Although it may not have been intentional, one wonders why Hillel Aron, and his LA Weekly article's photos, focused on four professional white males. It's easy to summarize history by simply pointing to specific people, but it is often wrong and usually incomplete. The truth about the grass roots bicycling movement in Los Angeles is that it arises from the progress of the city's historically disenfranchised people (of color, women, in the queer community, immigrants, working class, youth, non-English speakers, etc).*
Through a combination of omissions and generalizations--especially those about the Bicycle Kitchen, LACBC, and Midnight Ridazzz--the article comes dangerously close to presenting a revisionist undermining of the relationships between these communities and LA bicycling. At best, they add up to shoddy journalism, and at worst, they carry a whiff of co-optation by straight white male upper-middle class men.
The article frames the Bicycle Kitchen as a place that facilitated transformation of bicycling from a "DIY, anticapitalist hobby" to a fashion statement replete with iPhones and tight pants. This is a preposterous suggestion. Although bicycling has gained a fashion footnote in mainstream media, the Bicycle Kitchen has never aimed to move it there. On the contrary, the space thrives because it collects the diverse outsider perspectives of its volunteers. While hipsters do use the space, so do homeless people, kids from the largely Latino neighborhood (who can't afford iPhones), and immigrant day-laborers, among others. This departure from the mainstream--not the push towards it--is exemplified in the regular Monday night shift "Bicycle Bitchen," which creates a safe space for women and transgendered people within bicycling.
The article repeatedly misacronyms LACBC as "LA Bicycle Coalition" instead of the LA County Bicycle Coalition. It also reduces the organization's accomplishments to its impact on the Sunset and Venice bicycle lanes and Metro bus racks. If a person glanced at the LACBC's body of work, they would find numerous other projects that have steadily improved bicycling in Los Angeles, including the recent installation of sharrows on Fountain Ave and the continuing City of Lights outreach program.
Most significantly, as a blanket organization, LACBC reaches across the spectrum within the bicycling community, from weekend warrior roadies, to immigrant commuters. The LACBC is not the apex of bicycling advocacy--nor does it claim to be. It faces its own set of challenges and barriers, and exclusionary rhetoric from other advocates that describes its work as ineffective or tertiary is wrong, destructive and counterproductive. Additionally, failure to properly credit the group neglects the efforts of a largely female staff, including planners, community coordinators, and executive directors.
While the article only praises LACBC's origins, it ignores the origin of Midnight Ridazzz, limiting its discussion to later stages, involving the growing hipster participation, clashes with the police, and irritation of drivers. The unacknowledged roots began with women planning rides with friends to explore the city. The early agenda didn’t include creation of a trendy scene, or confrontation with drivers and police. As in its treatment of LACBC, the article limits its attention to a male-dominated back story.
Unquestionably, Ron Milam, Joe Linton, Alex Thompson and Stephen Box have a place in LA Bicycling. And I applaud Box's gusto in running for office. Contending for an elected position in a city as fractioned as Los Angeles is a financially, physically and emotionally draining process. That said, the article's problematically flawed oversimplification of the city's grass roots bicycling movement wrongfully couples Box's campaign to the state of bicycling. His win or loss, however defined, is by no means representative of the feelings for, against, or within, the bicycling community. Life is delightfully complicated as is Los Angeles bicycle culture. Stories about us should illuminate that, not simplify and deaden it.
* Personally, I believe these communities may be predisposed to bicycling in a place where it isn't deemed normal because they already recognize the need to manifest radical solutions in the face of oppressive systems that perpetuate themselves (e.g. racism, sexism, heterosexism), not unlike LA's driving culture.