“It’s nice, because well, it’s one of the more complete sports – cycling. I’ve always liked it,” says Helwing, a 56 year-old Bici Dignario and a recent volunteer. “Yeah, it’s like the kids that have their skateboard, that’s how hooked I am on the bicycle.”
Helwing has been riding around on a bicycle since before he landed in Los Angeles, back when he was in Tlaxcala, Mexico. “Where I’m from we’re in an area with lots of roads, so from town to town you can go on bicycle, and there’s places where you go up, where you go down, mountains. It’s very pretty.”
Ever since he’s been in LA, Helwing has had his fair share of experiences with bicycling, but unfortunately they might not have all been as fun as riding around mountains.
“I was waiting at a light [in Compton], and they came up to me from behind and said ‘Let go of the bike, because we’re taking it,’” recalls Helwing. “Eh, well if it’s gonna be the easy way like that, I won’t say anything.”
And if you were wondering what the hard way would be, well, this wasn’t Helwing’s first time being mugged.
“One day they beat me up. If you look at my tooth, they kicked me and broke it. So I had to leave it like that. Better for it to be over quicker than slower.
“I’ve had my bicycle stolen before, but when they break the lock. At least this time they didn’t hurt me just threatened me. I think it was a knife, they pricked me on my back just slightly, to convince me,” Helwing says – with a chuckle.
Helwing continues to ride his bike wherever his feet pedal him. “Oh, if my bikes could talk, they would know all of Los Angeles, almost,” he says. “The farthest I’ve gone is Santa Monica, and to East Los Angeles from Hacienda Heights, like four or five times. Lots of times you don’t have money for bus fare and that’s what’s useful about the bicycle.”
Helwing has been working as a day laborer for about two years now, after working in construction for a while. About Bici Digna, Helwing says, “I feel more useful being here, helping my colleagues, and even those who aren’t [colleagues] because people from the community come here too. Well it feels good to resolve their problems and help them. It’s like, a personal satisfaction.”
“It would be cool for them to put freeways for bicycles only, I would imagine that to be very nice,” Helwing says, on what he’d like to see in terms of bicycling in LA. “You know like the ones that are on the river? Like that, but you know, where cars can’t get in. Ha, there might even be crashes between cyclists, no?”
Bici Digna is pretty lucky to have volunteers like Helwing running the space. “Well, I’ve learned that you have to respect everyone, even though not everyone respects you,” Helwing says on what he’s learned during his time at Bici Digna. “And it’s nice to hang out with other people, and share ideas.”