Open-Air Bike Tune-Up Session Brings Community Together in Leimert Park
“I know you!” I laughed, pointing at soon-to-be 9th grader Cortez Wright. “You were the reason the [King Day] parade got stopped!”
Back in January, the young man and three of his friends — all experienced cyclists — had taken the opportunity to join the Black Kids on Bikes‘ (BKoB) parade “float.” It was a pretty informal affair, essentially consisting of the group riding in slow circles along the parade route, occasionally doing tricks, and letting community members try out their bikes, if they were so inclined. The larger goal was to put a young and dynamic face on cycling in the South L.A. community, both to change negative stereotypes around cycling and to attract new people to the movement.
And it was all going very well until an overzealous police officer used the helmetless Wright and his friends as an excuse to stop and harass the group, asking if they were supposed to be there. Minutes later, that same officer stepped in front of the Real Rydaz, claiming he had to stop the bikes because of the kind of “chaos” that kids like Wright and his friends were causing.
“I still don’t have a helmet…” Wright nodded.
But he had stayed connected to the Black Kids on Bikes — a group he looked up to — and jumped at the chance to hang out with them when he saw the notice about the free tune-up session in Leimert Park hosted by Ride On! posted on the group’s Facebook page.
It was easy to see why. When I arrived a little after noon yesterday, the plaza was bustling.
Music blared from some speakers set up at the corner by some of the weekend vendors and the DIY co-op was in full swing. Members and their supporters had brought their portable bike stands, tools, and cleaning supplies from home and set up under the shade of the plaza’s enormous fig tree.
As the group grew in size, so did the sense that a community was being built.
Parents came by with their kids’ bikes, people dusting off old or recently-acquired bikes wanted help making them made road-ready, cyclists from groups like Major Motion came by to get a tune-up and talk riding, and folks who had recently taken up cycling stopped by to celebrate the benefits they had gained from starting to ride to work or on Saturday mornings with friends.
My favorite visitor had to be a 7-year-old boy who was riding a bike that was far too big for him. The son of a vendor working in the park, he had found himself with nothing to do but pedal around the plaza while he waited for his dad’s day to finish.
BKoB co-founder Jeremy Swift and some of the other members convinced the boy to let them make some adjustments on the bike.
The boy was reluctant at first, only allowing the seat to be adjusted and preferring his handlebars to be pointing forward, even if it meant that it was awkward to reach them. But after Swift worked with him for a while, teaching him how to do things like oil his chain, the boy let his guard down a little and began to trust that the adults were only trying to help him.
Satisfied his bike was now road-worthy, the little guy turned to Wright — a speedy fixie rider who occasionally races with the Wolfpack Hustle — gave him a very serious reverse nod and issued a challenge.
“You wanna race?”
The session went on til well after 2 p.m., more than an hour longer than it was scheduled for.
But nobody was complaining.
Getting a co-op off the ground in South L.A. is no small feat. Spaces are expensive. Equipment is, too. And South L.A., as a community, has fewer folks of means that can help support such an endeavor or donate time as volunteers. It’s why the co-op the owner of the Watts Cyclery hoped to open never materialized, and why it has taken the East Side Riders — well-known and well-loved as South L.A. cycling superheroes — til now to finally be able to sign a lease on a space. [Join them this Sunday for a fundraiser at their new space at 113th and Central.] And why the Ride On! co-op tune-up sessions will likely continue to be open-air for a while. [Read more on their effort here.]
With the pending arrival of the Metro station and talk of bike hubs being sited at high-demand stations, it would be fantastic to see support for co-ops in communities of need be included in those conversations.
In the meanwhile, you are welcome to join Ride On! and BKoB at the site of the new and beautiful People St Plaza (43rd Pl. and Leimert Park Blvd.). They plan to hold free tune-up sessions every other Sunday or so, starting at 11 a.m. The next session is set for Sunday, July 26, and coincides with the Leimert Park Art Walk (2 p.m.) and the monthly BKoB ride (1 p.m.). So, come support the co-op, get a tune-up, check out the art, go for a ride, or some combination thereof.