We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bike Hipsters Rule the Roads, Coolly

By: Logan Payne 

A line of bicycles extends down Ring Road, with as many as 50 bicyclists pedaling past Starbucks and down the small hill between Starbucks and Aldrich Hall. Although some riders in the procession ride everyday bikes -- like mountain bikes and rusty old road bikes -- a lot of bikes whizzing past are decidedly eccentric, sporting colorful parts and bullhorn handles and no brakes. One rider is dressed in a pirate costume complete with knee-high black and red socks and a pirate coat; his bike consists of a frame welded on top of another frame to make a bike that is twice the normal height. One rider has a boom box attached to the back of his bike like a camping trailer, fist pumping to the music that blasts out of his speakers.

These are the Irvine Ridazz, pronounced rid-ahhs, led by UCI student Travis Reilly, who favors bicycling in pirate garb.The Ridazz are a group of students who meet up once a week to go on 20-30 mile bike treks to various eateries in Orange County. Travis and I set up a meeting at Phoenix Grill for a Monday evening, for which he a rrived wearing a blue plaid shirt, faded black skinny jeans, and tattered black Vans. But that’s not what made him stand out; rather, it’s his massive head of long, blond, curly hair and thick sideburns that line the sides of his face. A true hipster.

The Ingredients of a Hipster

During our interview we talked about how bikes and their owners have helped to define the “hipster” culture. For those who aren’t familiar with this group of people urbandictionary.com defined the term well: “Referring to young people of around 18-30 years of age, who drink cheap beer (most often Pabst Blue Ribbon), wear extremely tight jeans, pairing these with a plaid shirt/v-neck and a cardigan along with Nike hi-tops/Vans/Keds and eschew public transport and instead choose to ride fixed-break bikes.” Sound familiar? Other than the beer (I didn’t venture into the realm of favorite alcoholic beverages during the interview) Travis embodies nearly every single aspect of this definition. Travis loves to ride fixies, just like most of the other Ridazz. Does Travis consider himself a hipster? “I’m slightly, I definitely am.” Another aspect of this self-described hipsterness is Travis’s ability to grow strange facial hair. There are many months of the years where men, and maybe some women, refrain from shaving their facial hair and allow it to grow out as much as possible. Usually Travis had a full on beard but in September he shaved it off to “impress mommy” in his senior portraits. Travis is not only a hipster, but he’s also a fourth-year Earth Systems Sciences major here at UCI and getting ready to graduate. Travis also has a girlfriend, she called during our interview and they hashed out what they wanted to make for dinner. Once we got around the subject of bikes, the interview was off and...pedaling.

Bikes With No Brakes

Fixed-gear bicycles, or fixies, are bikes that operate with no brakes. Yes, no brakes. In order to stop you push down on the pedals, which causes the rear wheel to skid and prevents the bike from moving any farther. On these bikes, the rear cog, which is the connection to the rear wheel, is locked. Therefore, coasting is not an option with this bike, when the wheels move the pedals do too.

Fixies are considered to be the “epitome of hipster transport” as Travis eloquently puts it. A couple of years ago, when fixed gears were more popular than they are today, people were buying them to look hip and trendy. Many people sunk thousands into their construction, otherwise known as “builds” of their very own fixed gear. However, a few years later, Travis has observed an overall decline in the amount of fixies being ridden around. When Travis got into fixies in the summer of 2008 they were still “super underground.” A year later, the fixed gear boom occurred they slowly became a popluar fixture, they were even seen in the music video for a 30 Seconds to Mars song, “Kings and Queens.” DC Shoes, a skate and shoe store located in the Spectrum, even had a matte black fixie on display in their storefront window.

Why Would Anyone Want To Ride a Fixie?

“Because they’re fun to ride,” Travis said after I asked him why he rode fixed. He continued on to say, “they’re retarded really, they don’t make any sense…I like it too because it brought me back to when I was ten years old and had that BMX bike with the coaster brake and you’d go down the street as fast as you could.” The general consensus when I asked some members of the Ridazz was that it was fun.

Conan Thai, last year’s leader of the Ridazz told me, “because they’re fast.” While at UCI, Conan was a Studio Art major with an emphasis in photography. These days Conan is a full-time photographer shooting fashion photography for a living. Conan’s hipsterness is seen through his straw fedora that tops his head and his tiny brown skinny jeans that he wears to our interview. When asked if he considered himself to be a hipster he replied, “so many people call me a hipster and I don’t know what to do. I ride fixed gears and I take photos, I don’t know if that makes me one. I guess it depends on your own definitions.” Did I also mention that he was wearing a messenger bag?

When fixed gears came out and began to gain popularity, they caught on because they looked cool and they had relatively low maintenance since the bikes don’t have gears. They also gained speed due the colored parts that could be snapped on to them, which added a customizable element to them. However, aside from looking cool and being simple, riding fixed also brings back memories. For both Travis and Conan riding fixed brings them back to childhood. Travis stated, “remember when you were 10 and all you wanted to do was ride your bike, it felt so cool. You could go wherever you wanted, I mean wherever you wanted was like one block of your street, but you know, it was kind of cool and fun.”

The Ridazz

Created by Steven Ma in 2005, Irvine Ridazz at first didn’t really go far. It wasn’t that they didn’t have a lot of people, the ride literally didn’t go far. The group still met up at the same time every week at the flagpoles, but instead of riding to various eateries around Orange County, the ride circled around Ring Road. During these rides, they did things like high-fiving contests to see who could garner the most high fives from strangers and they even had a superhero themed ride where everyone came dressed as a superhero. Eventually people got tired of circling around Ring Road so the ride began to venture off-campus. The ride grew by word of mouth and whenever a group member saw someone else riding, they would tell him or her to come out. In addition to juggling school, relationships, friendships, and work the Ridazz still make it a point to meet up every week to ride with each other. Conan put it this way, “[riding] complemented [all of] it. I mean it’s part of being in college, you start riding bikes.”

When the Ridazz started out and last year when Conan Thai headed the rides, an average of eight riders would come out to ride. These days Travis finds it difficult to get people to come out and ride with them, he gets about four or five out for every ride and half of them don’t even attend UCI. In order to accommodate more people’s schedules, the ride has become a two-day affair with rides occurring every Wednesday and Thursday nights. However, the rides rarely get new people out and I was the first girl to go on a Thursday night ride this year.

Riding with the Ridazz

Imagine riding an average distance of 20 miles, in the darkness, through streets with cars whipping past and the wind blowing hard into against your face. That’s exactly what the Ridazz do every Wednesday and Thursday. It’s not that they crave the danger of riding through dark trails and streets, they just like to ride.

Before we took off for the ride, I met with some of them at the Pub a couple of hours before we left. The members were surrounded by girls and constantly saying hi to people they knew. After sharing a couple of pitchers amongst themselves, seven o’clock came and we made our way to the meet up spot- the flagpoles. When one of the Ridazz and I got there we met up with four other members. The leader of this Thursday night ride was Trent Armstrong, a third year Informational Computer Sciences major, who told us that we would be riding to Kean Coffee in Newport Beach, 6.2 miles away, which would make for a 12.4 mile ride roundtrip. We walked back up the steps, hopped onto our bikes, and took off down Ring Road. It was fast. We sped down past the Cross Cultural Center, weaved through the trees in front of the Student Center, and around the planter in the Humanities area. As we made our way down Ring Road one of the Ridazz, Josh “JKeez” Kim let out whooping sounds, which the other Ridazz enthusiastically returned.

Once we got to the start of Back Bay Trail, across the street from the Mesa Court dorms, all I could see was complete darkness. Aside from the small light affixed to the handlebars of Trent’s bike, it was pitch black. After a couple pedals in, we went down a small hill that catapulted us into more darkness. We pedaled down the asphalt trail the outlines of bushes barely visible, with the faintest smell of standing ocean water. During this time I was keeping pace with them, maybe it was because they were going a little slow for me. I had never ridden farther than the distance it takes me to get to campus from my apartment, so this was the farthest ride I had ever gone on in my lifetime. We suddenly got to a very tiny, steep slope that curved sharply and that’s when I had to get off my bike and walk it up. One of the riders, Dante Calvelli, was nice enough to hang back with me as his friends sped up ahead. We went up more hills, passed more bushes and crossed a bridge constructed with wooden planks that made the ride extremely bumpy. Finally, we got to Newport. At this point, I was set on turning back and riding back to Irvine by myself but Dante said to me, “hey, we’re almost there. You can make it.” So I kept pedaling. After a small hump, the rest of the ride was flat as we rode down Irvine Avenue passing by strip malls and small homes. When we finally got to Kean’s none of them seemed exhausted and as we were parking our bikes I asked if we were going to lock them up. “Psssh, no one fucks with us!” said Josh “Jkeez” Kim. We sat at Kean’s for about an hour, drank some coffee, ate some sushi, and chatted. During this time the guys chatted about many things, from South Park to Trent’s ability to grow facial hair to Josh’s Midwestern slash East Coast accent.

Bike Culture at UCI

Bikes at UCI have a somewhat complicated presence, the campus both welcomes them and restricts them. Bicyclists are not allowed to ride on Ring Road during the hours of 8:30 am to 5 pm and I have seen a few incidents where an on-campus policeman was giving a ticket to someone who violated this policy. However, bikes are still have a significant presence on campus. Many people use bikes as their primary method to get from class to class and bike racks are always crowded with bikes. Parking and Even the rails that surround the on-campus Starbucks have bikes wrapped around it. Transportation has about 500 registered bikes and they conduct quarterly bike collections where they impound unregistered bike, which numbers up to about 200 a quarter. When walking through the park, bikes often speed past pedestrians and sharply stray when a pedestrian walks into the designated bike lane.

Even with this abundance of bikes, Travis has a hard time getting people out for the weekly rides. He always gives a detailed Google map of the route he plans to take, and he’s always open to suggestions. The goal of Irvine Ridazz for Travis is to show people that riding is fun, for him biking takes a huge part of his life. He works at Bike Religion, the on-campus bike shop, runs the Ridazz, and has a whopping total of 8 bikes. For the Thursday night Ridazz that I rode with, riding was a way for them to meet up with each other, have fun, and go on a good ride. Conan put his love of bikes this way, “It makes me see things a different way. I mean, when you’re in a city you’re either on foot, in a car, or on a train, or on a bike. With bikes, it shows you something you don’t always get to see…you see potholes, you see stoplights, you see buildings, you see cars. You appreciate things for where they are.”


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