How to Ride Your Bike to Work in L.A.

bikeroute.jpg2008 will be the year that I started riding my bike to work.

There are a lot of bike freaks that write for Metblogs. They bike everywhere, and are always in the know about the latest underground bike rides and events. They ride in groups throughout the city. Day or night. They ride to movies at Hollywood Forever. They ride on freeways. They ride whenever, and wherever they damn well want. They are a roving horde of rebels that do not take no for an answer.

I am not one of these people.

But, with the price of gas inching closer to $10 a gallon, I am a few brochures away from joining the Church of Bikentology. I’ve been saying for years that I’m going to start riding a bike to work. This year, I’m serious. Really. As soon as I fix two flat tires.

So, how do I do this?

I know I’m not the only one considering a 2-wheeled commute. I know there are others who don’t know where to begin either. What are the rules of biking in the city? What do I wear? How do I get from Point A to Point B without getting squashed by Jaime de la Vega’s Hummer? My commute from Studio City to Sherman Oaks will most likely be free of the L.A. Deputy Mayor for Transportation’s earth-killer, but, there are still plenty of morons that drive around the Valley with a license to kill.

If you’re new to biking in L.A., one place to start is the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. They cover everything you need from how to equip your bike to the local bike laws. There’s even a section that tells you how to change from a sweaty cyclist to clean office drone. Nobody likes a stinky coworker.

This would also be a good time for the L.A City Council members to start promoting more safe bike commuting in their districts. We always hear how the Valley is opposed to development because of the impact on traffic. Here’s a great opportunity for someone like Wendy Greuel to step forward and declare that America’s Suburb will become the most bike and pedestrian friendly suburb in America. Sidewalk improvements. Better landscaping for protection from the heat. Dedicated bike lanes that last for more than a few blocks here and there. A safe, fully functionally bike network that feeds into Metro Rail and Rapid lines. An alternative to the car-crowded neighborhoods of today. A better quality of life.

I’m calling you out, Wendy. And you, Antonio. You, too, Zev. But, it starts with me. It starts with me and my bike. And it starts tomorrow. (After I get my tires fixed.)

23 Replies to “How to Ride Your Bike to Work in L.A.”

  1. What are the rules of biking in the city?

    Hold your line. Don’t ride in the gutter. Use body language to signal your intentions. Hold your line. Watch out for cars. Hold your line.

    What do I wear?

    Clothes.

    How do I get from Point A to Point B

    Log on to bikeforums.net (SoCal subforum) and/or midnightridazz.com and ask around for route suggestions.

    without getting squashed by Jaime de la Vega’s Hummer?

    See answers to first question.

  2. This is such a great post, Jason. Thank you!

    Take it slow! My first bike commute (July 7, 2007) utilized only bike lanes and bike. I hugged the right curb, went way too slow, and carried way too much stuff with me. It took only a few weeks before I gained the confidence to ride faster and on streets without proper bike signage.

    Go on a large Midnight Ridazz ride. Talk to people. Almost all of us are willing to tell you our experiences, our tips, and our secrets to commuting in this giant city.

    Welcome, Jason. The quality of your life is about to increase.

  3. What those guys said.

    My suggestions are to take it easy and expect to tweek your routine all the time. I still do. Every person is a little different and what some people won’t leave home without you might not have a need for, or you might insist on bringing something others don’t think twice about. Don’t expect to get it perfect off the start. What you wear and what you bring with you will adjust as you get better at predicting what you are in for and different routes will have different needs.

    As for where/how to ride as PC stated the best thing to do is try to be confident and keep doing what you are doing. The most danger happens when people stop suddenly or go too slow. Know where you are headed (in the next 100 feet or so) and go there in a straight line so drivers can predict your intentions, and if you have to change lanes or turn let them know. Once you get in the habit of it, it’s very hard to stop. :D

  4. It’s good to start riding with a group of other cyclists on the street to boost your confidence. There’s a large inclusive bicycle community out there, you just need to go out and ride with us. For you in the valley, I recommend San Fernando Valley Critical Mass. You can find out about it on MidnightRidazz.com, There you will find a forum and listings of all kinds of rides in LA.

    If you ever need to work on your bike, there are places in NE LA like Bike Oven where experts help you work on it for a small donation. There is the Bicycle Kitchen on Heliotrope and Melrose, And Bikerowave in the west side as well.

    As far as safety goes – Remember to own your lane. It may irritate some drivers, but it’s much safer than riding the door zone and getting buzzed. Of course, stay on the right lane, and if it is a single lane street get as right as you can without getting into the gutter. At intersections, be aware of cars behind you that want to turn right. Be Vocal and make sure drivers know you are there. Riding as a true vehicle on the road and using common sense is the key. Always expect the worst from drivers. Most people have no bicycle awareness.

    I plan to ride everyday to work like yourself. I have been barely keeping up with 2 times a week, but I think its just me being lazy. I ride a 25 mile commute from downtown to Duarte and back. I am being inspired by your commitment to do this, and i plan on doing it too.

    If you have a commute to Sherman Oaks/Studio City. I’d ask on this there is a particular thread on Midnight Ridazz forum (HERE) I think there are some others who have similar commutes to work. But, in any case, check out our forum at Midnight Ridazz and come ride with us.

    Also, If you can’t find anybody to ride to work with. I’d be happy to take a day off and ride your route with you if you’d like.

  5. That’s awesome Jason. Studio City to Sherman Oaks and back can be traversed via some decently bikeable streets you probably already know about, such as Moorpark and Riverside Drive, the latter or which has a bike lane that runs between Hazeltine and at least Laurel Canyon… if not further east. Ventura might be more crowded but it’s doable too.

    I’m very familiar with that area and I’d be happy to chart out a route option or two for you to explore if you wanna post (or send me: wildbellatgmaildotcom)the nearest major intersections to your home and work.

    In the meantime I’m going to state the obvious and give you my quick ‘n dirty list of Things You Should Have And Use While Riding A Bike In Los Angeles:

    HELMET!
    Spare innertube (or two)
    multi-tool
    patch kit
    tire levers
    tire pump
    Appropriate wrench for loosening wheel bolts (if wheels are not quick release-equipped)

  6. Take baby steps!

    1. Make sure your bike is tuned up and adjusted properly for fit and has bare necessities like lights and a lock.

    2. Ride around your neighborhood first or even drive around to find the most comfortable route for you. Google Maps is your friend. Studio City to Sherman Oaks is a relatively short distance, and I think pretty flat too. The Valley has lots of small residential streets to ride through as well and a nice bike path on Chandler.

    3. Then start by riding once a week, maybe on Fridays when it’s the most chill and you can dress casually in many work places. The more comfortable you get the more you will want to ride and the easier it will get!

    4. Things will evolve and get refined the more you ride. Do as much as you can to make the experience better for yourself. Spend money within your budget as needed: It’s worth it! You’re still saving on gas money, getting a workout, and putting less wear on your car.

  7. Good for you, see what you started.

    Of course am jealous that you can ride a bike. Grateful my “commute” is down 3 stairs and 15 feet from my back door.

  8. Jason! Joe Borfo up there is Teh Man. He rocks the house. I’d totally take him up on his offer to ride with you.

    As for me, I am terrified of riding bikes, only ride them at Burning Man, and still–in the middle of perfectly flat, open desert–freak out, forget how to brake, and eat it.

    I should not be allowed to ride in the city, ever.

  9. LucindaMichele!

    Midnight Ridazz has got their own theme camp this year.

    I want to see us take the bicycle culture from Black Rock City and bring it to the streets. Gas prices are changing peoples minds. Now is the time to help nudge others to wipe off that playa dust and start riding in the city together. The more bikes out the safer it can be… even for you!

  10. ++1 on Borfo. He’s a mensch. Lucinda, there’s nothing to be afraid of. If you are smart and assertive I will venture to say riding bikes on the streets is no more dangerous than driving.

    Try it out. You have nothing to lose but your (key)chains.

  11. BikeMetro.com only works half the time. Google seems to work fine lately, just drag the little route around to customize for yourself.

    I’ve found leaving stuff at work to change into is a good option when not riding on casual Friday.

    Confidence takes a while and I’m not sure I have it completely. Feel free to yell at people. I have a bell, which seems to help when in stop & go traffic when I’m between the cars & the curb (or parked cars).

    I’m not saving much money by biking, but it certainly takes care of the exercise.

  12. First order of business: no matter how much you end up liking the bike for pleasure or work, don’t turn into one those macho bike Kulture anti-ped-anti-car evangelists, it’s a dead end.

    I’d suggest some of those plastic tire liners to stop flats, they work pretty great and you don’t have to worry too much about road side fixes and all the equipment and time that entails. At worst, you might have to walk back home, or call a friend. Metal bottle cages can be bent to accommodate cheapo 16oz. water bottles, and the less you worry about stuff to lug, the easier it is to get back on the bike.

    Oh yeah, helmets are for nerds.

  13. the even worse dead end: turning into an anti-macho bike Kulture anti-ped-anti-car evangelist, it’s a double dead end!

  14. First order of business: Get that bike roadworthy! Don’t just fix those flat tires; make sure that your tires aren’t threadbare, full of holes, or otherwise sketchy. A general tune-up probably wouldn’t hurt. You don’t have to go to a groovy bike co-op if you don’t want to; your local bike shop should be able to go over the bike for you for a reasonable charge.

    Second order of business: Ride your bike on city streets on your own time, just for fun, before you start riding to work. That’s right, I’m giving you permission to keep driving to work for a little while. You’re welcome! The idea is to make urban bike riding a fun thing that you’re good at, rather than a scary chore that you do while under pressure to beat the clock.

    Third order of business: Did I mention holding your line? I did? OK, now I’ll tell you why. You’ve probably noticed how some cyclists hug the curb when they ride in an urban area. If you really watch one of them, you’ll also notice that when he comes up to a parked car, he now has to get around that car while traffic whizzes by him in the outside moving traffic lane. Had he held a consistent line, outside the zone where cars park, even when there are no parked cars, the moving cars in that outside lane would already be adjusting their own lane position to account for his being there. And just as importantly, they would already have seen him, which is often not the case when a cyclist is being a gutter bunny (because he can be hidden from traffic by parked and moving cars). Also, riders who can hold their line are sexy.

    Fourth order of business: don’t become the kind of ninnypants who won’t stop complaining on the Internet about the “Bike Kulture” because some girl with a messenger bag didn’t get out of the way of his car fast enough three months ago.

    Fifth order of business: get a messenger bag and come over to the dark side. Mwahahahaha.

  15. El Chavo first wisely councils not to join the ranks of the macho core-elite Byke Kultur vulturz that are apparently everywhere he is nowadays.

    Then he slags on helmets as being nerdgear.

    He has been assimilated and he doesn’t even know it.

  16. Good for you! I started biking to work a few weeks ago myself, for the first time in a while. Gas prices just pushed me over the edge to do something I should’ve been doing long ago. You’ll love it. It’s a great way to start and end the work day.

    That said, here’s some advice that I would give a newbie:

    1. To get started, try to find residential streets that run parallel to the main drags. For my work commute, I can easily do 75-80% of it on residential streets. Is it a bit slower? Sure. But I’ll gladly sacrifice a few more minutes out of my day in order to have an immensely more enjoyable ride.

    2. If you do take your bike into the shop, have them adjust it to give the best, most comfortably, most upright position possible. Tucking into an aerodynamic position, staring at your pedals, to me is not helpful in watching what’s happening around you in traffic. You need to be able to see, and not have to look up in order to do so.

    3. Some may differ, but IMHO, there are certain places in LA where I’d just rather ride on the sidewalk. “Taking the lane” is great and all, and yes, it’s your right. But it requires that other people respect that right, and rights have a way of becoming somewhat less meaningful when you’re dead or injured. Yes, the sidewalk requires that you ride more slowly because there’s a lot more obstacles and unexpected threats, but again, relax and smell the roses. A block or two on the sidewalk is not going to take all day.

    4. As far as sweat and clothing, I just pack my work shirt and maybe a change of undershirt. In any bathroom, you can take your biking t-shirt off, use it with water to wipe yourself down, put on a fresh t-shirt and your work shirt, and you should be pretty good.

    5. Have fun!!! Leave early, take your time and enjoy the trip. Don’t make it into a stressful, rushed experienced because that’s not only less fun, but could result in dangerous mistakes.

  17. “3. Some may differ, but IMHO, there are certain places in LA where I’d just rather ride on the sidewalk. “Taking the lane” is great and all, and yes, it’s your right. But it requires that other people respect that right, and rights have a way of becoming somewhat less meaningful when you’re dead or injured. Yes, the sidewalk requires that you ride more slowly because there’s a lot more obstacles and unexpected threats, but again, relax and smell the roses. A block or two on the sidewalk is not going to take all day.”

    There’s very few occasions when streets are that scary. If you feel it’s that dangerous, just take a different route. There are unavoidable exceptions, like near certain freeway entrances and exits, but by and large you should be on the street.

    Riding on the sidewalk is too slow and has been shown again time again to be more dangerous. People just don’t see you and more importantly are not looking for you. Also it reinforces the idea that cyclists should be on the sidewalk.

    “2. If you do take your bike into the shop, have them adjust it to give the best, most comfortably, most upright position possible.”

    I wouldn’t go too upright for many reasons. First off it’s really hard on your lower back and behind because they will take all the shock if you are too upright. It’s best to be able to go into a 45 degree angle so that your arms and shoulders help cushion you as well. Also it’s hard to generate power for acceleration and speed when you’re too upright. You’re not using your whole body.

    I’m not suggesting triathlon aero tuck, just something sensible. Better yet go with drop bars or bullhorns not set not too low so you can change up your sitting and hand positions. This may not matter on really short trips but over any distance you will appreciate it.

Comments are closed.