March 14, 2021 § 10 Comments
I got a text from John Jones over at East Side Riders with the above picture. They have used YOUR donations to purchase the community’s first e-bike, which will be used as a mobile bike shop to provide bike maintenance and repair services in Watts.
Next step is outfitting the bike; John is going to send over photos when the mobile bike shop is up and ready to go.
John’s text also said this: “Thank you for believing!”
This really hit me hard. It’s not money that makes things happen, it’s believing. Believing in a mission, in a person, in an idea.
To everyone who believed, this bike’s for you!
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March 3, 2021 § 7 Comments
Since my request on Feb. 12 during Black History Month to help raise $7,000 for East Side Riders and their effort to buy a mobile bike shop for Watts, readers and donors contributed a whopping $4,004.00.
As I said in my blog post, at month’s end I would cover the balance personally between what you contributed and what remained to reach the fundraising goal. Here it is:
I spoke with John Jones, and ESR is going to have the mobile bike shop up and running by the end of March/early April. I will write an update for the rollout when it happens.
Thanks to everyone who was moved by John’s mission, and to everyone who was willing to donate money in order to help get functioning bike service and repairs in the Watts community.
Each pedal stroke adds up to long distances!
February 25, 2021 § 5 Comments
Anthony Freeman is a lifelong competitor. The minute you see him on the bike, you know he’s serious about what he’s doing. No big surprise there–he’s a national title holder and world title holder in BMX racing. Getting to the top of any sport is hard, but maintaining the passion and intensity your entire life takes something else entirely. Anthony spoke with me about his history as a bike racer and openly discussed race and racial issues as they affect cycling and the world at large. His heartfelt and thoughtful approach deserves careful consideration. Here he is, in his own words.
Seth Davidson: Tell me about your background in BMX.
Anthony Freeman: I started racing in the early 80s. When I got to high school I walked away from the bike, got a car and got involved in other activities. That didn’t go so well so I picked up the bike in 11th Grade and focused on racing BMX and getting out of my community. It allowed me to travel the world. Four years later I won the national title and my life changed. I was having a great life, I retired from pro BMX in 1998 and have done a few amateur races since then.
Seth Davidson: What role did your race play as a BMX racer?
Anthony Freeman: There were a lot of popular BMX racers who were black. Steve Veltman was on the Wheaties box, and he was black. He was highly inspirational for young black BMX riders, and seeing him inspired many of us to race. Along with Steve there was Anthony Sewell, the first indoor BMX world champion in 1979, that was when BMX titles were held in major arenas. Rennie Roker was an actor and would sponsor major BMX races in the late 70s and early 80s, He ran JAG BMX, and there were guys like Tommy Brackens and Turnell Henry. These guys were from Compton like Rahsaan and Charon, they inspired us. They’re 60 now, I’m 48, they were very inspiring not just because they were black but because they were dominant. Black/white didn’t matter to me, I was just racing bikes. In the late 80s to 90s as I became more competitive I encountered a few racial issues in the Midwest and down South but not on the West Coast. We stayed at hotels, and BMX tracks were in cities with few blacks so when I would do warm-ups early morning and nights there were huge concerns with racism. Seeing a teenager riding a high end bicycle led to interesting experiences.
Seth Davidson: For example?
Anthony Freeman: Police pulling you over, flipping your bike over to see the serial number, asking how can you afford this bike, how can you have an earring and a pager, they only considered drug dealing as a way blacks could make money. I had money at a young age as an actor to fund myself so that I could have cars, jewelry, so I had problems with police and people questioning how I was able to afford such things. In 1993 I won the national title and 1994 I won the World Cup title.
Seth Davidson: How and when did you segue into road riding?
Anthony Freeman: In 1988-1989 my local shop, City of Bicycles, in Inglewood on the opposite corner of where George Turner’s Penuel Bicycles is now, I was working there from the age of 8. James Stallworth was from Chicago and George Turner and I were friends with him; he was owner of the shop. I began learning about all disciplines but MTB wasn’t on the scene yet. James was the team manager of JAG BMX so James was the one who told me it would be optimum to get a road bike and work on my spinning. I got a Nishiki, multicolored with aero bars, I’d do the Donut and get my butt kicked. I was really muscular and had no endurance. Road riding didn’t last long because I allowed my peers to influence me not to do it because of Spandex, which didn’t work in my community, so I walked away from it.
Seth Davidson: And you picked it back up?
Anthony Freeman: In 1995 I was at the highest level of BMX, and MTB became the big thing and BMX riders were transitioning to MTB; I got a Bianchi Campy Record bike. I’ve been riding on the road ever since.
Seth Davidson: What are your favorite rides?
Anthony Freeman: I like the Donut Ride because it’s most challenging and I always get dropped! And I like the challenge and it makes me feel like a road racer. Next is NPR because it’s in my home city, I’m from Inglewood.
Seth Davidson: What’s the vibe like on the NPR?
Anthony Freeman: When I was doing it heavy, like 2004, it was called the Pier Ride and I got serious about going hard on the training rides. Then it was all positive, no negativity, but I wasn’t really a contender. It took ten years before I became a contender where I could be one of the dominant riders and that’s when I started to hear chatter, people trying to discipline actions I was doing even though I was only mimicking what they were doing and I saw the difference between what some are allowed to do, where you could see the complaints from white riders against black riders. That became a real problem. It wasn’t until two years ago there were so many black riders who were dominant that the racism kind of became less outspoken. There have been moments here and there, emotional conflict, but it’s a sport, people are intense, it’s dangerous, I have to let things go. Whites are concerned about blacks, well, blacks are concerned about whites, and we need better communication. We love bikes just as much as white people do.
Seth Davidson: Why do you think people go from supportive to hostile?
Anthony Freeman: If society teaches that there is a dominant race, and you’ve been taught that, once something counters that teaching no matter what it is there can be some pushback. Endurance sports for African-Americans, we are pushed into a box of only being capable of fast twitch efforts as if we can’t develop slow twitch ability. If that’s the standard applied to the so-called African-American athlete, if that’s what you believe, then to see something different takes time for you to change your philosophies about human performance. We are human and we can develop fast and slow twitch, but you were never taught that we were human.
Seth Davidson: What do white people need to know about racism?
Anthony Freeman: They should understand that it exists and has always existed. When something is different it is going to drive at the idea of, “Is it equal to me, greater than, or less than me?” Those are your three choices as a human. It’s what this country has been built on, there is a so-called inferior race, black, if white people could understand that this is something that has been taught and this is based on the idea of white superiority, if you understood the value of so-called black people and what they have done and do today, if you could only understand how we play a huge part of this country being what it is. This means us being taken advantage of, excluded from education for hundreds of years, so whites can take advantage of that ignorance, build wealth for their families, and then not realize that your great-great-great grandparents stole from mine and that’s why we’re different. The reason why wealth is so great for Caucasians is because so much has been stolen for hundreds of years from blacks. Let’s deal with that reality, please.
Seth Davidson: Is that theft going on today?
Anthony Freeman: Absolutely, yes. Nothing has changed. It looks different but the idea of taking advantage of the so-called minority group is happening every day you see it primarily with sports and entertainment. So sports and entertainment where so-called black people generated a lot of wealth for the country, feeding millions of people, creating wealth for people outside their communities, so when you have athletes making 200M, well, the owner is making billions. We feel like we’re getting money because that one athlete is making a lot but he doesn’t understand the concept of feeding his village, his community that made him what he is. You don’t see the money coming back to the communities that built these athletes. When I won the World Cup title I went to Canada and there was only one mixed kid and 30 Caucasians in this class I was teaching. So I said, “I’m going back to black communities in Inglewood and give back to my community.” You give Anthony Freeman $200M, he will build facilities in areas where blacks are a big part of the population. Things are still sort of the same. It looks like they are getting worse. Facilities are going up but blacks are getting pushed out. I’m seeing more white people in Inglewood.
Seth Davidson: After George Floyd there was a lot of engagement by whites, was it sincere?
Anthony Freeman: Yes, but what drove them to be sincere? There was a pandemic; black men have been slaughtered on tv for years. It couldn’t have been a “wow” situation. Middle class whites were already having problems. The inner city blacks couldn’t pay their rent to the white landowners. Then George Floyd happened and blacks were pissed and this prolonged the idea that whites wouldn’t have their rent paid, that blacks couldn’t buy their junk, the economy was going to shit. Was it really sincerity? Whites already know racism exists. They are educated and learn about racism. They go to college and take courses in political science. It’s no surprise to most whites that racism exists. Because the pandemic was going on there was concern about where this country is headed.
Seth Davidson: What needs to happen for there to be meaningful change?
Anthony Freeman: It’s pretty much, it starts with politics. You have to get people in politics who are dedicated and who have proven to be in support of black people. I’m not talking about businesses you have in the black community. What about the guy in the parks and rec department, the guy who was at the YMCA for the last fifty years who has seen all the changes in the community? When we can see those people brought in you will see change. My parents and I have coached and have always been about our community and I’ve been inspired by others. As long as we’re not involved in the political process it’s going to be difficult for the people who don’t have a voice. If you’re doing the work in the community, you’re not on Wall Street. So there needs to be more support for finding people who are dedicated to the work to bettering our community, not those who are taking money from the community. If you’re making money off blacks and not giving back you are part of the system causing serious oppression and discrimination. I’d like to see whites together with blacks who have been active and supporting their community, not making money from it.
Seth Davidson: How can we increase the number of black kids on bicycles?
Anthony Freeman: Economics is big. Money is big and the driver of people in this nation. If there is something, whether a bike or a book, if there is hope that it can feed your family, people will want to do it. If you only show basketball to kids, their focus will be there. If black kids see Lance and the $20M he was making, black kids will be inspired. Same with tennis and Serena Williams. Something that will take care of people and their family, people who are thirsty for making a basic living. That’s how you inspire them to get involved with the bike.
Seth Davidson: You belong to a predominantly white bike racing club. How has that experience been?
Anthony Freeman: Originally I wanted to ride for Bahati and was just getting back into the sport and didn’t have the budget to spend on the kit and equipment. So I started working with George at Penuel, had some issues, and David Holland suggested I write a letter and I joined Big Orange. At the pinnacle of my BMX career, in that season I had two options: Go with GT Bicycles, or James Stallworth, and he said he would match their offer and let me pick up sponsors so I rode with James. So I’d never really got that chance to ride with a white BMX team, I stayed black the whole time. Riding with Big Orange was just a thing where I thought it would be good for me to convey the ideas of a knowledgeable athlete from the black community who knows how to train, eat, and prepare for cycling—it was me giving information about how we compete and get close to those outside my community who have a plethora of information for me. I chose the white college because I couldn’t get into the black college! I feel like in the black community we are limited to our access to information despite the Internet. So riding with Big Orange, in my opinion the top cycling club in SoCal, I felt it was important to integrate myself into the more elite community so I could bring that back to my community and help us build here.
Seth Davidson: Has your relationship with the club been a good one?
Anthony Freeman: Yes. Because I have dealt with some extreme situations with the black-and-white circumstances. I haven’t had problems. I feel respected.
Seth Davidson: Where does your passion come from?
Anthony Freeman: It may have something to do with sports having always been the way out of the hood, so to speak, so being black and athletic is not strange, it is an attainable thing to be extremely athletic and black, based on what we see on TV. Trying a sport that has a fewer number of blacks in it feels like you have a better chance. So going to a dominant white sport you feel superior until you get your ass dropped and you realize there’s something different. I’m buffer, I got more muscle, my background is BMX they can’t beat me, and then you get beat and you learn different things about the human body, slow twitch muscles, and that began my journey. I’m always looking for something to learn and improve, I love to read and study and grow, which comes from getting beat so many times on the road.
Seth Davidson: To what do you attribute your steadiness in the group? You aren’t easily intimidated in the pack.
Anthony Freeman: BMX, football, basketball, and martial arts are all full-on contact. BMX especially. I’m not afraid of contact whatsoever. And traditionally cyclists are 5-8, 150lb. white guys so I’m not that concerned about a 150lb. white guy compared to a 6’8 210lb. black guy, going through him for a bucket. I work hard to become an optimal athlete and do my homework so believe me I have been preparing the entire week, so that by race time I am super calm. There is no pressure. It’s the second race of the day, maybe, that’s difficult, but I’ve been rewinding all sorts of scenarios, rehearsing situations so that if they occur it’s not a shock to me. I try to ride with an open spirt. When you get rigid and focus on one thing you miss a lot and you’re not as calm. If you relax, don’t force things, that helps me maintain a lower blood pressure, lower heart rate. On top of that I’m very efficient with my breathing which is key also to sustaining calmness in the heat of the moment. There’s no doubt when you are a world title holder your confidence goes way up because you have at one point in your life been the best in the world. Doesn’t matter the sport. You have been the best in the world so you carry that confidence the rest of your life. I know that I don’t know everything and that drives me to constantly read and study and be interested in different people and areas, and the more I grow the more I realize I don’t know much at all.
Seth Davidson: What would you like to see happen in the next ten years in race relations in the United States?
Anthony Freeman: I’d like to see a solid focus on the health of every so-called race of people in the country and how to make it better for them as individual groups, we are all genetically different and we need to do the research for each racial group to understand what each group needs for an optimal life. And focus on each group and apply economics to that and understand that certain people have been deprived of the knowledge to be optimal in economics and teach them how to be optimal.
Seth Davidson: Thank you.
Anthony Freeman: You’re welcome.
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February 24, 2021 § 2 Comments
Have you noticed how computer software companies have default screen images of nature? Never of a giant freeway spaghetti bowl choked with sad cagers, always an epic shot of a waterfall, river, ocean, forest, little blue marble?
First and obviously to help you forget you are in a cramped space staring at a screen doing some odious task such as arguing with an insurance adjuster or filing documents. Second and less obviously to help you forget that those epic natural spaces are all but gone; you’re looking at a computer graphic that mimics (badly) some nerd’s fantasy of nature. Third, and most obscure, is to implant the tiny hope that if you stare at the screen just a few hoursdaysweeksmonthsyears longer, you’ll actually be sitting on that beach or scaling that peak or bombing that singletrack.
Of course the biggest and most exciting nature isn’t some iconic wilderness (unless that’s where you actually live), it’s the nature outside your front door. Whether you live in Gardena, Sugar Land, or downtown Philly, and whether it’s snowing right now, slushing, raining, or sunny, nature is out there. Not in here.
The biggest change I made in my life or will ever make was ditching my car. I ditched so many chains when I quit driving that it boggles my mind. More about that later, maybe. But for now I want to remind you, and me, that the freedom is fragile. When I got back from Texas I began slipping into car sadness. It was gradual and began with me actually driving a car for 200 yards out of the rental car parking lot before turning it over to Kristie for the long haul back to LA.
After that, all pooped out and such from too much bicycling and too little recovering, I quit riding my bike to the store or walking for errands, and started playing the role of passive cager, i.e. passenger. Then I relocated to Obscuresville, high in the Notknown Mountains, and got even lazier. House is at the top of a tall hill, groceries are either 5.2 or 7.2 miles away. 5.2 is not too hilly but no thick Greek yogurt. 7.2 is hilly af but Vons full-service supermarket. Solution? “Hey, let’s take your car!”
Imperceptibly I began to backslide into moodiness and cager sadness. I was riding for the dreaded goal of “fitness” as if, after 57 years, I’ll ever be fit for anything. Losing the function of bike as transportation and letting it slip back into being a toy was the kiss of mental death.
So when I had to make the trip to Long Beach to see my new grandbaby, and choose between caging it and riding it, I chose the bike. Thankfully Kristie had the car when the heavens broke in Tehachapi, so I can’t claim to have done the trip car-free. But I can confirm that a few days before leaving on the trip, once I’d committed to only riding, things immediately looked and felt better.
Now I’m in the heart of the SoCal city for a week or so, and riding everywhere. Car? Who needs one? Who wants one? A few honks here and there from sad people but that’s pretty much it. The restoration of freedom isn’t something you can fake. You either are free and you feel it, or you are chained and feel its absence. Maybe the best part of the whole trip happened yesterday. I was zooming up into a snarl. A garbage truck had parked in the right lane and people were frantically trying to swerve into the left lane, risking life and limb so they wouldn’t have to move their foot over to the brake pedal for a half-second.
I was in the right lane, checked over my right shoulder to make sure the coast was clear, and glided up a driveway onto the sidewalk, never breaking speed or cadence. By now the cars trapped (for two whole seconds) behind the garbage truck had been forced to stop and the left-hand lane traffic was slowing as the right-laners continued to risk all in order to get ’round the truck. So much sadness! I passed the parked truck and zipped into the right lane, which was now completely empty.
Got to the next light, which of course turned green on cue, and moseyed on.
Never touched a brake.
That? Is freedom.
February 19, 2021 § 7 Comments
Martin Blount is a founding member and president of one of Los Angeles’s largest and most influential black cycling clubs, Major Taylor Cycling Club of Los Angeles. Named after the greatest cyclist of all time, African-American Marshall “Major” Taylor, the club has its roots in a much older organization, Major Motion. I spoke with Marty about the history of both clubs, and he generously shared his detailed knowledge about cycling in Los Angeles as well as race issues that affect riders of color and their communities.
Seth Davidson: What is Major Motion?
Marty Blount: Major Motion is a bicycle club started 1975 primarily to be a social outlet for blacks and named in honor of Marshall “Major” Taylor. It was one of the first bike clubs in the country named in honor of Major Taylor and was designed for non-cyclists. Obviously there were some really talented cyclists involved but the goal was to get people who had never ridden or who hadn’t ridden for a long time, for fellowship and getting involved in the cycling life. Judging from the results it was pretty successful.
Seth Davidson: What was the appeal of the club?
Marty Blount: I think it was a combination things including “Let’s be physically fit.” This was in the mid 70s and we were just coming out of the the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights, Act, the assassination of MLK and RLK, and there was a sense of urgency. The people before us had done these things and paid the price and there was a feeling of “What can we do?” It was a precursor of “think globally, act locally.” We can have a place for black people to ride bikes and do things that black people supposedly don’t do, like swimming/skiing, that’s patently false of course, blacks do all those things, but this was a way we could be seen, to wear the clothes and have the equipment and be seen.
Seth Davidson: What’s behind this idea that black people don’t ride bikes?
Marty Blount: Well, what’s behind the idea that black people don’t play tennis, play golf, that all black people do is play basketball and baseball? Part of it is those other sports require specialized equipment and specialized opportunities to participate in. Blacks were not marketed to in those so-called white sports in the black community. Whether or not it might have been too expensive, who can say that? Blacks have been doing well in this country for a long time. Blacks don’t all live in slums or on public assistance but those sports never made any specific effort to market in the black communities even thought there was the occasional high profile black participant, golfers like Charlie Sifford, tennis stars like Arthur Ashe. They were the rarity and it never seemed to motivate the industry to want to reach out to this demographic. Coupled with the fact that black people, and I’ve experienced this, some of the “we don’t do this” came from us as well. We were doing well in school and in the professions and easily played affordable sports, so that may have contributed to it as well.
Seth Davidson: What do you think has changed?
Marty Blount: It’s easy to point to some more recent trailblazers and outspoken athletes. There was a movement in pro sports that blacks are known to play, where blacks said we want more of the pie that an equally talented white player gets, the same number of years on the contract and by the way you don’t own me, or my skills. I ought to be able to sell my skills to whoever I want to, highest bidder or someone whose philosophy I like. Curt Flood and the free agency battles with black players being blackballed and blacklisted because they were bucking the system. And now we have free agency in all sports thanks to those people making the sacrifice, and like whittling away at a piece of wood something starts to take shape. You may not know what the final shape was going to be, but you know it was coming. Who knows exactly how they formed Major Motion or how they met each other? For a while they were known as “the black guys that ride up and down Crenshaw” because they’d start and finish their rides at Leimert Park. How did they know about Major Taylor in the 70s? His name was in no book I ever read. I never heard of him when people talked about famous black people. These were special people at a special time. They were inspired by the actions of other people whether they knew about Curt Flood and free agency they were aware of the feeling that if we’re going to do something, then WE are going to have to do it. If we want an improvement we’re going to have to cause it to happen. We’re going to have to do it ourselves, no one will do it for us. So from humble beginnings at a fertile time for blacks in America, wanting to do something for ourselves, not be told what to do, yeah, there was a feeling that you can ride a bike and be damned good at it and to hell with anyone who doesn’t want you on their street. They rode everywhere, to Santa Anita which was lily white, to the South Bay when it was lily white. Did the cycling community care for them? Not very much. How do I know? Because in the early 80s I joined South Bay Wheelmen and we didn’t ride into LA very much but every once in a while we’d touch on the periphery of LA.
Seth Davidson: How did you get into cycling?
Marty Blount: I was working for Magnavox in Torrance, I needed to be close to my job and moved out there, and the guy across the hall at the office had a bike and wore the funny pants and we became friends and he showed me what to do with the Peugeot I bought at a garage sale. I ended up riding with SBW and then joining. So when I did that I got stronger and I said, “Hey, I can go visit friends and my mom in LA,” and the SBW guys said, “If you go down there don’t hook up with the riders down there, they don’t ride like we do, they don’t ride correctly.” You know, “they.” I rode all over LA, I’d leave the South Bay at 7:00 AM, go all the way to La Brea, over to friends in Olympic, and then down to the beach and get home at dark. And I never once bumped into anyone from Major Motion. I wonder what things would be like if I had.
Seth Davidson: When did you join Major Motion?
Marty Blount: About 2010.
Seth Davidson: What was the motivation?
Marty Blount: I relocated to Marietta, GA but it was so inhospitable to cyclists and I had three kids then that I stopped riding. Then we moved to Ft. Worth, Texas, and were living in a suburb, and after a few years the Rails to Trails Conservancy converted a rail trail into the Silver Comet bike trail, named after the train line. The trailhead was half a mile from where we lived. We’d roll up and down the trail with the kids. After Texas, we moved back to LA in 2003 or 2004 and I was working for the same company but in Palmdale, and went for a checkup in 2008 and the doctor said you’re in great shape except you have diabetes, and it’s not life-threatening but it isn’t good. “You need to take drastic action,” he said. Because of that I was looking for resources and found the American Diabetes Association, and they recommended cycling and Tour de Cure. I’d tried running, and Seth, I’m not a runner! I ran in high school but after that, Happy Days to my running career. I did Tour de Cure, dug out my old bike from storage and had to scrounge for clothes, had warm-up pants and bought a couple of second-hand jerseys, you know I come from when jerseys were wool and the shoe soles were wood and you nailed the cleats onto the bottom of the shoe–and you’d better get it right the first time! And leather chamois, of course … now everything was carbon fiber, helmets were different, clothes different. I had tennis shoes, and started riding with whomever I could find. I happened to start getting in shape and thought I could do the Tour de Cure, so I did, and a friend of mind said, “There’s this black club but we gotta get in shape before we ride with them,” the club was Crankin’ Time, they were a spinoff from Major Motion. At that time Major Motion was strictly a racing club. Virgil Ford was racing, Mike Higgins, and several others. We joined Crankin’ Time and were going great, and I tried to get the club to do the Tour de Cure and two guys supported me, and then I started talking with Kevin Evans of Major Motion, and the next year I was stronger and went back to Kevin to see if he had time and interest to do the Tour de Cure, and he said, “Sure, but will you help me with a vision? We got it made on the West Side, in Inglewood, but I grew up in Compton and there’s nothing out there. No awareness, nowhere to shop, no bike routes, lots of traffic and commerce, I want to go there and see if people can see us and get involved just like the Major Motion of the 70s.” That is when we formed Major Motion Recreational Cycling Club with Virgil Ford’s blessing, who allowed us to wear their black training kit. We wore that and that is when I became a member of Major Motion. It was not the original Major Motion club, but it was tied to the original intent of Major Motion, which was recreational. My involvement in the recreational cycling club me in the lineage of those first guys and I had no problem saying thank you and I’m carrying on. The original Major Motion’s vision was not racing, it was social. Be as strong as you can be, we’ll help you race if you want to, but we want brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers, riding bikes, being seen on bikes and changing lives. So that was the Major Motion Recreational Cycling Club.
Seth Davidson: Then what happened to become Major Taylor Cycling Club?
Marty Blount: Our group worked. Too well! It worked so well picking up non-cyclists and turning them into riders; people saying, “I haven’t played sports since junior high,” and a few years after joining they were doing triathlons. What we were doing got back to the riders from my former club Crankin’ Time, that our training was different, it was racing prep because of Kevin’s background, he knew how to break you down and build you back up. We did a great job with a bunch of really good people, we respected our colors when we wore them, we watched out for each other, but were outstripping our mates from Crankin’ Time with the consequence that as we got better our friends were like, “What are you eating?” so they began gravitating to Major Motion, and it damaged Crankin’ Time for which I’m regretful. The leader of Crankin’ Time is a super good guy with a long history in the sport and making it accessible to people in the city. He had a family, a job, it was just tough, there were so many of us doing independent things, more training more often than with Crankin’ Time so people gravitated to Major Motion. They’re still around and doing great, they’re a sag company par excellence. Thomas Ward runs Crankin’ Time Sag, has three vans each with 15-bike racks. I happened to see him today and he was having lunch at The Kettle. Eventually our recreational club separated from Major Motion and became Major Taylor Cycling Club of Los Angeles; we’re a 501(c)3 corporation and we incorporated because we believe it lets us do more in our communities.
Seth Davidson: Do you think more black riders ride in different communities now?
Marty Blount: No doubt, but we can’t take credit for it. We can’t forget the huge impact of the fixie crew, the young crew, for attracting a lot of riders in urbanized areas, black and brown kids primarily, getting them into the sport, they are young and aggressive and blessed to have some really good organizers like Don Ward a/k/a Roadblock and the Wolfpack Hustle. Those folks helped others recognize the fixie riders had clout, and they became known as a political force to make life better for cyclists, which they did. They cultivated road cyclists and some roadies started riding fixies. What we’re seeing now are fixie-type cyclists, in their 20s and 30s, on road bikes now. Where do they live? The Valley, the South Bay, the Inland Empire. We had guys on the ride today, a 15-year-old and his dad, from the Inland Empire. And all of a sudden we’re getting marketed to. Rahsaan is doing commercials during the Olympics. Legion is getting sponsored by Red Bull, these are guys from 39th and Western in LA.
Seth Davidson: Can you tell me about race relations in cycling in LA?
Marty Blount: I think there is a lot of resentment, I think some white people may be perceived as stand-offish when they just don’t know how to not say the wrong thing. And there’s a lot of that, in its purest sense there’s nothing wrong with being politically correct, which means reaching a deal through conversation, and being able to go through it in a friendly, productive way. On the other hand there have been occasions when I remember Major Motion being criticized for riding all over the road and riding like a herd of cats, “They just want to ride fast and don’t follow the rule.” It’s the “they,” I’ve seen that creeping in. I didn’t expect it here in LA, but yet I’ve seen it and heard stories about it. And then we went back to Maryland and stayed in a very white neighborhood, Trump signs everywhere, and couldn’t have been treated more nicely and spoken to eye-to-eye, people happy to have us in the bike shop, give us a tour of the shop, so I don’t think it’s universal, just some kind of weird thing here that’s a byproduct of our rich opportunity to be here. I still get that feeling. We were riding through Manhattan Beach, a kid was crossing the street with his surfboard, most of the riders were black but we had a couple of white women with us and as they passed as he was crossing the street he looked at the women and he said, “Wow, what a fucking shame.” We’ve had the n-word thrown at us on PCH at Pepperdine while we were regrouping after the climb and it got hurled by a passing car. The cars never stop, they never do, and we don’t want them to! But it goes the other way, too. Yesterday riding through Rolling Hills we’d come off the golf course, came down and made a right on PV, I was in the back and I noticed a Tesla deliberately slowing down and I thought, “Oh, god, we’re gonna get lectured,” and she rolled her window down and said, “I’m for Major Taylor!” and I got it on video. Just a little thing like that I couldn’t wait to get up to my buddies and tell them what had happened.
Seth Davidson: How do we get more people involved in cycling?
Marty Blount: Is what you’re describing uncommon in other parts of the world? What’s wrong with us in this country? We have no infrastructure we have a crazy car culture that refuses to share and then in our community few shops that you can count on to do the work well. That’s life and death on a bike. We do have people who open up a garage and make bikes available, not recreationally, but essentially, to get to work, we’ve seen people people riding a 11:00 PM without a light getting hit by a car. Because they were coming home from work at the restaurant and couldn’t afford a light. That mentality stands in the way of so much stuff. Covid has forced a restructuring of the transportation quarters. The pandemic has created the dreaded lane diet, not to save a life but hell yes to save our economy. In Redondo there’s now one car lane where there used to be two, and that former car lane is a bike lane. But that’s a privileged community. In urbanized areas like DTLA and areas around it, it took people like John Jones and Don Ward, Carlos Morales of East Side Bicycles, who lobbied, who found a sympathetic ear on city council, who got with LAPD and found a couple of advocates and were able to make street-by-street, block-by-block changes. They got the bike paths but the city painted them with slippery green paint and then the police park in them. Here’s an irony: There’s a sign saying “Don’t park in the bike lane” and the sign is … in the bike lane! It’s infrastructure but under that word is the society, and the politics of my car, my space, the bike is a toy. But it has worked in other places. Long Beach has done a really nice job. Bike lights, bike signals, Santa Monica is starting to do things.
Seth Davidson: How has George Floyd affected cycling in LA?
Marty Blount: I mentioned the diverse fixie bike crew, they don’t ride by the rules, don’t wear lycra or helmets, those guys are cyclists just not the same kind I am. I went on a George Floyd Ride for Justice and was impressed with the number of non-minority men and women who showed up. But completely outnumbered by the kids on fixies. They were everywhere. We have a moment to come together. I feared that once on the road during that ride the road bike snobbery would come out and the “we own the streets” ethos of the fixes would come out but it didn’t happen. We shared the road beautifully. All I had to do was ride in a straight line at a steady pace and everything worked out peachy keen. Next thing you know some kid was asking me about my bike and I was asking him about his. Road riders were chill. We had a blast. I don’t know if there was a sustained benefit to the situation but I’ve been on a couple of other community rides that got empowerment to do these rides because of the activity around George Floyd’s murder. We went from Westchester Park to Polliwog Park but we were flying down Pershing, and having a great time and we continued that all the way through Polliwog Park and I pointed out Bruce’s Beach to the riders. These are people on bikes for a common good who have a lot of interest in road bikes. We have people riding with us on road bikes who used to be fixie riders but they like how we do things nd how we look and the long rides, and plus they get to average 15 mph for 80 miles and climb a mountain in the process! That’s part of the effect of people coming together for George Floyd and other injustices and tragedies.
Seth Davidson: What is Major Taylor Cycling Club’s relationship to Black History Month?
Marty Blount: We always have participated in the black history parade on Crenshaw. Some organizations started a national Major Taylor birthday ride in November and we look at that as a bit of Black History Month in November. We ride through areas where people of color live and prompt them to ask us questions. You can tell when someone doesn’t know when they ask us “What is a Major Taylor?” Not “Who.” Or “Are you in the motion picture business?” With Major Taylor Cycling Club of Los Angeles we’re looking for meaningful ways to be present with any who want to be with us during this month. Our status as a 501(c)3 puts us in the game so we have a different opportunity. Some of the people approaching us or who want us present we feel a new power and opportunity for change and influence. We would love to be a conduit for money to flow into the community, not so that we can fly our members to the East Coast for a summit, we want to change the model of “Everybody go to Target and buy some things for our schools” to being able to give them classes or schools each a check for $5,000 for them to go buy the things they need for their school. We know it’s about the money.
Seth Davidson: What’s your personal story?
Marty Blount: If you cut me open and count my rings you’d see there is a lot of knowledge that has been passed on to me. Ethnically I’m Creole. We go back to the Louisiana Creole communities of the early 1700s. Some of our progenitors were both slaves and slave owners on my mother’s side. On my father’s side there were both slaves, revolutionaries, and politicians in north-central Louisiana. On my mother’s side our family traces itself to a black slave woman whose parents were from West Africa who married legally in Natchitoches. She was called Kwan-Kwan, which means ‘second daughter’ in Senegalese, it was likely a nickname. She became the lover of a French entrepreneur named Natoyer; they ended up living on a tributary of the Red River, the Cane River, and had ten mixed-race children. They were all slaves including her and the children. After this the Catholic Church made Metoyer find a white wife so there was an all-white Metoyer family and a mixed-race Metoyer family, but later he manumitted her and her two oldest sons and gave her property. This was near the Melrose Plantation. It became a thriving place and as she was able to buy her children’s freedom, she did. She hired people as indentured servants and had black slaves. They built the first church built by free people of color, St. Augustine Catholic Church on the Cane River. Dad’s grandmother was a slave. My dad was light-skinned and my great-grandfather fought for non-whites. There were confrontations between armed blacks and whites. At one point they came to take him and his wife said he was “Down by the river.” The whites knew this meant that he had gathered with other armed blacks, so they sought a truce, even though they burned his church. His political clout and savvy allowed him to get the church rebuilt, then he moved back with his wife and served in the state senate of the state of Louisiana. My mom grew up on the Cane River, and my dad lived in Galveston, went to Sam Houston College and met my mom. He had all these sensibilities of right and wrong and how wrong can really be wrong, and it bothered him, and my mother was a very sensitive woman, too. Though she had a lot of privileges as a light-skinned Creole, she was very aware of unfairness to others. My dad was in the Army Air Corps. There were many Louisiana Creoles in California who used to live in the Griffith Park area. My mom didn’t like the privileges given to light-skinned blacks, and didn’t like the way dark-skinned blacks were treated; she had grown up with lynchings, and in California in the late 40s my oldest brother was really black, he was abused everywhere. My next brother was light-skinned and never had any problems. And my third brother was also very black and had polio, and mom had these three kids, one who could go anywhere, one who couldn’t, and the other one who was sick and looked North African. And they got involved in the Civil Rights Movement, by the time I was eight I can tell you every meeting my family went to, I was raised in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, and my brother Rafael was seriously involved. I’ve been an activist and militant person ever since.
Seth Davidson: Thank you, Marty!
Marty Blount: You’re welcome.
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February 16, 2021 § 8 Comments
Elijah has, as he will tell you, “been around.” With more than fifty local race wins and two state titles over a career that spans close to twenty-five years, if you’ve ridden or trained competitively in Los Angeles you have most certainly run across Elijah Shabazz.
Good-natured, competitive, friendly, and never afraid to speak his mind, Elijah is one person in the LA-area peloton who will call bullshit when he sees it. I’ve known him for years and reached out to him to see if he’d be willing to do an interview. He graciously agreed.
Seth Davidson: When did you start cycling?
Elijah Shabazz: I started in 1997 at the age of 14. I’m 38 now.
Seth Davidson: What got you into cycling?
Elijah Shabazz: I was getting into trouble in my early teens and a guy from the neighborhood introduced me to Rahsaan Bahati and he introduced me to David Pulliam. They got me my first bike and I’ve been going ever since.
Seth Davidson: When did you start racing?
Elijah Shabazz: When I was a junior. I raced extensively locally, I’ve won 50 races, and two state titles when I was young, but now I’m a regular old masters enjoying the scene, nothing serious.
Seth Davidson: How long have you been doing the competitive group rides in LA?
Elijah Shabazz: I’ve been doing them since about 1998 back when NPR was called the Morning Ride, and Montrose, and the Donut when it was a different route.
Seth Davidson: What is your favorite ride?
Elijah Shabazz: My all time favorite is still Montrose. I did it yesterday. Not that much climbing, I love racing down the street with 40-50 people, I love it.
Seth Davidson: Can you describe the ride?
Elijah Shabazz: The Montrose Ride is in Pasadena and it goes around there and the San Gabriel Valley. There is a long and short group, 45 miles and 35 miles, and the long loop is about 2,100 feet of climbing and the short route is about 1,500 and a little less. It’s been around since before I was around.
Seth Davidson: Are there many African-Americans on the ride?
Elijah Shabazz: Basically, per every twenty people there’s one black person. So no, not really. Recently they had an influx of black people since the covid came and they’ve been calling themselves covid riders, about twenty new black riders. It’s nice to see everybody’s getting on bikes.
Seth Davidson: How are relations between whites and blacks on NPR? [New Pier Ride is a regular Tuesday/Thursday ride on Westchester Parkway, fast and competitive.]
Elijah Shabazz: The relationship seems cool, everyone knows each other, so they’re normally pretty good. Personally I’ve heard a lot of smaller talk but I’ve never seen anything personally racist towards anybody and I’ve never heard anything racist either.
Seth Davidson: What is the general attitude towards black people showing up on a ride that is mostly white?
Elijah Shabazz: I’d say that since I’ve been around a long time the vibe is always cool to me, it’s inviting, they speak to you, I never see anything really negative especially with the rising of a lot of strong black athletes like the Williams brothers, Charon, Rahsaan, they’ve helped us earn respect in the peloton, they know we’ve got the racing, sprinting aspect of cycling covered.
Seth Davidson: What is the general attitude towards white people showing up on a ride that is mostly black?
Elijah Shabazz: We’ve had that a lot and honestly, it’s okay, we all like to blend in, on certain rides like Black Lives Matter ride and the MLK ride I personally like to keep it within one mixture of people, everyone has their own thing and culture, so it’s like me bombarding a Jewish ride on Rosh Hashana, I personally feel like I shouldn’t be there. An all brothers ride like the MLK ride, unless people are invited I feel like it’s for certain people. But we’ve had rides with other people, Movement Ride and such, and we’ve accepted other people and no one was ostracized, we’re all cyclists and under one umbrella. We want to keep it fair for everybody.
Seth Davidson: Have you witnessed or experienced racism in bike racing?
Elijah Shabazz: I can say that I’ve seen things personally where I thought it was racism or it was because a person was black, but it wasn’t directly said, but certain situations were taken away from people or magnified because they were black and it would have been different if it had been another race.
Seth Davidson: Do you consider yourself more outspoken than other black riders?
Elijah Shabazz: Absolutely, I have a lot of times where people will pull me to the side or tell me straight up, “You say what’s on everyone’s mind.” People appreciate me being me. People don’t always have the heart to say it and they really appreciate it, me being myself.
Seth Davidson: Would the situation be better if more people were like you?
Elijah Shabazz: It would make lines of communication clear, people wouldn’t be so frustrated, so you can get things off your chest. When I speak my mind I feel better because I didn’t hold it in and let it build up like a volcano. Like people going postal. I don’t have anything serious or violent in me because I address it then and go about my business. I let you know how I feel right then and I leave it at that rather than something going on over the years and turning into a fistfight. Life shouldn’t have fistfights and conflict, you should get it out at that very moment.
Seth Davidson: What needs to be done to get more black kids into the sport?
Elijah Shabazz: Honestly, they need more money, for one. Cycling is very expensive. I tell people cycling is so hard and so expensive you have to love it to do it. A lot of kids would get the opportunity if it happened when they were younger but I’ve realized how expensive it is, if my son wanted to do it, to get the top equipment, it’s crazy. The Specialized push-bike, carbon fiber, was $1,000 for a 3-year-old to ride for six months. Rahsaan, Justin, they do things where their sponsors donate bikes to kids, a stepping stone to get kids to ride. So many people say that cycling makes them feel free. But when they see the prices they back out. It takes a lot of riding and a lot of money. So it would really be the price points. A lot of people would do it more if it were cheaper. It deters a lot of people from actively getting into the sport. And also, when I was racing years ago, every race had 50-60 people, and kids had thirty racers at least. Racing was cheaper back then. The general consensus is that cycling is expensive and dangerous, and it’s gotten so expensive over the years, $50 for the first race $20 for the second, travel, food, the riders can afford the bike and wheels but I can’t afford $150 every week and risk crashing. Numbers have gone down and it’s a domino effect because promoters don’t give out quality prizes and money because they don’t have the attendance. I don’t care about a box of Clif bars. I’d rather have a medal and a jersey, something I can show my son even if it’s local. My son sees stuff like that he might be motivated to achieve things in life. Nobody cares about a box of Clif bars that expired three months ago. I don’t care about the money, I’d care about trophies, medals, jerseys that my son could see. I can buy gels off Amazon and get the flavor I want and it’s not out of date and I’m good. It’s not rocket science. Races used to be full, family events, nowadays nobody goes, the morale is down, and it’s not cheap enough to do. It shouldn’t be $75 to race two races.
Seth Davidson: What do white people need to know about racism?
Elijah Shabazz: The movement with Black Lives Matter and a lot of white people that jumped on or came down to the protests and did the ride and have been pushing for BLM, they’re not doing it for the hype or because it’s in style and I think they have to keep pushing that awareness to people who aren’t aware. White people have come to me and said, “I was racist and didn’t like black people but have learned through cycling that we’re all the same.” That shows a lot. Those type of people I respect more, they have the balls to admit they are learning. That’s important. People in California are diverse and they look outside the box more than the Bible Belt. Same for racism in cycling in different states. Here they’re a little more understanding and free, not as bad as Middle America or the South.
Seth Davidson: How does racism harm the cycling community?
Elijah Shabazz: Since the community is so small, we should all be together in life, but because we’re so small you have to figure like if I’m on the road by myself at 6:00 AM and two white guys who don’t like black people ride by and I’ve got a flat they’re going to ride by and leave me, which shouldn’t happen. You see someone on the side of the road you should wave and check in on people. It takes all of us. I’ve had times in cycling where people have asked me, “How can you afford this stuff?” What kind of question is that? Is it because I’m black? I have a good job and can afford it. We have to all be together.
Seth Davidson: Have you ever gotten in a confrontation with a white cyclist and been defended by other white people?
Elijah Shabazz: Yes. Plenty of times. I don’t want to say the guy’s or lady’s name who always come to my defense, but I don’t know if they do it privately to keep their names cool or in the loop or if they don’t want any problems. When something happens I speak my mind, I have people who always hit me up and say you weren’t wrong it’s okay. It’s not as genuine as if they would squash the situation. In a group the adrenaline is up, one thing happens, it’s a yelling fest. I need those people, anybody, to step up and say “Let’s chill. Relax. Let’s ride our bikes.” That’s more important, to address it right there in front of everybody.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about white people calling up certain black people to complain about a black person they have conflict with?
Elijah Shabazz: I took a break from cycling and when I came back people were telling me what to do and I was like man, I been around, so you got to give me more respect. I had a lot of confrontations and people would reach out to Rahsaan. I’ve known him since I was a kid but he’s not my father. I’m grown, right? They need to come talk to me. What is he, the liaison for the black community? I’m not the liaison for the black community. You talk to people individually, and with social media, Strava, if I get into it, I can find Strava, contact them personally and apologize. I don’t need to go through anybody. What would I need to go through you or someone else? Nowadays people do that. In the past year I haven’t had too much confrontation lately and it’s gotten better. I’m getting older. I just want to ride my bike, go home, and take care of my child. Now I don’t always tell people when they’re wrong and just leave it alone. It’s more peaceful for myself.
Seth Davidson: What do white people need to know about Black History Month?
Elijah Shabazz: White people need to know that black history was around way before slavery, people need to understand that we are just different people. We enjoy more flamboyant stuff, we come from African royalty because it’s in our lineage. People will see our flash and stuff like that and personally say things about Justin, for example, “They’re too flashy,” you gotta understand I’m not on your side on that. I knew his dad for years. They’re enjoying the moment, that’s in their culture to be that way, to be fly, and our history isn’t just a month, it’s all year, people create black history every day. We celebrate everybody else’s history too, Cinco de Mayo, I have Jewish friends, everyone’s history needs to be celebrated all the time.
Seth Davidson: Did George Floyd affect white-black relations in cycling?
Elijah Shabazz: It opened the door for everything. I saw a lot of people who never said much about anything come out and really represent, and really it was sad, but a lot of white people said, “Enough is enough,” but I say “Enough has been enough for a long time. But keep it up when it’s not trendy.” I don’t knock people for learning but I took it for what it is, we been pushing for a long time and I’m glad you finally showed up. Everyone doesn’t get good at the same time, just like in cycling, and I’m glad some people are stepping up, at least you finally came with it now. You have to see the glass is half-full, even if it was only last year that they realized it.
Seth Davidson: Whites often say, “I don’t see color.” What do you think of that?
Elijah Shabazz: Prove it. There’s a lot of racism that happens because they’ve never been discriminated against, that’s fine. Prove it, don’t just put it on a t-shirt. You have to live it and push through with it and be down with the struggle and in the trenches with us fighting for black rights and for all human rights. That will show me that you don’t see color.
Seth Davidson: Whites often say, “I didn’t invite any black people because I don’t know any.” What do you think of that?
Elijah Shabazz: At this point you should know everybody in cycling. Charon, Rahsaan, Justin, so many blacks in racing and riding and hanging out and working at bike shops. That’s an excuse. If you’re friends with someone, you have a certain group of people, there are black people in every club. I was in LaGrange for a year and I got invited to everything, so I think it’s just an excuse.
Seth Davidson: Have relations improved over your lifetime or worsened?
Elijah Shabazz: I think they’re pretty much the same. Racism has always existed, you’ve always had people who didn’t like blacks, people who fought for blacks, and blacks being misunderstood, which is about 90% of the time. Now people can express themselves better because of social media. It’s for the world to see. Like I said, you can post it but you have to live it. It’s like having all the bike stuff and not going and doing the rides. That’s the same as posting #BLM on social media, you have to live it.
Seth Davidson: You were recently on the cover of Cycling Tips. Tell me about that photo.
Elijah Shabazz: I did a photo shoot with them. Alonso Tal, a well-known African-American photographer, and when Cycling Tips had shoots available, he sent headshots and they asked for me. I have the look for cycling and I don’t have any ties to any sponsors where it’s a conflict of interest, for example I ride for one team so I can’t model someone else’s bike. I can cycle model for anyone. Alonso hit me up, we went up Highway 2 for about four hours and did a bunch of pictures, stills, drone shots. He’s very creative, one of the best creative minds I’ve ever seen.
Seth Davidson: Do you want this to continue?
Elijah Shabazz: It’s not a big goal of mine, but if people call me to do it and it fits my schedule, I’ll do it. I’m not trying to be a model, it’s just a side hustle and if it helps Alonso out then I’ll do it.
Seth Davidson: Thanks, Elijah.
Elijah Shabazz: You’re welcome.
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February 12, 2021 § 16 Comments
John Jones III runs the East Side Riders bike club based in Watts, California. It’s a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the lives of Watts residents. Since the pandemic broke out, ESR has served over 135,000 meals to people facing food insecurity in South Los Angeles. Wherever the need is greatest, whether riding to homeless encampments to hand out food or helping kids spend their after-school hours constructively, that’s where John is most likely to be found.
But he can’t be everywhere. ESR’s core mission is improving the community through bikes, and Watts has a single bike shop to serve its 44,000 residents. That bike shop does its best but operates on a shoestring.
ESR is now working to raise funds–$7,000 to be exact–to purchase an e-bike, a trailer, and the tools necessary to have a mobile bike shop available to serve residents. I hope you’ll do two things. One, read the interview with John so that you can better understand him and his mission. Two, go to his website and make a donation for the mobile bike shop in any amount. When you donate, write “mobile bike shop” in the comment section.
I’ve promised John to raise the $7,000 by the end of the month by soliciting donations here. If there is a shortfall, whether of $7 or $7,000, I’ve pledged to cover it out of my own pocket. The work that he does in Watts is important and deserves engagement, and the ability to help residents with low-cost, mobile bike repair is one additional step to putting more people on the streets using a healthy, efficient, safe mode of transportation: The bike!
I’ve participated in ESR’s rides to feed the homeless, I’ve joined in at the annual barbecue, and I’ve made flapjacks for the free breakfasts served to the community. ESR is real. What they do is real. The impact they have is real.
Here’s the interview:
Seth Davidson: What are the biggest structural barriers to positive change in Watts?
John Jones: Space for the new small non-profits that are really making a difference and leading the way. We can’t always be heard because we’re on the move, including ESR. The bigger ones have the space, and the new groups don’t have a set place because we’re borrowing space so we can’t settle down and dig in. We’re too worried whether we’re going to be in the same place next month, can we still operate where there is a limited amount of space? The solution is a funder who can lease/buy a property and build so all the non-profits can work under one roof. The funder gets more bang for its buck, which means better ideas because we’re all working together. To buy and build out that kind of space from scratch would cost $1-$2M. The impact on the community is so much greater than the investment if we’re talking about long-term solutions.
Seth Davidson: What are ESR’s top three needs today?
John Jones: 1) Secure funding 2) Secure a permanent home 3) Hire staff. And we are trying to raise funds for a mobile bike shop.
Seth Davidson: Why do you need a mobile bike shop?
John Jones: To activate the whole AAA-style assistance for bikes program. Give someone the ability with a flat to call and get the mobile shop out there to help. The mobile shop doesn’t have to be in a vehicle. An e-bike pulling the tools to change a flat or pulling whatever you need for a quick tune-up, brakes, chain repair. It’s important for Watts, and as a model to have someone come to you, to employ people, and to give kids training. There’s no such thing as bike mechanic school. You pick it up at a younger age, learn about bikes, how to repair them, and it makes you employable. A young person can go to an established bike shop and say, “I’m a mechanic,” and he’s suddenly employable in a way he wouldn’t have been.
Seth Davidson: Why is Watts left out of district planning decisions?
John Jones: We’re small in area but we have over 44,000 people counted here. We are always left out because the people here don’t vote and often don’t believe in the voting system. The elected don’t see voting results from the community so they go with projects where they get the most votes because they’re going up for election again and need people to remember “I’m taking care of you.” You put your time where you’re gonna get results. You’ll see that in the district, what’s going on in the southern part versus northern part and that’s why.
Seth Davidson: How can white people be involved in Watts issues?
John Jones: That’s the hard part. It goes back to trust. You have to believe in and trust someone. You have to believe the words. Think about the abuse Latinos and immigrants took over the last four years, if their families would even be able to stay here. That’s a trust issue. Black folks have been dealing with it for years. What are you really here for? To really help? To throw some dollars so you can pat yourself on the back? Or just feel better about yourself? You tell blacks you care, that you have money, they may listen but not believe you, and that’s what’s been done here in Watts for years. Folks who say they care and when it comes down to it they don’t really care, just getting a tax write-off or showing what they did for a pat on the back, folks who want to say they want to help the African-American community, throw a few dollars this way to say they help. You have to be here for the long term, to care about this community long term.
Seth Davidson: How has George Floyd changed ESR’s work?
John Jones: Thinking about that situation, well, we still do the same work we always do, we didn’t go out of our way to say we’re fighting for the BLM movement because we’re a multi-cultural organization, we believe in all human rights and we’d like to progress and move on with conflicts. What happened with George Floyd was this. We heard the cries of the community, we saw the rest of the country, communities riot and burn themselves down, well, we had that in ’92 and ’65 and are still struggling to get back to where we were. Watts wanted peaceful protests, marches, prayer, we just wanted to do our part letting people know that if you’re going to protest, protest in peace. That’s what helped, our voice in the community showing how we feel by peaceful protest in this community.
Seth Davidson: What is ESR’s relationship with Black History Month?
John Jones: Every year, since ESR’s founders are black, we make sure we highlight these 28 or 29 days, we try to put up history people don’t know, recent history, what’s happening now and not in the textbooks. That’s our part of giving black history to the community. It gives us a platform to showcase our organization and what we’re doing, Black History Month and Latino History Month, we go out of our way to recognize the good that comes out of these communities.
Seth Davidson: What is ESR’s relationship with LACBC and other clubs?
John Jones: LACBC has had a lot of change. We’ve had good relationships in the past. With covid not too much conversation with them. We went in with them on an e-bike grant, but it seems like other bike clubs see us as competition when in fact there’s no competition. We’re all in this for the same reasons. We want safer cycling and safer streets and we all have the love for bikes. South LA and Watts, one community of bikes, one cause—fighting for safer streets and the right to be out and enjoy ourselves.
Seth Davidson: What issues do cyclists have with secure bike parking in Watts?
John Jones: That goes again to lack of space and education about cycling. If more people understood that it can help them through cycling around the community, we just need more education because not only is space limited, I don’t even think we have any public bike lockers. Maybe now that Metro is building a bike hub? That’s in Willowbrook, maybe Rosa Parks Station. It’s a couple of miles away.
Seth Davidson: How has ESR changed lives in Watts?
John Jones: We think we change lives by not only getting people to ride bikes but by secretly helping them exercise more even if they aren’t aware of it at first. They’re improving quality of life by cycling. They don’t see it at the moment but they see it when they quit or see it as they’re riding. One guy was size 48 and now he’s 40-42. Even though we have a high turnover, you know you made an impact for the window that they were around. People keep in touch and want to remain part of the organization.
Seth Davidson: How has ESR changed perceptions of bicycling in Watts?
John Jones: Thirteen years ago talking to folks they laughed at us and thought I was a crazy dude; now most of the people who were laughing at those meetings they come, volunteer, ask us the needs of the community and safer streets. We made our mark in Los Angeles, Watts, and the county to improve cycling.
Seth Davidson: Has ESR helped keep kids out of gangs?
John Jones: I would say so. We get kids at that vulnerable age when they have that choice to make, it’s unfortunate that that is a choice they can make. And now there are no sports to play, basketball, football, baseball, and so now they see they can still ride a bike. We bought some bikes and started a program, those golden after-school hours 2:30-5:00 when kids get in the most trouble, we have them here working on bikes, riding through the community. Do I wish we could get more kids involved? Yes.
Seth Davidson: What do you do when you meet a kid who wants to race bikes?
John Jones: We had a program with LAPD at the velodrome, with the Bahati Foundation and Gideon Massie. We were taking kids from Watts and Gideon was training the kids. That’s the only time we had a glimpse of putting kids onto the track. Other times we take kids there and show them the velodrome and tell them there’s a possibility for a pro career in cycling.
Seth Davidson: What do white people need to know about racism?
John Jones: One, that it’s real. You got to always recognize the problem to fix the problem. Two, don’t hide behind it. Just know there are people who really, really fear being picked out, folks that have a real fear of being singled out or bullied. For example, people who think it’s a joke to celebrate Black History Month, that’s a form of racism and a form of bullying. Someone should be able to be proud of where they’re from and their heritage. We are all people and we all need to come together to fix this problem here in America. We have to have these conversations if we want to improve this country.
Seth Davidson: What do white people need to know about Watts?
John Jones: It’s not a scary place to come to. It’s people who really need help but they need to be trained with that help and not just get a handout. They need to be helped to have skills so they can live the rest of their life. You have to want to be here for the long haul, to trust the community. Watts is a gem that needs to be shined so the world can see how beautiful it is.
Seth Davidson: How did your mom influence your life’s work?
John Jones: As kids a lot of stuff we’re doing right now, feeding the hungry, backpacks for school, Christmas events, my mom used to do in our front yard, backyard, driveway, she’d send us to places to grab stuff and bring it back. She taught us work ethic and to put others first. That’s something I chose to do. I could be anywhere but would that be fulfilling? What I’m doing now is fulfilling. If I can live out my mom’s legacy that she taught me growing up, I wouldn’t change it for a million or a billion dollars. When I was talking about giving up the club, my son said we’re rich because of what we give back to others, this was coming from a nine-year-old, while we were on Section 8 housing and food stamps. He didn’t know that but he understood we were rich for what we did for other people.
Seth Davidson: How did bicycles change your relationship with your father?
John Jones: I didn’t have my dad growing up. He was in and out of prison, he was a former gang member, I didn’t have much interaction. Whenever he came home we called it “on vacation” because his real home was prison, we’d enjoy our time and something would happen and off he’d go again. My mom finally told him to get his stuff together, he went to church, made his life change, and one day came to me with this idea about this bike club. I didn’t see it as an opportunity to build a relationship with my father, but as time went by I saw it as an opportunity to teach him, learn from him, spend time with him, teach him things he didn’t know because he was in prison, teaching my father how to live life and love one another. Sometimes I don’t want to get up in the morning but I think, “My dad can do it, so can I.” Maybe sometimes it’s just a couple of hours together but I’m still learning from him, and him from me and it gives us time to bond as father and son.
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February 7, 2021 § 8 Comments
Methods to Winning, LLC, is one of the first bike racing teams in the world founded by blacks for the promotion of blacks in cycling. I called up one of the four founders, Ken Vinson, and talked with him about MTW.
Seth Davidson: What was the motivation for founding Methods to Winning?
Ken Vinson: Our motivation was to have representation in the telling of the story of our athletes, Rahsaan Bahati, Justin Williams, Cory Williams, and Charon Smith. It was unique because we had someone from each generation. 20s, 30s, 40’s, and 50s. That’s a lot of cycling history and there’s a lot to delve into.
Seth: What is Methods to Winning?
Ken: It’s what I perceived to be three of the top African-American cyclists that were around when I came into the sport. They were operating on three separate islands and I talked to them about the leverage of unity and coming together in telling our story and in order to negotiate better endorsements, to attack the industry as a single sum of riders as opposed to as individuals. We came together for that purpose, to try and work together, to have unity and leverage with the purpose of representation in a sport where we have always felt like raisins in milk, and to show the younger generation that there are people in cycling who look like you and that you can do this, too.
Seth: What do mean by tell the story?
Ken: Typically when you are the first at something, or alone, the experiences that one can have that are different from everyone else. Rahsaan being the first black kid from an African-American family with an African-American upbringing in a completely white sport. Something as simple as music, something as simple as “How do I communicate that I like this and not be ostracized because I like something different and be deemed ‘not a team player’?” Those things were important. The other thing was to be able to show kids that this is an alternative to what’s commonly perceived in the inner city. Basketball, football, track and field, rap, and drugs. Here’s a sport that you can do, that we have the ability for if we can get over the cost barriers, and there are people already in it who look like you with your background. Methods to Winning was a way to figure out how to operate within a community that had none of us in there. For me, I saw Rahsaan like Nelson Vails, a pioneer. And of course we always heard the criticism that “You don’t ride in the Tour,” but people don’t understand that they experienced culture shock, ostracism, and no means of communication, that existing processes didn’t work well in Europe, understanding and integrating different cultures.
Seth: What is significant about telling “your” story?
Ken: We’re looking for opportunities to be the ones sharing our story through various media. As you know with our bike racing movie project, “Chocolate Rockets,” the story was getting hijacked. With a story it’s either us telling it from our experiences and pespectives vs. a white person telling us how they perceive our experience. I don’t need you to tell me how you perceive my experience; I can tell you exactly what the hell I experienced, ok? That’s important because with a person telling their own story, if the listener wants to hear them and provide the platform, we can provide the nuance, the detail, the motivations, the hopes and dreams vs. what you perceived it to be. That is dramatically important to us, and Methods to Winning was planned so that Justin and Cory and the younger guys could go off to attack the pro arena; now they have a UCI-registered Pro Continental team. We’re trying to tell our story and create an environment that benefits everyone, we’re trying to give the sport a cool factor to attract people who come from where we come from. Baseball among blacks was deemed slow, hot, and played in the summer, so not many blacks comparatively go into the sport. Cycling has those appearance issues, you have to wear tights for example, we have to get over some things to make it cool. Justin and Cory, starting with Rahsaan, put their flair on clothes and bikes, changing the environment around the races and events. If you let us lead, this is what we can do.
Seth: What was the initial reaction to the formation of Methods to Winning?
Ken: Someone sent an email saying “How arrogant for you to say that you know how win.” I responded, “Well, these guys have won quite a few races, I think they know a thing or two about winning.” But I was pretty hot at first.
Seth: Would that have happened if you’d had a white team made up of riders with as many wins under their belt?
Ken: No. The perception is that when blacks come together it is to exclude everyone else. That’s never been the case. You can look at any movement, MLK, even Malcolm X, who turned the corner and was more inviting of people who wanted to see good for everyone. Coming together means elevating ourselves but not at the exclusion of you. The perception is exclusion and an attack on white people. Not all whites feel that way but some do. Our teams have always been diverse, we have done that on purpose. There was one time early on when we talked about having a team of black riders only but we were shooting it down as we talked it through. That’s not who we are. We wanted talent but talent doesn’t know any one color. The reception of Methods to Winning has been okay but we’ve had issues. You try and help sponsors shine with social media content showing the products you receive, but even so with that we got a lot of negative comments from accepting sponsored high end bikes/shoes/clothing because of the pricing, of Rapha clothing, for example. They expected us to affect the pricing. We still get that today.
Seth: Why is Lance not expected to decrease the cost of Nike shoes and Justin is?
Ken: It’s perceived that we came from nothing and now we have to lower the prices for everyone.
Seth: What about Steph Curry? Same expecations?
Ken: No. These things are perceived as cool but no one expects these guys to lower the price.
Seth: Why is Justin being criticized, then?
Ken: Short of racism, I don’t know. Since George Floyd, in trying to understand things in the era of Trump, there is a lot of subliminal privilege that people don’t understand they have, implicit biases they don’t know they have, and Trump touched on and brought those out of people and that plays a part in people seeing these guys get all this product that, in their view, they may not have “earned.”
Seth: How does Methods to Winning play in with Black History Month?
Seth: It seems like there’s a double standard. Black rides are denied the opportunity to ride during that tiny window of opportunity you have to groom a Pro Tour rider, and then when the door is shut, they’re criticized for never riding in the Tour, for only riding “domestic US races.”
Ken: Since Major Taylor, one of the things we’ve done through the Bahati Foundation is identify a chronology of cyclists of color. There was Major Taylor, there were some black women who did the first major group rides back in 1929, rode 250 miles, then there was Nelson Vails. We’ve been trying to identify riders of color up through Rahsaan. He wasn’t in the world tour but if he’d had the support and resources, could he have been? If he’d had the resources, where would he have been? And for Methods to Winning, if we can get the support and resources, where can we go? That ties in with Black History Month, if we can get equal support, equal laws, equal equal equal, where can we go? We make the sport better. As human beings we enhance the world if we have a fair opportunity.
Ken There’s a video of Justin talking about being in Europe and always being viewed as angry. You’re correct.
Seth: Where is Methods to Winning on its trajectory?
Ken: We said that in 3-5 years we wanted to use contacts first between Charon Smith, Rahsaan Bahati, and Justin Williams, and then with Cory Williams and the Nsek brothers. We started an academy team to identify young talent to fill the gap so that when they don’t cycle out of the training scene at 18/19 because they have nowhere to go. Imeh Nsek was the first rider, and through Rahsaan’s contacts we got him signed with the Arola cycling team in Europe, but then his father died and he returned to the the US. While there he won races. The next rider was through our activities at the Eldo race series, Nigel Desota. His pro contract with Nordisk came through Methods to Winning. He’s in his thirrd year as a pro and doing exceptionally well. Given the opportunity we can have success. The other thing was to go out and find sponsors through Rahsaan and Zwift. Justin formed Legion LA and got the funding to really do what we think the next step is: Produce a team on the Pro Conti level with the goal of seeing talent get picked up by World Tour teams. In 2021 we have an elite pro team with a UCI license, and of course we have the old farts racing around here doing masters racing. Our next step is to try and get the talent on the Pro Conti team seen, and maybe on the World Tour, while putting on events that we’d like to see, events where some of the major world talent will fly here to race. We have dreams.
Seth: How are you adapting to covid?
Ken: Lots of Zwifting and riding in smaller groups. Individual training has continued because of our work ethic. We’re excited to come out of covid and show what we can do if we have the opportunity to race.
Seth: There’s been a big shift from USA Cycling to BWR-type mixed racing events. How will Methods to Winning react?
Ken: The Belgian Waffle Ride is unique and an excellent opportunity to expose hackers to pro riders. Like our MVMNT rides where the fast guys ride with the slow guys. When I was at the BWR, after the ride everyone mingled. Those events are huge and we’re building a relationship with Michael Marckx on Circle of Doom. BWR is legitimate, good, and here to stay. For Methods to Winning, we have people who are now doing more MTB, ‘cross, and that’s through Ama and Imeh Nsek via Imperium Coaching. Ama won the BWR’s Wafer ride a couple of years ago.
Seth: What are Methods to Winning’s plans for 2021?
Ken: Race-wise we are trying to figure out a way to focus on the academy team to develop a diverse group of talent. It has been a challenge to find 18/19 year-olds, and we’ve started thinking about reaching an even younger audience. That’s why we’re working closely with the Bahati Foundation to plant the seeds to sprout the talent. We’ve thought about developing a pump track where kids can ride their bikes and get familiar with bike sports at a much earlier age. Of course in 2021 we’ll have a masters team and continue to try and put on events, including the Eldo race series if Long Beach City will permit it. We suffered a fatality at the end of 2019 and then with covid we’re hoping the city will permit the event for 2021, pushing back the start until late April or possibly May. It depends on covid and the racing calendar. We’re also looking into races at the velodrome, as well as e-racing on Zwift. We’re not sure what the world is going to allow; covid is with us for the foreseeable future.
Seth: Do you think there are structural racial barriers to achieving your goals?
Ken: I’d like to see us with more of a voice in the licensing body. USAC has contracted with EF Cycling to visit historically black colleges to recruit new riders of color. Really? We already have Nelson Vails, Rahsaan, Cory, Justin, Charon, Ayesha, Tanile, why isn’t USAC finding the top African-American talent and asking them to come speak to these crowds? We’ve been contacted by no one. Again, it’s USAC saying to blacks, “We want to tell you how to do it,” rather than having someone who looks like these kids and has the same background as these kids going out there and talking with them. We can do the job far better than they ever could. USAC got Reggie Miller as a spokesperson, but he’s a name from the NBA. Why wouldn’t you get Nelson Vails or a top African-American cyclist? Those things present challenges.
Seth: Does Methods to Winning face racial issues that white teams don’t face?
Ken: Here’s a scenario. There aren’t a lot of blacks in the local LA sport cycling scene. So you have a black guy who is vocal, perhaps there is an argument, and because there are only a few of us, whites assume that the few blacks they know are the moderators for everybody else who is black. We deal with that, being lumped together, and it doesn’t feel very good. If I have an issue with a white person I don’t have a white godfather to go to, and there’s no black godfather. White guy has a problem with a black guy, work it out with him. You’re both adults. What does it have to do with me?
Seth: Do you think that 2020 has affected race relations in the cycling community?
Ken: At first blush yes because I believe that if you can change one person then that’s a bonus. Some people only count change if the number is larger than one but in my personal experience there are several people who sought me out and we had frank and difficult conversations. President Trump motivated and brought an undercurrent to the forefront and that forced a lot of people to have conversations, facing the divide in the road or the elephant in the room. 2020 has opened communications that didn’t exist before, or it has made them more truthful.
Seth: What is it about Ken Vinson that makes Methods to Winning such a mission?
Ken: I was born in 1966 and am a child of the teachings of diversity and multiculturalism, that diversity strengthens us. I grew up with parents who taught us to hold our heads high and be proud of ourselves. Look past the people who treat you poorly to those who don’t. My high school was predominantly black, my college was mostly white, and those experiences were studies in diversity. Then I spent 26 years working in multi-level marketing and that forced me to interact with everyone. I appreciate people and believe in diversity and multiculturalism. I think we are stronger together and we need to be able to listen. An example is law enforcement. You see how whites are treated by law enforcement and a completely different outcome derives with people of color. That is just one thing that reflects that we have to listen and talk among each other, which in my opinion means white people listening to us and believing what we’re saying. In a lot of cop encounters we end up dead. The last four years we had someone who said “American First” at the exclusion of diversity and multiculturalism, it spoke to white people who felt threatened. MAGA spoke to us as exclusion whereas we seek to use the platform of cycling by taking prominent African-American cyclists and using their notoriety for social engagement that benefits cycling and our communities as a whole. MVMNT rides where people pedal through communities they’ve only seen on the news. Cycling interaction, people breaking bread, the All Clubs BBQ, everything we do at MTW is to try to bring people together.
Seth: Thanks, Ken!
Ken: My pleasure.
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February 3, 2021 § 7 Comments
Yesterday I had a rare blogging lapse and spent the day considering whether I was going to keep forging ahead with daily writing. It took a lot of reflection, by which I mean lying in bed, to realize that of course I’m going to continue.
All that bed-lying came on the heels of two happy rides. The first was two days ago. I started out at the bottom of the mountain, which I’ve still yet to ascend completely, and made it about an hour and twenty minutes up until the snow got too deep. Much had fallen since my last time I’d ridden up that high, but much was also melting, which meant boggy, sloggy, not-very-rideable conditions.
On the descent I practically had my ankles jarred up into my shoulders. The downhill is rough. Giant cracks cross the road and the only shock absorbers I had besides my 35mm Panaracer touring tires were my elbows, knees, neck, and spine. It took a solid twenty minutes to get to the bottom, and my hands were so cramped up from the constant clenching that I had to stop at one point to relax them.
About an hour up there is a big green house. It’s four whole miles up this dirt mountain road, and five+ miles in total from the highway. There is no other house once you hit the dirt. Those folks are isolated. The house is powered by a massive diesel generator. They have a gas tank on stilts that holds hundreds of gallons of fuel. I supposed they like being alone; we all do after a fashion.
But this kind of solitude seems fake. The generator is incredibly loud and smelly, belching as it does diesel exhaust. The idea of being alone in a mountain home far from humanity doesn’t work so well when you sound like four or five humanities with your smoking, choking generator.
Half a mile further up is a small house on stilts. It runs on propane, I guess. The curtains, which are big cloth tarps, have always been drawn the two times I’ve been up, and like the other house there has been no human activity ever visible. I figure that these people do what everyone else does. They watch TV or sit in front of their phone.
Is that the whole point of solitude? To watch TV? Can’t you do that in, say, Los Angeles?
There’s another problem with solitude, as I’ve learned and re-learned countless times in my life. And it’s this: If things aren’t quiet in your head, it doesn’t matter where you live. You’re never going to have peace of mind simply by changing location. Now it’s true that environment helps to quell the mental racket, and in a lot of cases it’s the environment that is the source of the racket. So you can make a lot of progress towards reaching solitude by leaving that type of racket behind.
But true solitude, where you are able to listen to nothing and hear only what is on the wind or in the trees or within the bounds of the streams, that kind of quiet requires a mental aloneness that only comes with a lot of practice and with the careful jettisoning of society’s cowbells, work whistles, ringtones, and the barking dogs who populate the infinity of the Internet.
Though I’ve never yogaed or meditated, I doubt that either of those things can bring you long-term solitude if you’re still surrounded by the normal racket of things once the session ends. Those folks stuck up high on the mountainside may have achieved a kind of silence–they sure can’t hear the sound of the trash truck–but I doubt they’ve achieved solitude, since both houses have pretty sizeable satellite dishes stuck to the siding.
For a while at least I’m holed up at the paved end of this mountain road. It’s pretty quiet up here even though I have neighbors who I’ve yet to actually see. The sun rose a few minutes ago, noiselessly. The morning wind blew. There was a little racket in my head but now it’s all here, on the screen, and the important space is quiet once again.
January 31, 2021 § 3 Comments
I had started off on a dirt road that turned into deep sand and then morphed into rocks and then big rocks and then broken pavement and then a jagged asphalt lip and then a proper road that led back to the highway.
All in all a bust, as I’d been looking for a dirt route that would follow the river all the way to my destination, four or five miles hence.
After a half-mile on the highway I spied a dirt road down below that looked like it might parallel the river, so I took a USFS trail and almost went over the bars going down a slope that Manslaughter would have taken at 30. The dirt road was good until it wasn’t, becoming sand then mud then dead-end into the river. I bushwhacked for a while until I got tired of hike-a-bike, as the foliage kept getting denser and the nonexistent trail kept not appearing.
I walked back to another dirt trail and to the highway, rode for another mile, and had another stab at it. Again, I found a nice dirt USFS road that became a plunging fall but I didn’t even try to ride it. More walking. One thing about not being in a hurry and about being old (they’re related), and riding with sneakers is that I don’t really mind getting off and walking. It’s the cyclist’s version of multi-modal transportation.
Eventually I wound up in someone’s backyard, which was butt up against an abandoned mill filled with arsenic, mercury, and lead tailings. “KEEP OUT: CANCER AND BIRTH DEFECTS” it said. I did. No pregnancy of mine was going to be endangered by mill tailings.
I rode on the road a bit then skipped off into an abandoned golf course which took me through more sand, more mud, more walking, more pushing, and finally to the river, where a redneck bridge spanned a tiny, gushing, beautiful stream. There were some bright red stockings and underwear and a bra hanging on a bush. Someone had reached that moment where she had to tear everything off asap and didn’t care where it landed.
It didn’t look like there was going to be a Northwest Passage. I had to climb through some brush to get back on the highway, went another minute or two, found another trail, and rode it til it petered out. It was bumpy and jarring. My old bones didn’t exactly love the rattling.
On the way home I stuck to the highway and passed a Catholic church outside town. The spire was rusted but they had a marquis that said, “Live Your Faith.”
What is your faith? Catholicism? Protestantism? Islam? Sikh? Buddhism? Science? Money? Racism? Cars? Bikes?
That sign reminded me that everyone has a faith but few people live the faith they espouse. Most people’s faith is money but they try to live it according to some other faith like religion or morality. But morality and religion cannot be reconciled to the faith of money, so such people end up being hypocrites and miserable.
If you believe in money, live it. Proclaim that money is your solution, your grail, the standard by which you judge yourself and others. Let money be your guide and it will guide you. You will be a lot happier than claiming to care for the poor and the afterlife when, in the privacy of your own home, you are cutting every corner on your taxes, pinching every penny, scheming how to make more, or doing everything you can to show others that you are MAKING IT.
Same for the other faiths, whatever they may be. That church marquis nailed it. Live your faith.
My faith? Bicycle. I believe that my bike is my solution and riding it is my grail. It’s how I judge myself. Did I ride today? Then I lived my faith. Did I use my bike to improve the world today? Then I lived my faith. Etc.
I had to struggle a bit to get home; it’s a 1.2-mile climb up a bitterly steep hill. I was sweaty and tired because, well, I’m not that strong. But I didn’t have any trouble, really, getting up the hill. My faith, you see, was with me all the way.