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Sweet Ride USA Explores L.A. and Its Bike Culture One Dessert at a Time

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Sweet Ride USA
Sweet Ride USA.

The truth about breakups is that they can profoundly change your perspective. At least that was the case for Steve Isaacs, founder of the web series Sweet Ride USA. Not only did the long-time Angeleno begin to see his city in a new light after a split, he also found a new way to navigate it.

“In those moments when you have a breakup, you look at your life differently. All of the sudden you have all this free time, and you can kind of trial different things,” says Isaacs.

While some might hit the bar or the gym, or jump straight into a new relationship, Isaacs was really set on finding something less conventional to fill his sudden surplus of hours. Then, one day, while watching a cyclist, he noticed how free and happy the guy looked. “I’m like, ‘I think I’m just going to get a damn bike and take it to the beach and start riding around,’” says Isaacs.

The experience had the intended psychological effect, lifting his spirits and providing him that same sense of freedom he detected in the other cyclist. He also lost weight and felt fitter. But something unexpected happened, too — he started to discover things he’d never noticed while traveling by car. He tried new restaurants, explored landmarks he’d previously been oblivious to, and generally just had a really good time.

“It was kind of bringing something back to me that I’d lost, and I was starting to love L.A. in a whole new way,” he says.

Sweet Ride USA: Angel's Flight
Angels Flight.

That period, which he describes as a “really fun, exciting time,” is what Isaacs aims to capture on Sweet Ride USA. The series, which he hosts and produces with documentary filmmaker Debra Matlock, combines bike culture, Los Angeles history, and eating some of city’s best sweet treats.

Isaacs was inspired to do the show after joining in on some group rides he found via social media. He realized that he really loved the ones that included food stops. “One thing I noticed with a lot of these rides is that they would stop by a doughnut shop, or they’d begin at a doughnut shop or end at a doughnut shop,” he explains. “I’ve always had a sweet tooth, so I was like, ‘This is great! We’re riding bikes, and I’m eating sweets, and I don’t feel bad about it.’”

Riding off calories is a central part of the Sweet Ride concept. In each episode, Isaacs and a small crew of riders, including members of local bike groups like Bodacious Bike Babes or Treats & Beats, pedal their way to restaurants and sugar-centric shops around town to try out different desserts. They indulge in everything from croissant bread pudding to vegan double-fudge brownies. At the beginning of every show, the calories for the sweets they plan to eat are tallied up, and then a route long enough to counter the damage is mapped out.

Sweet Ride USA: Vegan double-fudge brownies
Vegan double-fudge brownies.

“I thought what if you could just get people together? Get some cool folks — maybe people you know, maybe a couple you don’t. And you all have a goal: you’re going to cruise around Los Angeles and try to see things you haven’t seen, explore the town, and on the way eat some delicious desserts, and make sure that by the time you get back, that you will burn everything that you eat,” says Isaacs.

The rides are longer than most novice cyclists would take on while the intake is more gluttonous than the average eater would attempt in a day. In one episode, the group starts at Peddler’s Creamery, a shop in Downtown’s Historic Core where, fittingly, ice cream is churned via a bicycle. There, they talk to owner Edward Belden and get some scoops. After, they head over to Santa Monica for stuffed, Cronut-inspired concoctions from DK’s Donuts. The calorie count is estimated at 950 and the distanced traveled comes to 25.5 miles or 1236 calories.

Sweet Ride USA: Cronut

However, it’s not all about eating and riding; there are plenty of interesting stops along the way. In the aforementioned episode, they check out the Witch’s House in Beverly Hills and Orange 20 Bikes on Melrose Avenue. Other episodes find Isaacs and friends at Travel Town, Barnsdall Park, Angels Flight, and filming locations for Blade Runner and Grease.

Sweet Ride USA slips in bike advocacy messaging, too. After falling unexpectedly into the subculture, Isaacs has become a dedicated cyclist and two-wheel commuter — he even sold his car two years ago. On the show, he aims to give viewers a peek into the culture and hopefully inspire a few to give riding a try.

Isaacs interviews people like Nat Gale, the program director for Mayor Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative, who discusses the ways in which the city is becoming a better, safer bike city. On the other end of the spectrum, he talks with Don “Roadblock” Ward, a long-time bike rights advocate who founded Wolfpack Hustle, a group that promotes underground races, including Marathon Crash Race, a daring and dangerous annual event that commandeers the streets blocked off for the L.A. Marathon.

Viewers even get to live vicariously through Isaacs as he speeds through the course with an on-bike camera to document the adrenaline rush. But while races like that are an exciting goal, Sweet Ride USA also does a lot to encourage those who may be weary of getting behind the handlebars. A discussion with the founders of L.A. Bike Trains, a group that helps people commute by bike to work with the help of an experienced urban rider, provides tips for staying safe on the road. Isaacs also invited the show’s fans to join in on a group ride episode, and almost 50 riders, of all ages and experience levels, showed up to put in some miles and, yes, eat doughnuts.

Sweet Ride USA: Marathon Crash Race
Marathon Crash Race.

While Isaacs initial plan was to eventually take Sweet Rides beyond L.A., some practical life events, like his job as a creative director, have stalled the process. However, he says he still has a few episodes in the can and he hopes to edit and release them in the future. He also holds out hope for filming new shows and has retained a lengthy list of viewer suggestions for sweet spots to visit. 

In the meantime, Isaacs has some advice for those who want to navigate their own rides. Among them are investing in a decent bike, checking out Google bike maps, and starting off in a calm environment before taking on the city streets.

“Take your bike to Santa Monica, and get on the bike path,” advises Isaacs. “Ride south or ride north. Look at the people who are learning how to hang glide just past Dockweiler, go to Hermosa and pull over and try some amazing fish tacos. Head all the way down to Torrance, lock up the bike, and walk over to the sand. Sit there for a minute and just enjoy yourself.”

Check out a new episode of Sweet Ride USA every Wednesday from October 26 through November 16.

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