Mihai Peteu frays his pirate pants with a pair of scissors and cuts his hand in the process — but what’s a little spilt blood if you’re going for the perfect costume? He pairs his torn-up pants with a bandanna and a corny skull-and-crossbones T-shirt that changes color in the daylight and boasts the slogan, “A Pirate’s Life Is More Than a Job, It’s a Lifestyle.”
Peteu’s got some killer wheels to go with his Captain Hook attire — a four-person bicycle-car dressed to resemble a ship fit for the high seas. The blue-steel vehicle, propelled by four sets of pedals pushed by Peteu and his crew, was purchased off Craigslist for $800 and has become a fixture of L.A.’s most recent C.R.A.N.K. Mob happenings, some of the most massive group bike rides in Southern California, gathering some 400 hooting and hollering fans for a night of partying on wheels. Now adorned with black skull-and-crossbones flags and hundreds of glow sticks, the beloved bike-car is almost ready for takeoff.
“You can’t have a car without music,” says Peteu, strapping a boom box stickered with the words Crank Boxx on the multibiker contraption. “Plus, it helps you pedal.”
For Peteu and his three friends who co-own the bicycle-car (also veteran C.R.A.N.K. Mobbers), preparation is half the fun. “The more you put into it, the more you get out of it,” Peteu insists.
Arriving at the starting point at Sawtelle Boulevard and La Grange Avenue around 9 p.m., Peteu’s team is almost shown up by three riders on a triple-tandem bike, all dressed in red caps and light blue suits as Team Zissou from The Life Aquatic — they’ve even got a hanging cardboard cutout made to look like a submarine. Other bikers twist glow sticks through their spokes, blast music from backpack boom boxes and put on helmets decorated with masks. Some wear multicolored capes or tutus. Many have megaphones and noisemakers and spread their spirit with chants. A man in a full, furry yellow chicken suit, head and all, gears up for the ride.
“It’s like a carnival on wheels,” says Kieron Menzies, a C.R.A.N.K. Mob co-creator, who has seen the ride grow from 52 people in September 2007 to the mass it is today. “I never know what to expect.”
As the approximately 13-mile-long adventure begins, the street is flooded with bikers ready for a long night of cruising through Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Venice, West L.A. and Culver City. About three miles in, and every two to four miles thereafter, the gang swerves off into empty parking lots — 7-Elevens, Ralphs, Trader Joe’s — wherever a bike-pulled DJ stand can get some beats bumpin’. Drinks are pounded, a few random joints are smoked, and uninhibited dancing ensues.
Between party stops, the mob is a sight to see, as the blinking reflectors look like an ocean of flickering red stars, each gently bobbing while riding the current up and over the waves of hills as far as the eye can see. The sounds of hundreds of wheels massaging the pavement and spokes clicking as they spin create a natural soundtrack for the ride among the chatter and music. The crisp, salty ocean breeze refreshes riders’ faces as they speed down the boardwalks in the Marina and cruise the canals in Venice.
The outlandish celebration is the obvious draw to C.R.A.N.K. Mob, Peteu and Menzies say, but they both keep higher ambitions in mind. At a time when gas prices are sky-high, promoting alternative ways of getting around is always a consideration. But encouraging cycling is difficult in Los Angeles, where, Peteu says, “only the select, crazy few, or perceived crazy people, would even attempt it.”
But, on this night, anyone can be a part of the crazy crowd. “The whole idea is to make it accessible for everyone,” says Peteu.
The ride gets people biking who wouldn’t ordinarily do so, increases their confidence and opens their minds to the possibilities of cycling, says Menzies, who has high hopes but admits his main intention in creating C.R.A.N.K. Mob (which can stand for whatever you want, he says — in case you were wondering) is a good time.
“There’s always a dual aspect — fun and politics,” Menzies says. “But really, this one is just pro-fun.”