Ride or Die

No brakes for rider Joey Inferno in the fixed-gear scene.

May 15, 2012

Joey Inferno. All photos by Soybaby.

Every morning, Joey Inferno hops onto his black and red Volume Bike, sans helmet, for his morning ride along Venice Beach, CA, to his account manager job a few miles away. He whizzes by joggers, dog walkers and other cyclists, nodding to some in recognition.

His friends nicknamed him “Inferno” for his speed, also playing off his last name — Infortuno. A rider ever since his father taught him in their Seattle driveway when he was 7 years old, Infortuno is now an active member of L.A.’s growing fixed-gear bike scene, where daredevils speed and perform gravity-defying tricks, ride without brakes and use only the strength of their legs to counter the motion of the moving pedals. Racing is also at the core of this youth-driven scene filled with lots of partying, drinking and group rides.

Born Joey Infortuno, the 27-year-old Filipino American is one of the Asian American cyclists featured in the 2011 documentary chronicling the fixed-gear scene, To Live & Ride in L.A., directed by David Rowe. When it was first released in June 2011, it became the No. 1 sports download on iTunes and the No. 2 downloaded documentary in the country for a couple of weeks. The film has also garnered a large following in Asia, which producer Rick Kleinsmith attributes to the fact that Asia’s youth are usually up to date with the latest trends, especially those happening in the US.

Exuding a laid-back Southern California vibe, Inferno shared with Hyphen how he survived getting nearly sideswiped, why drivers need to give bicyclists more respect on the roads and why his favorite trick to perform is also one of the simplest.

How did you get into the L.A. fixed-gear ride scene?
After I started working in Venice in 2007, it made more sense for me to hop on a bike and ride along the beach to go to work. I started on a $50 10-speed road bike. One of my co-workers suggested I try fixed-gear bikes. I fell in love with it right away because of the speed. The mechanics of the bike allow you to go really fast with relatively little effort. I soon ended up converting and entering fixed freestyle competitions where riders show off their best tricks to a panel of judges. My favorite trick to perform is a simple wheelie, where the front wheel comes off the ground and you just cruise. It’s so fun!

Being in L.A., can you get by on a bike?
I ride almost everywhere in L.A. The only time I use my car is to go grocery shopping.

What’s the worst thing about riding in L.A.?
There is a car-centric culture in L.A. Drivers can get aggressive, honking and yelling at us to get off the road. They don’t realize that we’re not allowed to be on the sidewalks and that we have to be on the roads with them. We need to raise bike culture awareness and educate drivers that we deserve to be on the road with them.

Any injuries?
I’ve luckily never broken anything, but I’ve taken nasty spills and have been dinged. Cuts and bruises don’t stop me. Recently I almost got hit by a PT Cruiser who didn't see me as he was turning. I ended up doing a bounce off his rear tire.

Has the scene changed since you first started riding in 2007?
Every year, there are more and more riders, perhaps due to the sense of camaraderie as people pull in friends to join them. Any day of the week out here, you can meet up for group rides. It's all too easy to join or create your own party ride on midnightridazz.com.

What was it like to film To Live & Ride in L.A.?
It was super fun and great to meet and work with everyone [who’s] part of the film. It was awesome to see Keo Curry, an amazing fixed-gear pioneer, and all the different sides of L.A.

You’ve biked in Manila, Philippines. How does that compare to riding here?
It was crazy. You have to be on your toes with all that traffic. It’s really every man for himself out there!

If you could ride your bike with anyone in history, anywhere, who and where would it be with?
Michael Jordan when he was in his prime in 1992-93 through Chicago or New York City, or Teppei Iwabuchi, one of the innovators in the fixed-gear scene from Japan. He really kills it trick-wise and brings a lot of great energy with him.

To Live & Ride in L.A. is currently available on hulu.com and iTunes; a special collectors edition DVD is also available at trafikpictures.com. For more on Joey Inferno, visit discoinferno.tumblr.com.

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