Over a hundred fans gathered on First Street in Long Beach on the first night of the city’s inaugural Bicycle Festival, waiting for the trackstand competition to begin. Observers outlined a large clearing in front of a professionally equipped stage at the west end of the closed-off block, and those that had registered made their way into the center of the makeshift arena. After the pre-game practice died down and the crowd settled into their concrete seats, the unorganized riders hopped onto their pride and joys, a SideKick timer was set and then – silence.

For the next six minutes, as the sun set between downtown buildings a few blocks away, 25 of the simplest bike forms remained unmoving, suspended in their rider’s balancing act, straddling the fixed gear’s fine point between pedaling forward and riding backwards in a real-life still life of Long Beach’s flourishing bicycle culture.

As a longtime city center with year round beach weather, Long Beach has been cultivating its bicycle reputation for years. It’s accessible by public transportation, framed by seaside bike paths and home to the country’s first Bikestation (a non-profit facility that provides storage, rentals and repairs).

Inhabited by everything from beach cruisers to fixed gears and BMXs to road bikes, it’s no wonder the city has stepped up efforts to embrace every man-powered, two-wheel machine in the area and make Long Beach “the most bike friendly urban city in the country,” including anointing professional cyclist Tony Cruz as the city’s Bicycle Ambassador.

Cruz, a former Olympic cyclist and local rider of all things chained, helped form an advocacy group called Bike Long Beach and – along with Pine Avenue’s Smooth’s Grille owner John Morris – organized the Long Beach Bike Festival to launch the cause and raise awareness of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan (BMP). Created in 2000, the plan includes street projects like turning Vista Avenue into a “bike boulevard,” education programs like teaching elementary school kids riding safety and practical improvements like doubling the number of bike-shaped bike racks around town.

Ordinarily cliqued out like a high school quad at lunchtime, Cruz and Morris used the BMP to unite the city’s various bicycle communities so that Friday night’s “East Village Bike Expo” featured a Bikestation bike valet, a Gold Sprints Pavilion, a pop up Nirve store and Long Beach Fixed Gear-sponsored competitions (where tires, cogs, shirts and frames were given out for skids, trackstands and freestyle tricks).

Saturday’s Bicycle Grand Prix was even more diverse. The emission-free complement to this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach drew Lycra-clad champion cyclists and kids on tricycles alike onto a .83 mile track of downtown one-ways. Pine Avenue was shut down for a petting zoo, a rock wall, a CYCLESTYLE fashion show and another stage (set up in front of Smooth’s, of course), which featured DJs spinning into the night.

The two-wheelin’ weekend was, in all, a success. By inviting everyone to get involved and embracing even the more marginalized bicycle communities, Cruz and his city council cohorts have given their plans a legitimate chance. Bike Long Beach had their citywide coming out party, the BMP is chugging full steam ahead and while it may be futile to strive for being the most bike friendly urban city in the country (as long as San Francisco and Portland are still around, anyway), Long Beach is at least on its way to joining the ranks.

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