Los Angeles is a vast county stretching from the ocean to out east to Claremont. Very few people get the chance to familiarize themselves with each end of the region, but Cade Maldonado got to experience both on the way to getting a college degree.
Raised in Pico Union, Cade continued on to Santa Monica College where his thirteen mile commute shaped the way he looked at this city.
Now finishing up his final semester at Pitzer College, Cade is looking towards a career making the southland a more transit friendly environment.
What was it like growing up at such a convergence of neighborhoods in Pico Union?
Pico Union was an interesting place to come of age going through elementary school well into college. I saw two sides of Los Angeles, the gentrification surrounding the neighborhood from Downtown and USC, and the other side being what in my opinion really makes up our city: working class, people of color. It was not the safest place, but the people and culture there taught me valuable lessons of equality and social change in Spanish speaking Los Angeles.
What are some of your favorite spots around that area?
The best places to eat in the area are right on the corner of Pico Blvd. and Union Ave. The Original La Adelita Panaderia, has the best mexican/central american pastries and handmade tortillas. Lucy's Restaurant, also located at that intersection, is also a good little place to eat and just sit and check out the neighborhood on a hot day. Last but not least, my favorite place to ride through, coming back from school or just passing some time, is the Alvarado Terrace Historic District, where you could see a lot of the Spanish influence left over throughout neighborhoods like Pico-Union.
After high school, you continued onto Santa Monica College, but you were still commuting from home?
I commuted from my home in Pico Union by Metro and Big Blue Bus everyday for my first official semester at SMC. After going crazy sitting or standing in a crowded bus in traffic, I got a bicycle and commuted by bike every day. A 26 mile round trip commute.
Cade proudly showing off his work building a bamboo frame.
When you decided to start biking to school, what were some of the challenges?
I found I needed the right equipment to ride as much as I was riding and I saw that money became a bit of a problem. I knew I needed a helmet, lock, and some tools in order to stay safe and keep riding, but at the same time, I knew I had to keep riding to get my education. Route planning was also something entirely new to me having to navigate a city as large as LA, yet small enough to say I could do this commute. Other than that it was traffic, traffic, traffic!
Did traveling across the city by bike give you a new perspective?
My goal after high school was to get out of dodge, I wanted out of Los Angeles so bad I applied everywhere I could to leave (i.e. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco). I noticed later that the places I wanted to go were all biking cities and as I rode through every street I could, from Downtown LA to the Westside Cities, I began to see the city in a completely different way: the people, the neighborhoods, the overall geography of the city. I fell in love and after visiting colleges in these bike cities I wanted the same for Los Angeles, because I found that this place is the true biking city.
As your love for bikes grew, you started making frames out of Bamboo. Can you explain the process?
When I got to Pitzer College I felt the struggles of academic life and the stress of the theoretical was always placed higher than the practical. I saw an opening for an independent study and was in the same room as Hern Montenegro of Montenegro Manufacturing
. My professor agreed Hern could serve as my teacher for a semester to learn about basic frame construction. We went the poor college kid route. After riding a variety of bicycles, my professor let us cut down a few strong, locally grown Japanese Lumber Bamboo tubes in her backyard which worked perfectly. Once we used some free bike frame software to get the frame specifications down, we built the bike up using PVC piping, all thread bolts, MDF wood board, raw carbon fiber and a hemp cord. After applying a bunch of epoxy and hardener, the bike was good to go!
When you don't see Cade with his bike, he's cutting it up with his band Mr. Me.
How much of a role did cycling play when you transferred to Pitzer College to study Transportation & Sustainable Development?
By the time I got to Pitzer, cycling ruled everything around me. I mean I couldn't even be on a date and not look at someone riding a bicycle. I let the bicycle define who I was as a person, from political beliefs to what I would do on my free time, work and play. I had just finished racing bikes for a season with the UCLA Cycling Team and when I arrived at Pitzer, I knew my interest in cycling elevated from just a fascination or sport to a way of life. It is a tool in combating the social injustices in our society whether it be health, racism, or environmentalism.
How did you continue your involvement with cycling once you moved out to Claremont?
I became a co-manager at our college's on-campus bicycle shop, the Green Bike Program(or GBP) where I worked as a mechanic and a leader. I also took part in the Pitzer in Ontario program, where I worked as a mechanic at a bike co-op called the Ontario Wheelhouse, promoting transportation justice by working with Ontario Youth in a Youth Build-a-Bike program. I also ride with local cycling groups such as Mobbin' Mondays in Pomona and the local cycling community out here all around the Inland Empire. In addition, I studied abroad last Fall in Kunming, China, Yunnan Province where I did a project on bicycle culture in China as well as bicycle policy.
How did studying abroad in China change your perspective about cycling and the world?
I choose to study in China because rumors were that the place was a "bicycle kingdom"; where a marriage gift to newlyweds could very well be a brand new bicycle. I found that what is happening now in China has happened in our nation's history in terms of a shift in culture and that bikes are a thing of the past and electric mopeds and cars are the future. They are in fact not the future and having to wear a mask in order to breath safely in Beijing was enough evidence for me.
Cade riding through China
What are some of the big differences living in the Pomona Valley?
Car culture certainly has a stronger hold out here than in Los Angeles and the Beach Cities, yet the demographics are still very similar to communities in Downtown LA. There is also less money out here which means weaker transportation systems, such as buses and trains ,as well as longer waits for improved bicycling facilities. I feel the struggle here as a cyclist more so than growing up in LA. The environment out here is also warmer climate and commutes are either riding downhill or on an incline to get almost anywhere.
You’re in your last semester of school, but ready to continue on a career in cycling?
Yes, I will be working for a year at Pitzer College under the Community Engagement Center in Ontario, California where I will be running the Ontario Wheelhouse bicycle cooperative and build a coalition around transportation justice there. I want to be a part of the change that will come to Los Angeles via bicycling, and no matter what I do further down the line the real career will be getting other people on bikes.
Could you ever see yourself ever living any other place than Los Angeles?
Honestly, after those two years of commuting by bicycle from DTLA to Santa Monica and the countless miles I spent in the saddle riding around Southern California, I wouldn't want to leave Los Angeles. This place is special and it only takes a few hours on a bike to realize that.