Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! Thrill to a death-defying exhibition of complex restoring torque!

The wall of death is a carnival act featuring motorcycles which apparently defy gravity by riding around nearly horizontally on a circular, vertical wooden wall. In other words, the cycle and cyclist are almost perpendicular to the ground and roaring around several feet off of it. If it helps, envision the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey in which either Frank Poole or Dave Bowman is seen jogging all the way around the circular inner surface of their spacecraft. Add gravity, a common vertical frame of reference, motorcycles, and little kids spilling popcorn. Ladies and gennlemen, THE WALL OF DEATH!

"What are you doing, Dave?" indeed.

The wall itself is a cylinder approximately sixteen feet high and about thirty feet in diameter. The bottom two to three feet of the wall slopes toward the ground to allow dirt-bound bikes to ascend and horizontalize. Spectators stand on a platform around the circumference to watch the show inside the cylinder, and from photographs I've seen it looks like there's not much protection provided in the eventuality of a bike going over the top of the wall. Danger, after all, sells tickets.

The history of the wall of death is hazy, but the stunt appears to have gotten its start on the American state fair circuit sometime in the 1920s. The act grew out of the sport of "drome riding", in which motorcyclists would race around a wooden track. The corners of these tracks cambered dramatically, to the point where some went nearly vertical. While lots of fun to watch, this sort of racing was devastatingly unsafe and died out. However, the core of the thrill, the astoundling vertical cornering, was retained and transmogrified into the touring wall of death phenomenon.

If watching folks simply exploit physics isn't enough of a charge for you, most "drome riders" (as some like to be called) combine the wall of death with trick riding; riding tandem, motorcycle choreography, acrobatics, you name it.

The Indian Scout 101 motorcycle is the traditional standard wall of death vehicle, prized for its exceptionally balanced weight. However, it is possible and relatively common to ride the wall of death in four-wheeled vehicles such as cars or go-karts.

Wall of Death is also a song.

Wall of Death
Lyrics by Richard Thompson
from the Richard & Linda Thompson album Shoot Out the Lights

Let me ride on the wall of death one more time
Let me ride on the wall of death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
But this is the nearest to being alive
Let me take my chances on the Wall of Death

You can go with the crazy people in the crooked house
You can fly away on the rocket or spin in the mouse
The tunnel of love might amuse you
And Noah's Ark might confuse you but
Let me take my chances on the Wall of Death

On the Wall of Death
On the Wall of Death
It's the nearest to being free

Well you're going nowhere when you ride on the carousel
And maybe you're strong, but what's the use of ringing a bell
The switchback will make you crazy
Beware of the bearded lady
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall of Death

You are going nowhere when you ride on the carousel
And maybe you're strong, but what's the use of ringing a bell
The switchback will make you crazy
Beware of the bearded lady
Let me take my chances
Let me take my chances
Let me take my chances

Educational -,,,,

The Wall of Death is usually as described above, but some variations do exist, the coolest of which is a sphere (mesh, or transparent, so you can still see the riders) which allows movement through all three dimensions.

This variation is particularly cool when you have three or so riders in the sphere, all going in different directions -- one going horizontally, one vertically, and one at perhaps 45 degrees to the others, or maybe horizontally in the opposite direction.

Generally, the people who do this are either adrenalin junkies, really extreme artists, or just plain nuts.

Nice name huh?

The “Wall of Death” is also another term given to the practice of driftnet fishing. This practice, which I believe was banned in 1993 by the United Nations, has been described as the most destructive fishing method ever devised by mankind. Ironically though, it was the United Nations themselves who originally endorsed it on the premise that lower income nations would be able to boost their economy. Little did they know the catastrophic effects it would have on marine life.

It didn’t take long for the practice to become popular among some of the larger countries who’s economies in some part was tied to the seas. These countries included Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and before the moratorium was passed in 1993 they alone deployed over 50,000 kilometers of driftnets on a daily basis.

Strip Mining the Ocean

So, what is a driftnet anyway?

Usually made from monofilament or nylon and depending on the quarry with a varying mesh size, driftnets are often as long as 40 miles wide and can be suspended to a depth of about 50 feet. Usually laid during the evening hours and in the normal migration path of the various fish that inhabit the ocean, driftnets sorta act like a huge spider web that captures and kills anything that gets caught in it.

Intended for use on such staple fish as tuna and salmon as well as other assorted marine life such as squid, driftnets also manage to capture and kill various other creatures of the deep such as dolphins, porpoises, whales, sharks, sea turtles, various sea birds and just about anything else that was unlucky enough to get trapped. As a matter of fact, estimates are that as much as 50 percent of each catch is either non-intended prey or was rendered unusable due to the damage that the nets cause.

That might lead to the question “Then why was the practice so popular?” That’s easy, it was cheap. The nets themselves are considered extremely inexpensive when compared to other fishing methods that were in use prior to the advent of driftnet fishing.

A Well Kept Secret?

Before 1983 hardly anybody outside the fishing industry was aware that the practice was going on and was being conducted on such a large scale. Scientists involved in the study of marine biology began to notice a tremendous drop-off in the amount of fish in their native waters and began to launch their own investigations. This caught the attention of Greenpeace who often sent out their own boats that recorded the results of driftnetting and also took direct action and tried to prevent the fishing ships from deploying their nets.

After many years of lobbying and much to the chagrin of many nations involved in the practice and the many forces within the fishing industry, a formal moratorium on driftnet fishing was declared by the United Nations in 1993.

Even with the moratorium in effect, there are many “rogue” fishing vessels that still engage in the practice of driftnet fishing. I imagine that with such a large area to patrol, these vessels run a scant risk of being caught and that the reward outweighs any risk involved. Meanwhile, the effects that driftnet fishing has had on marine life are still being studied and probably will be for many years to come. All I know is that anything conducted on such a large scale and involves that much waste and killing can’t be good for anybody or anything. campInfo

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