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.