by Kelley Kim
Riding a bicycle in Los Angeles.
To most, the phrase seems oxymoronic. What sorts of images does that phrase conjure? Beach cruisers along the Venice boardwalk? A lycra-fitted roadie weaving through bumper-to-bumper traffic? Or perhaps an anomaly altogether?
Despite Los Angeles’ reputation as car-centric, cycling in Los Angeles includes these aforementioned characters, but is more prominently defined by a vibrant alternative bike community. Known as Midnight Ridazz, this bike scene is comprised of groups of cyclists who plan and partake in themed nighttime rides throughout Los Angeles. Midnight Ridazz welcomes any and all cyclists, and participants run the gamut from high school students to blue-collar labourers. Midnight Ridazz have transformed Los Angeles’ bike-hostile enclaves into bicycle play places since their first ride in 2006. There are now more than 2000 riders that partake in these 15 to 30 mile-long “parties on wheels”; this carefree, maverick approach to cycling presents a striking juxtaposition to the stresses of driving in Los Angeles traffic.
Cyclists temporarily transform car-related and underused spaces in Los Angeles into bike places. Everyday, perfunctory spaces are transformed by the hyper-kinetic elements of night rides. For instance, a loading zone for freight and manufacturing becomes a dance floor with the inhabitation of Jennygirl’s sound bike and dozens of riders. Wide streets, empty parking structures, and pockets of urban neglect are unexpected blessings for Midnight Ridazz. During a ride, ride organisers signal riders of an upcoming “stop”, often set within pieces of car-related infrastructure. At stops, riders transform parking lots or park amphitheaters into dance floors and even arenas for impromptu dodgeball games amongst riders. Car storage facilities and underused spaces become free evening entertainment venues for the Ridazz.
Cycling in Los Angeles is characterised most prominently as a gregarious, collective, and transformative activity versus its typical typecast as a solitary activity that is solely a means of transport. The rides of the Los Angeles bike scene awaken the dormant creative capacities of spaces in hostile urban environments. On the road, tall bikes—custom-forged and unusually tall bicycles that are typically made by welding together two or more conventional bicycle frames—stick to the front as they need to hold onto street lamps for support and cannot stop at every intersection. Tall bike riders use pieces of static infrastructure that cater to motorised vehicles as sturdy and vital supports. These riders have unlocked the spatial and imaginative potentials in such inanimate, overlooked and banal structures.