Influence Pedaling : Bicycling: Mayor Riordan leads a community tour to promote the sport and shows skeptics just how fit a rider he really is.


Hector Rodriguez had heard all about the bicycling mayor of Los Angeles, about how Richard Riordan liked to take his vacations riding across the French countryside atop one of his fleet of top-flight racing and mountain bikes.

He’d heard that Riordan was in great shape, that he’ll sometimes skip a weekday lunch for a quick Downtown biking jaunt between meetings.

And so on Saturday, along the 27-mile course of Ride L.A.: Mayor Riordan’s Community Bike Tour across the west San Fernando Valley, Rodriguez decided to see for himself, to take a good look at this mayor who can blow away riders half his age with muscular bursts of speed.


As Riordan pedaled along Balboa Boulevard, swallowed by a tightknit pack of riders, the 32-year-old Metropolitan Transit Authority worker drew close and checked out the shape of the competition. Then he shook his head.

“All I had to do was take one look at the legs, to see how well the quadriceps were developed,” said the former professional cyclist as he rounded a turn amid a pack of riders. “He rides. The man rides a bike.”

So serious is this mayor about the sport of cycling, riders say, he keeps his legs clean shaven--a precaution many avid cyclists use to avoid infections that result from scrapes suffered in wipeouts.

On Saturday, clad in black Lycra biking shorts, a black and white pullover racing jersey and helmet, riding an expensive foreign-made Moser brand bike he said was gift from a group of Italian cyclists, Riordan was out front for much of the three-hour ride, setting a brisk pace, a security officer huffing and puffing along behind him.

On the sunny weekend morning, the mayor was joined by some 350 riders of all ages, the largest turnout yet, on the fourth installment of eight community bike tours, a program designed to allow residents from throughout the city to experience its disparate neighborhoods, from Northridge to Watts to Venice Beach--all from the top of a bicycle seat.


But wait a minute. This is Los Angeles, a city known for its love affair with the automobile and the combustible engine, the land of 70-m.p.h. freeway speeds or, more likely, traffic gridlock and idling engines.


“This is what Los Angeles is all about, not sitting in traffic along the San Diego Freeway,” Riordan said before starting his ride.

“You feel free and open and you can see the city at your own pace. The automobile traps you. I encourage this mode of transportation, if you can pull it off.”

Riordan was supported by legions of serious cyclists. The starting point Saturday at a Cal State Northridge parking lot was a sea of colorful tight-fitting outfits, of 60-year-old men and women who looked 20 years younger. There were clutches of organized club members eager to show their stuff, boys on mountain bikes, husbands and wives on tandem units.

There were tricycles bearing decorated Christmas trees, jazzy racers costing $3,000 or more, as well as low-slung experimental bikes with their funky-looking handlebars located below the seat.

They supported Riordan’s ride and his efforts to promote cycling as an alternative mode of transportation in a region where many frustrated, road-weary motorists are seen to regard the cyclist as Public Enemy No. 1.

“I think this is just fantastic,” said Darien Mann, a 33-year-old computer programmer who often rides his bike to and from work. “Maybe other people will see this on their television sets and decide to take a bike ride tonight instead of a spin in their cars.”


But other members of the San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club said that while getting the word out is a great idea, the mayor needs to ensure that the Valley and other areas have well-maintained bike lanes and trails.

“We’d like to see the city spend a little money to smooth the railroad crossings and create these lanes because right now the Valley is pretty dangerous place to ride a bike,” said Mark Reden, a 41-year-old grocery store produce manager and avid cyclist. “The services just aren’t there.”

Hector Rodriguez agreed: “This city still has a long way to go. Before the Olympics, you never saw a bicycle on the streets of Los Angeles. And still, the logistics are confusing. Not all public transportation options, subways and buses, allow you to take bicycles on board. We’ve got to develop a cohesive policy.”

From its start at Cal State Northridge, the bicycle tour wound its way along several of the West Valley’s wider boulevards, with experienced riders jockeying for position in the front ranks. A traveling police motorcade stopped curious motorists just long enough for the cyclists to pass.

Clearly, some participants were thrilled to see the officers halt the often insistent traffic as bikers breezed through normally clogged city intersections.

“Look,” one man exclaimed, “no red-lights!”

The group took a 20-minute break at Warner Ranch Park in Woodland Hills, where 10-year-old Chris Molletti presented the mayor with an award for his efforts to promote bicycle safety and helmet use. The boy’s helmet recently saved his life when he was struck by a car in Long Beach and thrown more than 40 feet.


Back on the road, riders exchanged introductions and talked business. Some held pocket cameras over their heads to capture the motorcade. And some talked about Mayor Riordan and his biking exploits.

“I heard that on one of these rides he was cruising along with a group of professional cyclists,” said Reden of the Valley biking group. “Suddenly, the mayor turns to these guys and says, real politely, ‘Do you guys mind if we pick up the pace a bit?’ ”

Riordan seems to revel in the attention. At the start of the return trip from Woodland Hills, he raced to the head of the group and turned to a group of organized riders in colorful outfits. “There he is, El Capitan! “ one called out. The mayor turned and gave them a wicked smile: “You guys look like a bunch of wimps to me.”

But not everyone had heard of Mayor Riordan and his cycling reputation.

“I don’t ride a bike that often, but I’ll match the mayor for sure,” said 42-year-old Tim Dorsey as he stood in line to register for the ride. “I mean, how hard could that be? How old is the guy anyway? He must be near retirement age, or past it.”

And within minutes from the start, another cyclist called out: “Hey, where’s the mayor? He probably dropped out within a half-mile of the starting line. No sense taking any risks now.”

What he didn’t know was that Riordan was well in front of him, near the leaders of the ride, calling out to the pair of motorcycle cops to pick up their pace. Not so he could crank up his speed, but so cyclists could spread out and ride more safely.



Often, the pace of these bicyclists resembled rush-hour traffic. The faster riders complained the pace was too slow, the slower ones that it was too fast. “Hey, dude, this is no longer cool,” one rail-thin man in a screaming yellow outfit said to a friend. “I know, man,” the other responded. “My brakes are on more than not.”

When the lead motorcycle officers stopped the group to allow stragglers to catch up, the bikes bunched into a group tighter than any freeway gridlock. Riders cut off other riders.

“Hey, why you!” called out one man. “Thanks a lot, lady. I thought I was getting away from women drivers today.”

For much of the day, the mayor blended in with the group, most often riding near the front, chatting with whomever matched his pace. But just miles from the finish line, he turned on a burst of speed and, security man in tow, raced to the front.

“Every time we come out here, more and more people take part in these rides,” Riordan said.

“I learn a lot about this city this way. People in bureaucracies don’t always tell you things. So this is the way I get out and see them for myself.”