In Los Angeles, a Women-Led Speed Cycling Group Blazes Through The City After Dark

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Los Angeles is brighter once the sun goes down. Downtown, Koreatown, WeHo, Venice—the city’s neighborhoods sharpen into blades of colorful, electric lights come nightfall. Cycling down Venice Boulevard after dark, my field of vision feels more focused: I see car lights, bright billboards and illuminated gas stations, and then, from a distance, bikes flashing with lights, en masse in a car park on the corner of Centinela Avenue. It’s The Mixed Race, a high-speed, women-led public cycling group that meets here every Thursday night—and this evening, I’m joining them for a ride.

“The Mixed Race is not a race, it’s a chase,” says Alison Chai, one of its members. The group was founded in 2017 by Los Angeles natives Jane Ashley, a digital marketer, and Rachel Horn, a safety professional, both of whom identify as “Chinese-white hapa”—a heritage that lies at the root of the group's name. Hapa is an abbreviation of the Hawaiian term hapa haole, referring to multiracial people of Asian and/or Pacific Islander descent. Horn learnt its meaning in a Japanese-American youth basketball league as a kid, while Ashley’s affinity with the word grew while living in Hong Kong amongst other Chinese-white locals. Back in LA, they made friends at a local bike co-op over their love for speedy cycling, and a desire to create an inclusive space to do so within the predominantly white cis-male cycling scene.

“At some point, two guys were like, ‘oh, you should make a chill ride instead,’” says Ashley. “That’s when we said, okay, our mission is to make a fast ride, and we want women to lead it, and to not have to answer to dudes and their suggestions.”

“You’re in the fresh air and you’re experiencing the landscape first-hand, as opposed to being behind the windshield of a bus or a car," says Jim Mottram, 69.

The Mixed Race isn’t competitive, riders like to say with a wink, but its drop-ride policy means you’ll be left behind if you can’t keep up—a provision established so the group can maintain momentum, with speed the focus. According to Horn, Los Angeles has always had a strong night-riding scene: It’s more comfortable to cycle when the sun’s not beating down, and the post-rush hour dwindle of cars makes it easier to command space in the otherwise dominating car culture. But cycling has been statistically well-documented for global gender disparity on urban-commuter and recreational levels, a gap that stems from “safety concerns, inadequate infrastructure, societal expectations, and women’s diverse responsibilities,” according to the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC).

Even today, it’s not unusual to be among the only women present in a cycling group in LA, according to Ashley, Horn, and Chai. They all recall experiences of feeling patronized in predominantly male groups, and The Mixed Race hasn’t been impervious to stereotyping itself. “People would show up, see that it's a women-led ride, and there’d be this expectation that it's going to be slow pace, no drop, nurturing,” says Ashley. “They’d not come prepared for what we do.”

Averaging 17-18 mph, with 26-27 mph surges, The Mixed Race’s speed, and steep 30-mile routes, foster a more rigorous, focused atmosphere than you’ll find in most groups around the city—the most famous being the LA sect of Critical Mass, a national party ride that draws thousands, sparkling and blasting music like a moveable nightclub. The night after riding with The Mixed Race, I caught Critical Mass’ monthly ride by accident while standing outside The Wiltern theater. The bright, dazed chaos shut down Koreatown for several long minutes. Critical Mass’ name is intended to encapsulate the agenda of the night-riding scene as a whole: at a certain threshold of bodies, a group will be dense enough to exclude and overpower motorized vehicles on the road.

Los Angeles-based The Mixed Race often begins night rides in Venice.
Los Angeles-based The Mixed Race often begins night rides in Venice.
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Back with The Mixed Race, we take off from Venice toward the beach in a cluster, our bikes a hairline from touching. After a few minutes, the group has already stretched over several lanes. Horn stays beside me as I try to keep up—I’m an experienced cyclist, but in no terms a racer—and it’s clear she is pedaling at a fraction of her typical pace to keep me company, leaning back with her hands off the bars, totally relaxed as we stream down Venice Boulevard.

Routes aren’t often disclosed, allowing leaders to maintain charge from the front of the pack. Chai recalls times they’ve cycled beside LAX airport, parallel to planes landing, the runways scattered in strings of colored lights. “It’s so dark and peaceful,” she says. “We ride along the Pacific Coast Highway, and it's eerie when you can hear the ocean next to you or beyond a cliff, but you can't see it.”

Chai got separated from the group within minutes of her first ride with The Mixed Race several years ago. She spent a month “secretly training” before reattempting. I knew I couldn’t keep up for long, and being dropped is an initiation experienced by everyone, including the now five-strong leaders: Ashley and Horn, as well as Jackie Chab, Kathryn Meyers, and Michelle Chong.

“It was intimidating thinking about the dynamics of riding with the group,” says Chai. “Are people going to pass me? Am I going to be too slow? Jane and Rachel gave me a workshop, a girl session of good riding habits, like how to position within the traffic. How do you take up space, take the lane, and basically exert your presence?”

While a growth mindset pervades the entire group’s support system, the format feels like a mentorship at times between the leaders and riders. When I asked what drew Chai, Ashley, or Horn to speeding through LA on bike at night, they pointed to similar ideas. Power, resilience, and something primal—all qualities often expected to be muted in women. Chai related her experience to autonomy and motherhood. Ashley talked about receiving a cancer diagnosis in 2021, connecting the mental strength she learnt on her bike to her treatment: “Emotionally, I guess I get the feeling that my two legs, my body, can just power me through anything.”

The tail end of the group’s lights vanish from my view somewhere near the boardwalk. I immediately drop my bike and process the past half hour. Even after the speed of our encounter, I still felt like an outsider looking in, as if I’d only seen the cyclists flash by me from the sidewalk. But lately, when I recall The Mixed Race, I think of ritual and activism, and their cycling looks like a slow procession.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler