A Bicyclist’s Bill of Rights

Thomas Jefferson, founding father and fixed gear gallery addict.

Biking back from downtown this morning in the poorly designed bike lane on the high speed/high volume traffic sewer that is Sunset Boulevard, I came upon a treacherous bend in the road that I’ve navigated a million times before. Over the past few months our city has seen fit to erase the bike lane markings, dig up the road and then apply asphalt the way a five year old would spread meringue on a pie. Months have gone by and they haven’t bothered to reapply the stripping. The city crew also left gouges of a size perfect for catching bike wheels, and a few slick metal plates to give us two-wheeled fanatics some extra challenges. Despite occasionally losing my temper, I try to view these challenges as a skateboarder would view a bleak modernist office plaza full of railings, concrete benches and staircases–as an opportunity for fun, while keeping in mind Robert Hurst’s, author of the excellent book The Art of Cycling, admonition to “ride with fear and joy.”

But occasionally the indignities tip the balance and my ego makes an ugly appearance. Today, coming around that bend, in addition to the amateur street repair work, I came upon two semi-trucks, one parked the wrong way, with both taking up most of the bike lane. Adding the proverbial cherry on the shit sundae, the film crew these trucks belonged to had placed an unoccupied folding chair in the bike lane, blocking the narrow strip of rough asphalt separating me from all the cell phone wielding SUV monkeys barreling westbound towards their cubicles.

In a moment I’m not particularly proud of, I picked up said folding chair and threw it forcefully on to the sidewalk. Had I been wittier this morning I might have launched into a critique of Hollywood’s inability to make a decent movie, but instead unimaginative expletives were exchanged between me and the craft services chefs disgorging the wrong-way parked semi. If all Hollywood films were directed by Werner Herzog or Goddard I might put up with the occasional dangerous inconvenience, but instead this long winded introduction gives me a chance to push a bold new way to end these indignities: the Bicyclist’s Bill of Rights.

Alex Thompson, over at WestsideBikeSIDE lays out some excellent reasons for this badly needed set of principles. Later this week we’ll put up the complete bill of rights, which we hope will spread beyond the auto-clogged dystopia that is the City of the Angels. In the meantime, wherever you are, take back the streets–they belong to all of us, not just General Motors!

Pedal Like Hell


Thanks to the folks at IlluminateLA for a tip on this human power competition on youtube. We especially like the entry above for the honest admission that our everyday tasks take a lot more energy than we imagine. It’s good to be reminded occasionally of the inescapable laws of thermodynamics, which C.P. Snow summarized as,

1. You cannot win (that is, you cannot get something for nothing, because matter and energy are conserved).

2. You cannot break even (you cannot return to the same energy state, because there is always an increase in disorder; entropy always increases).

3. You cannot get out of the game (because absolute zero is unattainable).

Practically speaking, you’ve gotta pedal like crazy to keep that laptop running.

The Horror

Terrifying photo via Bike Snob NYC
The day began with the discovery that our neighbor’s roommate, practicing the kind of gardening we associate with crazy people and goats, had hacked off half the length of the native grape vine that we had counted on covering an ugly chain link fence. An innocent mistake, but evidence that some folks apparently don’t know what grape vines look like and that they loose their leaves in the winter. So what does this have to do with man bras? Nothing, but both make us cranky.

Our crankiness leaves us at a loss for words, so instead of a lengthy post we offer a few bike related links:

Bike Snob NYC has a nice essay on why cycling is a fringe activity, which may explain why it’s one of the least favorite topics on Homegrown Revolution according to a poll we did last year. Hint: it has something to do with aesthetics. And for the bike fetishists out there, Bike Snob’s deconstructions of Craigslist ads are a great time waster.

Fellow LA Bloggist and committed bike commuter Will Campbell (his mileage indicates that he’s got the Kool-aid in those bottle cages), has smacked down Cato institute stormtrooper Randall O’Toole in an ongoing debate on cycling in the pages of the L.A. Times.

Urban Velo #5 is available for download and it’s free.

Lastly, Commute by Bike has some tips on how to ride in cold weather without opening the wallet for expensive clothing.

Here’s this morning’s Vitus californica desecration (Vitus californication?):



We Are the Festival!


Here in Los Angeles we’ve got a number of lame Christmas traditions including the low-rent Hollywood Christmas parade and the L. Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland (no joke). But the lamest of all has got to be the Department of Water and Power’s annual Christmas light show, which turns one of our few parks into a exhaust clogged traffic jam during the holiday season. Worst of all the city bans bikes from the light festival in spite of the fact that it takes place on a public street. The city’s ban is a direct violation of state law.

Thankfully the folks at IlluminateLA are planning to swarm the festival this Friday. Ride your bike and join them at the Mulholland Fountain at Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard at 7:30 p.m. From there the plan is to ride through the festival and take back the streets!

Unfortunately, Homegrown Revolution will be hob-knobbing with our publisher and won’t be able to attend, but we’ll be on call and ready to put down our cheese plate to bike over just in case a certain city council member needs to be taught a lesson.

Safety Films Night

Homegrown Revolution, in support of the ongoing two-wheeled revolution, is putting on an evening of vintage bicycle and traffic safety films at the Echo Park Film Center on Sunday November 4th. It’s a special benefit for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Watch as little Jane and Johnny take to the streets for the first time to learn the rules of the road. But bring your motoring friends as well, since we’ll also serve up a selection of classic driver’s safety films. We’ll round out the evening with a few bicycle related shorts and oddities from the world of educational films.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) is a membership based advocacy organization working to improve the bicycling environment and quality of life in Los Angeles County through advocacy and education. The LACBC envisions a Los Angeles County that is a great place for everyday, year-round cycling with bicycles accepted as an integral part of our transportation system, culture, and communities.

Admission is $10 with all proceeds going to support the LACBC.

Sunday November 4th
Time 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm

The Echo Park Film Center is located at 1200 North Alvarado Street @ Sunset Blvd. Map

This ain’t a safety film and we won’t be showing this gem on Sunday, but it reminds us that we need to write about the aesthetics of urban homesteading. Something about the three-way nexus of Germans, country music, and “new wave” speaks to the notion of growing food and keeping livestock in the city:

Homegrown Revolution at the Alt-Car Expo

Homegrown Revolution will be making an appearance at the Alt-Car expo this Saturday October 20th at 10:30 a.m. to pimp for the bicycle as an alternative to the electric and ethanol cars crowding the improvised showroom at the Santa Monica Airport. We’ll be joined on a panel discussion by Jennifer Klausner of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Joseph Linton of Livable Places. The panel is entitled “Getting out of the Box”. He’s what we’re gonna say:

We don’t ride bikes because they are good for the environment–we ride them simply because they are fun and unlike a car, each mile we go makes us stronger physically and more alert mentally. Riding a bicycle puts us in touch with the spaces we live in and the people who inhabit those spaces. As the Situationist Guy Debord said,

“Traffic Circulation is the organization of universal isolation. In this regard it constitutes the major problem of modern cities. It is the opposite of encounter, it absorbs the energies that could otherwise be devoted to encounters or to any sort of participation.”

By riding a bike we break out of the isolation and anger that a box on four wheels stuck in traffic breeds.
The bicycle is the most elegant of all human inventions. Repair and maintenance are within the grasp of virtually everyone. Parts are understandable and, for the most part, interchangeable. With each pedal stroke, legs, heart, lungs and mind grow stronger.

Riding a bicycle is something you can do now. You need not wait for a future of expensive electric vehicles or technical innovations that may never come. The bicycle has a proven 150 year plus record of dependability.
You need not wear Lycra and, as the picture above proves, sometimes skin-tight clothes can be a very bad idea. You don’t need to be an athlete or have special clothing or equipment. Just jump on and roll.

In Southern California we don’t have the excuse of bad weather. Conditions are perfect for year-round cycling and the terrain is mostly flat. It’s a bit hilly in Homegrown Revolution’s neck of the woods, but these hills build character.

We’re what you might call “car-light”. Between Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown Revolution we still have a battered 1994 Nissan Sentra which spends the overwhelming majority of its time sitting in the garage collecting dust. Around the time we got rid of our second car we put together an Xtracycle. While it’s hard to improve on the basic design of the bicycle, the Xtracycle is a great way to haul cargo. We can easily pack just as many groceries on this bike as we used to in the Sentra.

The chief objection that we hear is that cycling is not safe. We used to use this excuse not so long ago before we hopped back on our bikes. We respond by saying no it isn’t safe, but neither is any other mode of travel. Cycling is definitely what Socrates would call, “the considered life”–it demands your full attention. But there are ways to minimize the danger and maximize the fun. Two good sources: the League of American Cyclists Road 1 class and Robert Hurst’s excellent book, The Art of Urban Cycling Lessons from the Street. Route choice, i.e. going out of the way if you have to to choose mellow streets, will also greatly reduce the hassle of dealing with impatient and distracted motorists.


We’ll close our brief presentation with this image of a Ghanaian welder who created this tall bike. To ride it he first pushes it to get it going, climbs up high enough to turn the pedals with his hands and, once he has enough momentum, jumps up in the seat. It symbolizes for us not only the shear joy of riding a bike, but a future that will be more about techniques than technologies. As Daniel Pinchbeck said,

“Instead of envisioning an ultimately boring ‘technological singularity,’ we might be better served by considering an evolution of technique, of skillful means, aimed at this world, as it is now. Technology might find its proper place in our lives if we experienced such a shift in perspective–in a society oriented around technique, we might find that we desired far less gadgetry. We might start to prefer slowness to speed, subtlety and complexity to products aimed at standardized mind.”

The bike is ready to go. That showroom full of electric cars, ethanol guzzling engines, and pie-in-the-sky fuel cells are all the dying gasp of a disastrous 20th century fixated on technology for technologies’ sake. It’s time to ride on.

We’ve taken the flowers out of our hair

Homegrown Revolution is back from San Francisco with a couple of random observations from our trip:

1. The picture above of a gas cap spotted in the Mission District demonstrates, that even in a bike and mass transit friendly city many folks take their cars a little too seriously. Let’s remember folks, we suspect that Jesus rides two wheels and takes the bus and does indeed look anguished every time we open the gas cap.

2. We took our bike with us and enjoyed the numbered bike routes that take you north-south and east-west. While not perfect (we would have preferred a few more signs to point the way) these routes help a cyclist navigate thought the city taking you down more bike friendly and less hilly streets. The San Francisco bike map (pdf) shows the routes in addition to signage on the streets.

3. Raising chickens made us appreciate San Francisco’s strident health food store, Rainbow Grocery which has a chart in their egg section to show how the chickens that produce the eggs are raised. We meant to get a photo of this elaborate chart but unfortunately we forgot the camera. Posted on the refrigeration cabinet, the chart tells you which of the brands they carry clip beaks or wings and whether the chickens have access to pasture. Rainbow Grocery was the first San Francisco retailer to carry only cage free eggs.

4. Unfortunately we didn’t see this exhibit by photographer Douglas Gayeton at Petaluma’s Singer Gallery, but you can view images from his slow-food related photo essay about Tuscany here.

5. While Homegrown Revolution promises never again to get into celebrity gossip, we’ll note that we spotted gravelly voiced alt-rock singer Tom Waits gassing up his Lexus SUV at a filling station in Berkeley. More exciting to us was discovering that our base of operations in the Mission was a mere block from the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army safe house where heiress Patty Hearst became urban guerrilla Tanya. We have a feeling we’ll see the return of revolutionary noms de guerre in the coming few years and when that happens we’ll see Tom ditch the SUV for two wheeled transit on Berkeley’s many bicycle boulevards.

Licensed to Rant


As someone who uses a bike to get around it scares us to think about how easy it is to renew a driver’s license, as one of the Homegrown Revolution compound members did this week. Can you breathe? Great! Here’s your license. Are you homicidal, schizophrenic, elderly, partially blind, or all of the above? No problem! Just step up, have your picture taken, take a vision test that could easily be cheated on, pay $27 and you can legally get behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound exhaust-spewing death machine.

While our country does everything it can to facilitate everyone getting behind the wheel of a car, there’s one big thing you have to give up, in addition to lots of cash–your privacy. It’s been many years since we renewed our license in person and this time around there was one big change–a sign taped to the wall just below the grinning portrait of the actor who played Conan the Barbarian saying in effect that if you don’t want to be electronically fingerprinted you won’t get a license. Which brings to mind an article by Claire Wolfe in the most recent issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, the Martha Stewart Living of the off-grid set, in praise of walking and biking (triking to be precise) from a radical libertarian perspective.

One of my aims in choosing this life has been, as Thoreau said, to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” In the case of transportation, my notion of simplicity involves a few special requirements.

First requirement: No permits, licenses, government registrations, or bureaucratic involvement at all. I know it’s naive in this super-governed age, but I’m foolish enough to hold fast to the belief that in a truly free country people travel peaceably on the roads without being stopped and hassled by “the authorities” and without asking the permission from the king (or the president, or the governor, or the Bureau of Lawn Mowers, Motorbikes, and Small Radio-Controlled Widgets). Motor vehicles are not only expensive and prone to breakdowns (anything but simple), but with driver’s licenses becoming national ID cards, unconstitutional highway “checkpoints” everywhere, and our every move being tracked through our licenses, registrations, and purchases, those vehicles we rely on are being deliberately used by government as the vehicles of our unfreedom.

The Real ID Act of 2005, which Bush signed into law on May 11, 2005 sets up federal standards for state drivers licenses. Two of the requirements of the law “physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication for fraudulent purposes” and “a common machine-readable technology with defined data elements” sound a lot like incentives for fingerprinting and RFID, a kind of computer chip which stores information that can be read from a distance by a radio frequency device.

Currently all motor vehicle records in California, including the fingerprint and photo databases are open to district attorneys, city attorneys and law enforcement agencies as put forth in section 1810.5 of the California vehicle code. In addition banks, insurers, attorneys and auto dealers can access certain parts of license records. The Real ID Act will set up a massive nationwide database open to any law enforcement agency, “A state shall provide electronic access to all other states to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the state”.

We can take some comfort in the incompetence of the California DMV. A December 2000 article in the Orange County Register shows that DMV clerks had so many problems using the electronic fingerprinting machines that over half of the fingerprints were deemed unreadable and useless.

Fingerprinting and RFID are presented as ways to deter counterfeiting and identity theft, but aside from the obvious privacy concerns and the government handouts to dubious tech companies marketing these gadgets, our drivers licenses becoming national identification cards raises bigger philosophical questions. What further steps will be taken to monitor our mobility? How will governments and corporations use RFID chips, not to mention the global positioning capabilities of cell phones? And why is automobile travel so entwined with our very identity? Are we free-thinking citizens, participants in a democracy or are we merely motorists?

It’s time to opt out of the system. It’s time to walk and it’s time to ride a bike . . .

Selling the Revolution

“Revolutionary urbanists will not limit their concern to the circulation of things and of human beings trapped in a world of things. They will try to break these topological chains, paving the way with their experiments for a human journey through authentic life.”

-Guy Debord “Situationsit Thesis on Traffic”

So it’s got singing hippies and it’s basically an ad, but we just can’t help but love this mini-doc about the creators of our fun and useful Xtracycle: