No Brakes, No Bars, No Brains…or…’How to ride your bike in downtown LA during CicLAvia with no handlebars’

I’m no handyman.

A few months ago I was in desperate need of a bicycle (having just a few months before then sold my rundown antique Robin Hood to some hipster at the bike shop for thirty bucks after a failed attempt to mount a geared rear wheel on it, bending the frame beyond repair, then subsequently doctoring it to hide that fact) and put the word out to any of my friends who might be able to help me out.  Most of the responses were flat out ‘No’s, but one gracious soul had a lead on a filthy old mountain bike that has been stashed for months in her car port.  So naturally I threw it in my car and brought it home.

She was right…it was a filthy old mountain bike for sure…in complete disrepair.  The frame was in tact, and the wheel held air, but that was about all that could be said positive about it besides how well the vermin were able to nest in the seat.

Fortunately for me, I live in a neighborhood that has never been short of trash on the street prime for the taking.  So I went about scrounging and, as luck would have it, found an equally trashed mountain bike – only this one was trashed in almost the exact OPPOSITE ways…perfect!  So i dragged it home, bare metal forks scraping troughs through the pavement while rust from the chain flaked off and disappeared into the sky.

The time for Frankenbike was nigh.  The scene was set for something epic, two discarded vacant shells of former useful modes of transportation, ripe for the binding.  Now, all I had to do was figure out how…without any tools…or knowledge.

As it turns out, Jesse James makes it look like a walk in the park when he’s combining two beasts of burden to develop a useless mantle piece for the Discovery Channel.

So my final product was a result of removing the tire from one heap and placing it on the next heap and calling it a day.  Surprising, I know.

But it worked, and that was what was really important.  The simple mechanics were all I was really worried about from the start.  I needed to get from point ‘B’ to point ‘G’ and this would do the trick.  Nevermind the fact I never actually got the brakes removed from heap one to properly cease heap two from careening out of control, but brakes are overrated right?  The fixey guys don’t use them, why do I have to?

There is also the slipping of the gears.  Now, a more experienced (or better equipt – with tools or brains) do it yourselfer could probably have figured out how to remove one broken gear shift mechanism and make the unbroken one work on a new and different geared wheel…but this shade tree know-it-all could not.  So I settled for the clunkity clank of gear slippage and avoided hills.

So that’s the bike.  It was a sturdy piece of work that I have taken to San Diego, Catalina Island, and into the hills of Glendora on a number of occasions, not to mention the numerous times to and from hollywood and downtown.  For a free bike, it has done everything I’ve asked of it.

Until yesterday.

For all of this time I avoided making any adjustments to the bike that would ever allow it to be considered ‘cool’ (read: desirable to anyone interested in thieving it).  I had bought some discount spray paint to give it a nice new look.  Yellow and black…i was gonna call it ‘The Hornet’ or ‘The Harvester Ant’ or something like that, but decided against using it due to lack of interest and effort.  And that was the plan…ride a terrible looking bike that was undesirable to any human in existence and never worry about my anti-DUI device (yes, I understand you can get a DUI on a bicycle…but that always strikes me as an interesting story my friends can bring up at parties when introducing me rather than a staggering blow to my financial stability or that potential vehicular homicide).  It was like that SNL skit from the nineties when they were advertising that car ‘The Chameleon’.

But, as it turns out, there was an element of this bike that was desirable to someone.  The handle bars.  The straight, non-descript piece of powder coated tubular steal used to maintain control and balance.  This was the piece that someone wanted, that someone came PREPARED to remove.  When I went to unlock my bike, the handle bars were gone, one nut missing for ease of removal.

In LA that weekend, for the second time in a year, friendly citizens had organized an event called ‘CicLAvia’.  A community building event that encourages pedestrians to spill out into the streets and frustrate drivers with gridlock traffic.  The city closed down an eight mile stretch of streets downtown to all vehicle traffic, and the people were allowed to go crazy.  This was the event I woke up early for on a Sunday (11:30 is early for me on a Sunday..I’m completely ok with this fact).

I didn’t let that stop me though.  I had woken up for this stupid thing, I was going to take advantage of it.  So i saddled up that pony….AND RODE!!!

I rode all eight miles of that course that day, and rode all eight miles back.  No handle bars, no breaks, one slipping gear.

The day didn’t pass without it’s gawkers and skeptics though.  Many people didn’t buy my story of ‘handlebars were stolen…this morning’ and believed it to be more of a conscious decision to be different.  At that point I wish it were, because a bicycle is surprisingly easy to control with no handle bars and you look really effing cool while riding it.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend didn’t pop up in the hipster fixey community.  Some little jerk out there is sitting alone in his room holding an artifact of obsolescence, and he’s 100% to blame for it.

Good.