Cycling’s marquee player

January 29, 2014 

Greg Laemmle, an avid cyclist and bike advocate, enjoys a moment at the Hansen Dam.

A “Super Bowl Sunday Funday Warm-Up Ride” offers a healthy diversion before the coming onslaught of game day nachos, truck ads and football.

Next month, a benefit screening of the 1979 feel-good cycling flick “Breaking Away” gives a boost to “Operation Firefly,” a program of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) that provides bike lights to folks who need them to ride safely at night.

And in April, “Climate Ride California” spins through the northern part of the state, raising funds for non-profit environmental and alternative transportation organizations, including the LACBC, which is sending a team.

A common denominator in all three events? Greg Laemmle, president of the 75-year-old local theater chain and an increasingly visible advocate for bicycling in Los Angeles.

These days, in fact, it’s hard to miss him: he’ll be the guy leading that Super Bowl Sunday ride from the North Hollywood Red Line station to Griffith Park and back. (He did it last Super Bowl Sunday, too, with an L.A. football history-themed itinerary stretching from the Coliseum to the Rose Bowl.)

He’ll also be at the “Breaking Away” fundraiser, which takes place Feb. 12 at Laemmle’s NoHo 7. And he’s captaining the LACBC’s team for the Climate Ride, which is being promoted with a “Ride with Greg Laemmle Contest” featuring movie pass prizes and contributions toward riders’ fundraising goals.

In other words, he may be an off-screen player in the movie biz, but in the local cycling world, he’s an above-the-line star.

“He’s a great face for our cause and the set of causes he supports,” said LACBC executive director Jennifer Klausner, noting that the Laemmle name is “synonymous with Los Angeles,” especially among art film devotees.

“We feed on the passion that he has for a wonderful future vision of a liveable Los Angeles,” Klausner said.

Although Laemmle, 48, has early memories of riding his bicycle at the beach and to Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, it wasn’t until gas prices spiked in 2007 that he felt moved to take things to the next level. He became a bicycle commuter between his home in Century City and his company’s office over the Royal Theater in West L.A.

Since that time, he has joined the LACBC board and become something of a two-wheeling role model, hoping to persuade fellow Angelenos to give cycling a try, particularly for the most common trips of three miles or less.

Beyond his daily bike commute, Laemmle and his wife, Tish, a top fundraiser for the popular annual River Ride, bicycle all over town.

“It’s crazy to get to the Hollywood Bowl by car, and sometimes it’s a lot of fun to ride your bike there,” Laemmle said. “I ride to Dodger Stadium and, to their credit, the Dodgers have added bike parking. We rode downtown to see a play yesterday at the Ahmanson.”

The couple ended up taking the Expo Line home from that one—making it a “multi-modal” outing involving both bikes and light rail.

“As Metro expands, the opportunity to combine Metro transit with bicycling really opens up a lot of possibilities for getting around,” Laemmle said.

He acknowledges that there are dangers out there for cyclists interacting with cars on L.A. streets, although he said he hasn’t personally experienced any mishaps.

“I have almost never encountered a situation where a driver is aggressively acting in a dangerous manner,” Laemmle said. “For the most part, people are really kind. As long as you’re happy about sharing the road, a lot of people are prepared to do that.”

Greg and his dad, Bob, outside the Royal

Off the road, Laemmle, as a third-generation movie guy, naturally has some cinematic cycling favorites that cut across genre lines.

“ ‘Breaking Away,’ that’s an obvious one. There are definitely some other good bike movies, too. ‘The Bicycle Thief.’ And ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’ has some nice bicycling scenes.”

Laemmle’s bike-friendly world view shows up in his workplace, where he has installed showers for the use of fellow bike commuters. Those include his dad, Bob, the firm’s chairman, who has now retired but still comes to the office regularly on two wheels.

Greg Laemmle said some have questioned whether bike advocacy makes sense for a business owner’s bottom line.

“I was at one point advocating for bike lanes on Lankershim, in front of where the NoHo theater opened up two years ago, and there was a comment, ‘I doubt Mr. Laemmle really wants bike lanes if they’re going to slow cars down,’ ” Laemmle recalled.

Actually, yes he does. “First and foremost, we have to be forward-looking, both from an environmental standpoint but also from a business standpoint. Most studies will show that neighborhoods that slow traffic down…and have bike infrastructure and pedestrian infrastructure and so forth, actually see an increase in business.”

And then there’s this:

“If you don’t have to own a car, or can share a car between a couple, that’s a lot of savings. And, you know, those savings translate into more money to spend at restaurants and doing stuff locally. So for what you save not having to pay for parking when you go the movies, you can buy a tub of popcorn,” Laemmle laughed.

Posted 1/29/14

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