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Which came first, Los Angeles or bicycling? In Dani's life, the two are parallel forces.
Cyclists come from all walks of life, and will cite many different reasons for riding. Some people like to go fast, some like to go far, but most just want to get around town, pick up eggs and milk, ride to the cafe, and get to work and back. While the most noted groups on the road are often young, fast, fixed gear cyclists, or older weekend warrior types who rise early to hit the street on an expensive carbon machine, most cyclists in L.A. are probably neither -- all kinds of people ride bikes for all kinds of reasons. Cyclists Like You features people in Los Angeles who ride bikes, sharing their experiences of riding in the city and how cycling is a part of their life.
Daniela Sarmina was 3 years old when she crossed the border into California, leaving Mexico under the care of relatives. Her parents met her several days later and gained citizenship through Amnesty, but Daniela waited until after high school to gain her own resident status. The Sarmina family settled in Central Valley, and shortly after her sister was born. Her parents, who had come from Mexico City's middle class, worked in fields throughout the state's agricultural center through their first year in the United States.
"My dad picked every kind of fruit," Sarmina recalls. An engineer in Mexico, her father took any work he could find in California, settling the family in Porterville, a small town in the San Joaquin Valley with a population of less than 50,000 while she was growing up (rapid growth across the Central Valley region has brought the population up to 55,000 in recent years).
Sarmina first came to Los Angeles after high school, to study theater at UCLA before making her way farther south to make a life in San Diego -- but something about L.A. pulled her back. Bikes, she says, played a big part in her decision to return to the city.
She first started biking when she bought a bicycle to join some friends in Los Angeles for New Belgium's Tour de Fat, an annual bike festival that happens each year in several cities across the country, raising money for local bike advocacy organizations.
"I didn't live here yet and I didn't really know anyone that cycled in San Diego," Sarmina says, "so it kind of became another reason that I wanted to move to L.A., because there was this big cyclist counterculture. It kind of just sat in the back of my mind."
A year passed with the ache of longing hitting her every time she drove through L.A. on her way to Porterville to visit her family, and again on her way back home to San Diego. She had many reasons to make the move.
"I wanted to be closer to a community I knew and a lot of my friends lived here; my mom was a lot closer. I really wanted to do more of my theater stuff, so I really felt it would be a wise decision," she says, adding, "I had kind of grown to have a crush on L.A.; it just became this ideal place."
Moving to L.A. wasn't easy. She stayed on her friend's couch for several months, looking for work and trying to stay out of the family's way. After a couple of false starts she found work with the Alzheimer's Association and a quiet apartment in Highland Park. She hadn't done much bicycling since moving, but after getting settled in her own place she wanted to get out and meet people. She still didn't have many connections, so she turned to online dating.
"I met a guy who approached me like anyone else," she says. "I didn't really have anything on my profile about bikes and neither did he. We ended up going on a bike ride. I was a little nervous because I hadn't been on the bike in a while -- I was like 'I don't know if it's a cool bike, but whatever, this is my bike.' We went to York [Boulevard], which had bike lanes, so it was perfect. That was my segue into [biking]."
The relationship fizzled, but through the course of it she found the Bike Oven, a local bike collective, where the inclusive environment and energy of the volunteers drew her in. There she was able to deepen her knowledge of bikes, build friendships, and find a way to get involved in the community.
"When I started going on the bike rides, I noticed that a lot of the community was like that. There were people from all sorts of places that did all sorts of different things, from lots of different backgrounds and cities and income levels -- all sorts of people that just hang out and come together because they really like to ride bikes. That became a very welcoming, warm place to go -- because even if you had whatever types of differences, you were all there just to ride."
Dani doesn't miss a beat, and if she wants to help she'll find a way. Lacking technical repair knowledge, she found ways to pitch in at the Oven, taking on administrative tasks. The collective was going through leadership changes at the time of her introduction, and several months later, she was elected secretary for the organization's newly formed board of directors.
"I started getting to the advocacy part of it pretty early," she says, mostly showing up at the North Figueroa bike lane meeting to find out what the fuss was all about. "You could tell from the get-go that it was a very heated subject, and it hasn't changed. It's been over a year. I wish that people would just be supportive of the bike lanes."
Engaging in bike advocacy has taught her much about the political process, she says.
"I started becoming more involved and learning what it means to be a cyclist, especially on the streets of L.A. L.A. is so big, and it's very car-focused, so when you're on a bike it's almost like you're running against the current; you're going the opposite way of what other people think you should be doing. I think it makes it especially hard for people who do ride bikes -- not just because there isn't the infrastructure to keep people safe, but because you're constantly put on the outskirts of the mainstream.
"It's almost like you're an outcast, but you also find solidarity within your biking community. If we didn't have that it would be very difficult for a lot of people."