Sean Martin can tell you about the moment he thought he would die.
Sure, the fixed-gear cyclist who moved to L.A. in 2008 and cycles to work daily had had close calls before but one sunny day, a couple of years ago, at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Rossmore Avenue, he thought he was toast.
The light was green, his side of the busy intersection was unusually empty, he was barreling through it and suddenly a car did 'a left hook,' crossing into his lane from his left side as it turned right into a driveway.
Martin was riding at between twenty to twenty five miles an hour. He was riding a fixed-gear bike, a kind mainly used in racing, in which the pedals always have to be moving along with the wheels, meaning it can't coast, and any braking has to be done by having your legs resist the motion of the perpetually-moving pedals. He knew there was going to be impact. For sure.
“I am going to die, right now,” he thought and then he hit the car and jettisoned thirty feet through the air.
What saved Martin was his muscle memory, his tuck-and-roll — his shoulders and back taking the impact, not his head. That didn't mean he wasn't hurt — he was — but Martin walked away, if slowly and painfully, declining a ride in an ambulance in part because he doesn't have health insurance.
“It definitely shook me up a little bit. It's intimidating to have a multi-ton vehicle baring down on you — especially after you've been hit a few times,” he says.
And yet, a while after the accident, he got back on the bike to pedal, routinely, through the streets of Los Angeles, where he commutes daily to work and frequently participates in fixed-gear races and events.
“I love it! It's absolutely the greatest thing in the world to ride a track bike through a city. It's an amazing experience that everyone should do,” he tells us.
That drive to ride is the subject of To Live & Ride in L.A., a film that was released via the net on Tuesday and will enjoy a full-bore worldwide premiere and requisite party this Saturday, June 25 at the Royal/T in Culver City from 6:30 p.m. to midnight.
The documentary's director, David Rowe, assembled and shot a cast of fixed-gear stars in order to explore Los Angeles' underground culture of urban riding, demarcated by a multitude of riding crews, races staged at rush-hour, loft parties and “alley-cats.”
Alley-cats are events derived from the bike messenger world, which is the origin of fixed-gear bike culture. They began as informal races, in San Francisco and New York, in which riders gathered at a pre-set point, received a map and manifest and had to clock in at checkpoints all over a city.
“It was a thing that messengers did at the end of the week to blow-off steam, a way to have fun,” says Martin who adds that they also would determine who was the “fastest guy in the city.”
Though Los Angeles is the city of the car — the self-worth of film industry execs and talent agents set by the model of their BMW, Mercedes or Porsche — alley-cats and other unique staples belonging to the culture of the wheel are drawing large crowds of cyclists, prompting nightly rides and a slew of ride-out crews here. The crews often flaunt names as outrageous as the premise of swarms of brakeless, gearless cyclers commuting in the streets of L.A. Consider these: Chubby Boob cycling team and crew, VCR (as in Venice Chill Ride), and Thirsty Thursdays (drinking involved, perhaps?) According to Martin, these ride outs can draw between fifty and four hundred riders.
“We're really the only city that has these large group rides every night,” notes Martin who helps generate and coordinate races and events through his website, “A Blog About Bikes and Other Random Sh*t We Like,” along with fellow rider Joseph Lobato. The two also administer a popular Facebook Page under the Takeover LA!™ Moniker.
The power of L.A.'s thriving scene even turned Seattle resident and fixed-gear superstar Keo Curry, who is featured in To Live & Ride in L.A., into an L.A. believer.
“Keo was the first person to focus on doing tricks on the fixed-gear bike,” notes Martin. “Until then, if you were gong to come out to an event, you were going to race. He brought [tricks] to the forefront.”
Developing these tricks is about “mastering the physics of the bicycle and my body,” says Curry.
Speaking to us on the phone, the man who can pirouette easily on his back tire for 360s and perform no-handed wheelies with only one leg on the bike, is low-key and generous.
“Everybody was really cool and really down in earth,” he tells the Weekly. “I had thought I would not want to live in L.A., but I would live there,” as he was inspired by the riders he met and rides he took for the movie.
In particular, he cites the cemented Los Angeles River. “It's one of the legendary parts of the city” he says, before giving a shout out to Saber, the famed graffiti artist whose enormous lettering once festooned a nearby section of the river but whose work, more recently, was featured in MOCA's “Art in the Streets” show.
Whether To Live and Ride in L.A. generates the mainstream discussion for L.A.'s fixed-gear scene that the MOCA show did for Saber and other graffiti artists will remain to be seen.
To Live & Ride in L.A., which features fixed-gear riders Keo Curry, George Gregor, Mr. Quick, Lil' Hern, Tracko, Ace Boogie, Efrem, Anthony, Roadblock, and Joey Inferno, Fish'N'Chips, Charlie Murphy, NY Joe, Tim Hammer and Sean Martin, gets its L.A. premiere at Royal/T, 8910 Washington Blvd., Culver City, on Saturday, June 25. At 7 p.m. is a meet-and-greet with riders, director and producer, and at 8:30 p.m. the film screens. Q&A and party to follow. For more information or to buy the movie visit the To Live & Ride in L.A. website.
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