Bike Winter


To our two wheeled brothers and sisters, Bike Winter is upon us! Two weeks of proof that you don’t need a Hummer to get around our ugly town.

We want to draw your attention to one ride in particular that Homegrown Revolution will be participating in, the Tour de Crap. Join us on February 9th as we take a tour of the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant. Learn where your business goes! Details on the Bike Winter website.

Ridin’ On

SurviveLA was stunned into silence late Tuesday night upon hearing about cyclist Jen Diamond’s horrific accident which occurred early Sunday morning. Apparently a driver deliberately ran her down and fled the scene. To add insult to injury, the LAPD dragged its feet on the investigation until calls to Eric Garcetti’s office got the councilman to intervene and get the LAPD to take this crime seriously. Thankfully, Jen is recovering at home and pledging to return to her bike as soon as possible. Read her diary here.

So why do we bring this up on a blog devoted to urban homesteading? SurviveLA believes that the bicycle is the most elegant of all human inventions, and is the single greatest solution to our nation’s transportation mess. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Unlike the automobile, it does not alienate us from each other nor from our environment. As J.B. Jackson put it, “The bicycle had, and still has, a humane, almost classical moderation in the kind of pleasure it offers. It is the kind of machine that a Hellenistic Greek might have invented and ridden. It does no violence to our normal reactions: It does not pretend to free us from our normal environment.”

A bicycle is a great way to save money and true self-sufficiency entails being as economically prudent as possible. We can recommend compact fluorescent bulbs, hand washing clothes and a myriad of other energy saving ideas that will lesson our impact on the environment but at most save a typical household maybe a few hundred dollars a year. On the other hand, getting rid of a car and replacing it with a bike, which we were able to do, can save the typical household an average of between $8,000 and $12,000 a year. We realize that not everyone can get by without a car, and between the two of us here at the SurviveLA compound we still have our junky Sentra, but even if you just replace a few trips with a bike ride, at least you’re getting some exercise and connecting with what it feels like to be a kid again.

So why aren’t more people ditching the car keys? What’s the biggest objection to riding a bike in Los Angeles, and for that matter any big city in America? Overwhelmingly, what we hear from people is that they are afraid to ride in traffic. It’s fear, and frankly hearing of Jen’s ordeal made us want to do what most folks in LA do with their bikes — stash them in the back of the garage and let them collect dust. But Jen, in her weblog about the incident, says

As soon as I am physically capable I will be back on my bike. I can’t wait to feel the wind on my skin and through my hair as I descend through gorgeous Griffith Park. Riding isn’t that dangerous. I just happened to have a twist of fate that intersected me & a maniac. Ride as safely as you can, walk as safely as you can, drive as safely as you can. You can’t stay inside hiding. In my home town a woman was actually run over by a truck in her own house. It drove right through and hit her.
Ride safe, ride strong.

Robert Hurst, author of The Art of Urban Cycling, calculates that driving is twice as deadly per hour of exposure as riding a bike. Still, the risk of injury on a bike is higher, though mostly due to simple falls, not car/bike collisions. But it’s still hard for most people to overcome the fear. To banish those fears we need to force our cities and police departments to make cycling safer. It’s an urban homesteader’s duty to be involved with our communities and a big part of that duty is making our cities more bikable. What a tragedy it is to see people who drive to a gym so that they can ride a stationary bicycle!

Unfortunately, the City of Los Angeles does not take cycling seriously. Senator Barbara Boxer speaking at the Mobility 21 summit in Los Angeles last month said,

. . . we should do far more to get people out of their cars.

Complete streets are one example. This means including bike paths, sidewalks, and ramps for the disabled at the beginning of the planning process not treating them as an afterthought.

Let’s face it: This is not just about the future of our roads, but also about the future of our children, who are suffering most from the obesity epidemic in America.

Not so long ago, more than two thirds of children traveled to school by foot or on bicycle. Now it’s less than 10 percent.If we make walking and biking a more practical choice for all ages, we can combat congestion, improve air quality, and promote better health all at the same time.

For too long the LA Department of Transportation has treated cycling and walking as an afterthought, if they thought about them at all. We urge everyone to call, write, fax, or email LA DOT bicycle program coordinator Michelle Mowery to tell her that the deaths and accidents cyclists have suffered in the past few months are unacceptable and that we want complete streets and respect for cyclists and pedestrians. Tell her that we want bike lanes that don’t put us in the door zone and that don’t end before reaching useful destinations. Tell her that we want bicycle boulevards and traffic calming measures to make our trips safer. Tell her that we want bike routes free of dangerous potholes and debris. Tell her that we want the transportation engineers responsible for the bicycle infrastructure to actually ride the things they design not drive them. In short, tell her that we want the things that other more enlightened cities around the country and the world already have. Let’s make LA a great city to live in. Let’s ride.

Michelle Mowery
Bicycle Program Coordinator
City of Los Angeles
Department of Transportation
100 S. Main St., 9th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Telephone: 213-972-4962
Fax: 213-972-4919
[email protected]

Life Can Be So Car Free

SurviveLA headed out on our Xtracycle sports utility bike yesterday to help the velorutionaries over at C.I.C.L.E. carry swag and propaganda to the new Los Angeles State Historic Park (formerly the Not a Cornfield site) for the first annual happening, Life Can Be So Car Free. We were pretty impressed with our ability to use human power to carry stuff until we were put to shame by one of members of the band Telematique who arrived pulling a bike trailer with a home-welded tall bike!

Speaking of moving stuff with bikes, for those who missed the fantastic Life Can Be So Car Free, here’s a video from groovy Portland that was shown last night.

Secure your Ride Part II

In an earlier post we discussed pro-wrestling scholar and Toronto bike outlaw Nicholas Sammond’s controversial bike locking strategy. Nic wrote us back to say that we got it wrong – he hose clamps his back wheel and locks the front, not the other way around. We stand corrected.

We’ll be looking at some other locking strategies later on. In the meantime this video demonstrates the frustrations of the ever evolving locking strategy problem as well as dissecting the social dynamics of crowds, specifically the fact that the more people who are around the less likely it is for anyone to intervene when something goes wrong:

Los Angeles: Swag Town USA

We love bikes and we love community here at the Root Simple 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.

Secure your Ride Part I

Today’s bike locking strategy is bound to be controversial as the subject of how to secure your bike is one of those tasks, like thwarting squirrels, killing cockroaches and arguing with Republican family members, for which there are no easy answers. We credit this tip to a recent visitor to the SurviveLA compound, Nicholas Sammond author of the award winning book Babes in Tomorrowland and a former NYC bike messenger back in the day.

Now, many of our modern rides come with quick release levers so that folks can throw their bikes in the back of their Hummers and drive to the nearest bike path. Unfortunately these quick release levers make it real easy for crackheads out there to steal wheels for their daily fix. Comrade Nic suggests securing the front wheel quick release lever to the fork with a hose clamp. That way you can just lock the back wheel and frame to a secure object and not worry about the front wheel. Comrade Nic claims that he’s never had a wheel stolen with this technique in many years of riding the bad-ass streets of North America and Nic theorizes that crackheads don’t carry screwdrivers. We hope this is true, and we will add that if you hose clamp your wheel to the fork you will have to carry a screwdriver to fix a front flat. Of course loyal SurviveLA readers already carry a multi-tool (such as a Leatherman) with them at all times to deal with any number of contingencies – yes? You could also replace the quick release lever with an old school nutted axle but then you will need to carry a wrench to get the wheel off to fix a flat. This would be a good point to also suggest that if your seat is equipped with a quick release it’s time to figure out the correct seat height and replace that quick release with a bolt because crackheads also like to steal seats.

We’ll get into some other bike locking ideas in other posts, but if you have locking strategies you’d like to suggest please leave some comments. In the meantime internet bike guru Sheldon Brown and the folks at the NYC Bike Messenger Association have lots of bike security tips. And whatever you do don’t just lock the frame – make sure you lock both wheels and the frame to something secure!

And why do so many bikes get stolen? Cops in Victoria, British Columbia have a theory that disassembling and reassembling bikes soothes methamphetamine addicts.

“We’ve come across lots of sites littered with bikes and bike parts,” Const. Peter Lane said.

“They sit in the bush with hundreds of parts just fiddling with them all day…”

“For some reason, they find fiddling with bike parts satisfies that need for stimulation,” Lane said

A Sports Utility Bicycle


We recently did an experiment to see if we could go for a week in Los Angeles traveling only by bicycle. What made this car-free week a success was the ingenious Xtracycle, a cargo bike ideal for the challenges of urban American streets. The Xtracycle extends the back wheel of the bike and is essentially a huge pannier bag with a skateboard-like seat. We’ve managed to haul four bags of groceries, the same amount we used to carry in my car, and we’re talking heavy stuff here including watermelons and glass bottles. The Xtracycle handles well even with heavy loads – the ride is smooth and cornering is just like any ordinary bike. The saddlebags, which the company calls “Freeloaders”, are designed in such a way that they cinch up the cargo and maintain a narrow profile, essential for maneuvering in city traffic. This narrow profile is the great advantage the Xtracycle has over bike cargo trailers and European style cargo bikes such as the Christiania Bike, both of which assume access to dedicated bike lanes. The long wheel base of the Xtracycle combined with a load over the back wheel makes the bike easier to brake and it’s nearly impossible to flip over the front handlebars. The only disadvantage is that you can’t bunny hop.

While you can buy a complete bike from Xtracycle, I put mine together with an Xtracyle FreeRadical Hitchless Trailer Kit that I bought on ebay combined with an old 1980s mountain bike. This is the bike I would recommend – an older mountain bike without front suspension, which adds weight and is not necessary for urban riding. And remember that the kit does not work on bikes with rear suspension. I would, however, recommend buying straight from the company as the kits don’t seem to be selling on ebay at a significant discount.

Putting it together was relatively simple – it took two trips to the Bicycle Kitchen, an extra length of chain, a rear derailleur cable made for tandem bikes, as well as a general tune-up for the old bike we used. If you ride on paved streets remember to use slick tires

The Xtracycle has been a significant step in reducing our dependence on our crappy Nissan Sentra, and has allowed us to divest ourselves of the other crappy car we used to own. In fact, using a bike for transportation has been the single biggest step we have made towards self-sufficiency. Cars simply demand too much: repairs, insurance, gas, licenses, registration, smog checks, not to mention the terrible toll they take on our environment and the need to fight wars to maintain our addiction to oil. When you ride a bike you are profoundly free, liberated from the demand our culture makes on us to own a personal automobile, a machine that may be the downfall of our once independent nation.

Kipchoge Spencer, president of Xtracycle understands what it will take to start the bike revolution. In an interview with Grist magazine he said, “Mission accomplished is when mass pop culture realizes riding your bike to work is the coolest way to get there. The next step in this mission will be me giving Cameron Diaz a ride to the Oscars on the back of my bike and passing Leo in his Prius, stuck in traffic behind a fustercluck of limos.”

I would add that riding a bike is also the coolest way to haul things. If you don’t believe me check this out. Of course, there is also a blender attachment.