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Riding After Midnight: Late Nights and Bikes in LA

Midnight Ridin'

(Judas Priest reference in the title there...)

12:30 AM, Saturday night.  I was debating between going straight home after leaving my friend's place and stopping at another friend's for a party...just for a second...maybe one drink...

Seriously, just one.  Oh COME on, quit judging me...

I was riding down 29th Street on my Bianchi road bike when I decided to call my friend to see if her shindig was still going on, so I stopped at 29th and Menlo.  As the call started to go through, I noticed a mass of 40 to 50 bicycles approaching with little lights twinkling like diamonds.  I knew those bicycles had to be the Midnight Ridazz...

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Midnight Ridazz = a party on wheels.  Power in numbers, in two wheels we trust.  Riding with friends and having a beer without ever stopping at a bar (or stopping in general).  Just looking for an escape on a cool weekend night in LA.  Dancing to music from a sound system pulled by a bike trailer--one hand in the air, the other on a brake lever (or maybe you don't have brakes, you fixie hipster--yeah, I went there).

And the journey itself is the only destination.

Midnight Ridazz started one night in 2004 when a group of eight friends in Echo Park were bored and decided to make a bit of an event out of their usual trip to the bar.  They biked through Downtown and surrounding areas on a tour of local fountains.

The group of friends turned into a mass of people in a matter of years, almost exclusively by word of mouth.  With the growth of cycling between 2004 and 2008, especially road and fixed-gear cycles, the group exploded; eight people became (in some cases) eight hundred, and rides couldn't be organized by a few people.

Now, anyone can organize their own ride on the Midnight Ridazz website and see who else is organizing theirs.  Typically the rides are 20 to 40 miles at a slow to medium pace, often taking place in Echo Park, Downtown, or Hollywood--many times, all of these places in one night.

The explosion of alternative bike culture around the United States has spawned an entire culture around late night rides.  Midnight Ridazz isn't the only late night ride in Los Angeles anymore.  Besides the dozens of smaller rides throughout the week, there are major staples in the diet of late night LA rides.

Monday, there's the now-legendary Wolfpack Hustle: unless you're mad into lycra and have Tour de France aspirations, this is probably the fastest ride in the United States.  Tuesday, Bicykillers in the San Fernando Valley--don't ask me the details of the ride, thems Valley folk.  Wednesday, the Koreatown Forge and Gorge: pedal reasonably fast, eat shittons of food--what more in life is there?  Last Friday of every month, Critical Mass: arguably the largest and most famous ride because it takes place all over the world on the same day: young, old, hipsters, business people...all out for a slow-paced joyride throughout their respective metropolises.  The Saturday after the third Friday of each month, C.R.A.N.K. MOB, a self-proclaimed "monthly bike ride dance party masquerade carnival sextravaganza": more party than ride, but it's all the same in the end, really.

But of course, there's the classic ride: the Midnight Ridazz Friday night rides.

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Spoke Cards

Come to think of it, my first ride was a Midnight Ridazz ride.  The "Mother of All Rides" in mid-March was a glorified scavenger hunt.  Two people dressed in egg costumes hid throughout a moderately-sized section of Hollywood.  Four groups, each with about a hundred to two-hundred riders, went on a hunt for the "eggs."  Once found, the winning groups got spoke cards: collectible momentos as proof of going on a ride, to be proudly displayed in the spokes of your bike wheel. (And no, it's not like putting baseball cards in your spokes when you're a kid because you wanted your bike to sound like a motorcycle.)  From there, the four groups converged and sped through all parts of Hollywood and surrounding areas: The Grove at Third and Fairfax, Hollywood and Highland, and Melrose.

As I made my way through the massive pack of riders, the music changed: one person slung a ghetto-blaster over his back, playing the best in electronica at the time (Digitalism!), then another bike pulling a sound system blasting guilty pleasures (Journey? Foreigner...dear God).  I talked to strangers--elated to be on the ride, excited to meet me and anyone else.  There were moments of pure speed.  Heading South on La Brea from Hollywood toward The Grove is a slight downhill.  We picked up speed, gunned passed cars, cheering all along the way.

If you asked me why this first experience got me so hooked on bikes, it would be hard to put it in words.  I think part of it is the innate human desire for the thrill of velocity, the lust for a bit of controlled danger.  Good music blasted from trailers throughout the mass of 5-600 people had lots to do with it.  But I think most of it had to do with the beauty of human congregation in pursuit of noble goals.  Simple goals.  Share the speed, the feeling of exclusivity, the collective ownership of the road for at least one cool night.  A few miles.  A few hours in an alternate, irreverent reality.

Most cars we encountered that night honked in approval, and drivers cheered out their windows.  You can't help but holler back.  And smile.

And maybe that's what it was...I couldn't stop smiling that night as I cruised through those potted-and-pitted Hollywood streets.

* * * * * * * * * *

The twinkling lights and bikes approached and stopped at the same corner I was on, 29th and Menlo.  What a strange place for a group of riders...

...what a strange group of riders.

Some cyclists were in full Viking suits (yes, with horned helmets), some with puppets, others in shiny metallic jumpsuits.  I approached the group and asked someone (who turned out to be Ryan, the ride organizer) about the ride...

Me: Hey, what ride is this?
Ryan: Midnight Ridazz, Robots ride!
Me: Where we going?
Ryan: Dunno, but we're gonna party, come with!

The Robots ride, it turned out, was an off-shoot of Midnight Ridazz.  Like C.R.A.N.K. MOB, it's more like "party with a bit of riding" than "riding with a bit of party."  Fine by me.

We biked through The Row, and not surprisingly, ran into many Greek parties and people.  Most were appreciative.  One was a douchebag.  He took his bike (a beach cruiser, but not that it REALLY matters in the end) and threw it into the street for the express purpose of fucking somebody up.  Unfortunately, somebody did fall as a result of it.  Well, one of the Robots riders didn't take that so well...Fist + Face.

We ended up on the USC campus at McCarthy Quad and Leavey Library.  The promenade in front of the library, so often frequented by students looking for a smoke or phone break any other day of the week,  filled with people looking for a beer and dance break.  After everyone had their fill of dance and drink, we rolled out to the LA Coliseum, where just hours before, it was populated by tailgate parties for a USC football game: middle-aged men recalling their college days to the dismay of their wives and embarrassment of their four-year-old children.

Once there, we went down to the bowels of the Coliseum's underground parking structure.  We carved through the parking lot ramps and got to the lowest level in the parking structure, where dancing, drinking, and debauchery continued.

It seems maybe as though we were in Hell...so far beneath the earth, with so much vice.  But to everyone there, it was Heaven.