While certainly I’m a long-winded advocate for cycling as an alternate commute option, it could be argued that I come up short in practicing what I preach… and I’m nowhere near as knee deep in the bike culture as I could or should be. That changed some when I got better acquainted with the Bicycle Kitchen last summer and undertook an abandoned bike restoration project (previously written about here and here).
But in the time since that connection was established I’ve managed to avoid the Kitchen’s keystone Midnight Ridazz event. Either by lethargy, trepidation or conflicts of schedule I’ve put off participating in the monthly group ride, which basically mashes up elements of a mobile hipster hangout with the take-over-the-streets aspects of a Critical Mass ride. But last night I damned the apathy and fully sped ahead over to the event’s staging area in the Pioneer Chicken parking lot on Echo Park Boulevard a block north of Sunset.
Arriving about 15 minutes before the 10 p.m. start time I found well over a hundred cyclists already assembled on every imaginable type of bike and dozens more arriving as the minutes ticked off. Many embraced the promoted pool/beach party theme by costuming themselves in snorkles, masks, flotation devices. One guy cruised around with a giant shark on his back and still another, donned a furry rabbit head, goggles, waterwings and a beachball as if it were nothing new. One gal removed her tee to bike in just a bikini top despite the chilly temps. To say the mood was festive and high-spirited would be an understatement, in large part fueled by the consumption of many a Tall Boy from brown paper bags. In short order, I was handed a coveted spoke card, with the route listed on the back: Sunset to La Brea to Hollywood to Normandie, ending at the dive bar at Fountain and Normandie. That was shorter than I’d expected. But what I hadn’t expected was how fun, invigorating, empowering and at times flat-out insane the journey would be — even a short one such as this.
From a lifetime spent biking the streets of Los Angeles, there’s always that “swimming with sharks” mentality one must assume when sharing the road with all the four-wheeled tonnage that hogs the asphalt so begrudgingly and proprietarily. So to be among a mass of 300-plus riders and have that imbalance so indisputably reversed was empowering to say the least. Instead of hugging the curb lane, all these rowdy riders just took over, asserted our rights and claimed ownership of the whoe fucking road.
Most brash and brazen of all was the coordination of it. Lead riders would position themselves in front of cars at intersections whether we had the green light or not — hell sometimes with police units in the midst of the snarling traffic — and just block their progress until all of us had made it across. It was like we shocked and awed Hollywood into submission for those few minutes with our antics and enthusiasm, leaving in our wake drivers and passengers and pedestrians wondering what the hell just happened.
Surprisingly the reception we got was predominately positive. A street preacher and his crew near the Florentine Gardens told us that Jesus loved us, and drivers often would honk and flash peace signs or thumbs-ups. Inevitably we zipped by the incredulous and curious who pitched questions from inside their vehicles or outside on the sidewalk. Someone near Sunset and La Brea yelled, “What are you riding for?” “For fun!” I hollered back. “Where are you going?” “Everywhere!” “Are you a bicycle club?” “We are the Midnight Ridazz!”
And away we went into the night.