In the middle 1990s a fellow named Joe Linton, now 46, came to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College, where he befriended – among others – Janette Sadik-Kahn, who is now doing so much for cycling in New York City. Linton soon found himself immersed in environmental activism. The first Gulf War cinched it, and he gave up his car and became a transportation cyclist. In 1996, he moved into the Eco-Village neighborhood, where he met Ron Milam of the Surface Transportation Policy Project the following year.
Linton knew a lot of the “lone wolf” bicycle activists of the day and felt there should be a better way to promote cycling infrastructure and bike-friendly policies. When Chris Morfas of the California Bicycle Coalition suggested that the city was ripe for a local advocacy group, Linton and Milam jumped on it, publishing their first newsletter before even naming the nascent organization – which became today’s Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
Although Linton frets that car culture still rules at the Los Angeles Department of Traffic, there have been successes, mostly in the establishment of numerous bike lanes and paths – although they have been built in “dribs and drabs,” and there is no true network yet.
Thirty-four-year-old Jimmy Lizama is a paradigmatic Angeleno of the future: fully bilingual, literate, and joyously nuts in the good sense of the word. He was born in Los Angeles and went to school around the corner from the Eco-Village, where he too now lives. He has never owned a car and earns his living as a bike messenger, devoting his free time to getting Angelenos onto bike seats, mostly through the famed Bicycle Kitchen organization.
The Bicycle Kitchen began in the Eco-Village when Jimmy asked if he could repair his bikes in an unused kitchen in one of the buildings. Friends began to hang out with him and Ron Milam suggested he open up to other riders. Within two years, the “cooks,” as they call themselves, began looking for a storefront. They found one, at Heliotrope and Melrose Avenues in East Hollywood – and suddenly Los Angeles had a physical nexus for its burgeoning bike scene.
Now the corner boasts a full-service retail bike shop, Orange 20 Bikes, operated by two former Kitchen volunteers and selling everything from ready-made fixies and BMX bikes to touring, city and Dutch cargo cycles. You can get anything from top-tube pads to Brooks saddles there, and all are welcome and made to feel welcome – anybody, any bike.
Next door to Orange 20 is Pure Luck, a former Korean hostess bar transformed in a vegan pub owned and run by cyclists and garnering excellent reviews from Los Angeles’ puzzled food journalists. For the über hip, there’s also a tattoo parlor and a hookah bar – and for the young and ambitious, Los Angeles City College is on the same block. The corner has earned its own moniker, when another Eco-Village resident once blurted “Hel-Mel,” and the name stuck.
The Kitchen is now a registered non-profit with an educational mission in which Jimmy Z participates with energetic pleasure. He’s currently working on a manual for people wanting to start their own Kitchen, and hopes in the future to begin building bike frames for daily community riders.
The Kitchen has served as an inspiration to other neighborhoods: there are at least two local spinoffs, each also associated with a community-oriented bike shop: Bikerowave on the Westside, across the street from LA Brakeless, and the Bike Oven, two doors down from Josef Bray-Ali’s shop, Flying Pigeon LA.
Bray-Ali sells only transportation and cargo bikes at his shop. And, like Jim Cadenhead and TJ Flexer at Orange 20, who were “cooks” at the Bicycle Kitchen, he began as a volunteer at the Bike Oven, which he founded in emulation of the Kitchen.
Also associated with the Bike Oven is Harv Woien who has been pedaling bicycles and peddling bicycling for nearly 55 years. Woien was born in New York City, obtained his first full-sized bike when he was eleven and said, “I taught myself to ride in the street in traffic, and I have ridden only in the street, in traffic, since.” He keeps a pickup truck in the garage, but drives it so seldom he fills the tank up only twice a year.
Woien’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was twelve, and “As soon as the bike was off the moving van, I was all over this city.” He rode everywhere, night and day, buying his first ten-speed just in time for the 1970s Bike Boom. His experience made him the local “expert” for his colleagues who became interested in bikes and he founded the DWP Bicycle Club, leading rides all over the city.