When Brendt Barbur came to visit his sister in LA in 2003, “Los Angeles urban bike culture” was an oxymoron. But when the now 38- year-old bike-riding veteran stopped by a Fourth of July party in Silver Lake and saw five bikes locked up outside, he realized there is hope for LA yet.
“Five bikes means five people came on bikes,” Barbur said. “That’s a seed of something.”
Barbur has always had bikes on the brain. Growing up surrounded by the outdoor lifestyle in California, he became obsessed with bicycles at a very young age and grounded his roots in BMX. Constantly riding —and when asleep, dreaming about riding — Barbur switched bike types, but maintained a passion that followed him when he moved to New York City to pursue acting, theater and art.
In 2001, he was hit by a bus while riding through the city, which compelled him to create an event that would expose the public to New York City’s multifaceted bicycle culture through movies, music and art. Thus, the Bicycle Film Festival was born.
The first BFF was modest — movies made by friends, handmade trophies, live music and parties — but quickly grew as Barbur unleashed his idea of bicycle unity on other urban areas around the world.
“When we took it to San Francisco, it sold out shows,” Barbur said. “Then we went to Tokyo and London and those sold out, too. I thought to myself, ‘Hey, we’re onto something.’”
After seeing the impact his film festival had on the bike community’s growth in each new city, Barbur’s visits to LA fueled ambitions to bring his BFF to the capital of car culture.
“The urban bike culture [in LA] was so small, it was practically nonexistent,” Barbur said. “I felt that it would be a cool challenge.”
Over the next two years, he built friendships with local bike enthusiasts — like those associated with Los Angeles Eco-Village and non-profit co-op Bike Kitchen — and in 2005, BFFLA debuted at the historic Vine Theatre in Hollywood.
Now in its fourth year, the BFF LA has teamed up with Orange 20 Bikes on Melrose in East Hollywood, the LA County Bicycle Coalition, 42Below Vodka, HUF and others to present a five-day extravaganza of all things bicycle. Yesterday, there was a kickoff concert. Tonight, there will be an art gallery opening; tomorrow and Saturday are screenings of shorts, documentaries, cartoons and 1950s Japanese Keirin racing films; and Sunday is an all-day street party outside of Orange 20 with bike games, DJs and lots of two-wheel love.
Despite the undeniable increase of bicycle enthusiasm in LA over the last few years, the city’s often-disparate cycling communities can still benefit from an event like this. With urban sprawl spreading over nearly 1,000 square miles, it’s hard to unify Angelenos around anything except the Lakers; and bike riders here are more cliqued out than a high school quad at lunchtime. But BFF LA’s cross-town venues and come-one-come-all attitude is a chance for riders of different backgrounds and specific interests to connect with people from the opposite end of the city that they otherwise might not have ever met. Having a show in Eagle Rock, an art gallery on Melrose and screenings Downtown forces people to organize rides and communicate with those outside their immediate circle of friends, opening a more fair dialogue for the future of LA’s bike culture as a whole.
Now hosted by 39 cities over a seven-month tour, BFF has a reputation for unifying all aspects of bicycle riding, regardless of form or style, through a celebration of all things art, regardless of medium. Tall bikes, mountain bikes, track bikes, scraper bikes, recumbent bikes, downhill bikes, 10 speeds, beach cruisers, BMX and even virtual reality bikes have all been highlighted at one point by the BFF.
“The festival is accomplishing what I want it to accomplish,” Barbur said. “It attracts all different kinds of people with different lifestyles that share a passion for bikes.”
Go to bicyclefilmfestival.com for the complete screening schedule.