The L.A. Marathon is this Sunday, which means it's your chance to get up at 4 in the morning and ride your bike across miles and miles of carless, traffic-light-free city streets. This year's ride will be shorter, slower, safer and sanctioned by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Since 2010, the notorious bicycle activist and all-around rabble-rouser Don Ward – aka Roadblock – has helped organize a renegade bike ride along the L.A. Marathon route, in the wee hours before the race starts. Called the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash Race, this was an illegal activity, though no one ever was arrested – who wants to handcuff a lycra-clad cyclist at 6 in the morning? The city has become more and more tolerant of it over the years, and it is perhaps a sign of the times that the city is now condoning it.
Ward wasn't going to organize a ride this year – he's been busy taking care of his mother, who's sick. Then he got a call from the LAPD, asking for help.
At first, the city wanted to make it an official pre-marathon charity ride.
"The Mayor's Office and the city got together and got a sponsor," says LAPD Commander Regina Scott. "There was going to be a benefit ride for the children’s hospital. But it didn’t get off the ground – they started too late. So that did not kick off this year."
That left the city in the same place it had always been – worried that a bunch of gung-ho bike riders would start zipping down the marathon route at the wrong time, before streets were fully closed or while workers were still setting up. So they asked Ward to come out of retirement, as it were, and help organize a ride, under the safety and guidance of the LAPD.
"It's their idea, I’m just there to make it safe," Ward says.
For LAPD, Ward is something of a bicyclist whisperer.
"If we can get someone that would speak their language, and come to some kind of agreement, it can be peaceful for everyone," Scott says. "He said he can’t guarantee anything, because he’s not the leader, but he can put it out on his website."
Riders have been told to meet at what used to be Tang's Donuts, on the corner of Fountain and Sunset, at 4 a.m. That's just a little past the 8-mile marker on the marathon's route, which goes from Dodger Stadium to the beach in Santa Monica. The riders will depart at 5 a.m. and will have LAPD cars escorting them at both the front and the rear, ensuring their safety but also keeping everyone together.
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"If you are not in the middle, you are being kicked off the route," Scott says. "We need that route clear by 6 o'clock. If they fall behind, we kick them on the sidewalk."
The ride will stop just short of Santa Monica, where the marathon ends and where security is a bit tighter.
Ward has mixed feelings about the fact that his once-guerrilla bike ride has been tamed.
"I miss it because it was fun as shit," he says. "It was also extremely risky and stupid. I like it the way it is now. I’m an old man. It’s calm, it’s a lot more relaxed."