Tall Bike Bobby: “Biking a ridiculous bike to show that biking isn’t ridiculous”
With a mission to raise awareness about the practicality of bicycling and to experience bicycle cooperatives and communities along the west coast, Bobby Gadda is riding his tall bike from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles, Calif.
A well-known bike advocate in L.A., Bobby is the Programs Coordinator for Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, a cook at the bicycle kitchen, volunteer coordinator for the Bici Libre workshop space, and co-founder of CicLAvia.
He embarked on his 1600-mile journey at the end of June following the Bike! Bike! conference in Vancouver. He is accompanied by Alix Aylen. The pair stopped in Seattle for a few days, and I caught up with them along the University Bridge on Thursday, June 12 to ride with them as they were leaving town, following the STP route to Portland.
Bobby was a full three feet taller than me on his self-made vehicle, which was optimized for his long journey with plenty of cargo space and even a personal cooling device.
“I have been riding a tall bike for a while and I always have lots of fun when I’m riding it because people want to talk to me about it,” explained Bobby in regards to his choice of bicycle. “Traveling with this bike, I meet way more people and start so many conversations about biking, and this trip is all about making connections between different bike communities.”
Additionally, Bobby is setting out to prove a point.
“The whole point of [touring on a tall bike], for me, is questioning ‘What’s practical?’. A lot of people don’t think biking is practical, and so I’m doing this thing that looks ridiculous and yet, even this is practical!” said Bobby. “I can actually carry a lot of cargo and it is more stable than a lot of touring bikes.”
Bobby and Alix are taking their journey one day at a time, covering 20 to 70 miles per day, and camping or couch-surfing in the cities they visit.
“One of the messages I’m trying to get out is that bike touring is really easy and really fun. You really don’t need to prepare that much. You can use the bike you have, strap on a sleeping bag and go, especially when you do a route like this which goes through a lot of cities. It’s not a big wilderness tour,” said Bobby, while admitting that the Nevada desert stretch does take some planning to ensure they have enough food and water at all times.
Bobby grew up in Portland, Ore, but didn’t adopt a biking lifestyle until he moved to L.A.
“I biked as a kid, of course, but didn’t in high school because I was in high school and that wasn’t cool. (Portland was still mainstream America then),” said Bobby. “I didn’t get super into it until I moved to LA. I got into it then mainly because parking is so difficult and I didn’t want to drive anymore.”
Now he lives a car-free lifestyle, riding a tall bike or Xtracycle around the city. When it comes to biking it is not the weather, geography or practicality that provides obstacles but rather the car culture and the sheer size, said Bobby.
“L.A. County has 88 cities and ten million people. But it’s pretty amazing to see the bike culture that has grown around it. Biking in L.A. County is actually surprisingly nice once you know the routes,” he said. “There are a lot of good side streets and the infrastructure is starting to improve. Just in the last couple of years, the mayor has gotten behind putting more infrastructure in and we’ve even got some decent bike lanes now.”
In 2009, Bobby co-founded CicLAvia, an open streets event during which 10 miles of city streets are closed to cars so people can take over to bike and walk.
“The turnout is huge. It really shows how much pent-up demand there is for bike infrastructure in LA. Tens of thousands of people come out,” said Bobby. “And anecdotally there are a lot of stories of people who started biking out of CicLAvia and now they commute to work.”
Bobby still sits on the CicLAvia board but earns a living as the Program Coordinator of the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit that works to build a better, more bike-able Los Angeles County. Through advocacy, education and outreach, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition brings together the diverse bicycling community in a united mission to make the entire L.A. region a safe and enjoyable place to ride.