When Michelle Moro rides her glittery blue bike around Los Angeles, she often gets quizzical stares in real life. Meanwhile, on TikTok, commenters swoon over her rides, dreaming together of a more bike-friendly city.
Moro bikes everywhere — to pick up lunch, do laundry, go to art galleries — and takes her 13,000 TikTok followers along for the ride. In a city built for cars, her preferred method of transportation feels like a radical act in many ways. For the last three years, she's shown the good and the bad of biking in L.A. under the TikTok username Miche1ada. In one video, you see her roll by her favorite street stands in her South L.A. neighborhood, where well-maintained bike lanes are uncommon, and in another, she's getting cut off by a car.
“I know a lot of people think L.A. isn’t bike-friendly, and I understand that we need better infrastructure, but I want to show people that it’s possible,” says 29-year-old Moro, who is a South L.A. native. She works remotely as an event manager and bikes at least two to three times per week. She shares a car with her husband, which she also uses when she's traveling far distances or at night.
Moro's videos, which usually are filmed on a whim, show what she’d be doing on her foldable bike even if no one was watching. In a recent video, which has more than 70,000 views, Moro takes a roughly four-mile bike ride to visit a local brunch spot and coffee shop. A tiny white, hands-free camera steadily hangs from her neck as she cruises down Avalon Boulevard. Her bike is adorned with a baby pink decal that says “Callejera,” a Spanish phrase — and nickname from her mother — for someone who is always out and about.
During her journey, Moro, who is wearing a black helmet and platform Converse sneakers, points out a shopping cart and couch blocking a bike lane, forcing her to weave around them. In a soothing, almost ASMR voice, she fondly talks about a local clothing vendor and the nursery that she and her mother frequented when she was a child.
For Moro, who had been making short animated videos about South L.A.'s rich history well before she started creating bike content, her TikTok videos have given her a way to do three things at once: proudly showcase her neighborhood, highlight lesser-known local businesses and raise awareness about the lack of bike infrastructure where she lives.
“Although I know there are things happening to build bike infrastructure [here], I still feel like South Central is often forgotten,” says Moro, who has the words "South Central" inked on her forearm.
Disinvestment in mobility and safety infrastructure in South L.A. communities has been going on for decades. But it’s become a hot-button topic in recent months as the Los Angeles City Council voted to send a measure to the 2024 ballot that — if approved by voters — would speed up the installation of bike routes, bus lanes and other transportation projects aimed at making the city safer for bicyclists, bus riders and pedestrians. City Council President Nury Martinez has said that the council should prioritize investing in neighborhoods like South L.A. that have gone without.
As the youngest of four children, Moro grew up riding bikes that had been passed down from her older siblings. Bicycling became more than just a hobby when she started attending UC Santa Barbara. Since she didn't have a car or a driver's license, she used her brother’s old mountain bike as her primary form of transportation.
After graduating with a degree in film and media studies in 2014, Moro stopped biking for several years, but she resumed after a momentous trip to Tokyo in 2019, where she saw locals regularly riding foldable bikes, which she’d never seen.
“The infrastructure in Tokyo was so bike-friendly compared to L.A. or any American city that I’ve visited,” she recalls. “So coming back [to L.A.], I really missed that freedom that we had while riding bicycles.”
Once she returned home, she purchased a foldable bike, then posted a TikTok video showing how easy it was to break down the 34-pound bike and place it in a shoulder bag. She later sold that bike and purchased another foldable bike — the glittery blue one — which weighs 23 pounds.
The video gained more than 220,000 views — her most-viewed so far — and Moro was flooded with questions about the bike, including one from a user who asked her to post a video of her riding it. She’s since posted dozens of videos of her biking, primarily in South L.A. but also in other parts of L.A. County and in Santa Barbara.
Moro says she enjoys riding her bike in L.A. because it’s allowed her to experience her neighborhood, as well as other communities, in a different way.
“When you’re in your car, like going to grab coffee or something, you’re kind of just getting to the place and then leaving. Not really interacting with anybody,” she says. “You’re probably listening to music with your windows rolled up. You have no sounds coming from outside, so you’re totally oblivious to what’s going on.
"But when I’m on a bike,” she adds, “I’m usually able to say, ‘Hey, good morning’ to my neighbors. I’m able to start conversations randomly with folks, and you kind of get to see more of what’s happening around you.”
On most days, Moro feels safe riding her bike in L.A., but she’s mindful of the dangers that bicyclists face daily. As of Labor Day, there have been 13 bicycle-involved collisions that resulted in fatalities and 79 severe injuries in L.A., according to LAPD data.
Moro has opened up on TikTok about moments when she felt unsafe while riding her bike. In August, while she was riding home from a jazz concert, a stranger grabbed her waist from behind. The man, who also was riding a bike, made a snarky comment, then zoomed away before Moro could react. She initially posted a video on TikTok that showed the man’s face — which she captured on her camera — but she decided to take it down for safety reasons. A few of her followers told her that they had similar encounters in the same area, near South Los Angeles Wetlands Park.
“It made me really upset, but it hasn’t changed my view on riding my bike,” says Moro, who usually rides during the day and carries pepper spray and a loud sound alarm. She’s since changed her route but says, “I don’t want to let that experience take away my joy of riding my bicycle.”
With risks in mind, Moro encourages people to consider these safety tips while biking:
For new bicyclists, choose a route that has designated bike lanes to avoid having to ride in the street. There are several mobile apps, like Strava, that map out where bike lanes are located.
Wear your helmet.
If you don’t have a rearview mirror, make sure that you’re frequently checking for cars behind you.
Don’t be afraid to ride on the sidewalk, which is legal in the city of Los Angeles as long as you’re not endangering others.
Keep in mind heavy traffic hours.
Carry a small bike pump in case you get a flat tire.
Having found her biking community through TikTok, Moro says she hopes to host a group ride in the near future — a request she’s received from several of her followers. She’s also working on a photo project to showcase the diversity of bicyclists in South L.A., some of whom ride out of necessity, while others ride for recreation.
“Usually people think of a cyclist as a white man with sunglasses and Spandex. But in my reality — or at least in a lot of Angelenos’ realities — it’s community members. It’s people getting to work,” Moro says. “Most of the time they aren’t wearing helmets. They don’t have all this gear, and if they do, it’s makeshift.”
Through the project and her TikTok content, Moro says, "I just want to continue telling stories of people who ride their bikes who have been invisible for a long time."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.