A couple months ago the New York Times Frugal Traveler wrote an article about his experience exploring Los Angeles on a bicycle. This piece came to the somewhat unexpected conclusion that getting around on a bike is actually a great way to see the L.A. basin. My own experience living here has led me to the same idea: side-stepping some of the stress involved with driving and parking a car here in Los Angeles is a monumental move that causes a great improvement in quality of life. Other people here in L.A. have figured this out as well, and there is a lively and thriving bicycling community here.
It is true that bicycling around Los Angeles may not be for everyone. It is pretty straightforward that if any sort of traffic accident occurs, a bicyclist will be more exposed to injury without the protective steel shell of a car. I have included some pointers below that indicate my ideas about riding in a manner that will minimize the danger of accidents.
The pictures spaced throughout this article are of some of the bikes I have collected during my time in Southern California (and yes I agree that owning so many bikes is quite silly!).
The first challenge for the cyclist in the Southland is figuring out what streets are good for bicycling. Over time this knowledge is learned and memorized but you have to start somewhere. The first resource to check out is this map of bike routes (right click to download the pdf). To make sense of this map, these definitions help: Class I bike paths have no car access at all. Class 2 bike paths are a clearly marked bike lane next to the lane of traffic. Class 3 bike paths are just a wide enough street with car traffic (no marking on the street itself although you will see an occasional signs saying “bike route”). Here at www.sandydan.com you can find a nice collection of photos from these routes. The Los Angeles Beach Bike Path deserves special mention for being such a great bike trail.
Google maps now also offers a bike option in their mapping direction tools, although it’s routes should be taken with a grain of salt they can be really useful!
Eventually you will probably find yourself on a street where the cars are moving faster than you want and there is not an ideal amount of space for bicyclists. Take heart, I have found that my confidence level for busier streets has increased and I can now ride in places that before made me pretty nervous! Here are some straightforward tips for safely biking in traffic:
- Bike in a predictable manner. Cars have much less time to figure out what you are going to do so you have to help them out with this. If you are going to make a turn, signal well ahead of time. Don’t just be weaving all over the place unless you have a death wish!
- Pay attention to the cars around you and what they are doing. It becomes almost second nature to quickly assess drivers and their driving. Stay on top of the situation so that you can anticipate problems that are about to happen (like that guy in the brand new BMW who just zipped past you on his cell-phone and is now about to cut you off with a sudden right turn). Learn to see people inside cars who are about to exit and put a door right into your face. Do yourself a favor and stay constantly aware of your surroundings!
- Wear a helmet. At night have lights on your bike. Lots of lights with batteries that work! This is the most basic common sense.
I know these suggestions seem pretty self-evident. My only claim to any sort authority here is the fact that I have become much more aware of bicycle safety after cracking my skull open in a bike accident 10 years ago!
Because the Los Angeles basin is so huge, a good tactic is to add some public transportation into the mix. The buses here generally have a bike rack on the front which can hold two or three bicycles (the bike racks are very easy to operate so don’t be afraid). The transport of a bicycle is included with normal bus fare (which is $1.50 for the Metro buses). The trick is that sometimes all the bike racks are full, forcing one to wait and hope that the arrival of the next bus will bring a better opportunity. Important note: when you leave the bus, be sure to tell the driver that you need to fetch your bike!
Bikes can also be transported via the subway. The trick here is that bikes are prohibited from the busiest subway routes during rush hour. Be sure to check these guidelines to avoid a hefty fine!
For reference, here also is my short guide to L.A. public transport.
There are a ton of places to rent a bike from in Los Angeles, many of them near the L.A. Beach Bike Path. The Frugal Traveler had a good experience with the Bicycle Ambulance. Bike Curious has done well in its yelp reviews. Sea Mist Rentals seems like a reasonably priced option as well.
The development of bike culture in the L.A. area has been helped tremendously by community bike centers. Please note that these places are not bike stores! The idea is more self-service bike repair facility for the community. I am listing them here mostly because of their cool names and websites: Bicycle Kitchen, Bike Oven, Bikerowave.
In the last year I have been faced with a daunting commute to work of 20 miles each way. I fear that this has expanded my repertoire of two-wheeled transportation options, as I have added a moped to the stable. There is no way around the fact that this vehicle is extremely noisy and somewhat of a nuisance. If you are not used to riding a two-wheeled motorized vehicle, then a motor bike can be way way more dangerous than a bicycle (it is not uncommon at all to encounter the aftermath of tragic motorcycle accidents while driving in Los Angeles). On the positive side, my moped magically gets 160 miles to the gallon! Riding this motorbike makes sense as a way to get to and from work and truth be told it is a hoot to ride.
However this has not made me give up bike riding; every time I get on a bicycle now I am super grateful for the lovely quiet and the most wonderful ability to ride on sidewalks.