Monday, April 11, 2011

Bikin' with the Chopaderos

Click to enlargenate

Eight thirty AM Sunday finds me alone in Mariachi Plaza, East Los Angeles.

Waiting. This is typical. I have a mania about being on time. Waiting, boredom, anticipation, I can handle, but I have an absolute horror of being late. The Chopaderos are supposed to be here at ten; I'm almost two hours early. I'm glad to be here at all. The weekend started badly, with toothache pain Friday morning. By Friday night it reached vicodin level. Saturday morning found me in the dentist's chair, fortunately with vicodin as a reward. No serious pain this morning, but I'm wrung out from pills and little sleep. That's OK. I'm here
From time to time bicyclists emerge from the underground Gold Line rail station, and head toward the Cyclavia starting point several blocks down Boyle Street. Today the city belongs to bicycles. Seven and a half miles of downtown are blocked off for bikes, skates, scooters- anything without a motor. Today I'll be riding with the outlaws. I've been looking forward to this the way an eight year old anticipates Christmas. Soon enough we'll roll, but for now, there is nothing to do but wait.

So, how did I get here? What are the links in the chain of events that finds me alone in Mariachi Plaza, waiting for an outlaw bicycle club called the Chopaderos early on a cool Sunday morning in April? It's always an interesting mind game to trace back the ties in the web of coincidence that connects all things in life, especially when you've got vacant brain time, like when you're driving. Or sitting and waiting. How do I find myself here?
I could go back to sometime in the early 70's, when I ran into a guy with a beautifully restored Schwinn Autocycle at Huntington Beach pier. That got me hooked on classic bikes, and got me started building my fleet. But I wrote about that in an earlier series of posts entitled The Jaguar Project. The first link in this particular chain came about a year and a half ago when I was filling in for the custodian at one of the local elementary schools. I was daydreaming about motorcycles- revisiting the cross country trips I made on the Harley back in the early 90's. Thinking about those long solitary summers on the road, the runs to Sturgis, the parties out in the backwoods of Tennessee, and West Virginia. And thinking how far behind me that stuff is, now. I took to searching out pictures of choppers on the web. How cool it would be to have the means to build one... Then I stumbled on to the picture of the Spoiler- a chopper with pedals.

I had to have that damn bicycle. I found one, bought it, and that got me going on bicycles, again. Soon I had it tricked out with a three speed, a suicide shift, a new saddle, and sissy bar.
But just having a chopper bike would have gotten me nothing except a reputation for being eccentric around my home town. The crucial link came when Mary and I were riding our (boring) comfort bikes around Huntington Beach. We ran into a guy that had an incredible old Shelby Airflow. He told us about Cyclone Coasters, a group that meets each month for an antique/classic bike cruise. I got the chopper bike up and running, and then set out to bring the classics out of the crates they'd sat in since the nineties. We got to the first Coasters ride last June. It was there that I heard about the Chopaderos.
A chopper bike club? You gotta' be kidding me. Really?
I had to look into this. And now I'm here in Mariachi Plaza, waiting. And soon enough I catch a glimpse of a truck loaded with long bikes pulling up around the corner. I wheel the chopper over to the far side of the plaza. This is it. They're here.

Click makes pic all big.
One by one, by two's and threes they arrive. I have met a couple of the guys a few times, but that's it. It's always a little awkward the first time you meet with a group, and unlike Cyclone Coasters, this group is an organized club. Nonetheless, I'm not stressing out over it. Getting older has its advantages- you learn to take things in stride, bide your time, and allow, rather than force things to happen.
These guys have some incredible bikes. Some are customized Basman cruisers, others are one off hand built choppers. A couple of young guys with video cameras are working their way through the growing crowd. They're shooting some footage for a possible cable TV project- maybe a viral web cast. They go about this like professionals, handing out releases, and video recording everyone's permission to appear on screen. Who knows? This may be the fifteen minutes of fame I've been told I have coming. I'll take it.

Pics grow huge with a click.

But now I'm hearing bells. The ride is about to begin. The group moves out by twos and fours and, Here we go! This is what I've been waiting for. I'm ridin' with the Chopaderos. The first leg of the run is down hill; we gain some fairly serious speed, and the fat rear tire on the Spoiler sings on the pavement. We approach the iconic bridge across the LA river filmed in countless television shows and heaven only knows how many movies. A stop on the bridge for a group shot...

Click me and I grow.
And then we're rolling again- through Little Tokyo, around through the artist district, and then we make the right onto 7th Street. This. Is. It.
The city in all its glory.

Here's where the strangeness of what we are doing hits home. These streets are never quiet. Cars, buses, truck, sirens.- gone. There are bicycles, pedestrians skateboards, and the soft hum of the crowd. Our pack moves slowly through the traffic, and everyone on either side does a double take, and points, as we pass. Guys on road bikes slow down and ask questions. Others just stare, incredulous. We pass a cop trying out some kid's three wheel scooter. Other cops are cruising along, or watching the few intersections where the ride is halted for cross traffic. They seem to be diggin' it. They're friendly, courteous, in synch with the vibe of the day. We pull off to the side near Hope Street. One of Chopaderos, Fez, has bike trouble.
The delay gives everyone a chance to take in the scene, and watch the parade of bikes pass by. You see a little of everything- road bikes, mountain bikes, cruisers, but we seem to be the only bunch on choppers. I'm a little surprised- I expected to see more stretch bikes, or some classics. I haven't seen anyone from the Cyclone Coaster group either, but this crowd is huge- easily in the tens of thousands. After about twenty minutes, or so the word comes down- Fez's bike is out of commission for now. So we we roll again.

Click to embiggen

Next pause is for a pit stop at McArthur Park. The sun is out, the sky has cleared up, there's a band playing, and the park is full of partiers. And the Real Rydas show up. This is an all black bike club on the most outrageous looking machines on the street. Bling is the theme: mirrors, chrome, multiple spare tires, zillion spoke wheels, and springers unbolted from the fork head, so the whole front end flips under the bike. I clicked a bunch of pictures, but only a couple came out.
Here's Fonda, meeting with the Rydas . (second pic)

These too shall grow-click

At this point the traffic is getting pretty heavy- just like LA on any normal day, only without cars. The cops are pushing us off to the side of the street, so we cruise on. Now we have to climb some hills into East Hollywood. That's the only drawback with a chopper- you can't stand up on the pedals, and grind; you gotta' just grit your teeth, and tough it out. But everyone makes it up the hill, past the pretty girl handing out grapefruit wedges, past the rock n' roll string quartet, around a few more turns, and then there it is- Melrose Avenue- end of the line.

Click to increase your size.

We hang out here for about an hour, and I'm glad for the break. I've been up since early, breakfast is a long ways down, and I don't want to eat on the still tender tooth. Here, there seems to be the mix of bikes that I did not notice on the pass through downtown- more cruisers, a few classics, a bunch of folks with quickly scribbled hand made signs protesting coal. Coal? Welcome to LA.

The ride back is mostly down hill. The day is getting late, and soon the streets will be opened for cars again. The group gets spread out very thin, and it's hard to keep track of the patches. As we return to the downtown area, I see the Chopaderos gathering at a corner bar. Bikes are thick as spaghetti around the place, and it's standing room only inside. I pull over, but by now I'm just beat. I want to hang out some more- want to keep this day going for just a little while longer, but my tanks are drained, my needle is on "E", and I have to just call it in.
So it's back through little Tokyo, back over the bridge, and then back up the steep incline to Hollenbeck Park that started this long strange trip. Beat as I am, I suddenly get determined to make this final hill without getting off to push. Crank by crank, yard by yard, it's like climbing out of the inferno, until I see the baricades. I stop at the corner of Boyle, and then coast back down the hill to the park. I come around the bend in the road. There's my truck. Waiting to take me home.
It's been a good one.