Havoc + Cheer in the Frozen North

 Photo provided by Chris LeBlanc

Photo provided by Chris LeBlanc

The Annual Krampus Ride meets Saturday, December 9, to gather gifts for children in need

Imagine setting off on your bike on a gray winter’s day with a few dozen other riders, of all skill levels, on all kinds of bikes, for a holiday adventure. Except these aren’t just any riders.

Modeling themselves after Krampus — a horned half-goat, half-demon who punishes children during Christmas for bad behavior, like the anti–Santa Claus — some riders in this crew are carrying chains, or wearing paper mache masks, with huge black horns protruding from their helmets. As they head out into fresh snow, or an icestorm, or a plain gray day, or whatever the weather throws at them, these hardy bikers look ready for mischief.

 Photo provided by Chris LeBlanc

Photo provided by Chris LeBlanc

Except they aren’t mean-spirited demons intent on punishing anyone! They’re benevolent as heck and on a mission to bring gifts to children in need, by bike. This is the Minneapolis Krampus Ride, an annual community charity ride to celebrate our holiday season with good times, giving, and mischievous folklore mixed in.

Riders’ first destination is Kiddywampus, a toy store in Hopkins, Minn., their second is Wild Rumpus, a kids’ bookstore in Linden Hills. At both shops, riders use donated funds for a gleeful shopping spree, gathering as many toys and books as they can.

After a break for beers, maybe in someone’s front yard, or under a bridge, their final destination is People Serving People, a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis, where the goodies are deposited. All by bike!

Organizer Chris LeBlanc put together the first Krampus Ride eight years ago, the year he moved to Minneapolis, “as a charity thing I threw some money into. I was quickly getting way into winter riding, so it was natural to grab a big bag and head out. When I told my parents about it, they said, ‘We don’t want Christmas gifts anymore, just keep doing that instead.’”

 Photo provided by Chris LeBlanc

Photo provided by Chris LeBlanc

The second year, Chris and his Krampus crew “tried to go to a toy shop that had been closed for two years … Whoops. It was dark out and freezing cold and we ended up going to a big box store to get it done in time. We were laughing the whole time and it was a big dumb mess … We kept talking about how weird and great the folklore story of Krampus was and we were yelling ‘Merry Krampus!’ at people, so [the Krampus] became a part of the ride.”

A little more organized now, it's important to LeBlanc that the ride visit locally owned businesses like Kiddywampus and Wild Rumpus (both of which have vaguely Krampusy names). "Kiddywampus is a toy store that has art classes for kids and they donate their profits back to charity, so it’s a no-brainer for us to go there,” says LeBlanc, “while The Wild Rumpus is a bookstore full of friendly animals — what’s not to love about that — with a great collection of kids’ books.”

LeBlanc’s work has inspired Krampus Rides worldwide, from Boston and San Francisco, to Poole, a seaport on the southern coast of England. Other organizers “just grabbed it, ran with it and did their own thing, but with Krampus Ride ideals,” says LeBlanc.

 Photo provided by Chris LeBlanc

Photo provided by Chris LeBlanc

He enjoys the regional twists, like the Boston riders who came up with mounting horns on their helmets, an idea that was promptly stolen by Minneapolis Krampi, and the UK riders who posed in front of a castle, and the San Francisco Krampus-ites riding in T-shirts while their Minnesotan counterparts fight the ice.

“The biggest part of the ride I stress,” says LeBlanc, “is that 100% of the donation money goes to buying toys and books and there is no overhead. The second important piece is that anyone who wants to be a part of it can be. People are incredibly generous with time, sweat, and spare cash.”

Last year’s Minneapolis Krampus Ride raised $1,800, while Krampus Riders worldwide raised over $6,500. Locally, all donations go toward toys and books for the kids at People Serving People, “an amazing organization that has more families than any other shelters in the city. They work to help people on a more long-term timeline to get them back on their feet. If you can bring even a little bit of joy to kids who are spending the holidays in a shelter, why not?”

The wildest Krampus year ever, says LeBlanc, featured 5–6 inches of snow, and “we ended up having to take two trips to haul everything. It was an all-day ride and I ended up putting nearly 40 miles on my Moonlander fat bike while dressed like a yeti. It was exhausting!” One year, says LeBlanc, Matt Moore from Surly Bikes showed up with “a big wizard beard and looked too much like Santa to go into the toy shop. He rode a cargo bike with a huge Santa sleigh lawn ornament strapped onto the front of it. It was perfect.”

It’s one of those things that really restores your faith in people, they see something nice and want to be a part of it.

No matter who shows up, no matter what the weather is like, this year's Krampus Ride promises to be a feel-great adventure. Says LeBlanc, "It’s one of those things that really restores your faith in people, they see something nice and want to be a part of it."

This year’s Krampus Ride meets this Saturday, December 9, 9:30 a.m. at 3161 Park Avenue S. You can donate to LeBlanc’s Krampus fund or PayPal funds to theblindprophet@gmail.com.

You don't have to make a donation to attend the ride. Riders of all speeds and experience levels are welcome to join. Bring a big bag for carrying toys and books!

Patrick Stephenson