Once you meet Don Ward, you never forget him. Standing a shade under 7 feet tall and with a large personality to match, Don is the type of person that after just meeting him for five minutes, you’ve already invited him to your cousin’s quinceañera. Known in the streets as “Roadblock”, Ward has spent the better part of this decade breathing life into LA’s bike scene with his array of creative races and events. His most recent incarnation, the Unified Title Series, has become the de-facto championship for West Coast fixed-gear street racers.
TRAFIK sat down with Roadblock on a recent afternoon to discuss the Unified Title Series, the upcoming Marathon Hustle Ride and living the life of a bike bum…
TRAFIK: In many people’s minds you’ve been around “since the beginning.” How long have you actually been in the bike game for?
Roadblock: Well, Wolfpack Hustle started in 2005, so ten years now. Wow. I didn’t even think about that. I don’t have time to think about that. I’ve got so much on my plate now that I can only look forward and keep grinding.
T: L.A. has developed a vibrant urban racing scene, in part because of the events you’ve created and organized. What race started it all?
R: The first race we ever did was the Midnight Drag Race in the 2nd street tunnel, but I wouldn’t say it was organized. We just all showed up on a Saturday night and raced in the tunnel. No street closures. Live traffic. Maybe 150 people showed up. We used phones and flashlights to start the races but we got it done and had a champion at the end, which was at about 4am. We tried it again a few months later and 500 people showed up. It was crazy. Some traffic cop must have thought we had permission or something, she lit a bunch of flares at the tunnel entrance and blocked it off to traffic for the entire night.
T: Of all the races you’ve organized over the years, which is your favorite?
R: The All City Team Race will always be my favorite. We ran that for three years and all of them were good, but they will never, ever, happen again.
T: Why’s that?
R: Years ago it was all new and I really wasn’t thinking about boring shit like safety. But I began to realize, these are people’s sons and daughters that we’re winding up and sending into unsafe race conditions. I just can’t do that anymore. People should always take responsibility for themselves, but I feel I owe it to the community, and the racers, to throw the safest events I possibly can.
At that point Don receives a phone call. “It’s City Hall…” he has to take it.
As the founder, operator and main producer of the Unified Title Series, Roadblock has to communicate with city officials, lawyers, and police on a weekly basis. On the phone, Roadblock cuts through red tape like a messenger cutting through rush hour traffic. His questions are focused as he presses the City Official for confirmation on a list of items he recites from memory…
“Will there be street closure?”
“Who is the officer on duty?”
“Why can’t we start from that location?”
“How much support can you give us?”
He’s putting the finishing touches on the Marathon Hustle Ride, an annual celebration that allows riders the freedom to ride from Downtown to the beach on mostly cleared streets. The event was formally called the “Crash Race”, a late-night rowdy romp through caution tape and barriers to access the 26 mile course. It was awesome. But the 5-0 caught on and even blocked the finish line in one iteration. The Marathon Hustle Ride has since become accepted by the city, who have agreed to provide some measures of safety for the participants. Roadblock’s reasoning:
“People are gonna do it anyway, what we bring to the table is a level of safety and organization. The city sees value in that.”
He has brought the underground into the light and the citizens have responded. Thousands of riders attended last year’s Marathon Crash Ride, staying up all night for the 4am start time. An equal number are expected this year with the participants ranging from 14 year old fixie foos to your elderly dentist on a 10k Pinarello. Its opened the eyes of many an outsider who, for one night, can get a taste of the rebellious lifestyle and colorful culture of the Los Angeles bike community. It’s become the most popular event on the calendar.
Once Roadblock is satisfied with the answers he’s getting from the City Official, he turns his attention back to the interview.
TRAFIK: This is the 3rd year of the Unified Title Series. Can you gives us a preview of each race coming up in 2015?
R: Sure, we’re starting the Series in Long Beach with the Short-Line Crit. This is a short, fast, course in the middle of a bike festival on May 30th. There will be a beer garden, sponsor tents, the whole nine. Then we travel to the city of Huntington Park for the HP Gran Prix on Pacific Boulevard. I love working with that city, they are like family and help put on a great sprint event. The next race is a real gem, the Civic Center Crit around LA’s classic City Hall. If this race is anything like last year we’re expecting an international field of the most competitive track bike racers.
The final event of this year’s Series is really special, for the first time ever we’ll be bringing the show out of state to Austin, Texas. The bike community there is very supportive and excited to be hosting the first race of this type in the city. D1 Bicycles in Austin is presenting this crit race, which will end the season for us with the crowning of our 3rd Series Champion. It’s going to be an entire week of partying and riding bikes. It’ll be a chance for street racers from all over the U.S. to meet in a centralized location, so we’re hoping for a large and competitive turnout.
T: One more question… you’re a self described “Bike Bum”, what’s that life about?
R: The Best Life Ever. I’m thinking about getting that as a tattoo. A bunch of my bike bum colleagues have it. I pretty much just live really cheap. When you ride a bike, and don’t care about having a nice car, you can save a ton of money. But I love what I do, and happiness is more important to quality of life than money, so I guess that’s the main philosophy of a bike bum.
It all kicks off this weekend with the Marathon Crash Ride, the unofficial “opening ceremony” of the Unified Title Series III. Sunday morning at 4am, see you all at Tangs Donuts (RIP), Fountain & Sunset. Check the EVENT PAGE for more info.
The 6th and final Lord of Griffith will go down as one of the most brutal races LA has ever seen. This year TRAFIK embedded a reported in the pack to do all the hard work as the rest of us kicked back and watched the action. Here’s his firsthand account:
“When we arrived at the park a massive crowd surrounded Sean who was answering questions and going over the race specifics. There was some confusion because some riders stayed behind and others started making their way up to the starting/finish line. As we lined up, racers were cracking jokes and a good vibe was going around. Little did they realize that many of these riders would be eating pavement before the afternoon was over.
Then out of nowhere we head screams coming from behind us. “Move!” “Get out the way!” It was Sean leading a pack of about 15 riders up the hill, followed by the rest of the field clipping in and chasing after them. Some guys were still warming up in the parking lot and pretty much lost from the start. If you got caught in the back there was no chance of making it to the front.
The first downhill claimed a couple victims. Racers hit speeds above 40mph and at the bottom was the most dangerous obstacle, a 90 degree right hand turn into city traffic. Rubber was burning as the brakeless racers skidded to loose speed in order to negotiate the turn. Traffic was congested that day and riders were forced into a single file. That section alone ended several racers days. One rider from Pomona crashed through the rear window of a car and must have been going 30mph when he hit it.
Coming around lap after lap, there seemed to be more and more ambulances on the course. On the second lap, a rider from Sabertooth Squad/ FFSR was laid out with EMS bent over him. Police Officers and Firefighters at the bottom of the decent were trying to get riders to stop and slow down to avoid another crash or injury. It was chaos.
On the final lap it started to rain. Fitting. It’s your last lap, your legs are begging you to stop, you see all this carnage and spills going on around the park and its just you and your bike and one epic challenge. Made me feel like a bad-ass conquering this mountain in these conditions. That’s what made it a great race for me.”
- Abraham Figtree
Check out all the pics from the day over on our FLICKR TRAFIKPIX. Find yourself.
This Sunday, March 1st, the Lord of Griffith will be held for it’s 6th and final time. This race, first created in 2009 (see video below), was one of the first “street” races to utilize the amazing climbing terrain that we have right in our backyard…Griffith Park.
At first, it was a race where wearing cut-off jean shorts and tank tops was acceptable. Come as you are and ride what you brought. But it quickly became an event serious fixed gear racers put on their calendars a year in advance. Bombing through the streets during an alleycat takes skill, but to win LOG you need a different skill-set altogether. Climbing ability became a necessity if you wanted to compete in the LA race scene and LOG can take credit for inspiring that.
It hasn’t been a race without its controversies, though. Over the years people have been accused of cheating, lap counts may have varied, and secret short-cuts may or may not have existed. Who knows, who cares. The one constant that has stuck with this event is how fun it is for everyone involved. We can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon in the park than watching the last potential Lord of Griffith suffer up LA’s premiere peak. We’ll be sad to see this event go, so say thanks to Sean/TOLA for holding it down when you see him out there. We wish him well wherever he may roam.
Course Preview: It will be in and around Griffith Park.
REGISTRATION and EVENT INFO HERE: https://www.facebook.com/events/330645270472656
Check out some vintage photos from LOG I, III, IV – all on our FLICKR Page TRAFIKPIX. Here’s the very first poster for the event:
It was a good day to be racing. The sky looked dark and menacing with a chance of rain, weird weather for California. Luckily it stayed dry in Orange County as over one-hundred brakeless fixed gear racers came out to the Comeback Crit thrown by OCBrakeless.
There were a lot of riders out there looking to compete, a lot of new faces and a couple of heavy hitters. It’s early in the season, if it’s even started yet, so it was anyone’s race. The course was really short but the wind made it technical, drafting and teamwork were key. If you couldn’t ride shoulder-to-shoulder in a pack, you were going to eat shit.
The race started off clean as everyone got a feel for the course. After three calm laps, it was off to the races. It only took 30 min to thin out the field of 112 to just about 30-35 racers. People were attempting to break away but were always caught. Using some pro-team race tactics, two riders from Team Throne and GLK actually managed to stay away from the peloton.
The chase group didn’t pick up speed until the last three laps and by then the two leaders were unreachable. It was a battle for 3rd and those who could’t keep up were struggling not to get dropped. Here’s local racer Tony Zaldua’s account of the final minutes in the peloton:
“GLK and Throne did a great job of attacking and getting one of their men away. A lot of inexperienced racers were tired of just being up front and wasting energy. I tried to organize a Chase group but a lot of people weren’t strong enough. So I decided to work for Cruz, my teammate, and lead him out for 3rd place… I was happy about that.”
Overall it was a great turnout for a race so far out from LA. Competition was solid and there wasn’t a serious crash. It was a good way to start off the underground Crit racing season. Yes… it’s started.
COMEBACK CRIT RESULTS
1- Jerry Rios (GLK Racing)
2- Felipe Castillo (Throne Cycles/GSS)
3- Cruz Murillo (Unknown Bikes)
Thanks to our TRAFIK contributors, Abe Figtree, Leen, James Morales.
Photos by Gus Sarmiento
and Julio Bustamante – IG @boostamantefotos
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Hopefully you had off of work today, which is President’s Day in the USA. But did you know that before 1900 this day was considered BIKE DAY – the grand opening of the bicycle season. While most stores were closed, bike shops would open their doors to show off the latest models. In Boston, racers would hold street crits that tons of people off work would attend. Dope. It was basically like a Bicycle Black Friday.
Why don’t we have anything like this anymore? sigh. Here’s what it was like in New York on Bicycle Day over 100 years ago…
Stores competed to attract the crowds. At the Tinkham Cycle Company, for example, the Royal Hungarian Band played, bicycle bells rang, acetylene and electric lamps flashed, and visitors gawked at bikes with three, four, six, or ten seats. Every customer took home a lily bulb to plant; the owner of the handsomest and tallest flower could redeem it for a hundred-dollar bicycle come June.
Today, car culture rules President’s day sales. Wouldn’t it be nice if a bicycle retailer took this holiday back? At least we can ride today… we have off.
See the full article via The Atlantic
This past Friday had everyone worried. Sudden downpours, cloudy skies, thunder, lighting. Were people going to race in this? Fortunately for everyone expecting to race the Lord of Frogtown that night, the weather gods answered their prayers. The 2nd annual Lord of Frogtown did happen. A three-lap, 6 mile, crit around the industrial /river area known as Frogtown, this was the 2nd year for the underground event. This race called for a keen eye to keep from falling since roads were choppy AF… full of potholes, ruts and bumps.
The race kicked off with the ladies going first. Representing for MOM RIDAZ and the all-female crew S.W.A.T. was Esme Gnarly who took first. For team Sabertooth Squad, Leana took second and Caroline Dela Victoria, who was looking to beast but was hit by a vehicle, finished 3rd.
Soon after the Men hit the course. It was a sprint start to get positioning as the racers hit the sloping bridge onto Riverside. Right at the crest there was a line of oncoming traffic so everyone was forced to pack the lane, making all their moves dangerous being almost shoulder-to-shoulder on shitty ass roads going as fast as possible. This little uphill led to a nice downhill launch where if you kept your speed you could keep it spinning throughout the lap. The front pack stayed strong to the end where it became a sprint to the finish line. As it turned out, the podium was the same as last year, pretty amazing considering there were about 70 racers.
Dante Young from Leader Bikes took first, David Ayala from Lincoln Heights Cyclery came in second, and teammate Michael Morales finished third. Great job to everyone who came out and braved the conditions!
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