How to buy a revolutionary

March 6, 2014 § 12 Comments

Don Ward is a big guy with big opinions and a big mouth and big, big, big, big street cred to back it all up. Infamously known as “Roadblock,” he’s the legend behind Wolfpack Hustle and the mainspring behind the off-menu L.A. Marathon Crash Race.

If you don’t know what a marathon crash race is, then you are tone deaf when it comes to urban cycling in America. Beginning in 2009 the Wolfpack Hustle riders “crashed” the L.A. marathon course. As soon as the barriers went up, usually around 4:00 AM the morning of the marathon, the ridazz would hop the barriers and race pell-mell from the start to the finish, ripping down L.A.’s biggest and most off-limits-to-bikes thoroughfares in the glory of a pre-dawn 26-mile beatdown.

The crash race, like all bike races, also featured crashes. Dudes on fixies, road warriors in full bike racer drag, the curious, the crazy, the anarchic, the manic, the insomniac, and every other species of rider found her way over the barriers and onto the marathon race course to sample that sweet asphalt freedom that is normally RESERVED: FOR CAGERS ONLY. It quickly became known as the largest unsanctioned race in the country.

It was the running of the bulls, L.A. style.

Have you ever been to Pamplona?

Whatever the running of the bulls used to be, it’s not anymore. In 2014 this completely bizarre, alien tradition of getting drunk and running from fighting bulls is now a college stunt. In addition to frat boys, it’s mostly a mix of young white guys, frat boys, some English fellows, frat boys, and boys from frats. What is the cachet? Hint: There isn’t any.

The L.A. Marathon Crash Race found out the hard way that you can’t be a rebel without a cause and a rebel with a city permit. Rebels don’t need no fuggin’ permits. What they need are open streets and a good criminal defense lawyer. The crash race’s demise, however, was much more terrible than everyone waking up one day and suddenly realizing that it would be “cool” to bike downtown L.A. in the wee hours, thereby making the crash race forever uncool.

No, the death of the crash race, like its life, was deeply embedded in the tattooed, drunken, drug-using, marginalized, borderline poverty line cycling counterculture that makes up the vast majority of bicyclists in greater L.A., a counterculture much of which may not even be tattooed or drunken or drugged. In short, the sanitized social view of cycling as something done by middle-aged white men on expensive bikes wearing $900 Rapha outfits had been turned on its head by Roadblock and the Wolfpack Hustle.

Most L.A. cyclists aren’t “cyclists”

The might and main of people who ride bikes in L.A. are not part of the lycra road riding crowd. They have a lot more in common with the Wolfpack Hustle, economically and socially, than they do with Velo Club La Grange. They ride bikes for transportation, and also for fun. Most of their riding terrain is the asphalt of urban Los Angeles rather than the off-road tracks of the Santa Monicas or the groomed climbs of the PV Peninsula.

Wolfpack Hustle began as an expression of this common bicycling humanity, a rejection of roadie elitism, a rejection of USA Cycling’s dictatorship-cum-greed, a rejection of cagers, and an assertion of every Angeleno’s legal right to ride in the street. It was no accident that Roadblock chose the night, a time that cyclists are typically terrified of riding, to establish the legendary late night ride of the Wolfpack Hustle. Even the word “hustle” was a carefully crafted mission statement. Life’s a hustle. To live in the city you gotta hustle. Ride your bike in traffic you sure as shit better hustle. Don’t straggle or fugg off in the group … hustle.

To lead is to advocate is to compromise is to change

Ward became a leader. No, he became the leader. He tapped into swirling currents of ostracism and outsider-ness that percolate through the urban L.A. cycling community, and he, with them, became a vanguard for the rights of bicycles in CARS ONLY LOS ANGELES. More importantly, he saw the connection between poverty and transportation and urban survival and police-community relations and took the issue of cycling rights to its logical conclusion: Human rights.

As an advocate he was hard-nosed, efficient, smart, and an ingenious consensus builder. The Hustle went from an outlaw ride to an organized ride that received the informal blessing of the LAPD. The success of issues related to riding bikes in downtown Los Angeles owes a lot to the work of Don Ward, and in the process he’s gone from cocktail-tossing revolutionary to patient member of the cycling establishment.

This repels many, who call him “corporate” and a “sell out” and who long for the good old days of outlaw rides and devil-take-the-hindmost. But these criticisms only prove the point: You can’t advance without compromise and you can’t compromise without change. Which means, of course, changing yourself.

Victim of a petty schmuck

The crash race was shut down by the “Chief of Investigation and Enforcement of the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services,” or “COIAEOTCOLABOSS,” for short. It’s pronounced “Coya-Yotco-Laboss,” or just “dipshit.”

Dipshit informed Roadblock that if he went through with the crash race he faced jail and fines for whatever the city had to pay as costs for enforcement. A revolutionary would have promptly placed the letter in the round file, or perhaps would have sent an email along the lines of “I have two sweaty balls. You are free to lick them.”

Jail and fines, of course, are the way you bring a responsible advocate to his knees. The event’s “cancellation” came five days before the crash race, which was itself no coincidence, because it gave the disorganizers no time to try to obtain the mysterious “permits” without which such an event couldn’t be held. No matter that the whole beauty of the crash race is that it piggybacks on the existing infrastructure supporting the L.A. Marathon. No matter that the city’s “enforcement costs” are zero. And no matter that this is just one pinhead’s power play.

What matters is that an outlaw event, once tamed, can never return to the wild.

Thanks to Don Ward, L.A. is a better place to ride a bicycle for countless people. Thanks to Don Ward, bicyclists for five years sampled the sweet, evil pleasure of crashing the marathon. Thanks to Don Ward, a huge section of LAPD no longer looks at bikers as de facto criminals.

If we have to trade the crash race for all that, it’s a trade well worth making.

Hats off to you, Roadblock. Ride on.

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