Tall bike jousting at Bike Kill 2022. Photo: Tod Seelie

Bike Kill is a delightfully strange and slightly dangerous event, which has been taking place annually in an undisclosed New York City location for nearly 20 years – and photographer Tod Seelie has been there since the beginning. Organized by the Black Label Bicycle Club, Bike Kill is one part block party and one part group bicycle ride – except you simply ride in a circle and the bikes are all mutant bikes that come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be quite complicated to ride.

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'It's a lot of fun, probably the primary time of the year I see the most people laughing and smiling, really,' Seelie says.

The event ends in the tall bike joust. This is a questionable event where riders mount tall bikes and then bike towards one another, with 'lances,' for a joust. Seelie has been capturing the strange spectacle since the earliest days of the event, and in a recent interview he shared how he always manages to get the shot before the cops show up.

What's the energy like at Bike Kill in the lead-up to the tall bike jousting?

Bike Kill is mostly a daytime event. Black Label builds and repairs tons of bizarre and creative bicycles for the event every year; after 18 years, that’s a lot of bikes. It's mostly a chaotic mutant-bike-riding free-for-all block party these days. Tall bike jousting is the finale.

It reminds me a bit of shooting in mosh pits at punk shows.

The energy during the jousting is a bit of benevolent bloodlust. Everyone is excited, cheering, and crowding forward to see the hit, but no one wants anyone to get seriously hurt. It reminds me a bit of shooting in mosh pits at punk shows, with a very real risk of getting knocked over while trying to find a place in a dense crowd that allows you to see and shoot.

What’s important to consider when capturing the joust?

The jousting is fairly difficult to shoot because it's so unpredictable. Not every joust ends in a hit, or in the same place. Occasionally the jouster will ride into the crowd before meeting their opponent, and they almost always fall into the crowd. If you're in the front of the crowd you'll have a better view, but are very likely to get crashed into, so it's a trade-off.

The jousting is fairly difficult to shoot because it's so unpredictable.

One issue is dealing with focus issues in a dark place with moving objects. I find that the mirrorless cameras really aren't up to the task, so I pick a point in the field and leave the focus on manual mode. I’m actually considering going back to a DSLR for Bike Kill next year. Since it's so difficult you have to take every chance you can to capture some good shots. Another issue is the forest of people holding cameras and phones you have to work around. This past year was thick with cameras. You just hope you don't have anyone being a giraffe and holding their camera up over their head in front of everyone the whole time.

Are there any precautions that you take to keep yourself and your gear safe during the event?

I've learned from experience to always keep my left arm ready as a block. Originally it was to protect the camera, but I've learned the hard way that your head and face are more important to prioritize. I've also had to repair the foot on my flash so many times I started doing it myself.

Have you ever tall bike jousted? Would you?

I haven't. At this point I'm not sure I would, I'm no spring chicken. Although I finally have health insurance, that does make it a bit more tempting.

What's your favorite bike to ride during Bike Kill?

That’s a tough question. Tall bikes are probably the most exciting, but I have a real soft spot for a good swing bike. Swing bikes are built with hinge points in the frame, so the front of the bike can swing to either side while you're riding but it maintains the direction. It's a challenge of balancing and steering to keep from crashing. Like every bike at Bike Kill, it has something to surprise you every time you get on the seat.