|JT Mechanical Bulls
Mechanical Bull Rental and Sales
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| Frequently Asked Questions
A lot of useful facts sprinkled with a healthy dose of my opinions. Use what you want and leave the rest. As always, your
mileage may vary.
Question #1 - I heard a lot about people being sued, I mean, are Mechanical Bulls really safe?
Answer: In a word, yes. This is where a little history helps. Back in the 1970's, most mechanical bulls were manufactured by the El
Toro Company. They were used mostly by cowboys to work on their riding skills. Since rodeo cowboys were used to getting
thrown around and landing on the ground, no one worried too much about the speed of the machine, padding on the ground, etc.
Some folks started using them for amusement, and they were in a few bars, most notably Gilly's in Texas. With the movie "Urban
Cowboy" came immense popularity and they were being used from Newport Beach to New York City. The El Toro had two
speeds: off and on. The bull started at full speed and stayed there. There were no air bags like today, maybe a little hay or a few
mattresses or nothing. There were a lot of injuries. The danger of the machine, the lack of a soft landing and intoxicated riders and
even operators were the culprits. Some companies were sued out of existence. Insurance was almost impossible to come by, and
mechanical bulls all but left the entertainment scene. In the 90's several manufacturers came out with hydraulic powered machines
that were totally variable in speed, both in the bucking and spinning motion. They added a better, rounded, padded body design.
They also provided a continuous pressure air bag, like the air bags used by stuntmen in Hollywood. Insurance is now easily
obtainable, though still not cheap, and most operators have never had a client injured. Operator training is now being more formally
provided with some insurance companies requiring written training protocols for all operators. We are in fact working with our
insurance company to develop such guidelines.
What about Insurance?
Answer: The first question you should ask a potential vendor is whether they have insurance. While now quite safe, injury is always
possible. The vendor should carry at least $500,000 per incident and $500,000 aggregate. The underwriter should trace back to a
reputable company. Your company should be added to the policy for the duration of the event as an "additional insured". This
makes their insurance your insurance. Do not try to save a few bucks by going with an uninsured vendor. Require that the vendor
provide you with the additional insured binder before they even set up. Another thing the vendor must have is a waiver. The waiver
is the first line of defense in an injury situation. The waiver must be signed by every participant before riding. Our insurance
provides the waiver we use; in fact they require we use that waiver only. For riders under 18, a parent or legal guardian must sign
for the minor. Most insurance policies are in effect ONLY if the rider has signed a waiver! Of course I hear all the time "Waivers
are not worth the paper they are printed on". After talking to risk managers at several insurance companies, I disagree. The
comment above is something of an urban legend. Waivers are being upheld more and more, even in states like California. In any
event, without clear operator or vendor negligence, it's nothing to worry about as long as the waiver is signed and the vendor
maintains the waiver for the number of years required by law for your state. Obviously, your vendor should provide an operator
that is drug and alcohol free. An operator who says it's okay for them to run a machine and still have a "couple of beers" is a huge
red flag, and cannot be allowed. Your vendor should be able to address all these issues for you, if not, find someone else.
What do they require to run (space, power)?
Answer: Obviously, this will vary depending on the model of the machine. Generally, the most space required is for the air bag;
these range from 16' across (be skeptical if the vendor says theirs is smaller) to 20'. Adding a little space around the edge to walk if
needed plus space for the control station and operator and you should be very comfortable with 25' by 25', but 20' by 23' usually
works. Most Power requirements for hydraulic powered bulls are based on a 10 HP motor. This will draw single-phase 220/30/40v
power from a 60-amp circuit. Most vendors carry multiple connectors/pigtails to connect to the plug pattern at your site. Make sure
the vendor has a pigtail for your plug, hardwiring is a bad idea unless it's done by a liscensed electrician. Blowers for the air bag
usually require 20 amp 110/15/20v. Light and sound systems that many vendors bring along require more power still. Most
NightSpots, Fairgrounds, etc. have this much power and then some so you should be okay. I'm not an electrician, so use this as a
guide and consult your vendor or local inspector.
How much does it cost?
Answer: This of course varies quite a bit. A large corporate party where the operator has significant travel expenses and maybe
lodging for multi-day events may run upwards of $1500 a day or more. While this seems like allot, most operators can make twice
that much per day running at larger state and county fairs. Local events like at a local nightspot may run $500-$1000. With that fee,
however, this should mean that you, the client, keep any moneys generated by charging for rides. This could mean you come close
to breaking even or actually turn a profit. It happens all the time. Many other options are available, and we have several strategies to
provide a true win-win for the client and ourselves.
What's a fair price to pay when buying a bull?
Answer: Again it varies and you don't always get what you pay for. El Toro upgraded their machine to provide a variable buck and
spin and sold them for about $8500. I've heard some vendors are asking upwards of $20,000. Most nice ones have real bull hide
covers. Of course fully variable buck and spin speed is a MUST for safety. Some makers will sell them with a head and other
"upsells". Having a head on the bull increases greatly the risk of injury and frankly most of them just look plain stupid. Machines
with a motor horsepower of 15HP or more may have trouble getting insured in the future, or so I've been told by good sources.
The old El Toro's are out there for anywhere form $500-$10,000. Keep in mind their limitations as discussed above. Those will not
be suited to making any real money as a vendor.
Can I make money with it?
Answer: You can. The big question is how much you're willing to do to make it pay. The nicest way, at least in my opinion, is State
and County Fairs. At a fair you pay a fee for the space of anywhere from a couple hundred to more than a thousand dollars. If it's a
good fair, making several thousand dollars a week or a couple thousand a day is very realistic. But, most of those fairs are taken by
established vendors, you won't just be walking in and making the big bucks. To keep busy you may be going to fairs where you are
required to stay open 12-16 hours a day for four days, and make $1000. Still not bad to start. As time goes on, better fairs open up
and you get a good name and life gets better. Candidly, most amusement vendors, be they Mechanical Bull, Rock Climbing Wall,
etc. make enough in a 6-9 month season that's equivalent to a comfortable middle class lifestyle, once they are established. But
remember you'll be on the road about 25 days a month for those working months, with long days. And don't forget your overhead.
Insurance and living on the road are not cheap, not to mention taxes.
Another option is NightSpots and Corporate parties. While getting into a fair is a matter of having your business and insurance
ducks in a row and calling, the bar and party circuit is sell, sell, sell. Set up, run, tear down, do it again somewhere else tomorrow.
Corporate parties can make good money. Nightspots as a vendor are a little harder. We haven't got the best system ourselves to
make this approach work well (at least for us, but the bars love it!).
How do I get insurance?
Answer: The phone book won't help. Your average insurer still won't touch insuring a Mechanical Bull. This is leftover bad blood
from the old days of the 80's. Still several companies will write policies. Many trace back to Lloyd's of London. But they are not the
only ones. We can help you sort that out. The cost for a 500K/500K policy is between $3,000-$5,000 per year. This is fine for the
NightSpot circuit. Sounds like allot, but this can be recouped quicker than you think if you work at keeping you bull working.
Higher coverages like 1 million/2 million are about 7-10K per year. Some larger State and County Fairs will require these higher
Are they like the real thing?
Answer: As close as you can get. They are used as a training tool for beginning and intermediate bull riders. Once a rider progresses
to a more advanced riding level, the differences begin to outweigh the similarities. First a bull is always moving forward, while a
mechanical bull is making a loop, this allows a rider on a mechanical bull to sit back more than on a real bull. Sitting back on a real
bull is a bad idea! The second difference is the spin, again real bulls even when spinning are always moving forward and are not
spinning on a perfect central pivot. Third, a real bull can make many moves a mechanical bull cannot. Tilting side to side, ("belly
roll") jumping straight up in the air, ("crow hop"), running off, and moving sideways while spinning ("fading") and any combination
in between, make for a completely different feel and set of skills than can be covered with a stationary mechanical bull. Lastly is the
power. Sitting atop 2000lbs of energetic bovine moving in any direction while always being mindful of the possibility of injury or
death puts the real bull in a class by itself that cannot be imitated for amusement. All that said however, mastering a modern
mechanical bull requires many of the same traits such as balance, body control, strength (particularly leg strength!), and technique.
Only about 5-10% of riders can gracefully ride a mechanical bull at anywhere near it's full capacity of buck and spin speed. So if
you are in that category, you may not be ready for the Pro Rodeo yet, but you have accomplished something most people cannot!
Are they safe for children?
Answer: Yes! At Fairs, where attendance is open to all ages, fully 80% of my customers are under 21 and 55-60% are women; in
fact, most first time female riders ride much better than first time men. I often have 3-5 year old riders. The majority of riders who
ride at the top 10% of ability are women and early pre-teens. Especially if you ride horses, you'll ride the mechanical bull easily and
love it. The thing to remember too is that the speed of the buck and spin is totally controlled by the operator. Any competent
operator will make sure you have a challenging but safe ride.
I saw a bull at a Fair and the operator was just flinging everyone off it 2 seconds. Is that the way it works?
Answer: No! I hear this all the time where people have rode other vendor's bulls. Make no mistake, running a mechanical bull is a
business and operating it so slow that anyone can sit on it for 2 minutes (with maybe the exception of toddlers) defeats the purpose,
which is a fun but challenging ride. You should be able, especially as a first time rider, to get on, have some one on staff at least
explain the basics to you, start out slow and build to a challenging level and stay there for a short period. Something like 15-30
seconds seems short, but at a fair speed, you'll be ready to get off after that, and will have gotten the rush and appreciation of at
least a simulation of what riding a bull is like. If you are a first time or novice rider and are started off fast and get dumped, you
should let your operator know that that's not what you paid for. If I dump a first time rider quickly, I just let them back on and try
again. We're in the amusement business and making someone look like a fool or waste their money is not very amusing.
Safe vs. Unsafe Operation:
A safe operator is one who shows up alert, free from drugs/alcohol (any whatsoever!), and is constantly paying exclusive attention
to you, the rider, while you are on the mat or on the bull. The attention part is not always easy, especially at a busy venue: people
waiting to ride always want to have their questions answered, money taken and attention given to them - now. If the area around
the operator looks like a zoo, or if there are people being disruptive, you may want to ride another time or at another event. Often,
especially at NightSpots, I have customers who want to ride double. This is not appropriate under any circumstances. The problem
is two bodies colliding while on the bull or while landing on the mat. Operators who allow this are putting themselves and the venue
at great risk of being successfully sued in the event of injury. This affects all vendors' insurance rates in the long run. Avoid
vendors who allow this practice. Another issue is throwing people off the bull. Most bulls are powerful enough that an operator can
throw a rider clear off the mat. The safest way for a rider to dismount the bull in my experience and more true the larger the rider
is, is for the rider to make a safe and clean fall on the mat, clearing the bull completely. Stopping the bull while the rider is off to
one side makes them try to regain their balance and can cause twisting of ankles, wrists, etc. The exception is toddlers going at
very slow speed, and riders who simply will not let go of the hand hold, where accelerating the machine in this case can just make
the risk of injury worse. The fact that we've provided thousands of rides without even the smallest injury should give some weight
to this approach.
NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, I've included what I think is an honest discussion of the risks of running a bull
and how to minimize them. Truth is, 99.9% of operators have never hurt anyone while operating a modern mechanical
bull. Those that have unsafe practices are only running themselves out of business. Insurance companies do not tolerate
unsafe operators any more than they tolerate repeat drunk drivers. In the event of a lawsuit, it is the vendor's insurance
money and lawyers that have to address the issue. If a 500K policy is not enough, then find a vendor who carries more,
you may pay more for their services, but you'll have peace of mind, and still be providing top quality entertainment at a
good price. The fact is, it's far more likely you'll be sued by having a patron slip on a spilled drink or trip over an
extension cord than from operating a mechanical bull. Every activity in business carries risk, and this is no more risky
than any other modern form of entertainment you may bring to your venue.