El BiciCrófono– Bikerophone in English – is a bicycle-towed, human-powered mobile community performance stage and platform based in Los Angeles. The project centers around community engagement, community building and humanities expression in a live forum with environmental discourse, social justice and frontline communities of color as its focal points. Our project is an experience at the crossroads of art and activism – at once a bicycle-propelled stage for community members to sing karaoke, share stories and perform music as it is a public venue for them to express their socio-political voice and civic engagement.
El BiciCrofono was born out of the 2018 Bike!Bike! Los Angeles conference. Co-Founding member Jimmy wanted to both engage the local bike community and those visiting from out of town with karaoke, as it is such a wonderful tool of community and a certain democratic process. Karaoke on a bicycle would obviously be the best thing ever. But how? Many ideas were bounced around, e.g., a tandem bicycle where the stoker is singing, a recumbent bike pick up truck thing… but finally, Jimmy thought the best way to represent karaoke well and give it justice was to build a roving platform that is towed by tandem bicycle.
The first iteration of El BiciCrofono that emerged during Bike!Bike! 2018 was the Charioke (Chariot-Karaoke), designed in collaboration with Charles (Chuck) Dandino, a mechanical engineer for NASA and a long time member of the bicycle and mutual aid communities of Los Angeles. The 3-wheeled karaoke trailer was designed after some NASA rovers and we got to work recycling a ton of materials to make the first prototype. The first prototype whirled all around LA during Bike!Bike! 2018 blasting cumbias mixed with karaoke and then all the way down to the border for the 2019 Bike!Bike! Hosted in Tijuana, Mexico. Where it was gifted to the impressively awesome Tijuana Mutual Aid Organization who hosted Bike! Bike! that year, Enclave Caracole.
El BiciCrofono is born! In July 2021, still in the middle of the Covid Pandemic, it was clear that another mobile karaoke stage was in need and a few of us got to work, including Raquel, Nils, Kyla and myself. It all started with a Ross shopping cart in the middle of Koreatown. It was harvested from the urban hinterland and redesigned to be the leading base and headtube for the new stage, now named El BiciCrofono as in, to amplify the [bicycle] message.
Since then El Bicicrofono has been pulled around through many and varying kinds of events including most all open streets events such as CicLAvia and SGV Open Streets. Indeed El BiciCrofono is, at this point, a mainstay of Ciclavia’s either pulling around the cumbia band Poco Pocho (See LA Taco’s article on Poco Pocho during one such Ciclavia, https://www.lataco.com/cumbia-bike-la/) among others.
El BiciCrofono has also been used for less than exuberant events such as The Ride of Silence in May 2022. The Ride of Silence is a national day of remembrance for those cyclists who we have lost due to preventable collisions with motorists in past and previous years. While the Ride of Silence does begin as do other Vigils, being cyclists and all, we then took to the streets with our bikes in a silent and somber horde to take space and remember the dead.
At the start of the ride, hosted at our very own Re:Ciclos Workshop, crowds formed, dressed in white, to commune with one another, hear the speeches and eulogies from those who took the mics and make signs to adorn their bikes and their bodies which read of such phrases as: No More Ghost Bikes, Just Trying To Get Home, Don’t Run Me Over etc. For those unfamiliar, a Ghost Bike is a bike that has been painted all white and either adorned with flowers candles or neither, then placed and chained down in a spot where a cyclist was killed. They serve almost like a gravestone, as a way to remember, but also as a warning to other cyclists, that death by car has passed through this street.
A Ghost Bike is an international phenomenon used across a vast geographical range of bike people who share the understanding that when they a ghost bike in a street, they know one of their own met their untimely end in this very spot. Ghost Bikes and No More Ghost Bikes, the organization that hosted the 2022 Ride of Silence, serve to remind us of one of the very reasons why we fight for a bikeable city: for a safer, equitable and brighter future for all.
Using the built in sound system, BiciCrofono acted as a deployed platform for speakers and hosts of the ride to communicate with the crowd that formed to acknowledge and remember the fallen during the Vigil. Then, due to El BiciCrofono’s width being roughly that of a car, headed the ride safely through Koreatown and the Westside. Visiting the, at the time, newest ghost bike just erected in the neighborhood. El BiciCrofono was honored to be used as a tool to help see our community through our annual day of mourning both by acting as a literal platform and as a way to take up space in the streets which aids riders to have safe passage through our car congested streets. This is just another way the El BiciCrofono project has been able to promote and amplify the message that every bicycling and safer cities advocate sings in their hearts.
Later, in December 2022, El BiciCrofono was deployed again in service of the All City Toy Ride which is an annual toy drive/ group bike ride that has been hosted in Los Angeles for over ten years. In this community event, the platform was occupied by a local Christmas themed punk band called Candy Cane Cross who played throughout our group ride through downtown Los Angeles bringing life and making merry to the cyclists who otherwise ride through the same streets with an acute cautiousness for their lives. As we consider Joy as an act of resistance, we were proud to serve our community this way because it reminds us that not only is the bicycle a safe, equitable and ecologically responsible tool of transportation, but it is also a powerful technology of health and well-being.
Looking forward, El Bicicrofono has developed a new program entitled Democracy Travels at 14 mph. Employing our human-powered, community-led stage, our team is embarking upon a 4-part speaker, performance and community karaoke series scheduled for 2024 in partnership with open-streets events in Los Angeles. The series, entitled Democracy Travels at 14 mph, is grounded in four specific topics:
- Mobility and Mobility Justice – What is the history of mobility in the City of Los Angeles? What is its future and how does Mobility Justice play a role in informing its socio-political landscape and infrastructure?
- Active Transportation – In a city that can be a vanguard for the future of urban planning, how can active transportation help it be holistically healthy in mind, body, soul, community and planet to lead by example?
- Environmental Awareness – Los Angeles was co-opted a century ago by racist, extractivist and classist notions of single-occupant motorized mobility “progress” which has devastated our environment and by extension the planet’s. Can L.A. sustainably pave the road to a new healthy, justice-centered century in personal mobility?
- Civic Participation – Karaoke as Democracy. When all the voices have a stage and a microphone, only then can we hear the harmony of justice. It will take all of us – citizens, politicians, CEO’s alike – to turn this ship around. Participation is key – out of tune or not. Karaoke helps our communities with a moment of cathartic and communitarian release to help cope with the hard realities of climate change and social inequity and to inspire the work ahead to restore their balance.
Democracy Travels at 14 mph explores the notion that private mobility traveling at greater than 14 miles an hour compromises someone else’s democracy somewhere in the world for this energy exchange to exist. The minimum traveling speed posted in our city is 35 mph; 70 mph on the freeways. At the tune of $250,000 per mile of constructed freeway, mobility in our sprawling metropolis is anything but free. From global extractivism, political turmoil in securing foreign natural resources around the world and a consumerism-based economy continually feeding the fire of global warming, mobility in Los Angeles points to a lot more than simply getting around.
Follow us @bicicrofono on instagram to stay connected!