A Leimert Park bike shop encourages dialogue on transportation inequality

Adé Neff, co-owner and co-founder of Ride On! Bike Co-op. (Photo: Eliot Yang)

South L.A. resident Adé Neff picked up cycling as a necessity. Living in Leimert Park, more than five miles away from his university, Neff needed a way to travel between his home and school. Because he couldn’t afford to drive, biking became his primary form of transportation in a city dominated by cars.

As a cyclist in Los Angeles, Neff began to encounter obstacles. Between the lack of bike lanes and repair shops, and routinely being stopped by police in Beverly Hills — a city he now avoids cycling through — Neff began to explore ideas of mobility justice and transportation equity. He decided to take action.

Neff started hosting monthly pop-up bike shops where he would repair and teach others how to fix bicycles. He established a presence in Leimert Park and opened Ride On! Bike Shop and Co-op.

“Leimert Park was where I was living at the time, but it is also the artistic and cultural hub of black Los Angeles and it has maintained that identity,” he said. “I want Ride On! to contribute to the beauty that I see here.”

Neff and Looby built the shelving in the shop themselves. (Photo: Eliot Yang)

Neff’s goal with the bicycle shop was to create a space for people to learn about bike safety, etiquette and repair. But the co-op also functions as a community space where issues like mobility justice could be discussed and proper action could be taken.

Mobility justice is an important part of the conversation in Los Angeles as transportation issues have residual effects on employment and income inequality, research shows.

In a recent study funded by USC, researchers found that improving ‘first and last mile access’ to public transportation, meaning the way commuters get to and from the nearest bus or train stop to their home, could increase job access. Biking to a transit station could more than double the numbers of jobs a person has access to within a 30-minute commute, according to the report.

To Neff, creating Ride On! made sense.

“It was just a natural progression to start talking about it and getting more people in the conversation, particularly people within the community, about mobility justice and what that looks like and why it’s necessary for us to speak up,” he said.

On top of that, there was a demand for bike repairs in the area. While South L.A. already has a rich bike culture with two of the oldest bicycle clubs in Los Angeles, Major Motion and Wheel Riders, Ride On! is one of the first bike co-ops to form in the neighborhood, Neff said.

As a co-op, Neff and the head mechanic Innis Looby are both owners and workers at the shop. They are vetting a third person to come in as a worker-owner. Neff hopes to expand this to a membership co-op in the future to increase community involvement.

Initially, Neff tried to create a membership co-op, where people volunteer and contribute to the shop. But he realized before this could happen, he needed to first to teach people about co-ops and how they work.

Co-Founder Innis Looby (right) with customer. (Photo: Eliot Yang)

Looby said when people hear ‘co-op’ they assume their bike is going to be fixed with used or mismatched parts. Because of this, Looby and Neff said they want to reinvent the co-op idea.

“Did you know that REI is a co-op? Yeah, people assume co-ops are low quality, but because I’ve done this for 30 years and I have all the tools you could imagine, you could come with your ten grand bike I can do that,” Looby said. “But at the same time I want the person who has a 20 year old bike to be able to come in here and have the same service.”

The shop is still a work in progress. Neff and Looby are still finishing renovations to the shop and are continuing to drum up publicity.

Currently, Ride On! Bike Shop and Co-op hosts monthly bike classes and regular community bike rides on the weekend. Neff also gives away free helmets, tail lights, and Metro TAP cards to cycling students and bike shop customers.

With Ride On! gaining more success, Neff hopes the community and social initiatives will gain more traction as well.

“You know, the word is out now that we’re here. And so a lot of things are changing, but even more than change it’s growth,” he said.