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California Style Shaped by Wheels and Weather

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A Critical Mass bicycle ride in downtown Los Angeles in March 2011
A Critical Mass bicycle ride in downtown Los Angeles in March 2011. | Photo: Amy Whelan/WHEELS/Flickr/Creative Commons License 

This post is in support of Departures, KCET's oral history and interactive documentary project about Los Angeles neighborhoods. The series has covered skateboarding in its Venice installment.

Skateboarding has held court for decades in the Southland. Now urban cycling is making itself a local.

You can almost credit the pre-punk era attitude of urban skaters--shaped by surfer's claims of beach territory--that first formed the mindset needed by early cyclist activists who dared to demand their share of turf on roads within a car-centric city.


The high profile illegal bike rides on freeways may have made a point, but clearly it was the diplomacy from advocates that had city officials note that bike culture has a place in the city. That was marked in March by the signing of the city of LA Bicycle Plan, held on the South Lawn of City Hall. (Although some will also credit Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's run-in with a taxi while riding a bike as its own form of lobbying).

The wheel mobility subculture--and sneer--can be traced to the well documented Z-Boys from Dogtown, formed on the border of Santa Monica and Venice. They are the most visible collective from the skateboard underground, having gained a national following.

It was also the timing of a decade that bumped gas prices to a record 57 cents per gallon, and the drought and water shortages had suburbia draining pools, which soon were taken over by skaters and pre-BMX style cyclists. All that allowed skateboarding to take over the Los Angeles region.

Now with MOCA's "Art in the Streets" exhibiting documentation of skateboard culture--which developed alongside technology of aerosol sprays--there is a link to visual street language that also developed in the 70s California culture movement.

It is certainly time for cyclists to take a turn on the road to form its own culture that reflects the city. Some of it has been evolving splinter groups, such as the children of Latino immigrants who have matured from skateboarding to cycle culture, and share more with Punk Rock at Venice Beach than Chicano Oldies from Boyle Heights.

It may be the next wave of influence from California.

But even if the X-Games do not become the Mex-Games, the advocacy of cyclists has proved that if you empty the streets of cars, it is like emptying the pool for skateboarders. Others are ready to take over.

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