Los Angeles: Swag Town USA

We love bikes and we love community here at the SurviveLA compound, so today we ventured down to the Metropolitan Transit Authority headquarters to attend Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Town USA bike giveaway. The truth is, of course, that we also love free shit and these events, where city officials line up to pay lip service to cycling, tend to overflow with swag. But today, in the shadow of the swanky MTA tower, only cosponsor Lipton Tea had any swag and an odd glass booth which folks stepped into and grabbed at coupons animated by an attached power blower. If you grabbed enough coupons you were entitled to an ugly Lipton t-shirt. Our dignity didn’t allow us to participate in such a tawdry spectacle, but we did score a box of a hundred tea bags. But we digress.

The main point of this event was to unite fifty people who had written essays about why they needed a bike with their new wheels which were donated by Giant. We had naive hopes that the fifty winners would mount their new bikes and ride off on the mean streets of LA in one big happy flock, like a bunch of ceremonial white doves released from a cage. Of course, the last time we witnessed a dove release was at an event put on by the El Cajon based UFO cult, the Unarius Society. When they opened the top of the papier-mache UFO that housed the doves, the doves refused to leave until, after a long and awkward silence, someone wearing a polyester space cadet uniform came over and beat on the bottom of the UFO. Even then, the doves left slowly, one at a time, for what seemed like a half hour while all the cynical types in attendance stood around trying not to laugh. Similarly today’s Bike Town USA event ended not with a bang but with a whimper – the thirty or so contest winners who bothered to attend shuffled off to load their bikes into their SUVs and drove home where, we suspect, many of the bikes will just sit in the garage.

The handful of speakers who kicked off the event included representatives from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the MTA, the Department of Transportation, Bicycling Magazine, and a former Bike Town USA contest winner from Irvine. Unless I missed something, none of the speakers even hinted that a bike could be used for anything other than recreation. Now we’re all for getting exercise but we think it’s time to take the bike beyond just recreation, and into the realm of transportation – and prove that two wheels are a fun, sexy, pimped-out kind of transportation.

Bike culture is taking off in this city in a big way, with the success of Bike Summer, Bike Winter, and the ongoing Midnight Ridazz phenomenon. We suppose it’s too much to expect a magazine like Bicycling which caters to folks who own $5,000 bikes to get with the program. We applaud the idea behind Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Town USA program – to get people on bikes – but does the web site for Bike Town USA need to feature a prominent banner ad for a gas-guzzling SUV? And what about the cross-promotion with Lipton, the “Live Well Challenge” which suggests enjoying “three servings of delicious Lipton’s Tea a day” along with the bike giveaway. We assume Lipton isn’t suggesting three servings of their products that contain copious amounts of high fructose corn syrup.

But perhaps we’re getting too cynical here. At that Unarius dove release we witnessed many years ago, after much pounding, finally a group of doves flew up into the sky. The last rays of sunshine cast a golden hue on the small flock of birds as they soared high above El Cajon, a blighted suburb of Thrift Stores and Plasma Donation centers east of San Diego.

Perhaps some in that group of fifty new bike owners will spread the joy and love of riding two wheels and make this tangle of freeways and asphalt a better place.

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