
"We're basically a bunch of punk kids who refuse to grow up," adds JW Caldwell, who describes the club as a collective group of misfits who like riding bikes and drinking.
The group is also altruistic. It raised $6,000 at its Bikes For Brats charity auction this month that will go directly toward buying and donating bicycles for kids in need this holiday season. It makes sense that they’d do that, given that some of the members equate the group rides with feeling like a kid again.
There are bike clubs in cities throughout the world. The Chopaderos Outlaw Bicycle Club lists chapters in more than a dozen countries. Hammer & Cycle one was established roughly four years ago and boasts 50 or 60 members who ride Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights (and one Saturday night a month). Some cite the group’s inclusiveness and sense of family as one of its benefits.
And when you’re family, you get the jacket, the patches, the buttons and a nickname. Even club mascot, Lincovich Chivowski, a pomeranian Chihuahua mix, wears a cut as he rides his owner's backpack and bellies up to the bar with the rest of them.
So similar is Hammer & Cycle’s look to that of a motorcycle club that when members strolled into Dino’s, where underground motorcycle magazine Dice was hosting a party, someone asked “Who are you guys? We didn't even hear you roll up.”
For as burly, badass, threatening and outlaw as the mostly tattooed club may appear when swilling beers in seedy bars, pedaling through streets with them reveals a soft side.
“The thing that’s so cool about this group is that it’s such a tight family,” says Sam “Red” Bailey. “Everybody looks out for everybody because if you’re going from bar to bar you have to pay attention.”
The group’s motto is "Live to Ride. Ride to Bars," but Bailey points out that nobody’s out to get hammered: “We’re out to socialize.”
At Eureka Casino on Sahara, the staff holds the doors open for the crew, and when they’re ready to hit the road, the bartender says farewell over the PA system, wishing them a safe ride while affectionately pointing out that no one’s riding a Harley.
“I have a family history of catastrophic injuries with motorcycles,” says Caldwell, adding that many of the group’s members do ride motorcycles in their off time.
From Dino’s to Eureka to the Smuggle-Inn, we listen to the Yacht Rock that Miller, the evening’s ride leader, pipes through a PA system wired into his coat. Next up is Sahara Saloon and then the Huntridge.
Should there be injuries, Carlos “pins” Villegas, an Army vet whose saddlebag ammo boxes carry tools for repairs, will award the victim a button with a purple heart.
But mostly it’s a smooth, amicable ride into the night with “the Red Army.”