Riding the Roads

Commuting in a city like L.A. isn't exactly everyone's cup of Jumba. As if dealing with the infinite stretch of traffic wasn't fun enough, now drivers have to add bicyclists to their list of street favorites. The recent surge in recreational cycling has many drivers dreading the mounting flocks that seem intent on taking over the city streets. "I don't understand how they can feel comfortable riding 50-pound steel skeletons next to 3,000 pounds of aluminum rushing by at 65 miles per hour," said Lynn Harris of Burbank, where she claims bicyclists have quadrupled in number within the last few months. But with the rising environmental concerns, maybe we should gain some perspective and cut the bikers some slack.

The greatest misconception having to do with recreational cyclists is that they're out to make some lofty anti-automobile statement. In truth, most of them just want the city to adopt some biker-friendly routes and regulations, making it a safe place to enjoy the breeze and put two-wheelers to use. The now popular local groups like the L.A. Critical Mass, Bike Coalition and Midnight Ridazz have been trying to carry the message across for years, to very little avail. Now they just focus on trying to make the best of it by coordinating fun rides through town.

"I love riding in the night and feeling my nose drip because it's cold and I'm sweating and working at my pedals and there are a bunch of different interesting people all around me. It reminds me of 'Fight Club.' Everyone is a different kind of person, doing different things in their lives and then we all meet and bike together," says Julia Dancyger, a recreational cyclist who's joined the ranks of Midnight Ridazz and other neighborhood troops on many occasions.

Although fuel-guzzling car enthusiasts may call the Midnight Ridazz a "party on wheels," the proud group of bicyclists boasts over 13,000 members and organizes monthly events that are unlike any other social blend. They start off at a designated meeting spot and map out routes and rest stops where riders have a chance to mingle and enjoy each other's company. Complete with eccentric apparel and imaginative themes like "Pillow Fight," "Pier Pressure" and something involving vegan bananas, riders leave jealous cars to their stop-and-go and furnish commuting with a gutsy make-over.
One of the most recent of these was a gathering called "The Formal Ride: Back 2 Prom," in which over 200 riders dressed up in savvy suits and elegant gowns and met up at "Crank Mob Park" to set-off on a night of High School reminiscence with a pedal twist. "This was the first ride where nobody really wanted to leave the first spot, and everyone was enjoying just hanging out," said SMC's own biochemistry major and avid bicycle racer Junu Kang. The second Friday of September was an exciting one for riders as it was also hosting the Midnight Ridazz 100th gathering, an event that cyclist Graham Immel promised would be a blast.

All fun aside, we all know how unnerving it can be to see a bicyclist riding what seems like two inches from speeding cars, wobbling from side to side; sadly, they have very little alternative.

For determined locals like Syoma Liberman, bicycling isn't just for recreational purposes: "This is just how I (and many others) live. I don't throw on spandex and go out to do some miles; I ride my bike cause that's how I get around and that's how I've always done it." Given its countless environmental and health benefits, this mode of transport should be supported rather than shunned and ignored, especially given freedom of choice-an idea that held meaning at some point in history.

Despite the size of L.A., Liberman and many like him have managed fairly well between bikes and subways until recently. The growing popularity of groups like Midnight Ridazz has dished out lots of anger and negative consequences for many cyclists. With obvious dangers aside, many of them feel harshly targeted by everyone from CVS employees to the police. "Overall, I've talked to LAPD, Beverly Hills PD, and Culver City PD, and after giving them the low-down, they just wanted to make sure I had the crowd in control," said Kang regarding Friday's Prom event, which was mostly a success despite the many unwarranted searches and tickets issued.

It goes without saying that these mass cyclist gatherings have resulted in several accidents, arrests, and enraged drivers who could use a break from the cruel city streets as it were.

It's time that our city officials took notice and did something about making Los Angeles more biker-friendly.