They don’t look like they’re on their way to church, I thought as I eyed up the handful of serious-looking young men lined up outside a corner liquor store.
I was headed to Watts to meet up with the feeder ride led by the East Side Riders. But I was running a little behind because I had been stopping people I spotted on bikes to talk to them about CicLAvia.
Prior to the event in April, there had been a lot of buzz on the airwaves about it and flyers seemed to be everywhere. This time around, the build-up seems to have been a little lower-key, and I hadn’t seen much in the way of outreach around South L.A.
I decided to try to recruit to the young men.
“Do you all know about CicLAvia?” I asked.
Arms crossed, they eyed me warily.
“Ciclo who?” one finally asked.
I explained it was a 9-mile long street festival that would be starting soon. It was something to see 100,000 people out on their bikes. Fun, too.
“It starts up at Exposition Park — that’s not too far from here,” I said. “You’ve all got bikes. You should check it out.”
They gave each other the “Hmm-that-sounds-kind-of-cool” eyebrows.
“I have to run,” I said. “I’m late getting to Watts to meet friends. Maybe we’ll see you there…”
“Will everyone else there look like you?” asked one of the guys as he eyed me up.
Well, you did stop at a liquor store at 9 a.m., I said to myself.
“Sure,” I said as I pedaled off. “It will be ladies-on-bikes galore.”
“Ciclo who?” turned out to be a common response from those I stopped as I rode south.
Most surprising was that many of those unaware of the event lived just on the other side of the 110 Freeway from the South Hub. Two teens on bikes out for a ride on Hill and 36th Pl. had never heard of CicLAvia. A father on his way to Exposition Park with his young son had also not heard about the event.
“We usually go to Exposition Park so he can ride around safely in the parking lots,” he said pointing at his helmeted son. “This event sounds interesting. Thanks for telling us.”
All that stopping and evangelizing meant that I managed to miss the feeder ride. I got to about 92nd and Central before I got the text from a friend that they were already up on 43rd.
I finally caught up with a few of them in the middle of the street at the South Hub just as a dog parade made its way across Figueroa.
They had staked out a spot in the middle of the street because Richard Aguayo, a BMXer, was teaching the East Side Riders’ Fred Buggs Jr. how to do tricks. The two had met at the last CicLAvia South East Ride, and Fred had watched Richard and his friends playing around on their BMX bikes after the ride.
It made Richard proud to see that he had inspired someone take up something new and that he could help teach him new skills, he said. Growing up in Huntington Park, he hadn’t seen people like him out on BMX bikes. Or on any bike, for that matter. There was nowhere for kids to ride or learn in his neighborhood. And the only people he ever saw on TV riding BMX bikes were white. That experience is part of his motivation for being such a regular presence at the CicLAvia South East events — he’d like to see more facilities available for kids in that area.
The South L.A. Hub turned out to be the huggiest part of my day.
I picked up maps from (and hugged) the folks behind RideSouthLA and plotted strategies with them and the East Side Riders for upcoming rides (Nov. 4th and 11th), hugged Trina Greene from BHC SLA for her contribution to organizing the hub’s activities, got informed about Cornerstone Theater Company‘s upcoming production of Seed, admired the new designs of the girls’ Sisterhood shirts (and hugged) Los Ryderz, and hugged the heck out of one of the Ryderz that had recently been hospitalized with a heart condition but who I was thrilled to see had managed to make the ride up from Watts anyways.
Refreshed by so many hugs so early in the morning, rolling out and heading north felt even more fantastic.
The long, wide stretch of S. Figueroa meant that there was plenty of room to roll at your own pace and keep track of your party.
Downtown was another story entirely.
Fun as it is to see so many folks on bikes and to be squeezed through corridors of high rises, it can prove to be a little too much for some.
I lost track of Stalin Medina, owner of the Watts Cyclery. We had been talking about our plans for the co-op at his shop. But I stopped to take a couple of photos, and that was the last I saw of him until Boyle Heights.
He had felt claustrophobic, he said, and preferred to make his way to the Fourth St. bridge via side streets.
I knew where he was coming from.
At a few places downtown, it had taken me three or four cycles of red lights to make it through an intersection. Most people took the delays in stride. But being packed into a street like sardines on wheels can be a little overwhelming, especially if you have small children, are pulling a pet along, are new to riding, or simply don’t do well in crowds.
So, when Stalin and I headed for Macarthur Park, we took a detour through the Second Street tunnel and met up again with the route on 7th St., just west of downtown. It made for a much more pleasant (and speedier) ride over. But, I’ll admit, I felt a little like I had cheated somehow. Like a marathoner that takes a shortcut during the race and jumps out of the bushes ahead of everyone else at the finish line.
Besides the fact that CicLAvia brings out such a diverse mix of Angelenos, the thing I enjoyed seeing most was how many kids and families were out riding.
Stalin agreed, saying he felt good knowing that they would grow up thinking events like CicLAvia were normal, and would continue to demand more of them.
In some cases, however, the event was a little too exciting for kids.
At a bathroom pit stop near Mariachi Plaza, I asked a woman fanning herself vigorously in the heat why she had one bike piled on top of another. It was a four-year old boy’s bike she said, pointing to her neighbor’s child. He had managed to grab his bike and tag along behind older friends, apparently without letting his mother know. He unfortunately didn’t make it very far before getting tuckered out. His friends, kids themselves, didn’t notice and left him behind in the street. The woman’s daughter had recognized him, so they piled his bike on hers and were walking him back home.
We closed the day out back at the South Hub, enjoying the sounds of Sista Neish and Las Cafeteras. They played well beyond the official end of CicLAvia, providing a great soundtrack for those tearing down tents after working hard to make the event a success for all of us who showed up to enjoy it.
Thanks to all the volunteers, community organizers, traffic enforcers, police, performers, and clean-up crews that put in long hours to make the day safe and fun for all 100,000 of us (or however many of us there were).