Danger Wheel races bring fun and families to Pendleton

CINCINNATI — Since its debut in 2015, Danger Wheel has brought thousands of people to the Pendleton neighborhood of Cincinnati. These experiences have evolved over the years into new family traditions and economic opportunities for the historic community.


What do you want to know

  • Since 2015, Danger Wheel has brought tens of thousands of people for a rowdy Big Wheel day of racing
  • What started as a fun event turned into a marketing campaign for Cincinnati’s Pendleton neighborhood
  • Over the years, the event has brought entire families to participate in the races
  • Proceeds from the event are reinvested into the Pendleton community

Danger Wheel works like a soapbox derby for adults. Only the racers use oversized Big Wheel bikes, not cars, to speed down the descent at a breakneck pace. But there are also costumes, obstacles and a hilly two-block stretch of East 12th Street lined with thousands of spectators armed with water balloons.

Now in its seventh year, the event features 64 three-person teams competing head-to-head. After a day of racing, a team wins the title of “Danger Champion”.

Kyle Lucke with his sons on the Danger Wheel course. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Lucke)

Races run from 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, but the event kicks off at noon. Plans call for food trucks, beer carts and other concessions. Water balloons are also available for purchase.

“It’s just a great feeling,” said Kyle Lucke, 32, driver of Pickle Rick’s Drifters. “You also get all kinds of adrenaline junkies racing for glory, even if it’s mostly bragging rights.”

Lucke got his first taste of Danger Wheel several years ago, first as a fan and then as a racer. The self-proclaimed “thrill seeker” loved seeing the ramps, obstacles and fans lining the typically quiet stretch of road near Over-the-Rhine.

Loaded with armfuls of waterballs, many fans scorch the drivers as they try to navigate a course hundreds of feet littered with obstacles such as steep ramps and gigantic inflatable balls.

The appeal of Danger Wheel, Lucke said, is that it’s for everyone. He thinks it’s perfect for someone new to town looking to explore the city or groups of friends to enjoy an afternoon of nightlife.

It’s even family-friendly, Lucke said. He and his wife take their two young sons every year.

“My kids have fun throwing water balloons and using water guns to blast the conductors on the way down,” Lucke said.

John Hilbert started hanging out with Danger Wheel a few years ago after he and his family “stumbled upon” while strolling downtown. He didn’t know at the time that he would be racing on a team with two of his sons. Their name, Immortan John and the Warboys, refers to the movie “Mad Max: Fury Road”.

Forming the team was something of a rite of passage for John’s college-aged kids. Max, 22, and Sam, 20, grew up watching the races as teenagers. Today, they are both students at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, so they still come to the races every year.

“I promised them when they were younger that we could do it when Sam was 18,” said John, 52. “That year was canceled (due to COVID-19) so last year was our first year racing.”

Max Hilbert held by Captain Danger.  (Photo courtesy of John Hilbert)

Max Hilbert held by Captain Danger. (Photo courtesy of John Hilbert)

For Max, racing is great, but it’s also about people. Over the years, he’s formed a special bond with a character named Captain Danger, the enthusiastic announcer of the event who dons an exaggerated ’70s “Evel” Knievel-style jumpsuit every year.

“The first time I went to Danger Wheel, I felt a connection between Captain Danger and myself. Since then, he’s been a personal hero of mine,” Max said. The two still have a photo together every year.

“I thought Danger Wheel was one of the funniest and most absurd (events) out there, so I thought I wanted to participate,” Max added. That changed the first time he got to the top of the hill and sat on the bike. “I immediately regretted that decision,” he joked.

People might not think of John when imagining the type of ride down a Ferris wheel. During the day, he is a marketing manager for a large German health device manufacturer. But after seeing it once, he was hooked.

John said it was “a bit scary to run” but it’s “something weird” that he and his boys can do together, so he totally agrees. His only concern is to explain the injuries to his colleagues.

“Nobody really cares who wins, just survive,” he said. He mentioned that he met some great people through Danger Wheel, including a team from Minnesota last year.

Jared Fox also returned for his second year of racing. He and his brothers – one older, one younger – first signed up at the request of their mother.

Their father-in-law screen-printed team shirts that read “Fox Brothers Racing.”

“I had never been one to shy away from taking on the challenge, so we decided to do it,” Fox said. The Foxes did pretty well, finishing sixth out of 64 teams.

Last year the Fox brothers gave him a thumbs up and he rode for every round. He thinks his body paid the price.

“I fell down a ramp and hit my back really hard on the metal tray of the bike,” he said. “I could barely walk, but I had to keep running.”

After sustaining his injury, Fox won his next race. He came up short in the next one, however.

“There’s always this year, right?” Fox asked.

Fox became the team’s pilot out of necessity, he said. Her brothers were in serious relationships and one of them was about to have a baby.

“I was the most consumable,” he joked.

Fox planned to do most of the racing again this year. His hope, however, was that his brothers would each take at least one trip to the track.

It’s not so much because of the physical toll on his body, Fox said. He just wanted his brothers to experience it for themselves.

Jared Fox (middle) poses with his brothers during Danger Wheel.  The three brothers are part of a racing team during the event.  (Photo courtesy of Jared Fox)

Jared Fox (middle) poses with his brothers during Danger Wheel. The three brothers are part of a racing team during the event. (Photo courtesy of Jared Fox)

“I told my younger brother you had to do at least one of the races this year,” he added. “I mean, you get water balloons thrown at you, everyone is screaming – it’s a rush. They should definitely experience it because there isn’t much like it.

Lucke only heard of Danger Wheel because his friends worked at the Nation Kitchen and Bar in Pendleton. The burger joint becomes “ground zero” for the Danger Wheel, according to Nation co-owner Andrew Salzbrun.

Salzbrun also co-founded Danger Wheel. He and a business partner, Judd Watkins, came up with the idea for the races about 10 years ago, shortly after moving to the neighborhood.

Pendleton needed investment, Salzbrun said. They brainstormed ideas to attract people to the neighborhood who might not otherwise visit.

“We wanted to draw people to Pendleton and show off the neighborhood, but we had to do it in a unique way,” he added. “It had to create something that added to Pendleton’s character.”

Salzbrun expected Danger Wheel to be popular. But so far he has exceeded his expectations. About 10,000 people attended last year’s race, Salzbrun said. He expected the same this year.

Due to the event’s popularity, the races are simulcast to the Braxton Brewing Company’s Pendleton Dining Room and other bars and restaurants in the area.

All proceeds are donated to the community of Pendleton through efforts such as beautification projects and community cleanups.

Pendleton is very different today than it was in 2015. And not just during Danger Wheel, but also Monday through Friday.

Salzbrun wouldn’t give all the credit to Danger Wheel or Nation, but he’s proud of how far the neighborhood has come.

“Our goal with Danger Wheel was to bring people together for an experience similar to playing games in their backyard,” he said. “It’s really fun to see families coming together around the idea of ​​having fun and competing, and supporting Pendleton.”

More information about the event is available on the Danger Wheel website.


About Victoria Rothstein

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