(242689)
C-Weed (242690)

The sharp vibration of my cell phone snapped me awake at 3 a.m. It was Thursday morning, and I was annoyed.

“Hello,” I answered groggily.

“Hey, man. Did I wake you up?”

“Absolutely.”

“Sorry bout that. It’s me, C-Weed.”

“Yeah, I recognize your voice. What’s up, bro?”

“I was just wondering – do you have a bike?”

“Not since I was 10-years-old. Don’t ride much these days.”

“No problem. I’ll have an extra one for you, when we meet up later. I want you to ride with us.”

“Ride with you?”

“Yeah. Asking questions won’t be enough. I want you to get the full experience. You can’t write about something you’ve never done, right?”

“Uh … yeah, right. I guess. Thanks.”

“No problem. Sorry again about waking you up. Get some rest. Modello Mike says we’re doing 20 miles this time.”

“20 miles! And who’s Modello M—… forget it. Cool man. I’ll be ready.”

My first encounter with C-Weed began on the Metro Gold Line train to Santa Monica, one of SoCal’s marquee beach cities. It was a cramped space—filled with pedestrians dressed in flip flops, tank-tops and beach shorts. Strollers carrying small children blocked exits and walkways. There was barely any room to stand. It was as if we boarded the only train to safety after a natural disaster.

Nevertheless, C-Weed managed to create enough space for himself and his custom-made PK Ripper beachcrusier. At 6’3, 260 pounds, he dwarfed just about every passenger on board; but his eyes registered a calmness that contrasted with his imposing frame. I could tell he was a gentle giant.

“Hey,” someone called to him from the opposite end of the train. “What kind of bike you got?”

“Ah man, this is one of my babies. The best of my collection. It’s a PK Ripper, but I’ve had some adjustments made to it. This thing can fly.”

“Yeah, I got one of those too. I like the color on yours. You ride with a crew?”

“Yup, we’re meeting at Venice Beach today. There’s probably gonna be a hundred of us or more. We do it every Saturday.”

“Word? I used to roll with a crew like that. I only ride with a few of my homeboys now.”

“You getting off at the last stop [3rd St. Santa Monica Station]?”

“Yup.”

“Cool. I’ll give you my number so we can link up. We do this crazy ride on Thursday. You should roll through.”

When the train reached its final stop, I made a beeline for C-Weed and his new riding buddy.

“Hey, guys. I overheard you speaking,” my voice cracked. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but is cycling a common thing in the hood?”

“No, cycling isn’t,” C-Weed answered matter-of-factly. “That’s some middle America sh*t for White boys who wear spandex. We ride BMX.”

“Well, how common is that?”

“Very.”

“So, there’s a bike culture in the Black community?”

“I ain’t saying all that. But I know plenty of nias who ride BMX like we do [pointing to himself and the other rider]. Hispanics too. I ride in groups of Black people, Asians, White boys, and Mexicans. We’re very serious about it.”

“Sounds interesting. I heard you mention a ride on Thursday. Can I check it out?”

“Sure. Take my number. We meet in the Arts District at 8 p.m.”

On the day of the ride, C-Weed reached into the flatbed of his uncle’s truck and pulled out a bright-red Schwinn mountain bike.

“This is for you.”

I smiled, suddenly feeling like a kid again.

“Wow. Looks fast.”

“Yup. Holler if you need me to adjust the seat. Let’s roll”

By my count, I could’ve easily been flattened by a speeding car at least 10 times during our ride to meet the others. It felt like a bad omen—the night was still young and I had already cheated death more than once.

When we arrived, there were dozens of middle-aged men gathered in a parking lot on the corner of 4th and Alameda Street (Downtown LA). As time progressed, the group expanded to roughly 200 people, including women, children and whole families.

They came in all shapes, sizes and colors; they spoke different languages; and they represented various social and economic backgrounds. But apart from these differences, they assemble every Thursday to share in a childhood pastime.

When rush hour subsides, and the streets have calmed, these night riders emerge with their own personalized BMX bicycles.

They ride for miles – exploring every crevice of the city, blocking lanes and intersections, speeding through red lights and stops signs, delaying traffic, whistling to pretty girls, and waving to curious bystanders. It’s a frat party on wheels—and for nearly five hours, the “41 Thursday” crew travels in a tight formation like geese flying south for the winter.

“We wanna think young and stay young by riding bikes,” explained Mr. Cheech, 46, the group’s founding member and route designer.

Whenever asked, he declines to provide his birth name; but the other riders told me that he adopted the alias “Cheech” several years ago.

Apart from his role with the group, Cheech spends the bulk of his time restoring antique cars for private clients. His quiet disposition contrasts with the numerous piercings and tattoos covering his body. Still, although he’s not particularly vocal, Cheech has earned the respect and admiration of his BMX comrades.

“We’ve been doing this [bike-riding] for seven years now. It gives us all a chance to forget about reality for a little while. It’s therapy for me, and I’m sure everyone else here feels the same way.”

Only a handful of the riders actually live in Los Angeles.

Many come from surrounding cities like Corona, Long Beach, Buena Park, Canoga Park, Downey, Paramount, and Inglewood.

Jesse Medina, 43, gasses up his SUV on Thursdays and drives a full-hour from his home in Acton.

“I’ve been doing it for a year now. It’s fun to meet up with these guys and take my bike out for a spin. You’ve probably been hearing this all night, but every time I ride, it makes me feel young. That’s my childhood in a nutshell—I’d meet up with everybody in the neighborhood and cruise the streets. I’m a lot older now, but it feels the same.”

Thursday’s 20-mile excursion took us through Koreatown, Chinatown, the Arts District, part of Hollywood, and before we turned back for the return trip, the group had reached the outskirts of Glendale (yes, you read that correctly).

The ride consisted of sharp hills, curvy highways, steep drops and bumpy terrain. Occasionally, we’d pass by restaurants and bars.

Pedestrians cheered and asked for pictures.

Motorists howled profanities and honked their horns.

“Don’t you see the red light you aholes?” one driver yelled.

Someone in a white Honda whizzed by and popped two gunshots in the air to frighten us.

I asked the rider next to me, “how often does this happen?”

“Never!” he exclaimed. “I guess it’s one of those nights.”

Whenever a rider would fall too far behind, or a bike would malfunction, the entire pack was instructed to stop.

Certain members were selected to hold traffic as we passed through intersections; others snapped photos to showcase on social media; and a handful of riders were on hand to provide first aid in the event of an injury.

The entire operation was organized and closely supervised.

“That’s why we carry walkie talkies,” Cheech explained. “We have kids riding with us. There’s protocol for everything we do, especially when it comes to safety.”

The evening wasn’t entirely drama free, but everyone’s spirits remained high.

“This is my passion—a couple gunshots won’t turn me away,” says Long Beach resident Laura Fierro, 27.

“This is my stress reliever. Some people turn to sports or drugs, but I turn to my bike. Riding with these guys equals freedom to me.”

As we returned home, the skyline was illuminated by florescent lights emanating from the high-rise offices downtown. It was like riding into Vegas.

“This is something that you cant find anywhere else,” declared Orange County resident Erick Phillips, a 49-year-old father of two who sells commercial printing for a living. He was one of only three White bikers who came for the ride, but his energy was infectious and endearing to the others.

“Everyone around here calls me “Amper” — because I’m always amped up,” he explained proudly. “I look forward to this experience because of the people I meet. We’re such an eclectic group—you got dog walkers, lawyers, city workers, gang members, drug dealers, people from every walk of life. But there’s one thing that keeps us all bonded and that’s the ride. We’re here to have fun. That’s our motto: ‘don’t fk with the fun.’ I have a blast, and when I bring my children, they do too. This ride has something for everyone.”