Emortal’s Rod Arriola champions fixed gear ride culture in the City of Angels.
Story — Imani Lanier
Images — Rod Arriola
Nobody walks in LA, and only a fearless few dare to pedal the mean streets of the snarling urban sprawl. But one fixed gear evangelist hopes to change all that.
For more than a decade, Emortal Clothing founder and designer Rod Arriola (aka RawdLikeSushi) has been a fixture in the Los Angeles street culture scene. “In 1997, when we started, we were considered a lifestyle brand because we incorporated all aspects of street culture and action sports,” he says.
Since the early stages of Emortal – which stands for “Extraordinary” or “Extreme” mortal – Arriola has been committed to authenticity. For him, a brand should be fully immersed in its culture. He doesn’t forget that early streetwear companies were born as extensions of company founders; skaters, surfers, graffiti artists and B-boys who let their lifestyles influence and lead them to capitalize on their interests. Arriola’s own passion lay on two wheels.
In 2004, he rediscovered his love for cycling, which had first led him to competitively race BMX bikes in his youth, when good friend Ken Kawabe introduced him to bicycle trends coming out of Japan. He got pedaling after making two buys: a single-speed Redline monocog mountain bike converted to street with Spinergy rims and a restored, custom 1981 Bridgestone MB-1 mountain bike with Spyn mag wheels. Little did he know that this single act would redirect his life, creating an entirely new design philosophy for Emortal as a brand and Arriola as an individual.
And this was just the start. He recalls back in 2007 when fixed gear bicycles started to gain popularity. At the time, he told himself he would never ride fixed because it seemed ridiculous to ride without brakes. “I was so WRONG,” he says with a huge smile. By his second day on a fixed gear bike, he was hooked.
“You become one with the bicycle, and every time I pedaled I felt alive again. I got more hooked when I learned how to skid. It reminded me of carving on a snowboard or power-sliding on a skateboard,” he says. And perhaps that’s the reason why the fixed community is comprised of so many people who transition between surfing, skating, snowboarding and cycling: It demands the same skill set – and offers the same rush – that they all have in common.
In 2009, Arriola produced a fixed gear video for Emortal, Pedal Mobbin, based on a group of kids from LA called the Shady Mob and their fixed gear exploits. “It was a great experience riding and working with these kids because they helped me understand the fixed gear culture here in LA,” says Arriola. “Pedal Mobbin is now our Emortal cycle division and we sponsor a few kids to represent the crew.”
Over the years, Arriola has ridden with and documented crews in LA including the Shady Mob, 213 Bike Crew, Treats&Beats, CoolAss Ride, Fix2Fix, 626, and Critical Mass L.A. He has also tracked a few DTLA Messenger races, Encino Velodrome and Fortune 700.
And on any given afternoon, you can still catch Arriola whipping around LA, armed with his trusty Canon G10, Canon 5D and Nikon D2XS, documenting the everyday life of a fixie rider in the City of Angels. He resembles a war photographer riding along with troops in Afghanistan, strapped with multiple cameras over his shoulder. They slalom their way through the rough streets of East Los Angeles and Downtown on breakless bikes, fighting the transit buses and a myriad of cars and SUVs that honk as they zoom by. He deftly captures the spirit of the ride from the rider’s perspective, giving you a firsthand account of the adrenalized excitement.
“Right now, the bicycle community in LA is exploding, and I’m grateful to be involved with the bicycle community by documenting the cultural experience,” he says. Arriola’s mission is to create an awareness of the bicycle community for both cyclists and non-cyclists alike – ultimately, he wants LA to be known not only for its car culture, but for all the bicycle enthusiasts in the city as well.
Generally speaking, fixed gear communities in major cities such as New York City and San Francisco are a direct result of bicycle messenger groups and the counter-culture that revolves around, and evolved from, them. LA, on the other hand, only has a small group of messengers in the Downtown area, and is not considered a true messenger scene. Between its lack of messenger culture and its car complex, Los Angeles isn’t on the map as an authentic fixie haven, or even as a bike-friendly city. But that’s a perception that Arriola wants to change by continually bringing bike culture to the forefront.
“Some say it’s a trend; it’s only a hipster thing. And the media may blow it out of proportion and try to kill it in the way it did B-boying in the ’80s. But I believe it won’t die because it isn’t simply a trend. Just like B-boying, cycling is a lifestyle. Riding has been around long before the invention of the automobile. Today, people are more eco-aware and ride their bicycles for personal health and well-being.”
Arriola should know. He was recently diagnosed with diabetes. But he used his own love of riding to stay in shape and ultimately master the disease.
Like most fixie fanatics, Arriola is addicted to the latest gear. His current collection includes a 1981 Bridgestone MB-1, a 2008 RYD Masher fixed and a 2010 FreqntFlyr x Emortal fixed. He’s also currently building a NJS Gan Well Pro and a 2009 Giant TCR-Advanced road bike.
“Unfortunately, many buy fixed gear bikes and never use them because they just want to look cool and be part of the scene,” he says. “They’re just following a trend and never really wanted to be part of this lifestyle in the first place. I admit it’s not for everybody.”
Exactly right. Blazing through rush-hour traffic without braking power isn’t for the faint of heart. And it’s a real commitment of time and money. Buying a good bike made with quality parts is an essential component, because if you don’t it will break down. And you could wreck. “When you ride breakless, cranks take a lot of abuse. I learned that the hard way when my cranks snapped in Downtown LA and I was almost clipped by a bus,” remembers Arriola. “I recommend that you speak with your local bike shop specializing in fixed gears to find out what type of bike fits your needs.”
After all these years, Arriola is still going strong, remaining single-minded and super-focused on his passion for riding. “What keeps Emortal going after all these years is the heart we put into pushing the brand and the culture. Let’s face it: Times are tough, but that doesn’t stop us from moving forward. My goal for Emortal and fixie culture in LA is to see it reach its full potential, to build a bigger following and let them feel what it’s like to be Emortal, that feeling of being extreme and extraordinary.”
Extraordinary and extremely mortal: These are the words Rod Arriola lives by. And you’ve got to respect that.