jonasgoat

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…

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