Real Rydaz of South Central L.A. take bike culture to another level. The twisted handlebars, hydraulic suspensions, chrome fenders and custom effects of their low rider bicycles have all the glamour of the gas-guzzling alternative but this is a group that is as much about the Real Rydaz family as it is about show. Pippa Brooks a.k.a Madame Says joins them for a spin…
Click images to enlarge.
I met Shuntain J. Thomas, Real Rydaz events organiser, his son Ian and T – a man with a three wheeler with an amazing sound system between the back two wheels – for a ride around Exposition Park when I was in LA a couple of weeks ago. While Grandmaster Flash pumped out of the speakers and the bikers drew attention with their air horns, a police car pulled up alongside us but they didn’t warn us to keep the noise down, they stopped the traffic to let us cross the street!!! The Real Rydaz are much loved in their community. It’s one that has a lot of problems; whether it’s gang or drug related or dysfunction of any kind, their ever-growing group of Rydaz are all about healthy living and positivity.
The Rydaz take as much pride in their bikes as classic car owners; the chrome dazzles and there isn’t a speck of dirt anywhere to be seen. Ian was giving his whiter than white bike – complete with a miniature ‘spare’ wheel on the back fender – a final polish before we hit the road, “Me and my Dad put this bike together”, he said, “No two bikes are the same, it’s like a puzzle, it comes together and you can bring that custom effect. It becomes very personal and quite competitive. There are some custom bikes out there that you can’t ride – they have parts on them that wouldn’t hold up to riding – but we ride our bicycles, with us it’s about fun and riding.” When standing still, the Rydaz park their bikes upended, so the back wheel is high in the air, to show the beauty and the custom details off to their best effect.
As well as organising Real Rydaz events, Shuntain is CEO of WARP (We Are Responsible People), a mentoring programme which builds new beginnings for young kids. Both roles work together and there is a natural crossover: “There’s a lot of kids out there who think they’re hardcore, want to be part of the crowd. It can lead to all kinds of dysfunction and we try to tap into what that is. We give them an open door which might take them to the next place. We’re just planting seeds. The great thing about the Real Rydaz is that the bicycles attract. From there it’s about mutual respect and what we can learn from each other, it goes both ways. It’s a family thing.” And with all ages from teens to 70 years old riding together, the sense of family is really strong. One of the oldest members is Real Rydaz president William Holloway (who is legally blind but still rides), who founded the club to give kids a positive alternative to peer pressure. This summer they hosted a huge event with a 10-mile ride ending in a community “Peace, Love and Family” fair with concerts, car shows, freestyling competitions, free health screening and healthy food stalls. They have been successfully campaigning for bike lanes in South Central.
Shuntain is determined to turn the negatives he sees around him into a positive: “Here we’ve been forced by suppression, drugs, the gangs and even 911 into a situation which has pushed everyone inside. They’re inside their houses and fearful. When we’re riding I just like to wave to people. Because they really want to wave back!” I saw that first hand; their presence on the streets is uplifting – people smile, holler and wave and even on the fabulous little fold-up Tern bike I borrowed for the day with my very minimal chrome, I felt like one of the crew…
Text: Pippa Brooks
Photography: Nic Ray