It starts with the glitter of metal as a custom bike comes around the corner onto Fremont East.
This wouldn't normally be such an uncommon sight for downtown, but on this nondescript Saturday night in mid-July, the barrage of metal, custom paint and sparkles never ends. It continues to ebb around the corner in waves until suddenly the area in front of Beauty Bar is surrounded by the quietest, and probably the coolest, biker gang this town has ever seen.
Their name is Hammer & Cycle; they're Las Vegas' newest group dedicated to lowriders, beach cruisers and other custom bicycles.
The group is the brainchild of Matt Takazuno and four friends who all share a love for these one-of-a-kind rides.
"A couple of us had the idea," he explains. "Finally, during a barbecue on Memorial Day, we just said, 'Hey, let's actually do it. Let's just set a date and make sure we show up.'"
Another group founder, Jeremy Pati, agreed. "It feels like we talked about [the group] forever."
Takazuno added, "I figure I would rather have a good idea that never took off, then a great plan I never tried."
The organizers expected half a dozen riders the first night; 22 showed up. The next month, 45 bikes (and one moped) showed, including almost everyone from the inaugural run. The rapid growth is partially due to promotional flyers distributed to local bike and hot rod stores. However, according to Takazuno, many of the group's add-ons have been people who stumbled across the gang during one of their rides and decided to pick up the hobby.
Hammer & Cycle's rides, always planned for the Saturday closest to the 15th of the month, start their rides at a scheduled meeting time and place. Where they go from there, however, is anyone's guess. "It's organized chaos," Takazuno explains.
Their July ride took them from Dino's to Beauty Bar. Then, like any good bike gang, they hit up Hogs & Heifers - where they parked their 45 bikes next to nearly a dozen Harleys and cruisers.
"We took up all the motorcycle parking," Takazuno recalls with a laugh. "We got some weird looks at first, but then everyone is like, 'Woah. Look at that. Those are rad.'"
After Hogs & Heifers, the group cruised Bonneville and Main Street before stopping by Luv it Custard. Then, they went back to Dino's for karaoke and drinking.
Everywhere they went, strangers took photos of the bikes - from the unfinished lowrider to the cycle sporting a tiki torch; members of Hammer & Cycle are used to garnering attention for their rides. Takazuno is also used to bystanders assuming he owns a custom bike shop.
The standout moment of the evening occured when a man in a wheelchair knocked over a few of the biycles; because of this, they've dubbed the event the Wheelchair Ride. The first Hammer & Cycle outing was christened the Gnome Ride after a humorous homeless man resembling a mythical, forrest dwelling creature took interest in the group.
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- Hammer and Cycle MySpace
All the participants also receive a matching group patch. "We're treating [our group] like a biker gang," Takazuno explains. "We have the jean cut-off vest, rocking our colors. We have patches for each ride."
The biker gang theme is more than a cute gimmick; it's a message that there is more to the crew than some shared spokes and Huffys.
"We don't want people to just get together and show up on their BMX bike," Takazuno says. "We want people to show who they are through their bikes, like you do through your car."
The dedication to customization and roots in hot rod culture set Hammer & Cycle apart from many of the city's other pedal-powered offerings. Monthly riding group Critical Mass is rooted in the concept of raising drivers' awareness of bicycles on the road. Meanwhile, the Pedalphiles group's prerogative is dressing up in costumes during rides.
While the members of Hammer & Cycle care about things like biker safety, they're less in your face about it. Their group is about a simpler pleasure: showing off your spoked wheels.
"I've just always been into it," explains Pati. "It's a personal hobby."
Takazuno added, "We're all hot rodders and into that custom culture. We can't leave our cars alone. Our bikes are our next thing."
Breaking up the monotony of everyday life is another reason Takazuno believes the group will succeed. "The biggest thing is just having something do do," he says. "You can only go to so many shows before it gets old. When we go out, though, everyone that rides is all smiles, from ear to ear."
Hammer & Cycle's next scheduled ride begins at 7 p.m. on Aug. 15 at Hogs & Heifers.