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Before L.A. Marathon, cyclists hold their own race on open streets

Photo: Cyclists gather on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake in the pre-dawn hours. Credit: Laura Nelson.

Hours before the L.A. Marathon began, thousands of cyclists gathered at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue in Silver Lake, readying themselves for their own big race.

Some stretched. Others chatted. A few did practice runs down side streets.

"The mentality is almost always us versus them, bikes versus cars," said Lyndsay McKeever, 24, after pinning on her racing number. "This is the one day a year that we get to be free."

PHOTOS: The 2013 Los Angeles Marathon

Minutes later, she joined the scrum of bicyclists swarming the intersection in preparation for the annual Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash Race.

The crash race is the largest urban-underground bike race in the world, and takes advantage of the road closures in the hours before the Los Angeles Marathon. Between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., more than 3,000 bicyclists arrived to participate—some racing, others just along for the ride—before the runners showed up.

The race ended in Santa Monica, a quarter-mile from the marathon finish line. Cyclists finished between 5:30 a.m. and just before 7 a.m.

FULL COVERAGE: 28th Los Angeles Marathon

On some of the most congested streets in the country, bikes and cars often have a hostile relationship. The crash race is a rare chance to zoom through some of Los Angeles' biggest streets without battling cars.

The ride isn't strictly legal. But Wolfpack Hustle, an underground bike club, has built support within City Hall and the LAPD. Officers drove alongside the bicyclists during the race and did not try to arrest anyone.

"We’re literally out to have some fun," organizer Donald Ward, 40, who uses the nickname Roadblock when riding with Wolfpack Hustle. "How can you hate anybody for that?"

Most bicyclists wore sleek biking gear, gloves and helmets. A few had horns or tiny cameras strapped to their helmets. Some wore sunglasses, wigs or LED lights.

McKeever wore an animal-print shawl, a purple skirt and peacock feathers strapped to either side of her helmet. The shawl, she said, would look like a butterfly's wings as it flapped behind her.

Her costume was supposed to make the race seem more accessible and fun, particularly for women, she said. Almost everyone lined up to ride was male.

McKeever cited a recent Ohio State University study which found that women are less likely to feel safe while riding. The bike-riding gender gap in the United States is significant: some studies say twice as many men ride as women. Others say three times.

"This is fun," McKeever said, "and it isn't impossible to become one of us. I want everybody to see that."

A group of male cyclists from the UCLA triathlon team gathered outside Tang's Donuts, where the Wolfpack Hustle meets for smaller organized rides every week.

"The goal is just not to crash," said Jonathan Young, 18. In the days before the marathon crash, Young and his triathlon teammates did practice runs in the middle of the night on the streets of Los Angeles.

Near the stoplight on Fountain Avenue, Sean Stratton, 19, chatted with a passing bicyclist who noticed his Oregon Ducks biking jersey. Stratton and his friend, 19-year-old Alex Kerr, had driven up from San Diego at 10 p.m after they both got off work.

"We didn't enter the race," Stratton said. "We're just here to take it all in."

At about 4:30 a.m., the crowd of bicycles started organizing itself into a bloc. At a shout through the megaphone, the riders shot down Sunset Boulevard in a rush of pedals, wheels and blinking lights.

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— Laura J. Nelson 

twitter.com/laura_nelson

Photo: Cyclists gather on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake in the pre-dawn hours. Credit: Laura Nelson.

 
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