My modus operandi is action – action that speaks louder than the constant cries that “Southern California is not livable.” As a lifelong Angeleno, I’ve been told and told again that L.A. is a la-la-land of drivers and smog. No walkers. No serendipity or intimacy of community. Certainly, there’s no nature. And no one knows your name.
Growing up in the suburbs of the South Bay, I confused everyone when I refused to get a driver’s license at age 16. And then in college at UCLA, I discovered the Purple and Gold lines, the Los Angeles river bicycle trail and Angels Flight. Exploring L.A. without a car gave me, the un-athletic sister of basketball players, a reason to pick up a bike and raise my heart rate a little. I’ll show everyone that it’s possible. And unbelievably fun.
Now after graduating and working, challenging myself on the bicycle led me to places I’d never imagine before. I overcame my fear of intimidating roads, gyms and wilderness hikes (without cell phone reception). Now, I climb rocks, hike and swim in rivers. Biking helped me learn the names of streets and my neighbors’ too. And now they’re teaching me how to care for a vegetable garden and fruit trees, at a local community garden. Who knows where I’ll find myself next? Thanks to my bike, neighborhood and newfound confidence, there’s so much left to explore. And not a single parking spot or backed-up freeway to worry about.
You could say it’s hard to classify me. I thrive between cars and pedestrians in bike lanes, but feel at home between library shelves too. Behind a computer, I make maps, videos and online communities come to life. The gym, beach and parks are my work out spots. And my neighbors know me by my blue bicycle, and perhaps my poor parallel parking. Geek, sports girl, bookworm, “bad Asian lady driver,” I’ve heard it all. With my mix of bicycling, public transit experience and varied web and communication skills, I’m certain I can serve as an instructor that empowers in women on bicycles.
Bicycling in Los Angeles can be an uphill battle for women. As a college student, I just wanted to find a way to bike to my internship in Beverly Hills. Instead, I found potholes and honking cars. I know from experience that, often times, it’s not the physical act of cycling, but rather the fear of traffic or sweat that discourage bike rides. Even before that first ride, the intimidating bike shop owner, the never-ending Craigslist search and the endless choices in frames (and lack of affordable, attractive non-Lycra gear) – all contribute steep uphill before the joy of biking.
I’ve been lucky, though.
Bus drivers showed me how to secure my frame on a bus. A passing pedestrian showed me how to fix my flat. Police returned my stolen bicycle. And I didn’t let stereotypes of bicyclists get to me. I rode with boys on fixies, carbon fiber and clipless-pedal-riding ladies twice my age (and twice as fast), I rode with CicLAvia and CICLE tours. I was lucky to have mentors around me to adjust my helmet, teach me signals and show me the best routes. And I’m ready to give back.
Driver’s education is required. Yet bicycling education isn’t. I met countless classmates – all girls – who’d never ridden a two-wheeler. And most have never ridden off the sidewalk. It’s easy to see the gaping need for instructors. Not just to teach the laws, but also to support, inspire and empower.
I’m not certified, but I’ve been practicing: I help friends fit and choose frames and helmets. I lead, signal and nudge them into left-hand turn lanes. For me, taking friends along with their bikes on the subway for the first time is better than Disneyland.
I’ve ridden on beach, backcountry and farm roads. Yet my favorite rides are with my neighbors I encouraged taking out their dusty hybrids, and bike, instead of drive, to Lowe’s. They were so worried. But what were they doing on the ride back? Smiling and cycling with pride and joy. I knew I had to share this with more people.
On my first bike commute, a car’s surprising honk brought me to tears. But along the miles I rode since, I found my smile and confidence. With a scholarship, I want to bring this lifelong joy to more women, their children and families.