Empowering L.A.’s invisible cyclists

There was a time when I described myself as a “serious” cyclist.

In my pedal-addled mind, that distinguished me as a spandex-clad, 50 mile a day rider who lived and breathed bikes. As opposed to someone who might pull the clunker out of the garage on the weekend for a leisurely roll through the park or along the beach, for instance.

Or someone who would ride in sneakers and street clothes.

It wasn’t that I looked down on the spandex-challenged. It’s just that, as I saw it at the time, they didn’t have the skills and commitment of a serious rider such as myself.

And clearly, I wasn’t the only one.

As another spandexed rider I know jokingly put it, “I don’t trust cyclists who don’t shave their legs.”

But slowly over the years, it penetrated my thick helmet-covered skull that other kinds of riders might be just as devoted to riding as I was, but just do it a little differently. And that there were equally valid reasons to ride that had nothing to do with improving speed, skills or fitness.

Maybe it was the first time a blue jean clad fixie rider dropped me, much to my shame. Or maybe when the bike lanes appeared on Santa Monica Boulevard, and I started seeing countless commuters roll past my home every day.

It could have been a growing awareness that all those women on Dutch bikes and beach cruisers were actually going places, even if they weren’t going as fast — or sweating as much — as spandex speedsters such as myself.

Then there was the humbling realization that there were people who rode, not because they chose to, or to stay in shape or because it was hip or fashionable. But because it was their most viable — or perhaps only — form of transportation.

And that the needs and safety of those riders were just as legitimate as mine.

Fortunately, not everyone is as slow on the uptake as I am. The local bike co-ops — Bicycle Kitchen, Bike Oven, Bikerowave and Valley Bikery — have long helped riders of all types repair their own bikes at little cost.

The LACBC has gone a step further, forming the City of Lights program to reach out to cyclists in the immigrant community; primarily — but not exclusively — Spanish speaking immigrants.

As relatively recent arrivals in the country, many of these cyclists may not know how and where to ride safely, or how to map out a route that can get them to and from various parts of the city. Or have the money to invest in the lights and reflectors that could help keep them safe on the streets of L.A.

So a small program to pass out lights, maps and safety information didn’t seem like a bad idea.

What few anticipated, however, was that it would grow to become a significant outreach to the immigrant community.

That initial free light program was followed by a study of how to increase bike parking facilities in low income areas, resulting in the city’s first ever guide to surmounting the countless technical and regulatory requirements to placing racks on the streets, available for download in English and Spanish.

Soon the program will be releasing a Spanish language resource guide — including information on safe riding techniques and equipment, basic maintenance, and advocacy and legal rights — which will be distributed for free and made available online.

In addition, I recently sat in on a report from the LACBC’s Allison Manos, in which she discussed a new program to train immigrants in bike repair, whether to maintain their own bikes or to give them the skills to find work in bicycle repair shops. And several program members have responded by becoming bike safety advocates themselves.

So in just a few short years, what started as a small safety outreach has turned into a program that empowers people to make changes in their own lives, and in their community.

You can’t ask for any more than that.

The Times’ Hector Tobar writes about it today — though he somehow neglects to mention City of Lights by name — focusing on one of the program’s participants, Jose Guzman, as well as Ramon Martinez of the LACBC and Bike Oven.

“In L.A. we have thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people on bikes that mainstream cyclists never see,” Martinez told me. He called them “invisible cyclists” but then corrected himself because really, if you pay attention, you’ll almost always see them on the streets.

I’ve seen the cyclists in the garment district, Koreatown and Pasadena, often in the uniforms of cooks or kitchen workers. They don’t wear spandex and they don’t bike to lower their cholesterol or to reduce their “carbon footprint.”

They don’t bike because it’s a cool lifestyle choice. Mostly they bike out of necessity.

“My bike is my salvation,” Guzman told me.

“I see it as part of me. It’s my vehicle. I carry bags, backpacks, groceries on it. Everything.”

It’s a good story. And a great program — one definitely worth supporting.

Maybe it will help keep a few more riders safe, change a few lives and make this city a better place for riders of all types.

And help make those invisible riders just a little easier to see.

……….

Austin’s Yellow Bike Project, in which abandoned bikes are fixed-up, painted yellow and donated to the needy, has spread east to Augusta, Georgia; evidently, Portland has a similar program. Maybe it’s time the project moved a little northwest.

It could be a great complement to the work being done by City of Lights.

……….

The schmuck Swedish Rapper who beat a Hollywood pedestrian senseless, then ran over him as an off-duty police officer begged him to stop — and had the audacity to claim self-defense — is sentenced to 15 years to life for 2nd degree murder.

Personally, I vote for the latter.

……….

I’ve got more links — too many, actually. So come back later tonight or over the weekend after you’ve had a chance to limber up your link-clicking finger.

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