As cars whizzed by and trucks honked, two dozen members of the East Side Riders from Watts slowly pedaled their cruisers up Central Avenue early Sunday.
Their destination was seven miles away: CicLAvia, a rare opportunity to enjoy 10 miles of car-free streets in downtown Los Angeles and beyond and to soak up the spirit of what turned out to be a citywide block party.
"Watts in the house!" boomed a disc jockey as the group pulled into the African American Firefighter Museum and joined an estimated 100,000 people who biked, walked or skated block after block without having to dodge a car or bus.
"Right now they're going to get a chance to ride the streets without cars interfering with their leisurely bike ride," John Jones said of his fellow Riders members.
Los Angeles held its first CicLAvia in October 2010, when 7.5 miles of streets were blocked off to motor vehicles from East Hollywood to Boyle Heights. Sunday, which marked the fourth version of the event, tested the city's flexibility as cyclists invaded downtown, Dodgers fans attended a home game up the hill and the Lakers faithful poured into L.A. Live — all at roughly the same time. And somehow the city still seemed to function.
The idea of booting cars off the roads and turning the asphalt over to cyclists and pedestrians first took hold as a weekly ciclovía in Colombia more than 30 years ago and was later adopted by cities elsewhere in Latin America and in the United States.
The festival was an immediate hit in L.A. and quickly became the city's marquee event for pedestrians and cyclists.
"Angelenos are aching for a day without a car. CicLAvia provides us one of those days," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Sunday before joining in the ride.
"But the change doesn't have to be temporary, so we are taking steps to make it easier for Angelenos to get from point A to point B — with or without a car," he said.
Villaraigosa used the platform Sunday to unveil a privately funded $16-million bike-share program that aims to put 4,000 rental bicycles at 400 kiosks across the city.
"Outdoor activities like biking promote healthy communities and support a multibillion-dollar recreation economy and millions of jobs," said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, according to a news release.
"The city's improving biking infrastructure and new bike share program will help Angelenos get outdoors, stay healthy and curb traffic and pollution," Sutley said.
Aaron Paley, one of the event's organizers, said he ran into people who had trekked in from places including Covina, Pomona and Palmdale to celebrate the experience of riding on urban streets without a car in sight.
There was such interest that some cyclists trying to board Metrolink trains from Orange and San Bernardino counties en route to Union Station were turned away because of overflow.
Metrolink officials said that they could have waited for the next train and that despite adding extra bike carts in preparation for CicLAvia, the trains were still inundated with bicycles.
Others who came planned to play soccer in the street, dance, attack a rock-climbing wall, visit MacArthur Park or Mariachi Plaza, listen to music or play on a giant chess set, among dozens of activities.
Judy London, 48, came from Santa Monica to CicLAvia because she "thought that would be a great way to get my kids off the couch and on their bikes."
There was also a tour that briefly left CicLAvia to explore Central Avenue and a photography exhibit called "A Community Album."
Jason Neville, who helped organize the tour, said it was important because "CicLAvia is about discovering neighborhoods in L.A. and seeing it through a different lens."
That was the experience of Jacob and Kate Laiser of Mar Vista, who took their bicycles down Central to see the exhibit.
"I get to do what I like to do best and learn," said Jacob Laiser, an avid cyclist who moved to L.A. from Tanzania two years ago. "We're here; I'm learning about Central Avenue, a community that I heard about today."