It’s a hot and muggy summer day in Silver Lake, and 35-year-old Michael and his friend Scott are drinking iced coffees under the cooling spray of a mister that the owner of Town and Country Café and Bakery has mercifully decided to turn on. The scene is like a grown-up version of kids playing in the gush of a busted fire hydrant.
The two relatively new bike enthusiasts intended to meet here and then go for a ride, but on the way over, one of Michael’s gears broke. Now they’re reminiscing about the “epic” four-hour ride they took last Saturday night through a part of the urban landscape they had never experienced before.
“There was no moon,” starts Michael, as if telling a campfire ghost story. “It was dark and we only had the lights on our bikes. It was totally freakadelic.”
Michael is a lanky and handsome music supervisor who started riding a year ago, after injuring his ankle playing basketball. He is wearing a pair of rolled up pinstriped pants and a black tee; his Treo sits glowing on the table in front of him.
“It started in Chinatown,” says Scott, a blue-eyed, 36-year-old commercial producer, who lives in Echo Park and just started riding L.A.’s streets last week, after he purchased an orange Le Monde hybrid Cyclo-cross. “You have to ride your bike up a spiral staircase to a catwalk, and then across the catwalk, which goes across the 110, then back up a hill.”
“Then you turn off,” continues Michael, “and you’re riding along a pedestrian walkway beside the 5 freeway, which couldn’t be more than two and a half, three feet wide. It was literally 12:30 at night. There was a chainlink fence . . . We’re not trying to pretend to be O.G. track-bike-messenger-ultimate people.”
Michael wants to be clear that he and his buddy are not trying to front that they are anything other than what they are: “We’re just trying to have a good time.”
Michael sips the remains of his drink from his plastic to-go cup and goes into more detail. “The hip thing now is track bikes,” he says of the special fixed-gear bikes built for track cycling. “That’s the hipster Eastside bike to ride. We have a ragtag crew: two girls, three guys. We have two veteran riders on fixed-gear bikes. Me on my 10-speed, [Scott] on his hybrid, our other friend on her Beach Cruiser and another on her old fucked-up Schwinn 10-speed — but it’s cute ’cause it’s purple and pink. We’re the ‘unnamed bike gang.’ We all get excited. We are screaming and goofing off . . .”
“Arguing and eating,” Scott adds, sipping from his own cup.
“On the fourth hour,” Michael says, “somebody is [always] getting tired and doesn’t want to go any farther from their house, but it is so much fun.”
To be precise, the unnamed bike gang’s Saturday-night ride began much farther west than Chinatown. It started at Brendt Barbur’s Sixth Annual Bicycle Film Festival, which was held at the Vine Theater in Hollywood. The group met a couple of friends there, checked out the bikecentric film scene and enjoyed utilizing the bike valet — that’s right, bike valet.
After that they went to Home Depot to get a screw for one of their bikes and then downtown to their favorite noodle joint.
“Oh, but maybe we should leave the identity blank,” says Scott of the restaurant’s name.
“?’Cause we don’t want every other hipster there.”
After eating, they rode through the Second Avenue tunnel.
“Oh yeah, we went riding through that at midnight,” Michael remembers.
That must have been cool. That tunnel has been in lots of movies.
“Twenty-five miles an hour, no cars,” Scott says with a smile.
But Michael says it was after the catwalk and narrow pedestrian pathway that they came to the coolest part of their ride. After descending another spiral staircase, the unnamed bike gang found themselves in a spot “that you literally have never seen: a tiny island in the intersection where the 110 and 5 meet.” It was past Elysian Park and before Pasadena.
“Right in that fucking island!” says Michael, who has lived in Los Angeles since he was 5 years old, but was thrilled to rediscover the urban landscape via his bike. “It’s covered in sand and there are big carcasses of busted-up yellow sand buckets that [the city] put there so people won’t crash into the divider. Just imagine you’re standing there: Here is the mouth of the tunnel and then the 5 freeway is coming from downtown and splitting off, and there are all these carcasses of busted-up sand bins that stop people from crashing into the divider.”
Michael shakes his head, still in awe of the memory.
“It is such a weird turnoff that they have these Blade Runner–esque lights on top of the divider,” Scott adds. “It’s a surreal-looking environment.”
Where did you go from there??“You take another staircase,” Michael says, “which is basically shit alley. It is like, poo-poo alley. Literally, it is so skanky. And that drops you down onto San Fernando Road and there is another path by Griffith Park.”
“We were riding alongside the L.A. River and Riverside Drive,” Scott adds. “That path went on for 3 miles.”
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“It was totally spooky,” says Michael.
“You could hear the water, what little was in the river,” Scott continues. “It was totally quiet, except you hear trains, and the water, and the wind in the trees. It reminded me of rollerblading all over New York City at night.” (Scott moved here from New York six years ago and raced BMXs as a kid.) “It kinda reconnected me to my experience in New York of riding [and blading] through the streets — and there are no cars around, and you own the streets. We all have our blinking lights and you can see each other from a half a mile away. It’s exciting to be somewhere unique on a Saturday night, not at a bar.”
“Since I started riding my bike,” Michael says, eyeing his ringing Treo. “It has been making me aware of how, when I am in my car, how isolated I am. And, when I am on my bike, how exposed I am. It just makes you feel, like, more a part of things.
“I have been telling everyone we know, ‘Get a bike and spend Friday and Saturday nights riding around.’ It’s so much more fun than trying to go to some hipster event.”?