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Manitou’s elusive bike bar

SemiNative

Laura Eurich Jan 24, 2018 1:00 AM
Courtesy Tao of Metal
Dave Chadwell has the Levitator Lounge Libation Station to thank for getting him to his first Burning Man festival.

That was in 2012. Six years later, the Levitator Lounge, an eight-person bicycle bar, is the reason Chadwell will be embarking on his first visit to New Orleans.

Chadwell and friend Cory Sutela envisioned the lounge around 2010. They wanted to build a bar that they could pedal like a bicycle. Only after beginning the process did they discover that the human-powered vehicle they imagined actually existed.

“We were almost validated,” Chadwell says. (These bicycle bars were more prevalent in Europe, but you might recall the commercial endeavor called MyHandleBar that cruised around downtown a few years ago — it pulled out of Colorado Springs in 2014.)

Building the Lounge was not a full-time pursuit; from conception to completion it took two years, working on weekends and evenings. Chadwell is the owner of Tao of Metal and, at the time, Sutela worked for bike component maker SRAM. But the 2012 Burning Man was their deadline.

Sutela was not a Burning Man virgin, he attended the festival of art, music and frivolity in 2008 but said, “I’m not going back unless I’ve got my own thing.”

The Lounge has made the trek to Burning Man twice. (Don’t worry, they don’t have to pedal all the way to the Nevada desert, they built it to fit in Chadwell’s trailer with, Sutela says, “a quarter-inch of clearance.”) It also comes out a handful of times each year locally. It’s a regular at the Emma Crawford Coffin Races and the Carnivale parade (you can see it Feb. 10), both in Manitou Springs. And it has been at the St. Patrick’s Day and Veterans Day parades, both in Colorado Springs.

But this year, it’s making the trip to New Orleans to participate in one of the many Mardi Gras parades: the Krewe of Chewbacchus parade on Feb. 3.

Sutela believes the Lounge fits nicely with the ethos of the Krewe: The parade does not allow motorized vehicles, and the goodies tossed along the route must be handmade. “You can’t throw out store-bought junk,” Sutela says. 
“You can’t pay to get on it.” click to tweet

While they won’t be tossing out plastic beads during that parade, Sutela admits they might be collecting them from others to toss out the next weekend in Manitou.

The Lounge fits about 12 — eight people pedaling, one steering and room for a few passengers.

Sutela was surprised to have 10 people from Colorado committed to participating in the Feb. 3 parade. Technicalities like insurance keep it from being a commercial endeavor. And while it’s technically a bike bar, Sutela says open-container laws mean they can’t serve alcohol on board.

When they have the Lounge out, Chadwell reports people either say they’ve seen this before or look on with bright-eyed surprise at a human-powered vehicle that size. What size? With a grin on his face, Chadwell won’t disclose the weight of the machine. He does say that it’s possible for a single person to pedal it on a flat surface, but not sustain that effort for long. (Don’t ask where it’s stored, that’s also a closely kept secret.)

Chadwell describes himself as a “tape on the floor engineer” and calls Sutela “the Ph.D. engineer” (Sutela received his Ph.D. in engineering from Cambridge University). Chadwell says, short of a few notes on a napkin, they did not draw up plans. Their styles complemented each other.

“He understands math and physics and method,” Chadwell says. “I conceive math and physics in theory. I could theorize and he could confirm or deny.”

Sutela says the Levitator Lounge Libation Station would not have happened without Chadwell. “Dave is a maker. He talks, but he follows through.” But he adds that a major catalyst for this upcycled participatory art project was the death of his old Subaru, from which, they “ended up pilfering parts.”

Getting a seat on the Lounge isn’t easy. “You can’t pay to get on it,” says Sutela. How do people secure their spot? Until they figure out that insurance part, which is not their motivation, it’s about who you know. And you must know one of them for a while, says Sutela.