If you see a group of Flying Pigeon bikes parked outside King Hua Restaurant on Main Street, it’s a good bet that Adam Bray-Ali is inside. Along with his brother Josef, Bray-Ali owns Flying Pigeon L.A., a shop in Cypress Park that specializes in imported bikes from China. They also run monthly “Get Sum Dim Sum Rides” — bike tours that start at their bike shop and end at a dim sum spot in the San Gabriel Valley or surrounding area, like Empress Pavilion in Chinatown or Luscious Dumplings in San Gabriel. The goal: get out of your car, get on your bike, and discover what your area has to offer.
Bray-Ali, 38, has lived in Alhambra for more than 15 years. We sat down with the bike enthusiast and realtor to talk about the prospect of Alhambra's new bike plan, the challenges of riding in the SGV, and possible transportation solutions for the city.
What sparked your love for biking?
I've always had a bicycle. I grew up in West Los Angeles and that allowed me to ride my bicycle everywhere. I remember it as a very liberating and open experience. There was a gigantic open area near where I grew up, now Playa Vista. I used to ride my bicycles there with my buddies and we would pretend to be racing. It was always a neat thing.
How did you come up with the idea for your monthly “Get Sum Dim Sum Ride”? What is the goal?
There are few people who use cycling for transportation. It is more of a weekend, after-work, or before-work sport. But if you get someone like me, overweight and just wants to get out and ride a bicycle, it's difficult to find a way to do that in our part of the world. There are areas along the coast where people will ride their bicycle from one spot to another or ride a bike to meet a friend at a bar. But if you look around in Alhambra, that’s very uncommon. People will drive someplace or maybe walk someplace, but you don't see somebody riding a bike to go eat brunch.
“Get Sum Dim Sum” was a combination of something I had already been doing with some of my friends and the idea of, “Well, let’s build camaraderie." We just found it to be something we enjoy and we have a good group of people who enjoy as well.
Why dim sum?
We've tried all sorts of restaurants. We’ve taken people to Fosselman’s, Philippe's French Dip, we've gone to coffee shops. We’ve probably been to 20 great dim sum restaurants.
Dim sum and Chinese food is typically meant to be shared in a group or family setting. Many people don't know how to approach Chinese restaurants and there is a big language and culture gap. While fast food restaurants can sell you a two-item combo, there is a huge amount of amazing Asian restaurants in Alhambra that are unknown to the mainstream population. We felt that if you could get people trying a type of travel they're not used to and eating food they are not used to in a group, it really seems like a best of both worlds.
How do Alhambra residents react to seeing a line of bikes riding into the city?
The interactions have generally been positive. I mean, who doesn't like a person on a bike? But the interaction and discussions with our neighbors and our community here in Alhambra is kind of limited in a way. When we roll up to a restaurant with 30 people on bicycles, it definitely is eye-catching and people will come over and take a look, but they generally are not that communicative about what's going on. I wish that was different, but that's the way it is, it seems.
As an Alhambra resident, is there a particular bike route in the city you often use?
[My family’s] bike riding is very local, so we'll ride our bikes to the Fresh & Easy market — which I hope stays in business — and buy groceries. We go shopping on our bicycles; it's a way of, in a sense, limiting what we spend. But also, it's a convenient way to get out and not deal with the car and traffic hassle.
We ride our bikes to the library a lot. My 2-year-old rides in the back seat. My 8-year-old is now on his own bike. I want to encourage him to be more risk-taking. Get on the bike and go.
What are some of the challenges of biking in Alhambra, a city without marked bike lanes?
Although [Alhambra] has a number of excellent streets for riding and bicycling, most of our main streets are horrible for riding a bicycle. If you try to ride a bicycle on Valley, Garfield, Atlantic, Fremont, or Main, it is a complete disaster. There is no room on the side for a bicycle to ride.
We're allowed as cyclists to take a lane, but drivers in the city are generally unfriendly with that maneuver. The car speed is tremendous and it's completely unsafe. It’s also illegal to skateboard, cycle or rollerblade on a sidewalk in Alhambra. So you're stuck between breaking the law by riding on a sidewalk or truly putting your life in danger by riding on one of our main streets.
On the flip side, our side streets are fantastic. You can ride a bicycle on Commonwealth and it's a relatively sedate place.
What are your thoughts on Alhambra’s bike plan draft?
What I had hoped would have come out of the bike plan was maybe not a wholesale change of our streets, because that's a pretty big ask, but at least some sort of recognition that there are arterial roads that you can use that would be fantastic for cycling.
I wish that there would be more focus on getting kids to ride their bicycles to school. We have an incredible number of great schools in our city, but the bicycle racks are empty, mainly because people are afraid to let their kids ride their bikes to school. Maybe there's a perception issue, maybe there's a true safety issue or concern. But I hope that my boys will be able to ride their bikes to school.
What transportation changes would you like to see in Alhambra?
I think our proximity to other places is really incredible. If you ride down Valley or Mission, you wind up in Downtown Los Angeles. Huntington, you can go to the Arboretum or Huntington Library. If you go down Garfield far enough, you can get to the coast. As those roads pass through our city, they are heavily modified for car-only use. Finding either an alternative route for cyclists to use either on parallel streets or finding a way to encourage cycling use on the streets would be what I would hope our city can encourage as time goes by.
There are a lot of reasons to argue for that or argue against it, but it seems as if we've really lost sight of any alternative to a car running through our city. Encouraging more pedestrian, skateboarding, and cycling traffic would really improve our quality of life as a city.
Flying Pigeon L.A. is located at 3404 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90065. The “Get Sum Dim Sum Ride” starts at the shop every third Sunday of the month at 10 a.m. The next ride will take place on April 17.