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Wolfpack Hustle interview with Don “roadblock” Ward

(photo by bart_everett)

To say the city of Los Angeles is dependent on the automobile is a big understatement. Back in July, local LA residents waited with baited breathe when they heard a 10 mile stretch of their precious 405 freeway was going to be shut down for a weekend. I remember getting lots of raised eyebrows and shocked reactions when I told people about our family vacation to LA planned right in the middle of what was being labeled as Carmageddon. Fortunately there is a thriving bicycle culture throughout the vast landscape of cities like Santa Monica, Ventura, Pasadena and Long Beach. One renegade group of racers known as the Wolfpack Hustle seized the opportunity during this weekend by challenging the airline of Jet blue to race, bicycle vs airplane.

Wolfpack Hustle. Time Lapse from Midnight Ridazz on Vimeo.

The hustle put their fastest crew together to challenge the airline who was trying to compensate motorists by offering ridiculously cheap flights from Burbank airport to Long Beach for $4.00.

( photo by waltarrrr)

The pack easily won the 38 mile race which was mostly hyped up on twitter and meanwhile the 405 project was completed early and under budget, leaving nobody inconvenienced. The race probably didn’t convert anyone to ditch their automobile, but the media stunt did draw attention to the social network of bikers in LA as well envoke some serious discussions about car dependency and how people move about.

I randomly meet Don “Roadblock” Ward on twitter, (@wolfpackhustle) when I found out the wolfpack crew was heading over to compete in Austin Horse’s multi-city East Coast Messenger Stage Race. Don was the organizer of the Jetblue race and was willing to answer some questions about bike culture in LA, the wolfpack and plans to race down the East Coast in a very unique stage race.
(photo of Don Roadblock-by: Mikeywally)

•Name, age, what your riding these days and how long you’ve been riding in LA.

Mi nombre es Don “Roadblock” Ward and I’ve been riding in LA most of my life which is itself getting fearfully close to the 4 decade mark. Born in LA gonna die in KAUAI.

•What’s the alleycat scene like in LA?

Alley cats happen pretty frequently, espeically in the summer. DTLA’s Finest throws some of the best. They usually have a summer series downtown and the racing goes off.

•What is the wolfpack hustle, what events do you put on? Who comes out?

Wolfpack Hustle is an all-city ride concept that goes down every Monday night. It has been chugging along for almost 6 years now. The ride starts and ends at Tang’s Donut in Silverlake, is anywhere from 40-70 miles and has different routes every week. We ride no matter the weather or holidays. All kinds of people come out. We get everyone from the track bike fixed gear kids to BMX pros to the CAT1′s to just plain and simple commuters who want to get to know the city better. We also get travelers from time to time… people who’ve heard about our ride from other countries who see it as a way to take in some of the sights and sounds of LA. we give them a good survey of LA for sure.

•What lead to the jetblue race?

I woke up one morning 2 days before “Carmagedon” was going to end the world as we know it to a tweet that mentioned @WolfpackHustle and how we could beat JetBlue’s “Carmagedon Flight” from Burbank to Long Beach. I instantly accepted the challenge. Bikes vs. Jet was just too good to pass up. From that tweet forward it was a whirlwind of action. I grabbed the laptop and sprinted over to my favorite breakfast spot and spent the next 8 hours on Facebook, twitter and email rallying to organize the race, assemble Wolfpack A the team, and working with prominent bike bloggers like @garyridesbikes, (garryridesbikes.blogspot.com) and @ohaijoe (www.bikecommutenews.com) to identify a passenger, set up the rules for the race and make it happen. 24 hours later I was getting non stop phone calls from the local and international media. It was insane. I was doing radio interviews on the BBC, Korean state media, Germany, China… I have to give a shout to Gary’s wife Meghan Kavanaugh for handling the press releases. Her newsroom experience really helped push this. The most bizarre of interview was for some conservative AM radio show. I was on hold and the host was ranting about public transportation in Ohio and how stupid it was… I wanted to hang up or just blow off the Bikes vs Jet interview and school him about the benefits of public transit…

•It got a lot of hype on twitter and the web, did you expect such a big reaction?

Honestly I was so caught up in making it happen I didn’t care what the reaction from the outside world was going to be. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to race a freeking JET! But initially I didn’t think it was going to be big because in our team strategy meeting we were originally going to have the team race airport to airport. That’s 40 miles and do-able, but once I realized how many non-bike people were watching I ran it by a few transit advocates and Sean Bonner about whether it could still be considered a legit race if we made it about destinations. The one thing I didn’t want to do was put pressure on Wolfpack A to have to ride outside of the law. If we made it about destinations that kind of pressure and thus public criticism could be safely avoided. Considering the time it takes to drive to the airport, arrive early and then drive to the passenger’s destination – the Long Beach Aquarium – the pace could be relaxed for the riders and all the usual bike haters that complain of unruly cyclists would be silenced. In the end I think it was a fair choice. This was about transportation options.

But in the aftermath I am pretty amazed. You kind of see these “twitter buzz events” happen from the sidelines and then there I was right in the middle of one. It was really cool. Days later I found myself still checking twitter like a crack fiend hitting refresh like the hype was never going to end. But of course the chatter eventually faded away though there is still one last hurrah as the LA city council body will be honoring us for our achievement in October. Totally stoked about that.

•What was jetblues’s reaction?

JetBlue has been coy about the whole thing. They helped facilitate it by giving @ohaiJoe a ticket to follow the passenger @ezrahorne on his journey but they didn’t want to come out and fully endorse the race. Airliners never sponsor races for fear that a crash will lead to bad publicity. None the less, the CEO of JetBlue announced on board the flight “Now if we can just beat the cyclists.” They also gave us free round trip tickets anywhere we want.

•I was in LA at the time of the 405 closure and a lot of my friends and family said we were crazy for going at that time. What do you think of the perception of car culture in LA and did this come into play when organizing the race?

The perception is that car culture is the only way in LA. Obviously that perception is false and we are proving it everyday. When this flight was announced I knew it was a publicity stunt but at the same time it was the last straw. I was already disgusted with the Carmagedon coverage in the news and having a chance to change the narrative even just a little bit was absolutely awesome.

•Who came to race?

For every race we put together a team of our best Monday night riders which is called Wolfpack A. This time around was no different. The team was as follows: Captain John “The Roadie” Gabriel, Aram Dellalian, Fabian Vazquez, Jon Budinoff, Stephan Andranian, and Evan Stade. All have ridden on countless Monday nights and all could be trusted to handle themselves in a potential chaos of Carmagedon traffic. In fact we really weren’t sure if it was possible so we had a team meeting to go over the route and make sure everything was covered.

On race day, a rollerskater showed up and @garyridesbikes and his wife decided they would do the race as pedestrians using public transit. Everyone won.

•What were the racers biggest challenge?

Resisting the urge to blow stop signs and lights.

•What happened in the race? Who won?

The race went perfect. There was practically no traffic. People had apparently heeded the Carmagedon hype and cowered in their homes. I wish Carmagedon would happen every day.

•Did this give you the bug to organize more distance racing?

Honestly no, but it gave me the bug to do Austin Horse’s East Coast Stage Race!

•What’s this I hear about East coast messenger stage race? U coming out? Ever raced in NYC? Ever done this kind of thing (it’s fine to pretend my audience doesn’t know Austin or about this race)

Our brother from NYC is throwing a 500+ mile messenger race from Boston to DC. We are using JetBlue’s ticket offer to fly out and do it. Last year Austin came out to race the Marathon Crash race we throw here in LA and we’ve kept in touch through twitter ever since. I’ve never raced in NYC but myself and the Midnight Ridazz came out in 08 to participate in Black Label’s Bike Kill event. we were there for a week so I got a chance to ride Mahattan, Brooklyn, Queens… I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated about ruthless traffic in NYC. But once I got there I realized one thing. YOU GOT TO RIDE MIDDLE and then it makes complete sense. I noticed right away that while NYC traffic is ruthless, it is also sensible in that you know drivers, especially cab drivers dont give a fuck about you but they will respect you if you ride right. After nearly getting right and left hooked 10 times for the first mile I just got in the middle and blasted. Compared to LA I actually felt safer. Our drivers here in LA are some of the most distracted irrational brain dead people in America. They are barley aware of their surroundings and they definitely aren’t looking for someone on a bike they are too busy on the cell phone making a u-turn for the botox clinic.

•What challenges do you expect? what bike will you race?

The biggest challenge in my mind is routing. None of us know shit about east coast routes. The terrain is pretty flat which is to our advantage since we are used to riding hills and mountains here in LA. We are also used to covering long distances on the regular since our city is so big so hopefully that will help us. Personally I’m not expecting to place or even come close. I’m just going to ride. I’m leaving the race part to Wolfpack A. I’m going to be Wolfpack B.

(photo by: Mikeywally)

•Anything you wished I’d asked you?

“Are you politically involved in getting bike infrastructure in LA. ”

The older I’m getting the more I am realizing that politics DO matter. It’s just difficult to see change when as a youth your perception of time is days and hours vs being an adult and realizing that change happens in glacial terms but it indeed happens. For years now I’ve seen LA slowly warm up to cycling as a real alternative to the car and I’m proud to be a part of this shift. Last year I was awarded Advocate of the Year by Streetsblog and this year I’ve been working to earn that title by participating in local government – I’m a neighborhood councilman – and by rubbing elbows with the right people in city hall and just remaining focused on the safe streets message. Our LADOT has been traditionally hostile to providing pedestrian safety through traffic calming and infrastructure. In fact, our LADOT actively removes crosswalks and seemed to be foiling bike lane proposals…. It was getting conspiratorial actually. But now that the bike community here has been engaged and pressuring City Council for so long, the change is starting to happen. It’s an exciting time in Los Angeles. If we can make the streets safe for people to choose active transportation instead of mindlessly getting in a car to make 2 miles trips… we could have a healthier, less polluted world.

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