Aaron Lipstadt is 63, a TV director and a resident of Hollywood’s Bronson Canyon.
He also rides his bicycle just about everywhere.
Recently, he sat down at an Echo Park café and told how he came to his passion.
“I grew up in small-town Connecticut. My friends lived a mile, two miles away, so I’d ride my bike over. Then I went to college in Chicago during the ‘70s bike boom. I took my bike down to Kentucky one weekend and rode the back roads for three days. It was kind of the signal adventure of my life.
“Mapped it out: Lexington to Louisville. Camped. Asked this couple if I could pitch my tent in their yard. In the middle of the night I was almost blown away by a tornado. Ran across the field to their house. Saw the power go out. Their son came out and let me sleep in his truck. The next morning was beautiful. Clear, wind still blowing. The family invited me to breakfast. Made a fire. Dried my stuff. I was 20 or so. That hooked me on biking. I understood that cycling was an adventure.” By the early ‘80s, he and his wife Julia were living in Los Angeles.
“In the late 90’s, I went on the AIDS ride, San Francisco to L.A. That was another bicycle adventure. Thousands of people. A friend and I raised the money and started training.”
From the late ‘90s for the next 15 years, riding was a kind of social exercise. He’d go on a Saturday with a friend or two and spend a few hours riding. They might meet by Pepperdine, have coffee, ride up Latigo Canyon to Mulholland, do 50 miles, then have lunch.
“It became a habit. I liked the exercise, I liked the friends, I liked the bikes.”
From 2005 to 2010, Aaron worked in Manhattan Beach, a 35-mile commute. Near the end, he underwent a mental shift.
“I started thinking, ‘Why isn’t biking part of my everyday life?’ I started doing errands, riding to doctor’s appointments in Beverly Hills, meeting friends for lunch on my bike. I kind of got addicted to it. I felt like my body needed it.”
One winter, soon after Aaron had a job in NY, he left his bike at home.
“As soon as I got off the plane, I realized my mistake. I bought a $300 bike the next day. Really light, really cheap. I love it, fixed gear. I could ride to work from Manhattan to Queens. I became ‘That guy who rides his bike.’ I’ve never been without a bike since.”
He has a travel bike that comes apart and fits in a suitcase. He has a bike with panniers and baskets to ride to the Farmer’s Market.
“The bike is the most efficient possible machine to get from one place to another. I like it as an object. I like the craft of it, the beauty of it. I’ve gotten into who makes beautiful bikes and painting them and building them in a way I enjoy. The seat, the grips, everything.”
I learned from Aaron always to look in my side view mirror before exiting my car. Getting doored, he says, is probably the cyclist’s biggest hazard.
Over the course of 10 years, he’s been hit twice though he’s never broken anything.
“The first time I was going to work in the Valley, coming down the Cahuenga Pass near Universal and this woman turned right in front of me. My helmet was in three pieces. There’s no helmet law for bikes, but after that I made a deal with my wife always to wear one. The second time I got hit was my fault. I was crossing PCH and I didn’t see how fast the car was going. I was knocked from my bike. That was scary, too.
“Having said that, I’ve also been in car accidents. Look, I love driving. I just drove 2,000 miles in five days. I’m not anti-car. But when I’m driving my whole mindset is that the car is more of a burden than a tool. Whereas on a bike, say coming down Sunset, I can see ‘Hey, there’s a new restaurant’ and all I have to do is slow down, look in the window, read the menu, see what’s going on, hop back on the bike and go. The more people there are out biking, the safer it is. But people are afraid to bike. So it’s a catch-22. We need better infrastructure.”
One part of town Aaron loves is Hancock Park, off 3rd and Highland, which has many beautiful residential streets down to Wilshire.
“You can take your hands off the handle bars and glide. I think part of the reason people don’t like bikes is they think riding is a childish thing — in a bad way. But the joy of riding a bike is not child-specific. It’s great to be able to ride down the street with the breeze blowing in your face and the trees overhead. To my mind, why would you want to give up the freedom you had as a kid?”
Heather King is a blogger, speaker and the author of several books.