Transforming lives of Watts kids: one bike ride at a time

Javier Partida

Javier Partida, founder of Los Ryderz. | Astrid Solorzano

On Sunday, May 5, Javier Partida rode his bike around Watts with a group of 30 young adults that live in the area.

While approaching a red light at the intersection of 108th Street and Compton Avenue, Partida lifted his fist in the air to direct the rest of his bike squad behind him.

As the bikers behind him came to a stop, a man in a black Impala with tinted windows and silver rims stopped next to Partida.

“You’re doing a great thing for these youngsters, man,” the driver said. Partida nodded his head and replied, “I appreciate it, man. Good looking out.”

The light at the intersection turned green and the Impala sped off. “Everybody let’s go,” said Partida. “Don’t stay behind!”

Partida is the founder of Los Ryderz B.C., a Watts bicycle club. He founded the club a year ago. Partida organizes bike rides every weekend for about 30 young adults between the ages of 15 to 21 years old. The cyclists come from Watts, Compton, South Central L.A. and South Gate.

The purpose of the club is to prevent the youth in Watts from joining gangs and using drugs. Partida said he wants to engage the youth in the community by organizing recreational activities.

Partida provides the club a total of 20 bicycles. The rest of the club members bring their own bikes.

Partida recently participated in a kickball tournament with a bike club from East Los Angeles. He said that activities that are free of charge allow everyone to take part.

“I rode with the majority of my squad to a park in East L.A.-that was free,” said Partida. “And we played kickball in a park — that was also free.”

Los Ryderz is not the only bike club in Watts. East Side Riders is on the eastern part of Watts and also focuses on preventing gang violence.

Most of the young adults that take part in the club are teenagers who come from low-income households.

“In the area of Watts this is essential,” said Partida. “It is pretty common to see clubs like ours or like East Side Riders because there is a high need for recreational activities for our youth.”

According to the urban mapping organization, City Data, the median household income in Watts during 2009 was about $26,000. The median income per household in Los Angeles was more than $49,000.

City Data reported that single mothers headed 30 percent of all the homes in Watts.

Partida said that he thinks many teens are looking for a group of people they can belong to.

The majority of my kids decide to join my club because they feel like they are a part of a family,” said Partida. “They get to experience activities together with me, like go to parks and have barbecues after riding. And I think that this is special for them because many of them don’t get to interact much with their parents because their parents work a lot.“

Partida, who grew up in the area, said that having a place for the teens to hang out and feel safe helps them stay out of trouble.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department’s website (LAPD), the city of Los Angeles is the “gang capitol” of the nation.  The LAPD reported more than 450 active gangs in the city with a total of 45,000 members.

It also states that gang membership in the city has increased over the past five years. The LAPD website reported that in the past three years there have been more than 16,000 crimes in the city directly involved with gang violence.

Partida said it is difficult for the teens in his bike squad to use public transportation as a way to get to the club.

“I can count more than 15 active gangs in Watts,” said Partida. “And active as in they have members that are jumped on and are legitimately recognized as members by other gangs.”

Partida emphasized that the most dangerous part of the gangs in Watts is that they are located inside of a two-mile radius.

“Some of my kids have to go through the territory of three or four different gangs,” said Partida. “Although they don’t get beat up when they are in our large pack, I have had a couple of them get to the club after being jumped by gangs in the area.”

Nicolas Ruiz

Nicolas Ruiz, Los Ryderz member. | Astrid Solorzano

“I have had situations where I have almost died because I got caught up in a street that I didn’t belong to,” said Nicolas Ruiz.

Ruiz, a former member of the Watts 13 gang, said that when he was an active member, he put himself in dangerous situations.

“I was walking with my friend in one of the streets run by the gang in Florence. I usually don’t walk in those streets but we were trying to get home from a party. My brother-in-law and I got a cab for the girls who we were with, but we didn’t have enough money to get one for ourselves,” explained Ruiz.

Ruiz said that shortly after walking a couple of blocks, six members of Florence’s gang approached them and tried to jump them. He and his brother-in-law ran in different directions and luckily got away.

“I ran a couple of blocks and hid under a truck in an alley,” said Ruiz. “I’m lucky that they didn’t find me because if they would have, I would have gotten shot. I was in an alley and was cornered.”

Partida said that experiences like Ruiz’ are very common among the members of his bike club. “Most of my youth have gotten in trouble with the law and have gotten kicked out of high school,” said Ruiz.

Most of Partida’s club members attend Youth Opportunity High School, also known as YO Watts, the school where Partida works as a security guard. The program allows students who didn’t receive their high school diploma to go back to school and receive the units they need.

Partida tries to encourage the young adults who ride in his club to attend the high school and get their high school diploma.

“Even though a lot of them don’t listen to me about school, at least they continue to come to the club and ride with us,” said Partida.

And for Partida, organizing a ride with the members of Los Ryderz on May 5th was especially important to him.

“That day last year was when we first had our original Los Ryderz members start the club, “ said Partida. “We started with about ten bikes that were donated by friends. It’s nice to see how many kids we have reached out to since then.”

Chrystal Vasquez, 21, said riding with Los Ryderz has created a space where she has made good friends.

“Riding here has made my weekends more fun. I usually don’t go out because there are too many gangs and people looking for trouble,” said Vasquez. “But riding here is different we all come from similar backgrounds and just want to have fun in a safe environment.”

Los Ryderz is a bicycle club that helps youth that live in low-income neighborhoods stay out of trouble. The club provides bikes for about 40 young teens who participate in bike rides along Watts and other neighboring cities.

Los Ryderz is a bicycle club that helps youth that live in low-income neighborhoods stay out of trouble. The club provides bikes for about 40 young teens who participate in bike rides along Watts and other neighboring cities. | Astrid Solorzano

Vasquez left the club for six months because was expecting her first baby. Now that her baby was born, she said she could come out and ride without getting as tired as she would during the pregnancy.

“I feel like I missed out by not being here, I missed my friends. I was just stuck at home most of the time without really going out,” said Vasquez.

Vasquez was one of the founding members who took part in the first bike ride last year.

“[Partida] has been there for me throughout this entire year, even when I wasn’t here for half of the time,” said Vasquez.

She said that even though she graduated high school, she is glad that Partida has encouraged those who didn’t to go back to school.

Ruiz is one of the members that has been part of the program the longest.  If he continues to attend the program, he will receive his high school diploma next year.

Every Monday through Friday, Ruiz leaves YO Watts at the three in the afternoon.  He said he has to leave no later than three-thirty because according to him, “the streets get too hot with gang activity.”

Ruiz said that participating in the kickball tournament with Partida made him feel like he was part of a big family.

Los Ryderz, along with YO Watts, East Side Riderz and another local club, played a total of 12 kickball games. They competed for first and second place trophies.

“This is one of the first tournaments that I have played in,” said Ruiz, “I had never won a trophy ever. Just being able to say that I helped be a part of something that won second place really made me feel good.”

Ruiz participates in almost all the bike rides organized by Los Riderz.

But riding in the open on the sides of trafficked avenues wasn’t an activity that Ruiz always felt comfortable doing.

“At first, I didn’t want to ride in the open because I felt that I wasn’t safe,” said Ruiz, “I have shot at people at I didn’t know if these people would catch me on the street and would try to sneak up and try to shoot at me.”

He said knowing that he was riding along Partida and other members of the club has made him feel that he can leave things in the past.

“I know that the situations that I have been a part of and the things that I have done make a lot of people in the hood not like me,” said Ruiz. “Although I have been a part of a gang, I think that I can turn my life around. With the help of Partida, I have been able to get into activities like riding”

Ruiz said that before joining the club, he would never have imagined himself riding a bike as a part of his daily routine.

“I really like bikes now,” said Ruiz. “Thanks to Partida, I really like getting old parts of bikes and making new ones. I love taking them apart, putting them back together and painting them different colors.”

He said his new hobbies have helped him figure out what he wants to do in the future.

“I hope to one day, after I get my diploma… I want to get into a program where I can get my certificate to cars. I really like fixing bikes and have recently started fixing cars with a couple of friends.”

Partida said that he helps the members in his club because he wants them to know that they can stay out of trouble and be successful in the future.

“I started the club because I want these kids to know that they have someone that supports them. They know that I believe in them and they can create new habits in life that don’t involve getting into trouble.”

Partida said he feels great satisfaction knowing that the kids trust him.

“As long as they know that they can come to me when they need some sort of guidance, I’m happy,” said Partida. “These kids want to do better, if they wouldn’t they wouldn’t be here. They just need that extra hand.”

This article is from a USC Annenberg project called “Portraits of L.A.”  It was updated on Nov. 20, 2013.


  1. […] from Intersections South LA. Click here for the complete […]

Speak Your Mind