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UP FRONT: BICYCLING

Shifting gears for summer

Think of this cycling festival as a monthlong show of force on the roads.

June 02, 2005|John Balzar | Times Staff Writer

At first mention, you could be pardoned for wondering: It's a joke right?

They're not really going to spend a month celebrating bicycling in Los Angeles? Not here, not where the verb "to go" is spelled c-a-r?

"That's why Bike Summer is important," insists organizer Matt Ruscigno. "Because it is in Los Angeles."

Sitting on a picnic table at a midtown park with his bicycle beside him, because Ruscigno does not own a car, he pulls out a ballpoint and draws a graph. "We are about here," he says. He points to the spot where the line marking zero just begins to creep upward. He draws an arrow pointing to the fatter part of the curve -- up there where the bicyclists' dreams live.

"Ten years from now, we'll be building on this."

Ready or not, Bike Summer Los Angeles 2005 begins Friday.

"Velolution," some of the backers call it.

A month of play is a more down to earth description. A chance for the city's many diverse cultures of bicyclists to mingle -- and perhaps to catch the eye of the rest of us. That's the stated goal.

Film screenings, workshops, fun rides, races, scavenger hunts, art shows, pub crawls, athletic contests, poetry readings, music, protests -- Bike Summer is a freewheeling festival that beckons anyone with two wheels and a tire-pump in the garage to dream up a way to have fun and make friends during the month of June.

The idea of Bike Summer was conceived in 1998 in San Francisco, a city with a boisterous and enthusiastic cycling culture. The city's bicycle activists, as the story goes, were dispirited by long conflict with hostile municipal authorities. A former board member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition circulated a list of ideas to rekindle spirits. No. 7 on the list, between "suing the city" and "re-educating traffic engineers," was a monthlong celebration to be called Bike Summer.

Held in 1999, the celebration became a surprise urban hit, attracting attention not just locally but among cyclists elsewhere. The following year, local activists claimed Bike Summer -- and Bike Winter, too -- for Chicago. In 2001, the celebration was organized by cyclists in Vancouver, followed by Portland, Ore., in 2002, New York in 2003 and Seattle last year.

All those cities are widely known for the high profile and activism of bicyclists. This year will be a departure, because Los Angeles has a different reputation.

"It is looked down upon," Ruscigno says. "That's why it's the most important place to have Bike Summer. It's the city most in need of it."

Last year cyclist Keri Tyler, who had lived in Portland, in a conversation with Ruscigno first raised the possibility of holding Bike Summer here. Ruscigno is a public health dietician at Los Angeles Trade Tech and an alternative transportation activist; Tyler is a transportation student at UCLA's master's program in urban planning. With a group of 18 others, the two claimed Bike Summer 2005 for Los Angeles, and the group has done much of the initial organizing.

Festivities are scheduled to begin Friday with a party on the Santa Monica Pier. So far an additional 140 events have been listed by various individuals and groups for the ensuing month, including a bike tour of historic Los Angeles bridges, rides of 100, 200 and 400 miles, a "Tour de Graf" of the city's graffiti, a "Women's Korean Spa Ride," a vintage bicycle tea party, a progressive dinner through Silver Lake and Echo Park, a vegan barbecue, a bike jersey sewing party and any number of workshops on velo-related matters. Virtually any cycling organization can add an event to the list on the Bike Summer website, www.bikesummer.org.

Organizers expect that some events will draw only small groups of die-hards, but others are built out of established events and are almost certain to draw hundreds.

"It goes so much against the grain that it's fun," says Todd Munson, of I.Martin Imports, a Los Angeles bike shop that is sponsoring maintenance seminars for the celebration. "Ours is such a car city -- but it's also the best city to ride a bike. The weather is good, most of the terrain is flat -- everything is here."

Among its assets, Los Angeles is a relatively new metropolis and thus its roads tend to be wider than in older, more compressed cities. That often provides bicyclists with a roomy shoulder on which to ride, or enables them to "take a lane" on multilane roads without completely bottlenecking traffic.

Among many aims of Bike Summer is to open the eyes of cyclists to their city. For instance, Joshua Moody, a computer scientist, invites cyclists to join him in exploring the personalities of varied routes from downtown to Marina del Rey -- culminating in a race.

Other rides are planned to sample ice cream parlors, farmers markets, Griffith Park and Arroyo Seco.

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