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LA - Dorothy Red Outfit
LA - Harv
LA - James Spooner and Pedro Balugo Sharing a Laugh
LA - Jimmy Z
LA - Joe Linton
LA - Michelle Mowery
LA - Overhead Shot of Cyclist
LA - Street Scene Riding up Street
LA - Tandem Venice Beach
By Richard Risemberg
Los Angeles... AKA 70 suburbs in search of a city, aka La La Land, aka the Ground Zero of Carmageddon; it’s where sprawl was born and road rage made its name. The city itself covers nearly 500 square miles and is intertwined with dozens of smaller municipalities, from haughty Beverly Hills to pathetic corners of lost county land that rot away in the sun, forgotten and unmourned. Summer temperatures can run in the 100s for weeks at a time, the brief winter rains can rival monsoons and the banal vastnesses of its coastal plain are regularly cut by 2,000 foot tall mountain ranges. Earthquakes knock down bridges; fires scorch the land and the air, and angry traffic rages along ten-lane streets that would be freeways in any other place.
This is not where you’d expect to find a thriving and remarkably civil urban cycling movement. But here, in fact, it is.
I’ve been riding the streets of Los Angeles off and on for over forty years, and I remember mighty lonely times on the road after the 1970s faded away; when it seemed as though the only other riders willing to face the asphalt jungle were hardcore roadies. Even though the one-two punch of the counterculture and the OPEC oil embargo got a lot of folks on bikes, most of them were sold racing bikes which were not particularly suited for commuting in the city, or heavy, knobby-clad mountain bikes which were even less so. Touring bikes disappeared, road bikes became more oriented towards racing, and practical cycling became an undefined and unsupported category.
Now a perfect synchronicity of factors is working to revive urban cycling in the very city that once scorned it most. Add to that a retail culture that is offering not only touring bikes again, but Eurostyle city bikes, ready-made fixies, and even cargo bikes and bakfietsen, and you can see that Los Angeles is poised to leap into the Bicycle Millennium with a joyous “Wheeee!”
Los Angeles has enthusiastically supported bicycle culture several times in its past. The Los Angeles Wheelmen was founded in 1880, and is still around. The Velo Club La Grange has been sponsoring races as well as training and social rides since 1969, before the Seventies Bike Boom and Major Motion (named for Major Taylor) brought the same orientation to the black community in 1975.
There are dozens of group rides to choose from nearly every week – starting, of course, with Critical Mass (CM). There are at least five CM rides in the Los Angeles area: Mid-Wilshire, Northeast Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, and Pasadena. Small and sporadic “Critical Manners” rides make an occasional appearance.
The Midnight Ridazz make no bones about being out for fun, and they schedule their rides late at night in part to minimize the probabilities of confrontations. The Ridazz’ website stresses their cooperation with the LAPD and the rides are often hilarious meanders across the varied landscapes of Los Angeles. It all started a few years ago with five friends, but with current rides drawing 1,500 to 2,000 riders, they’ve had to split into several groups to make room for all.
More specialized are rides such as the Wolfpack Hustle, fast cross-town alley cats that may cover thirty miles or more or thematic rides, such as Vélo Rétro’s Rose Bowl Vintage Ride. The Rose Bowl ride has been drawing a coterie of collectors, ex-racers and just plain folks for at least ten years (any bike is allowed, despite its name); riders gather on the first Sunday of each month to gawk at Masis, Colnagos, sparkling Peugeots, and the occasional Singer or Herse, as well as modern-day classics, before following the legendary Chuck Schmidt along tranquil, tree-shaded lanes to finish with an uphill sprint to be first in line at the Beantown coffee house in Sierra Madre. In spite of the impressive abilities of many of the regulars, “No rider left behind” is this ride’s motto.
Even politicians are getting into the act, with councilmember Tom LaBonge often leading constituents on easy-paced rides of discovery in the varied neighborhoods of Los Angeles – continuing a practice his friend Richard Riordan established when he was mayor several terms back. These rides are a boon to new riders trying to find their way for the first time through this vast and daunting city on a bicycle.
The last ten years have been rich ones for bicycling outreach and advocacy in this city. And one quiet little intentional community, the Los Angeles Eco-Village, has been a significant influence on the movement – one of the side effects of its urban-sustainability program.