It?s 5.40 am and I?m cycling east on Olympic when I spot my first fellow rider. We?re making our way to the start of the seventh LA Bike Tour – a massive ride with 10,000 cyclists following the course of the LA Marathon which starts in a few hours time.
I?ve cycled through the Canadian Rockies, over the Southern Alps in New Zealand, up to the Golden Triangle in Thailand and across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula but nothing gives you the same boost, thrill and joi-de-vivre as zipping through the streets of your home town at dawn while the city wakes up and waves and hollers at you in its pajamas!
By accident, rather than clever planning, I?m crossing the street in front of the start as the 6am countdown commences – no pushing through the hordes this morning in the pre-dawn glow, no listening to Randy Newman?s ?I Love LA? being played over and over and over. I wait by the side of the street to let the first guys go past and then slip quietly into the pack (or Peloton as French speakers and cyclists call it) as we head west along Exposition.
All kinds of cycling humanity are here: monocycles, hybrids, street racers, mountain bikes, tandems, recumbents, backward tandem recumbents (!), and a host of bikes that have been sitting in the garage for too long and need some serious work – rusty chains, wobbly wheels, loose cotter pins, unchangeable gears, and incorrectly adjusted saddles are in abundance god bless ?em all . There?s usually a guy on a Penny Farthing too (massive front wheel, tiny rear wheel – the world’s first bicycle) but I missed him this year.
As we turn North on Crenshaw the road widens and the fun really starts. There?s a twinkle in everyone?s eye as we bust a red-light going north on the wrong side of the road and watch the cops smile at us! But the real thrill is watching all the good people who come out to watch the spectacle: the Mommas on their way to church, the Gangstas and their girls, the old men in jackets, the tracksuited powerbroker on his cell phone, the kiddies on their plastic tricycles. Some of them say nothing, bemused as the endless train of lycra passes, others wave and smile, bang toy drums, shout greetings and wave home-made signs of encouragement. I saw the same family twice on the course with a sign saying ?Go George III Go!?
We move north through the ?Hood, slide along the side of Koreatown and are soon passing the elegant homes of Hancock Park. Here?s another joy of the ride – getting to see LA in all it?s varying colour and diversity. You see stuff from a bicycle you never see from a car. By the time we reach Hollywood Blvd., I go past the Thailand Centre, which I must have passed a hundred times and notice for the first time the elaborate shrine outside which I?m sure has been there for years. Half a mile later I see a sign for Barnsdall Art Gardens (what is that? I?ll have to check it out) and right next to it a signpost to let me know I?m entering Little Armenia – who knew such a place existed? Behind the Armenian sign is a taco stand of seemingly Ecuadorian origins and a huge sound system is blasting out a bizarre and wonderful hybrid of Madness (first album ska period) and an acid influenced Mariachi band while a lone DJ raps in distorted Spanish over the top! In this respect this year?s ride is a disappointment – bands and DJ?s usually line the route from beginning to end but the DJ at Hollywood and Vermont is our lone musical accompaniment this year.
With the joy comes a moment of sadness. I was hoping to ride with my cycling pal Kim this year but his home in Phoenix was burglarized two nights ago and he?s had to stay home and sort out the mess. I?m also reminded of the time 5 years ago when my Mother had an operation the same day as the ride and never recovered. Within 72 hours of completing the circuit I was 6,000 miles away holding her hand as her life ebbed away.
And now we?re plunging down Virgil. A TV news presenter friend of mine once told me this is one of the city?s toughest neighbourhoods but all I can see are happy people waving at me, yelping and smiling – for this morning at least the tensions have abated.
I cross Washington Blvd. for the third time and the sound of our chain sets are all I can hear as we approach the USC campus and the end of our ride. It?s just past 7.10 when I clip out of my pedals and hear the strange sound of the volunteers with the hundreds of bike tour medals strung over their arms from red ribbons clanking and cacophonous. I proudly pocket my medal and start pedalling for home.
It was a good ride, I didn?t crash, it didn?t rain and as always it?s over too soon. For the record I was rider #4905 in the very bright red, blue and white Brooklyn shirt on the yellow Ibis Spanky. Average speed 15.6 mph, maximum speed 26.7 mph. See you all next year.