Archive for December 2nd, 2010|Daily archive page

fast friday

In all about the ride, los angelenos, stateside, travelling on December 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm

The boys at Orange 20, tell me about the fast Friday heat that is happening out at a velodrome in Encino. After listening to their instructions about the best way to get there. Writing them down obviously. On the Sunday that it happens I’m grabbing the metro and a bus, which might as well be a metro, for all of its straight line no interaction with other road users course. I shove my bike into the rack on front and sit watching the destinations tick away.

I’ve got to say I do love the bike racks on the front of the buses here. LA is a spread out kinda town, and the buses make it slightly more manageable, for those journeys that are too fucking far you can just dump the bike on the front of the bus and sit back and let the bus take you there. Only problem is that you can only fit three bikes on the racks.

After getting off the bus at my stop, its a leisurely roll through the park, over a  bridge, and then along a dusty track until I get to the velodrome, down a road and behind some fencing. As I roll up and have a quick chat with the organisers a couple of guys from DVS, its pretty quiet. I tell them who I am and they fill me in on whats happening, all the qualifying rounds around the country, leading to one big shootout, for a big amount of cash.

I sit down in the stands take off my shoes and watch the riders roll in, in dribs and drabs. There are some of the guys from Orange 20 so I walk over to the center of the velodrome and have a quick chat with them. Its all very laid back and west coast, seemingly no stress or pressure at all. Even thought there’s a large cash prize at the end for the winner. Whats interesting is the small group of fixed/freestyle riders who are going to be involved in a competition at the same time as the racing which brings together two steadfastly different “scenes” which I’m thinking even as I watch it wouldn’t happen over in london, just a bit too much generational divide to overcome maybe.

My thoughts about the laidback nature of the competition are buried as more riders turn up and their track weaponry unveiled and tweaked for the coming races. Stiff alu dolans, and tubular wheelsets mounted, gearings swapped over and game faces applied. It got serious in a hurry. And as the races start, there are some seriously quick people on track, the rumble of a group of riders flashing past is intoxicating and I’m smiling from ear to ear. This reminds me that I have a track bike for a reason and come next summer I’m going to be doing the same as these boys at Herne Hill whenever I can. I’m going to grit my teeth get down on the drops and push as hard as I can, jump onto a man’s wheel and let him pull me round even as the velocity ratchets up, try and keep pace, until I make that break for the line.

But for now I watch these californians race, the exertion etched in their faces as they slowly spin round on the wind down, cheats heaving, sweat dripping, all raced out, until the next heat, semi, final.

I had a good time, and came out of it with a free t-shirt and a bit of track fix, which I didn’t think I’d get since I’d be missing the track days back home, but it was nice to see how the other side race and compete, even if I couldn’t get on the track and race with them.

critical mass west coast style

In all about the ride, los angelenos, travelling, west coast on December 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm

People are starting to arrive, the trix boys are first, pulling wheelies and keo spins, the crowd as it grows seems to me to be defiantly young. Fixed, single speed is for the young, the flexible, most of the kids are rocking conversions with one piece cranks and rattlecan paintjobs, or a sprawl of stickers. More people come, rocking gears, old school racers, new school racers, girls on mountain bikes. There’s a man with a booming voice from channel 4 news whose interviewing cyclists and the police. He’s older, grey hair, a badly fitting suit, and a female cameraman whose eyes dart over the crowd looking for cutaways and nice shots to fill the spaces of the interviews.

There aren’t many of us when Newsman arrives and he asks me for an interview, I politely decline, then change my mind, as much as I don’t like being in front of camera, having worked in TV for as long as I have, I’m generally not down with being edited and shortened and soundbites cut out of longer responses. But what the hey, I’m on the otherside of the world, whose going to see it that I know. So I answer his fairly mundane questions, the sort of questions that non cyclists generally ask, about danger and risk, and why you want to ride in the first place. All I’m trying to tell him, that riding a bike brings me joy, and I wouldn’t be taking a bike around the world with me if I didn’t. And in all honesty the traffic in LA isn’t that bad, the roads, now thats another matter, but the traffic, nah..

Did I not tell you about the police this is the first mass with police outriders, there are fifteen/twenty of them standing waiting for the mass to start. More people turn up, on bikeboom, a local cycling website, the ride was down as between 6-8, and I mistakenly thought that was the time of the ride, but as I sit here and more and more cyclists appear I realise that actually this is the meet window and the ride will start after 8.

Listening to conversations it seems that people are expecting upwards of two hundred people, do we get that many at mass in London? More/less. The mass isn’t for me in London, to slow, too many people, too much anti car, eco rhetoric. So many different ideologies stuffed into the bulging sock that is critical mass, a bike ride to raise the profile of cycling, which nowadays only seems to be there to provide group dutch courage to those who have issues with cars and drivers and an arena to vent spleen on them.

My attention is diverted by a chubby red headed policeman having a go on a tall bike, cheers and whistles ring out. After riding round in a stately circle he safely dismounts.

I take a quick walk round, the amount of people feels like four hundred to five hundred. As we ride we stretch down the long boulevards taking up the road to the horizon. With this many people I thought the pace would be slow, but it’s not, it’s consistently swift, think a bridges ride without the sprints from every light or over the bridges, it’s nice I can stretch the legs, feel like I’m putting in the miles, just sitting in the saddle turning the pedals, pushing uphill, spinning downhill.

The rides full of all sorts of bikes, there’s a couple with a full suspension tandem mountain bike. Lots of fixed conversions, a dolan track champion, a tt lo pro, some kids on bikes a size or two too big for them, seatpost pushed all the way down and their crotch is still banging the top tube when they get out of the saddle to hoof it. The group is big and the police provide a loud and efficient outriding unit, blocking off traffic and allowing us to jump reds with impunity. But the young riders are restless, constantly crossing into oncoming traffic, rushing the kerb and skidding like a babies nappy. The level of group riding competence and awareness is all over the shop and i’m just looking out for number one, keeping my mouth closed and my eyes open.

There are several accidents which I don’t see, but I do see the aftermath, bodies lying on the floor, bikes twisted and bent. The most serious is supposedly the result of a hit and run. I rubberneck as the train passes by and then I’m heading off to some new part of Los Angeles. We ride far and wide, through Beverly hills, passing big shiny bright malls, bars with the friday night crowd outside dressed up as if they were going to a wedding. Everywhere we go, whoops and yells follow, horns are tooted and ulations chorus from throats, hands raised high. For tonight we are superstars, as we roll down Hollywood boulevard, the flashes going off are capturing our image, rather than the latest starlet, shouts of “what is this? What are you doing?” are flung at us. But no one replies “having fun” for that is what we are doing, riding our bikes, a cycling anaconda, weaving left and right, buoyed with the joy of cycling with others, even if most of them are a danger to themselves and anyone else around them.

We stop at a big park, the grove i think it’s called, the first rest stop of the night, we are splayed across two sidewalks, the road and the parkland verges. Drivers lean on their horns in annoyance as the police hold them back.

As we ride, I squeeze myself to the front, making up ground on those who choose our course. Not wanting to be stranded in a splinter group at the back and having to figure out exactly where I am after the disorientating journey i’ve been on. So I stick doggedly with the front, threading myself through the riders around me, the talkers and the skidders, the sprinters and the no handed merchants. We pass streets that I know and have ridden down, but these roads look different, I am at strange ends of them, in different parts of town, western av, Melrose, wilshire, hollywood.

The police disappear for a while, and we are left free to choose our own course with no police interference, it seems there is some jurisdictional politics going on and the police won’t follow us into this part of town. I have a quick chat with a young guy on a tall bike, who rides serenely alongside me, yelling at others in front of him as the river of bikes becomes an accordion being pushed together, as everytime we slow and come to a halt he has to make preparations to leap down. I ride with an older english pilot, in his fifties, who carries a loud hailer and uses the crispness of his english accent to yell “wanker” at some of the younger riders. He is witty and articulate and we share the road for a pace before a sprint starts and there is confusion over which way we should be going, the peloton splits and loudhailer manb goes straight ahead and I plunge to my left to head with the main pack.

We roll on and on through the night and I wonder whether it will ever stop, whether the ride continues till its last rider pedalling. But eventually we pull over into a carpark of a strip mall in a part of town that i recognise. And I bail, because I can see this ride going on for a long time and my map only stretches so far…


In los angelenos, stateside, travelling on December 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm

So after getting a phone call from the good people at swrve, I head to downtown LA to go and meet the people behind the cycling clothes that I enjoy wearing so much. Cycling clothes that don’t make me seem too much of a cyclist when off the bike, but when on the bike make it a pleasure to ride, just enough pockets in the right places, and cut just so, to make it a pleasure to ride in. And when the temperature dips as it has now in ye olde london town, and the snow starts to fall, my milwaukee hoodie keeps me toasty and warm, and dry, well dry enough until I wash it another couple of times to get back the water repellence it used to have…

Can you tell I’m a fan.

Downtown LA despite the skyscrapers, plethora of hotels and rooftop bars, feels distinctly deserted, and on street level the amount of bodegas, discount stores and multitude of boarded up shopfronts give it an air of dilapidation and destitution, it reminds me of Dalston and Hackney before the creeping gentrification took hold, when no one with any sense used to rock through there apart from the ones that lived there. But as I look around downtown la, I’m not sure where the people live here…

After a couple of wrong turns and a leisurely roll through town, I finally find the building their based in, about twelve, maybe fourteen storeys high, lovely old fifties/sixties thing, cornices, and pale brickwork around the windows, roll the bike into the lobby, let the large lift take me upstairs and then out along a corridor to their offices.

When the door is opened and I’m invited in by Matt, I’m surprised as I lay my bike down alongside his commuter that their office/workspace is also their workshop, one side of the large open space, which is divided by a run of shelving units which hold boxes and boxes of clothes, all labelled by design and size, opens out into a factory space where a run of sewing machines and fabric lie waiting for the staff to come in and start producing the goods.

 Matt tells me later that this is great since they can prototype clothes quickly, and if changes are required can turn those changes into finished clothes almost immediately. It also means that anyone in the who knows them can get their clothes customised within a day or two. I take this on board and when at the end of my visit I sort through their assembled clothing ranges – you didn’t think I would come all this way and not buy anything did you? – I take them up on their offer and have some of them tailored more exactly to me.

I spend a pleasant couple of hours in the company of Matt and Muriel as Matt talks me through the thinking behind Swrve and I just talk about cycling, travelling, riding apparel and the tour de france. Its lovely to know that the people who make the cycling clothes that I love to wear are as passionate about cycling as I am, and just want to make the best, most comfortable product out there. It is also good that the cosrt of said product doesn’t move past a point that most cyclists are comfortable paying.

Being in Swrve’s offices and talking to Matt about cycling, decisions to cycle, cycling heroes, cycling apparel, cycling in la, cycling, cycling, cycling, reminded me how much I do love cyclists, and made the sticker that I have on my rear wheel make me smile even more “everyone on two wheels is a friend”  because we know what its like to be the fragile one on the road, the exhiliaration of riding hard along anb emnpty road, or, dicing with traffic as it crawls along, and we fly past. The connection between yourself and that inanimate machine that you power and how in that connection, it becomes more than the sum of its parts, how in the end if you ride enough, you merge, and cycling becomes an extension of movement, as easy and unconscious as walking, talking, breathing, eating. 

So I bid my fare thee wells to Matt and Muriel and got just a little bit lost and out of breath as the darkness approached trying to make my way back uptown to west hollywood. Knowing that soon  I would have some more Swrve apparel to roll around town in..

US Site

UK Site