I Am Los Angeles is a video portrait series created by journalist and filmmaker Joris Debeij, showcasing the unique people and their ideas that make L.A. what it is. KCET Departures will be featuring these videos as part of our continuing coverage of the shifting cultures of Los Angeles.
Riding fast is his thing. "Only talking about it makes me smile like a child," says the 31year-old cycling Angeleno. Sean Martin started riding bikes more than ten years ago, first on a BMX. Now he feels "one" with his fixed-gear bike while riding through the streets of L.A. A fixed-gear bicycle (fixie) is a bicycle that has no freewheel, meaning there is no time for coasting. The pedals are always in motion when the bicycle is moving. "That makes you feel one with your bike, you are in control, and if a car comes out of nowhere you have to be in control to bring you self into safety."
Urban legend has it that the bike messengers in Manhattan were the first ones to take fixies out on the road. Low-maintenance and fast starts and stops were the draw for fast-passed messengers in the Big Apple. Fixed-gear cycling has now been popularized in a number of US cities. Beyond being popular, fixie riding has become a whole new sub-culture to witness in L.A. From east side to west side, a wide variety of people can be found riding all different colors of fixie bikes on the streets of L.A. This is an even more curious phenomenon given that L.A. is a city where automobile traffic rules the streets. Cyclists are very much in the minority and still must strive to earn their rightful spot in traffic on the streets. Cyclists routinely organize and form groups, throwing unofficial street races and riding together as a 'critical mass' to make their presence known.
Years ago when Sean moved from Seattle to Los Angeles, he had been used to joining several bike events per week. At that time, in LA, only the bike messengers would throw a race, and far less frequently. While Sean was on a training ride around Griffith Park, it hit him: "This route could be a race!" Sean's first race was The Lord of Griffith, described by some people as the most epic fixed-gear climbing race in L.A. Sean soon organized more races (including one called Stairway to Heaven), and started working with good friend Joseph Lobato on Take Over L.A., a blog about bikes and other random sh*t we like. In 2010, Sean was featured in "To Live And Ride in L.A.," a documentary about fixed-gear riders in Los Angeles.
Originally published on I Am Los Angeles, 2011.
Check out more video portraits at I Am Los Angeles.