Chromoly Chef

Chromoly. Chef. Chromoly chef. A strange combination of words. One word is familiar while the other not as much. Unless you have actually seen the event with this title, you would never understand the pairing of these two nouns: it’s a contest! Essentially teams have one hour to build a functional bicycle, or some version thereof, out of a mishmash of unassembled parts. The application of the words mean: total fun.

The event is just as crazy as its origin.

John Cummins is not a “meeting” kind of guy. So, how did he spend the evening preparing for a steering committee meeting? He began by watching the Food Network. Then, after falling asleep, he had a vivid dream that upon wakening, he wrote down – something he had never done before.  And then he presented an idea – based on his dream – at the meeting with a heavy dose of salesmanship.

Thus was born “Chromoly Chef.”

Chromoly is a steel alloy including the elements chromium and molybdenum, a common bicycle material both past and present. The chef is the one gathering and combining various ingredients into a delectable masterpiece. Only in this case, the ingredients are bicycle parts.

Here’s how it works. Two-people teams, typically four in number, have one hour to build a bicycle. Bike parts and scraps donated by local shops, or picked up at the Denver swap meet, are selected from the “pantry,” a sheet loaded up with the goodies. This pantry is only revealed two minutes before the clock starts ticking. Teams hurriedly snatch up their selections and begin assembling bikes. The clock ticks for one hour, at which point all building must be completed. After completion comes the race. A pylon is placed fifty yards down the avenue and marks the turnaround for a hundred yard course. After the race, points are awarded for fastest bike. But this is only one category of scoring. The other categories are creativity, function, and crowd favorite.


The competition is fierce and hilarious. There is only one winner. And, there is no second place.

The event provides, in addition to the pantry, all bike parts necessary to make a bike operational,  non-bike tools that may be useful, and ten-foot by ten-foot tents to house the teams.

The teams provide all tools necessary for the build such as a mechanic’s stand, any accoutrements to spice up the entry, a cable house and cables, nuts, bolts and washers, paints and wallpaper, and anything that will make the entry particularly appealing: monster truck tires or the steering wheel off grandpa’s old jalopy, for instance.

All bikes must have a drive system, a brake system, a steering system and a seat. Costumes are encouraged to enhance a team’s chances in the creativity category.

During the event John and partner Jim Mires oversee the contestants, wearing their chef outfits complete with hats. They make sure no one knows the “secret ingredient” ahead of time, which could be anything. In one case it was a beer keg tap, donated by the sponsor, Bonfire Brewery. Every team must incorporate the secret ingredient into the build.

Oh the masterpieces that can be built and then raced within one hour!  In fact, John’s favorite aspect of the event is the showcase it provides for human talent and ingenuity. It’s as if there are no limits to what someone can create.

The crowd, spurred on by the announcer, loves every aspect of the competition. It erupts in loud guffaws as teams initially scramble in the pantry for just the right parts they have selected. One time, two pairs of hands simultaneously grabbed the same frame. Without any unseemly show of force, the larger chef procured his choice. The crowd is mesmerized as it observes the chefs “baking” the masterpieces. Wrenches spiraling and screwdrivers whirring, the bikes quickly begin to form and their ultimate shapes comes into ever increasing focus. Finally the race begins amidst hoots and hollers. The suspense is riveting as supporters encourage their favorite’s ability to negotiate the turn.  An overall champion is crowned to great applause.

Joel Cummins, John’s brother, thoughtfully expresses his experience of the event as, “Sights and sounds. Welders flashing, grinders grate, power tools vibrate. The “chefs” are frantically focused, and the crowd loves every minute of it.”

Some of the past memorable creations include a keg bike and a two-seater that nearly defies description. The keg bike was, of course, a crowd favorite. One could only wonder if the two-seater, with one of the seats on the handle bars, complete with its own set of wheels, could even operate. But race it did.

With a few successful seasons under his belt, John is looking forward to expanding the event? “I’d love to see a whole weekend festival dedicated to Chromoly Chef. It would be valleywide in scope. There would be a 16-team draw with winners moving on towards an ultimate showdown in the finals. Of course, I’d also love to see a Chromoly Chef television show. And after that, action figures.”

Who knows?  Once you’ve experienced Chromoly Chef you might not put anything past this dreamer.