Pedal Power: Bicycling in Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of Ver Latorre, Flickr

Los Angeles may be synonymous with car culture, but a steadily growing number of bicyclists are claiming their own chunk of the road and forming a rather vocal subculture in the process. "A combination of bike skills, blessings, mechanics, and activism transforms the simple act of riding a bike on the streets of L.A. into a political movement," says Stephen Box, longtime local bike activist.

That movement has picked up speed in recent years. In 2010, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled the city's "Give Me 3" bicycle safety-awareness program, which encourages drivers to maintain a three-foot gap between their cars and bikers when passing them on the road. The city stepped up its cyclist-friendly efforts further in March 2011 by announcing a plan to expand its bike-route network from its initial 1977 goal of 600 miles to almost 1,700 miles of paths and bike lanes. 

Local bicyclists and visitors who engage their inner Breaking Away are encouraged to spend more time on two wheels and off four wheels. Following are some ideas on how to do just that.

Bike Metro

Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Metro

To explore even more of L.A. on your bike, Metro has a variety of options for cyclists that lets you combine your ride with Metro Rail and bus. You can take your bike on Metro Rail anytime, in any direction, as space allows. Bicycle racks are available on a first-come, first-serve basis on Metro buses. And bicycle racks and lockers can be found at many stations throughout the system.

Phase I of the new Metro Expo Line opened April 28, 2012, along with 5.9 miles of bike lanes running parallel to the line. New bike lanes include Exposition Blvd. and Jefferson Blvd. between Vermont Ave. and La Cienega Blvd., and a bike/pedestrian path between La Cienega/Jefferson Station and Culver City Station.

For the 19th straight year, Metro partnered with community organizations to celebrate all things bike during Bike Week 2013. For more information, visit www.metro.net/bikes/bike-week.

Critical Mass & CicLAvia

Photo courtesy of Ver Latorre, Flickr

The Critical Mass movement, in which a large group of cyclists meet at preset time and en masse improvise its way through town, is alive and well in L.A., with at least four separate branches within the county. The largest is the Los Angeles Critical Mass, which meets the last Friday evening of each month at the Metro Rail station at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue in Koreatown. NELA (Northeast Los Angeles) Critical Mass does the same on the third Friday of each month, meeting up at the Highland Park Metro Rail station on Avenue 57 near Figueroa Street. Pasadena's Critical Mass is a more family-friendly daytime affair, taking place on the third Saturday morning of each month. And the Santa Monica Critical Mass starts out its first-Friday-evening-of-the-month in dramatic fashion by meeting at the cannon near the top of the Santa Monica Pier.

Inspired by Ciclovía, the original, weekly street closure event in Bogotá, Colombia, CicLAvia opens LA streets to pedestrians and bicyclists, creating a temporary web of public space on which residents of Los Angeles can walk, bike, socialize, celebrate and learn more about their own city. Since the first CicLAvia was held in October 2010, seven successful CicLAvias have taken place, temporarily closing miles of roadways to car traffic and opening them for recreational purposes. CicLAvia encourages Angelenos throughout the city to not only make active use of their streets, but to rediscover the roadways and neighborhoods that too often go unnoticed in a car. The next CicLAvia will be held Sunday, October 6, 2013 through the heart of the city.

Get Your Fix

Photo courtesy of Josephine Runneboom, Flickr

There's probably no better way to get a first-hand look at L.A. bike culture than at the bicycle-repair education collectives that have popped up all over town. These nonprofit, volunteer-run groups give riders workshops where they can take their bikes, get access to tools and talk with repair experts and other bike junkies. Most of the cooperatives don't charge a fee, though they do suggest a donation of between $5 and $7 an hour. Among the most notable cooperatives are Bikerowave in Mar Vista, Bicycle Kitchen in the Hel-Mel neighborhood between Thai Town and Silver Lake, Highland Park's Bike Oven and Valley Bikery in Van Nuys.

For those looking to drop the wrench and break out the credit cards, though, there are well-stocked bike shops all over the region, including Highland Park's Flying Pigeon, Orange 20 in Hel-Mel, LA Brakeless in Mar Vista, Beverly Hills Bike Shop, Downtown LA Bicycles and Cynergy Cycles and Helen's Cycles in Santa Monica.

Path of Enlightenment

Photo courtesy of Ken Shelton, Flickr

Anyone who's seen the opening credits to Three's Company is familiar with the beachside bike path that runs through Santa Monica and Venice, which is likely the most popular dedicated bike path in the region, if not the state. That route actually starts in Pacific Palisades at Pacific Coast Highway and Temescal Canyon Road, runs about seven miles southeast to Marina del Rey, circumnavigates the Marina and continues another dozen miles or so between Playa del Rey and Redondo Beach. Few places offer a more prototypical glimpse of the Southern California lifestyle.

That said, the coastal bike path isn’t the county's longest. That distinction goes to the San Gabriel River Trail, which runs almost 40 miles between the Azusa foothills and Seal Beach. Other lengthy dedicated, or so-called Class I, bike paths include one that runs along Ballona Creek between Playa del Rey and Baldwin Hills, another that parallels the Los Angeles River between Maywood and Long Beach, and another that winds its way through the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area in Encino.

Additionally, for those feeling a tad more intrepid, there are Class II dedicated bike lanes all over the region, including the many that criss-cross Santa Monica and others in parts of Brentwood, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Calabasas, Silver Lake, Long Beach and Lakewood. The LA Metro website has a detailed map at www.metro.net/riding_metro/bikes/images/la_bike_map.pdf.

A Little Help

Photo courtesy of Bikes and Hikes LA

Getting out of the car can be a bit of a culture shock in itself, but there are those here ready to help with the transition. West Hollywood-based Bikes and Hikes LA offers seven different tours, including a 32-mile "L.A. in a Day" bike tour and a slightly less intimidating Old Hollywood/Hancock Park bike tour. Pedal…or Not offers guided tours of Venice and Santa Monica on electric bicycles for those who want the option of letting a good old-fashioned motor do some of the work. And Topanga Creek Bicycles in Topanga Canyon offers bike rentals for those looking to go off road or off path, while Perry's Beach Café and Rentals has nine bike rental locations in Santa Monica and Venice so that visitors can easily explore the coast on two wheels.