A War, a Bike, and a Former Minnesotan
Why is Biking War?
Biking year-round in Minnesota is a war against the elements. Blizzards, icy roads, rain, sweltering heat… It’s never-ending.
Goggles, a facemask, layers, boots – all key pieces for battling roads in negative ten degrees with white out conditions. Ice, chunks of snow, plows, narrow roads, sloppy drivers, and short days – all these things conspire against riders.
In the springtime it’s the rain – constant rain. And in the summer it’s hot as hell and humid all the time – so after even a ten-minute ride sweat pours out like a body faucet. Looking back, the only time it was easy to ride in Minnesota was the fall. Not bitching – just saying.
If biking in Minnesota is a war against the elements, biking in LA is a war against a culture that’s been car-centric for what seems like eternity. For most Angelinos, the car is their identity. Sadly, cars were never important to me. I can appreciate them – like watching sports – but I don’t live or die by either. I know – what the hell kind of a man am I…
Sure, I have fond childhood memories of my family’s VW Bug – the floor falling out was especially memorable. My buddy’s VW Bus in high school – which he would operate with his knees while munching on a Big Mac with one hand and scraping the window clear with the other cause the defroster didn’t work. And then there was my father-in-law’s Buick Estate Wagon – which I so gloriously burned to the ground right before meeting him for the first time (definitely fodder for another post).
But cars never meant status to me – hell, with the right lease anyone could look like a millionaire. Can’t tell you how many producers, actors, and real estate brokers I’ve met who drive the fanciest car imaginable, but live in dumps a beach bum would turn his nose to.
Cars served a purpose. I can appreciate them, the freedom they provide, the speed, the design, the fun – but I don’t like traffic, road rage, car repairs, or constantly filling up the tank.
A sense of community is lost when people get into their cars all the time – they’re metal boxes that empower drivers and make them feel like no one else can see them. It’s kind of sad, but I won’t get into that bigger issue here. But that’s how I treat cars – like I’m invisible, a bug hovering next to them down whatever street I happen to be on.
In another post I describe my first ride in Los Angeles – a treacherous jaunt from Veteran to 10th Street – barely two miles – but it felt like the edge of hell was nipping at my ass the entire ride. After quickly realizing if I was going to make it as a bike rider in this town, I’d need to act like the “enemy” – a car. Not that I really see cars as the enemy, but to survive in LA it’s essential to be on the offensive and assume no one sees you. Quickly, I had to find a way to maintain an average speed of at least 25 to 30 MPH whenever I was anywhere near traffic – so I had to bust my ass. And like the film industry – I’d have to fight to get noticed.
The other thing I learned right away in Los Angeles – even the bike you ride gets judged. Although I didn’t give a shit – I loved my 8 year old beaten up Raleigh mountain bike (it had served me well through every season in Minneapolis), however, my Executive Producer did not approve.
“If you’re going to be a bike-riding director, you have to at least show up in something cool,” he told me.
Being a bike collector himself he actually gave me a custom built Cannondale Cyclocross with touring handlebars. Even the guys at the local bike shop were impressed by my ride – always a good sign, especially since I’m not a gear-head and couldn’t tell you the differences between the various components, but I can definitely feel the difference between a mediocre ride and a great one. And this was a great one – it was about to make my life much easier.
It meant I could get to Universal Studios from Venice in 50 minutes. Yup – for those of you unfamiliar with the map of LA that’s about an eighteen mile ride that takes around 60 minutes in a car. What?! It’s ten minutes faster on a bike? Sadly, yes. So when I’m flying down Cahuenga at around thirty-five miles an hour I’m neck and neck with traffic until we hit Sunset – then the cars stop for a while and I keep moving. And the 405 – ha! Suck it. That’s over an hour during rush hour.
Because this was so unusual it has become – as one Executive put it – my “thing.” Seriously. I’m known as “that biking writer director.” Once, after a pitch meeting, a studio executive found out I drove (it happens) and actually said, “Don’t mess with your brand – you’re the biking director.”
So whether it’s “my thing” or my “brand” it doesn’t really matter – I’d be doing this even if it didn’t get all that attention. Honestly, I thought I was way more hard-core biking in Minnesota – but they could’ve given two shits about it.
“I just biked through that blizzard.”
“Oh. That’s nice.”
So I guess biking could be perceived as war cause it’s me versus the system, but I’m starting to think war might not be the best word for it – it’s more like a covert operation that’s slowly taking over the streets of LA. When I left Minnesota 7 years ago it was a crappy place to bike – now it’s the best in the Nation (thought Portland would still debate this one). I think there’s hope for LA.
More oddball cycling stories to come…