Los Angeles’ bicycle scene hits adolescence


Braving potholes, uninformed drivers and all-around inhospitable city streets, Los Angeles cyclists are forced to fend for themselves. And that is exactly what they’ve done.

In the last few years, Los Angeles’ urban cycling community has put its DIY ethics in action, propelling the scene forward by creating specialized group rides, opening bike shops and spearheading advocacy organizations that attempt to do the impossible — turn the sprawled-out dystopia of Los Angeles into a bike-friendly city.

Unlike bikeable urban areas such as Portland, Ore., San Francisco and New York that have long had physical and social two-wheeled infrastructures, Los Angeles is still growing into its cycling identity, and this year it celebrates a milestone that might seem petty to those cities.

It was only five years ago that L.A.’s first bike co-op — the Bicycle Kitchen, or La Bici Cocina — moved out of its space inside the Los Angeles Eco-Village and opened its non-profit doors at the now-bike-centric intersection of Melrose Avenue and Heliotrope Drive.

Though it might not sound like that long ago, Bicycle Kitchen has inspired and shaped the growth of Los Angeles’ biking community in the last five years more than a bike shop ever could.

This is mainly because the Bicycle Kitchen is not a bike shop at all — it’s a volunteer-run operation that promotes bicycles as viable transportation and runs programs to educate cyclists of all ages on how to build and maintain their ride.

From beginning cyclists who want to learn how to change a flat tire to more advanced riders who just need to rent a repair stand and some tools so they can swap out their new cranks, the Bicycle Kitchen is a bike-obsessed cultural center that welcomes all.

In addition to teaching local high school students how to build their own wheels and offering up a ladies-only repair night, the co-op also sponsors rides to local art galleries, bike-related street fairs and fundraising concerts, all of which spur dialogue between the city’s diverse riders.

Since its move to East Hollywood in 2005, the Bike Kitchen has become a model establishment, inspiring cyclists in other Los Angeles neighborhoods to form their own take-what-you-need, give-what-you-can bike joints and making the United States’ most car-obsessed city into one that is also rich in bicycle co-ops.

First there were Bike Oven and Bikerowave. Bike Oven started in a Highland Park garage as a place where friends could come to trade parts and fix bikes. Word spread quickly and in 2007, it moved into a more accessible location on Figueroa Street and is now Northeast Los Angeles’ signature co-op.

Bikerowave spent several years hiding in an industrial area of Santa Monica before expanding into a legitimate storefront in Mar Vista last year, making it the Westside’s go-to for DIY bike repairs.

It is interesting to note that the current locations of all three of these co-ops — Bike Kitchen, Bikerowave and Bike Oven — are either next door to or across the street from the area’s major bike shops.

It’s hard to imagine that a nonprofit set on empowering riders to build their own bikes and do their own maintenance would do well in the vicinity of a for-profit bike shop that has available-by-the-hour mechanics on hand to do the same, but in Los Angeles, the two operations work in collaboration as an unlikely yin and yang.

Although Bikerowave and Bike Kitchen give riders the tools to set them free from relying on bike shop mechanics for minor repairs, their for-profit counterparts (L.A. Brakeless and Orange 20, respectively) are still able to sell new parts, conduct bike overhauls and offer accessories that can’t be obtained from the co-op’s donated junk bins.

Breaking from this yin-yang trend, though, are two new co-ops that have found homes in the last year. Like many similar community projects, Los Angeles’ co-ops grew out of bikers seeing a need and creating the solution themselves, without regard for business-friendly locations or business etiquette.

The Bicycle H.U.B. in Long Beach conducted workshops and repair stand rentals out of a garage, a dive bar and other transitory spaces for several years before obtaining permission to move into a condemned car body shop across the street from the Pacific Coast Highway Blue Line station.

From its epicenter at the corner of Heliotrope and Melrose to its latest fringe locations on Main St. in Santa Ana, the bicycle co-op movement has permeated L.A. more than anyone thought possible.

By offering dynamic education options and affordable bicycle repairs to everyone who comes in, Los Angeles’ co-ops are attracting people from all skill levels, age groups and social classes, bringing diversity to the expanding bicycle community and preparing Angelenos for a car-alternative future.

Sarah Bennett is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, “Fake Bad Taste,” runs Wednesdays.