Chat & Selfie: On biking while black, South L.A. and car-less dating

CicLAvia staff member Tafarai Bayne, who also serves as a commissioner for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and does his own consulting, recently hung out in Chinatown with the California section’s Jason Song, talking about dating without a car, bringing CicLAvia to South L.A. and the proper etiquette for arriving at business meetings after a sweaty ride. We later emailed the South Los Angeles native questions and crunched the conversation into this:

You grew up in a family in which having a car as a teen was as likely as getting struck by lightning.

As a teen I resented not getting some of the things my even slightly more well-off friends would get, like a car. But I got to know the city very well taking alternative transit, riding bikes and skateboarding with my friends up and down the streets of South L.A. and Inglewood, hopping on the bus to the beach. I definitely attribute some of my appreciation for the city to early experiences with those intimate transit modes.

Did being car-free hurt your social life?

Taking a girl out in high school was rare. These days ... so many people are riding in general and with gas being expensive and youth unemployment what it is, bikes are the new youth go-to. I was a bit ahead of my time when I think about it.


Is biking while black an issue?

Frankly doing damn near anything while black can be an issue. A few years ago I was taking my bike for a morning ride. Upon my return I was flagged down by an LAPD officer. He informed me that my neighbor (a white woman) had called the police and reported that I had broken into my apartment and stolen my own bike. Luckily my girlfriend was home and could assure them that I hadn’t stolen the bike and that I lived in the apartment with her.

You helped bring CicLAvia to South L.A. last December. What did you hope people would discover?

My goal was about giving the people who live there the space to play, build community and get to know each other better. I wanted to see the joy that I felt riding my bike down the open streets with friends and family on the faces of people from that community, and I wanted to empower residents to bring their culture outside. Then I hoped visitors would get to know the people and the cultures of South L.A. better to challenge some of the stereotypes that are spread about it.

Biking to work as an activist is OK. Biking to a City Hall meeting and getting there all sweaty is ...

Not cool. ... I’ve struggled with the transition from being a full-time community organizer to being a professional consultant and political representative. Showing up to a community event sweaty, breathing heavy and with tire marks on my pants was fine and almost a badge of honor. Now when I arrive to my commission meetings I’m worried about presentation; I want to undercut any preconceived notions people will have.

Best business/biking pants in your closet?

I love my Levi’s Commuter jeans. I have them in three colors, two blue pairs, and they are light, stay clean, are rugged and have reflectors sewn into the legs so when I cuff them I’m ready to go.

Where to refuel after a long ride through Watts?

The Watts Coffee House is a great spot. It’s in a community center and has been around forever. I’m really looking forward to Roy Choi’s new restaurant, LocoL, which should be opening next year ... hopefully in time for our CicLAvia in that area.

Twitter: @byjsong


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