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CicLAvia South East: Building a Movement Ride by Ride

Riders pause at the Watts Towers for a group photo (photo: sahra).

"Oh yeah, I just saw maybe 50 or 60 riders go by. Yeah, it was pretty cool." said a security guard at Plaza Mexico.

"I think there were 500 or 600 bikers," said a flower vendor, smiling. "There were a lot!"

In order to ask people along the route what they thought of seeing a large group of cyclists go by and of the idea of a CicLAvia in the area, I had foregone joining the CicLAvia South East group at the start of the ride. A fact that had not gone unnoticed by the youth of Los Ryderz.

"Nice of you to make it," teased Troy with a smile when I met up with riders at the halfway point.

"You were late!" shouted Rosie.

I explained I was trying to write a story that went beyond, "On the seventh day, people rode their bicycles. And it was good."

They nodded but looked a little skeptical. They seemed worried I wouldn't be taking enough photos. I am one of those upon whose shoulders the job of documenting our South L.A. family of riders has unofficially fallen, as I always have my camera in hand.

And it's true, I didn't shoot much this time around (sorry, guys). But I have an excuse: I was too busy cataloging the growth of a movement.

Brothers Benito and Rogelio relax at the WLCAC after the ride (photo: sahra).

Key to any movement are repeat offenders: those that show up again and again, and become more dedicated with each event.

We certainly had that.

Although this event was about half the size of the first, most of the faces were familiar. Many echoed the sentiments of brothers Benito and Rogelio, who live in Huntington Park and professed a genuine interest in seeing a CicLAvia come to the South East. As more of a recreational cyclist than a bike commuter, Benito said he was hungry for more recreational riding opportunities in the area. He and his brother both kept up with CicLAvia happenings and they were thrilled to hear there was going to be a Santa Monica event.

"There will be a lot of riders for that, surely" said Benito in Spanish. "That will be a great event!"

As far as many riders were concerned, the participation of Congresswoman Laura Richardson -- who told the crowd they could call her "Lolo" -- also contributed to the forward momentum of the movement. Even though she was only able to ride about half of the route with the group, her willingness to join in (and the participation of South Gate Mayor Bill De Witt at the previous ride) left many optimistic that public officials would get behind them when the time came to make CicLAvia South East a reality.

Important as these elements are, some of my favorite moments involved seeing the potential for sustainability of the movement in the relationships that participating cycling groups were busy building with each other.

In some cases, the relationships were more social.

4130 BMX Club riders Richard, Bobby, and Miguel, for example, had stuck around to entertain kids from the Eastside Riders (ESR). After realizing that they had been on some of the same group rides as Fred Buggs of the ESR, they spent the next hour comparing notes on their personal histories, riding in South L.A., how the area has changed over time, and what has to happen for a CicLAvia South East to become a reality.

Richard Aguayo performs some tricks for kids of the ESR at the WLCAC in Watts (photo: sahra).

In other cases, the relationships forged were more substantial.

When Mayra Aguilar, a CicLAvia South East organizer, mentioned she wanted to plan a feeder ride to CicLAvia in October, I pulled the ESR's John Jones III over for his thoughts on the subject. He and Mayra already knew each other -- John had been instrumental in convincing "Lolo" to join us and the ESR had helped host the ride. But she hadn't known that the ESR had successfully led a fun feeder ride from the WLCAC to the South Hub of the CicLAvia route in April.

As they continued to talk, the conversation turned to the larger challenge of funding their efforts. Like most of the groups operating in wider South L.A., they seek to do more for the community than just host a ride from point A to point B. But each's activities are limited by the fact that they are all volunteers and that most of the funds for their efforts come out of their own pockets. Having each other to fall back on for support, expertise, and assistance with networking makes it easier for each to move their objectives forward. Without the aid of the Eastside Riders and Los Ryderz, said Mayra, the South East group would not have been able to reach out to the community so easily. They just didn't have the resources.

All that said, perhaps the most powerful source of sustainability for the movement can be found in the stories of the youth that ride with some of the local groups.

As we rolled along, Nicolas Ruiz from Los Ryderz, told me that he credits being out on the bike and participating in YO Watts' program for giving him the confidence to go to college. That may sound strange to some, but when you're a burly, tatted-up kid who had been running with the wrong crowd since middle school, it isn't always easy to believe that you can become something else. The positive feedback you get from the community and other riders can help you see yourself differently than you did before, and make you aware that you have more choices than you thought you did.

Seeing the transformational impact of cycling and of being out in their communities on young riders is, for me, the best part of belonging to the South L.A. family. It is also what makes me optimistic that the South East movement has some serious legs.

To find out more or join the movement to bring CicLAvia to the South East, check out their facebook page here.

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