“Allez, Allez, Allez!” [pronounced: ah-lee].
French for “go, go, go” is quite the juxtaposition to the past 15 months, which seems to have been all about “stop, stop, stop.” This chant is commonly heard on the sidelines of the Tour de France and other professional cycling races as fans cheer on their favorite cycling teams and athletes. Having never been to a professional race and prior to this year, would always click through cycling events whenever they were on the TV, I never thought that I would be here, fresh off of a 35 mile bike ride, watching my favorite cycling YouTube videos, all while writing an article about bicycling. Bikes have always played a role in my life, but I never reflected on how big of an impact they have had until 2020 and the lockdown occurred. I think this is a silver lining that 2020 has bestowed upon us. It has given most of us an opportunity to adapt and adjust to adverse situations and either find new passions or reflect on and rekindle old ones.
As the youngest child of stingy parents, I learned how to first ride a bike from my brother on his hand-me-down Huffy bike. The first bike that I could call my own was bought with my own money, raised from selling apricots on the corner of the local elementary school during the summer (like I said, stingy parents). It was a blue Magma mountain bike with full front and rear suspension, which I decided to retrofit with some BMX handles to more closely match my friends, who all rode cool BMX bikes.
Me having my own Frankenstein of a bike allowed me to get myself places on my own accord. Being a child of parents who both worked full time, summer break meant being home alone with my brother and not having the convenience of someone to drive us around. Growing up in the suburbs of Orange County, my bike was my passport. It not only served as access to friends' houses, but to new experiences and to freedom without the need to rely on my parents. I think that at elementary to middle school age, bikes offer kids a sort of freedom to explore that is like nothing else. Take Tyler Kim (age 9) for example.
Growing up in downtown LA, there were not many safe spaces for Tyler to learn how to ride a bike. Along with his father and mother’s help, Tyler was able to head up to the solitude of local Big Bear mountain and learn how to ride a bike in the parking lot, as they were not in operation due to the lockdowns. Steve, Tyler’s dad, tells me that “...school was remote and [there was] no more basketball. We needed an outlet for his energy... It was a perfect time to teach him to ride a bike. We had all the free time, no cars, and all the empty space.“ I’ve been told that he’s progressed over the past several months, and has been looking to tackle more complex styles of riding, gravitating towards BMX and mountain biking.
He’s said that one of his favorite parts about riding bikes is riding out in nature. While in Big Bear after an encounter with a deer, Tyler said, “Nature is so cool! Biking is cool because we would have never seen the deer if we were walking.” Similar to Tyler and his family, I’ve seen many families with kids out on the trails over the past year and it has been great seeing the youth having an outlet to get in some exercise and explore their surroundings, whether it be in nature, the city, or the suburbs.
The next bike I used was my dad’s road bike in high school. It was some off-brand Costco bike, but I loved it. Being 16-18 years of age without a car and without a brother to drive me (he was off enjoying college), I was on my own to get to and from school and around town. That road bike was once again a passport to freedom. While being a little older and somewhat fit, I could now survive a ride to the surrounding cities and get to my high school friend’s houses without needing someone to drive me. It got me to soccer practice, to parties, weekend lunch with friends, the beach, everywhere. Even though it was not mine, I owe my very limited high school social life to that bike. Then came 2009, graduation, college, and my next bike, the fixie.
Fixed riding in college was equally about conforming to being cool as well as providing transportation to me who, you guessed it, still didn’t have a car. I feel like bikes and the college experience go hand in hand. I bet that for those old enough to have experienced a college campus, you remember the racks outside of lecture halls and libraries littered with locked up bikes (unlocked and laying on the ground if we’re talking about UCSB's campus). It was an escape for me, and being at UCI, I was able to ride my bike to Newport to hangout with friends, or to the Barranca Amtrak train station, which became my main means of access to LA from Irvine. Many college kids use bikes to get around campus while others embrace biking as a hobby and lifestyle. Dylan Nishi (age 22) is a fixie purist through and through. As Dylan tells it, “In Japan, there is a huge track bike scene where all the bikes are steel and brakeless..[because] on a track there isn’t much need to stop. Within the past decade, there has been a huge trend of people taking these same Japanese made steel bike frames to the streets of America’s metropolitan cities. Riding “fixed gear” on the city streets requires a high level of alertness as well as a certain amount of patience. To compensate for the lack of stopping, a fixed gear rider must keep with the flow of the cars and carefully analyze the road for obstacles in order to avoid any collisions. In the past, my dad used to compete in Keirin track races in Japan and although I did not spend much time getting close with him in my upbringing, I feel as if riding fixed gear on the streets of LA or SF connect me to him in a certain way-like I was meant to be on a track bike. I feel as if my Japanese and American identities intersect through cycling and shape part of the reason why I love mainly riding fixed-gear.”
After college, I got a job, a car, hung up my fixie, and as LA culture would dictate, became complacent with driving everywhere. My addiction to driving went on for years. It was not until the pandemic hit and lockdown occurred that I decided to get back on the fixie for exercise. Like Tyler and Dylan, I needed an outlet for my excess energy and needed a way to connect back to the city that I have been living in. Running had been nice, but I found that running the same areas within a 3 mile radius around my house became mundane. I wanted to explore more, explore further. Riding my fixed gear bike allowed me to go a little further. I started with 10-20 mile rides around downtown LA, Griffith Park, and the LA river. Then the rides started getting longer with 30-50 mile rides that took me all the way to the west side, the South Bay, and mid-city areas of LA. Still I wanted to go further and climb higher, so I took the plunge earlier this year and got myself a road/cyclocross bike with gears.
Since then, I’ve been able to ride up to over 80 miles exploring more of LA’s villages and cities from the Pacific Palisades and Palos Verdes to Long Beach, Inglewood, Glendale, and many more. So far, it has been a wonderful experience and really feels like I am a tourist in a city I have resided in for over a decade. Most of all, I am enjoying the greater LA biking community. Waving to fellow cyclists on my weekend rides and attending group rides as things open back up and exploring coffee shops where I can meet other cyclists has been amazing. The bicycling community and new adventures has really driven this passion to heights and I am constantly learning new things about myself and various communities.
Whether you learned to ride yesterday or have been riding for decades, own a beach cruiser, BMX, fixed gear, road or recumbent bike, are 10 or 60, I hope to inspire you to get out and ride. Whether it’s a utilitarian commute or just for enjoyment, I think biking is a great way to experience a new perspective of common places in our lives. It slows us down a bit and exposes us to our surroundings in a way that varies wildly from driving. It is also good for the environment and our wallets. I now commute to work two days a week and do most of my local errands on my bike to save gas ($4.00+ per gallon SHEEESHH). Shameless plug… if you want to ride in a group ride and shake some literal rust off those chains, I am trying to get a group ride off the ground and have partnered with the Budokan and its director Ryan Lee. The rides occur the first Sunday of every month at 9 am and we meet at Budokan in Little Tokyo. As of now, it is a super casual ride that will be accommodating for all skill levels but we are looking to expand as the group expands to offer more programming for those seeking different biking experiences.
SEE YOU OUT ON THE ROAD! ALLEZ ALLEZ ALLEZ!