My name is Don "Roadblock" Ward. I am a native of Los Angeles, a graphic artist, musician, community activist... and a bicycle rider. Like most adults, I learned to ride at an early age. When I wasn't riding to school I was riding BMX at the Viper Bowl or other ditches and dirt trails hidden in the Hollywood Hills.
But back then getting a driver's license was a rite of passage that almost every kid looked forward to, especially in Los Angeles where people barely get their mail without hopping in an automobile. The key to a car was the key to the world. In a matter of years I became the typical L.A. driver: fast, aggressive, aggravated at the endless traffic. I would fudge rules without hesitation when I was in danger of being late to something. I was always late to something.
It wasn't until 2004 that I re-discovered lost love. That year a group of friends and I embarked on the first-ever "Midnight Ridazz" ride: an 18-mile route we called "The Downtown Fountain Tour." I rode a skateboard that night, but I realized that bicycles were the best way to re-connect with my youth, my city, and perhaps most importantly, my community.
The early caretakers of the monthly rides were 3 women: Kim "Skull" Jensen, MaBell and Muffmaster Flash. The rides were always about fun and inclusive love, not divisive anger. A party, not a protest. Each themed ride was an adventure; if we could get a few bewildered drivers to join us, all the better. By the summer of '06 the rides had grown to almost 2,000 Ridazz - too much responsibility for a small group to bear. I pushed for a plan that would encourage the mass of Ridazz to break out and start their own rides around Los Angeles. Since then, thousands of open-invite rides have been organized and posted to MidnightRidazz.com, a website I put together to facilitate this growing social group ride phenomenon. Participants now number in the thousands.
There is no question - people LOVE to ride bicycles in sunny fair-weathered Los Angeles. And here I am, caught up in that loving snuggly idealistic feeling you get when you discover a new passion.
I didn't convert overnight. In fact it took a number of rides before I realized that transporting my bike in a car to the start of the rides was ludicrous. I began riding everywhere - to the store, to work. To the beach and back was a beginner's milestone. Every trip by bike was like a Drivers Anonymous meeting to me. Now, I'm not knocking the automobile - maybe we've just gone too far. We've become too dependent. Lately the car feels like a burden on society. Oil wars, parking, the financial cost - the responsibilities can become numbing. Sure, I sneak in a drive or two, but I'm now a far safer and courteous driver: "Oh you need to get into that parking spot? No problemo, after you. Did you just honk at me? Why thank you for that!" I actually drive the speed limit. Yes I do. Most of the time. Call me a recovering driver.
The biggest issue of course with cycling in Los Angeles is safety. With little or no infrastructure to facilitate trips via bicycle, combined with a culture of aggressive driving that rarely observes speed limits, urban cycling is still largely the domain of daredevils. Things are slowly changing thanks purely to public demand. There is hardly any money currently spent on lobbying for cycling infrastructure. Unfortunately the statistics show a sad tale of pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries - no wonder the number of group rides have exploded. There is safety in numbers. Some people have mixed feelings about the rides. But I always say to those critics, when cycling becomes an integrated part of the traffic flow, when everyone feels safe riding a bicycle, the group rides will melt away.
This column is dedicated to bringing the bike love to Angelenos everywhere, one ride at a time.
- Read the first post: Ask a Cyclist: Three Meeting in One Day
Top photo by Sarah Sitkin