Rollin’ on the river
June 5, 2012
Years before Los Angeles streets went car-free for the freewheeling festivities known as CicLAvia, bike advocates were already forging a path with the L.A. River Ride.
Now in its 12th year, the L.A. River Ride, which takes place on Sunday, is not just the granddaddy of local cycling activism. It’s also riding a growing wave of bike popularity, with new and veteran riders pedaling together in celebration of a still-evolving regional cycling culture.
“Committed cyclists ride by ourselves every day,” said Joe Linton, one of the event’s founders, along with Ron Milam and Chuck Arnold. “Group rides make us feel more connected with each other—and are a great way to welcome newer, less experienced riders into the fold.”
Since its beginning, the ride has generated support for two causes—bike advocacy and the health of the L.A. River. The event is now the yearly fundraiser for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit bike advocacy organization.
“We were one foot in river activism and one foot in bike activism,” Linton said.
In the late 1990s, before the first River Ride, the three activists organized a series of prototype events with Friends of the L.A. River and Occidental College. According to Linton the events were successful, and gave bikers a chance to see a “natural” side of the L.A. River.
“One of the big things about the L.A. River is that people don’t know where it is,” said Linton. “I think a lot of people imagine it is all concrete like in the movies Terminator and Grease.”
Although the ride draws attention to the river, its main thrust has always been about expanding bikeways. To help get federal funding for the inaugural River Ride in 2001, Linton pitched the goal of a continuous 50-mile bike path along the river, from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach.
In 1998, around the same time the ride was beginning to take shape, Linton and Milam co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. According to J.J. Hoffman, a coalition member who has organized the River Ride since 2005, the event and the organization have grown in symbiosis. The first ride drew 780 cyclists. When the bike coalition expanded in 2007, attendance doubled. Organizers expect this year’s event to draw about 2,500 cyclists.
The goal of a 50-mile continuous path along the L.A. River remains elusive, but there has been progress. When the event began there were 18 miles of bike path, built in the 1970s. Now there are nearly 30 miles of path, with another 1.5 miles to be added later this year as the West Valley River Bike Path moves towards completion. When the Metro Orange Line Extension to Chatsworth opens on June 30, 4 miles of bike path perpendicular to the river will open with it, eventually connecting to a part of the river path planned for the future. Hoffman says the cycling community is eager to keep adding to the total.
“Having 50 miles of uninterrupted bikeway in Los Angeles would be like having our own bike freeway,” said Hoffman.
This year’s ride takes place on Sunday, June 10. Registration starts at 6:30 a.m. The route will take riders along the river where path currently exists, and will detour around parts of the river where there’s no path yet. Security will patrol the route with radios to ensure riders stay safe. Helmets are required, and technical and medical support will be available along the ride.
There are 7 different ride options to choose from, from a 100-mile Century Ride to a 15-mile Family Ride and an even shorter Kids’ Ride. Registration ranges from $50 to $65 except for the Kids’ Ride, which is free. Most rides begin and end at the Autry Center in Griffith Park, where festivities will be held, including an International Food Fair, an “Eco Expo,” live music and a raffle. Rest stops in Elysian Valley, Hollenbeck Park, Maywood Recreational Park, Dill’s Park and Long Beach Shoreline Park will also feature food, music and entertainment. Visit the event page for more details.
Cyclists are encouraged to raise money by having people sponsor their rides. For the first time, this year the top fundraiser will win a 10-day guided bike tour of the Tuscany coast in Italy, and runners-up will win bike parts and apparel. Those who want to support the cause but can’t join in can sponsor the ride or make a donation.
This year’s grand marshal, Bobby Gadda, serves as the President of the Board of Directors of CicLAvia. Gadda said both events offer something unique:
“Both CicLAvia and the River Ride are all about families enjoying biking in the streets, using the public space in a different way.”
This Sunday, Gadda will lead rides out from Griffith Park, high atop his famous tall bike. There will be a lot of folks behind him, and even more behind a growing, healthy movement from gas power to pedal power.