Something Like Freedom

May 2004, Valley Sports News & Review

It's a truth so self-evident, even presidents and folksingers can figure it out. As John F. Kennedy put it, "Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride."

And in "My Beat," folksinger Bruce Cockburn actually sings of the thrill of exploring his new hometown, heading "on to the bike path where it's something like freedom."

For those of us who know that almost giddy feeling of two silver wheels spinning, gliding swiftly and silently on our own power, we can only heartily agree.

It's no secret, either -- that simple joy is something an awful lot of people in the Antelope Valley already know plenty about. Oh, some people may scoff and think bicycling is somehow restricted to children, but if so, an awful lot of adults out there never grew up.
Okay, we're not Davis, the notoriously bike-friendly college town up by Sacramento. We've still got a way to go, as any local bike rider will gladly tell you. But the AV is full of cyclists: the pesky tow-headed eight year old with the pink Barbie helmet wobbling on her training wheels up and down the sidewalk in front of your house for two hours; those two sweaty, grinning twelve-year-old would-be daredevils in the abandoned lot shoveling dirt furiously, determined to convert two abandoned couches into a bike jump because the city won't allow them "even one freakin' afternoon" a week in their fancy new skateparks; the gangly, daring young men on impossibly tiny stunt bikes practicing equally impossible stunts in the parking lot behind Ralph's; the goateed, middle-aged off-road warriors unloading their BMX's from their SUVs and pickups at the top of Highland High Avenue every Saturday morning and heading off into the desert. And don't forget those spandexed diehards in training for yet another century (that's bikespeak for a hundred mile ride), those starry-eyed young lovers peddling slowly through the park side by side in the soft twilight or the feisty octogenarian on the ancient Schwinn heading around the corner to pick up a loaf of bread and her copy of Valley Sports.

"The Valley's really a great place for biking," says Juan Herrera, the owner of House of Bicycles, the popular Palmdale bikery, "People just have no idea how popular it is."

"Probably eighty percent of the folks who come in here are kids. Some of them drop by two or three times a week, but we've got a lot of adults coming here too, and they're the ones with the money. Including a lot who are getting ready for the biking season."

"The biking season?" I asked.

"Well, you can bike most of the year here, even through most of the winter, although when it really gets cold, it's mostly just the hardcore bikers. Come March, though, things really, really pick up. We had one guy in just last week, he must have almost spent more than his bike was worth, getting it ready. But people love their bikes."

They sure do. I'm pretty attached to my own bike, myself, and not just because since I've moved to Palmdale (from Montreal, a great cycling town), it's been my primary mode of in-town transportation. It goes beyond that.

Sure, sometimes biking in these parts takes a lot of determination (or is it just plain muleheadedness?), but the pounding of your heart, the flush on your cheeks, that just plain RUSH you get after a good ride more than makes up for the sometimes-frustrating hassles of territorial motorists and the occasionally less-than-accommodating attitude of local businesses and city officials.

But that's what this column will be about: the bike beat in the Antelope Valley. My beat. My hometown. And yours.

I hope it will appeal to everyone who's interested in biking, from the novice to the seasoned cyclist, throwing the spotlight on all aspects of biking in the AV, but with an eye to the kids. We'll discuss teaching them how to ride properly, buying a bike, customizing it and keeping it in good shape. We'll talk about getting yourself in shape, too, and about helmets and all the new gear that's out there, like those funky new V-shaped seats apparently beamed down from Mars that everyone's talking about. We'll discuss gears and shifting basics, riding etiquette, rules of the road and traffic safety, and everything else we can think of. We'll cover biking events and activities in the area for everyone from diehard long distance cyclists in training for the gut-busting Two Forests Double Century to the kamikaze thrill seekers making the scene at the Santa Clarita BMX Raceway. We'll scope out some good safe spots for a pleasant summer afternoon ride with the kids, and maybe a few longer tours. We'll interview local merchants and enthusiasts, beginners and gearheads, and even check in on little Susie, and see if she's ready to have her training wheels taken off yet.

And hopefully, the column won't be just me flapping my gums. I'm counting on all of you out there to help me make it a real forum for AV cyclists, a place where we can swap tales and tips, and even gripe a little every now and then.

Sure, not everyone "gets it." But heck, maybe we can convince them... because despite all the obvious benefits of bicycling, the real truth, the real nitty gritty, is that it's FUN ­ and certainly far too much fun to leave it just to the kids. So hopefully, that's what The Bike Beat will be really be about - the sometimes almost indescribable joy of biking.

Something like freedom, indeed.

Or, as Cockburn concludes, rather succinctly, "the heart is pumping, and the heart rocks."

Hang on, I think it's going to be a good ride.

Kevin Burton Smith's first excursion without training wheels landed him in a ditch on the side of the road, but he swears, after almost four decades of cycling, that he's starting to get the hang of it. A transplanted Montrealer, he now lives in the Antelope Valley with local author D.L. Browne. Comments and suggestions for this column are welcome at