Nobody Drives in LA — Bicycling in Los Angeles

INTRODUCTION

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling “pain at the pump.” You see, I’ve had a slow leak in the front tire of my bike, Cream Soda, for months. So I have to inflate it once a week and when doing so, there’s a slight burning in my triceps. Of course, I could get it fixed at a bike shop for about ten dollars but due to the exploding popularity of bikes, my normal shop, Coco’s, is only working on bikes purchased there and I purchased my bike at Echo Park Cycles, which is no longer in business. I could also fix it myself but, after relying on bike shops for so long, fixing my own leaks is not something I’m eager to return to. Pain at the pump, indeed.

I read that gasoline prices are exorbitant again. I empathize with the actually car-dependant. I have been there, specifically, in rural Iowa, where I lived, for a time, on a farm where we stored fuel in a large tank and measured travel distances in time rather than miles. I had a part-time job about half an hour away. There was no bus. The roads were mostly gravel. It sometimes snowed heavily and the temperature would drop far below freezing. And then I moved to Los Angeles. Although the sidewalks are often uneven and street trees rarer than you’d like, it’s pretty easy to walk if it’s within three or so miles. While there are fewer protected (or even designated) bike lanes than you’d like, most of the city is flat and it rarely rains — and I do have rain gear. And while the buses and trains come less frequently than you’d wish, the city does have the second-largest mass transit network in the country so it’s pretty handy for longer trips. And finally, when I want to go on a road trip — which is more often than I can afford — I just rent a car.

I’ve heard motorists complaining, not unexpectedly, about the gas prices. Weirdly, though, 100% of them seem to speed as often as breaks in the gridlock allow. They inch forward into the crosswalk, floor it when the light turns green, and then slam on the breaks at the next red light. Of course, although many of them will never drive off-road in their lives, a good many of them are driving gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles. And weirdest of all, if gas prices are such a concern, I know Angelenos who think nothing of driving distances of one block and who’ve never in their lives taken a bus, even when it was free, would’ve picked them up in front of their front door, and dropped them off right at their destination. Even when gas prices are low, motorists never seem happy. They’re enraged by traffic (which they, themselves, are part of) and they refer to all of their fellow drivers as idiots — as in “what the hell is this idiot doing!?” I only sometimes experience anything like road rage on my bike or a train — although I have been angry when the latter aren’t given signal preemption. I am also incredibly frustrated that the buses are forced to share lanes with cars. In all cases, my, and your, irritation is probably with cars so now seems like a better time than most to try riding a bike if you haven’t.

As I write this I brace myself for rage from motorists. And while I sympathize with poor and working class people for whom gassing up truly is painful, so too is riding a bus bogged down in traffic or being hit by a car and when does a motorist every offer a cyclists or bus rider anything other than derision, a middle finger, and a blast from the horn? Cyclists, walkers, and mass transit riders have thicker skin, though — and if they’re car-free, save them an average of $11,000 a year in depreciation, maintenance, gas, repairs, parking tickets, registration renewal, and especially, paid parking that just may be the difference between having to live in a far-flung, car-dependant suburb and a dense, walkable, transitable, and bikeable communities in which a car is not only unnecessary but a burden.

And so, this week, I thought I’d try to give a brief history of the bicycle in Los Angeles and provide some resources. Hopefully, it’s helpful. As always, additions are welcome and encouraged. Just leave them in the comments.





A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BICYCLE

Although they weren’t known as Angelenos, for 13,000 years, the region’s first people, the Chumash, got everywhere by walking or rowing in their sewn-plank canoes called tomols. In 1769, Catalan explorer Gaspar Portolà i Rovira led an overland expedition of Alta California that included horses and mules. The transcontinental railroad arrived in 1876. The 1870s also introduced horse and mule-drawn railways in Los Angeles.

Frenchman Eugène Meyer invented the high-wheeler or “penny-farthing” bicycle in 1869. Although an improvement on the “bone-shaker” or the even older “dandy horse,” they lacked key improvements which would make bicycles truly impressive such as chain drives, pneumatic tires, or a low center of mass. And, with their high seats — they were difficult enough to mount in pants and probably nearly impossible for anyone in a heavy dress. They were thus probably more generally attractive to stunt riders and hobbyists like those who in 1883, began racing bicycles Agricultural Park (now Exposition Park).

Bicycle racers at Agricultural Park

SAFETY BICYCLE

Englishman John Kemp Starley invented the chain-driven “safety bicycle” in 1885, the Rover Safety Bicycle. It was, essentially, the first modern bicycle and one that appealed to everyday commuters. It was also in 1885 that Karl Benz designed and built the first four-stroke engine automobile. For years, automobiles were naturally more popular with country folk and more than a decade would pass before even one “stink chariot” would first shatter Downtown Los Angeles‘s urban peace. The bicycle was well suited to Los Angeles, where exercise was embraced as part of the then-embryonic “California Lifestyle.” Bicycling fit in well with hiking, swimming, and an open-minded appetite for new ideas. The safety bicycle afforded women a degree of independence and mobility they’d previously been denied. In 1896, Susan B. Anthony stated “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that the bicycle was a tool that motivated women to gain strength and take on increased roles in society. The bicycle also brought changes to women’s wear and women began promoting “rational dress” for athletic activities — in other words, Victorian Era “athleisure.”

SAFER STREETS

Early Angeleno cyclists organized rids and “wheelmen” clubs. Then as now, cyclists were instrumental in improving roadways and infrastructure. The Good Roads Movement, founded in Rhode Island by the League of American Wheelmen, advocated for paving the deeply rutted dirt roads then common. Los Angles’s first paved streets — Fort (now Broadway), Main, and Spring were paved in 1887. The country’s first bike craze, the so-called Bike Boom, popped off in 1896. By that year, there were over 150 bicycle factories in the US producing over 1,000 different makes of bicycles. The first patents for e-bikes were filed as early as that year, too.

SONGS ABOUT BIKES FROM THE BIKE BOOM

An enormous amount of that decade’s pop songs were about or prominently featured bicycles, including “Wheelmen’s March,”  “Wheeling, A Bicycle Parade,” “A Job Lot. Comic Song,” “Washington Cyclist’s Military March,” “Daisy Bell,” “Queen of the Wheel,” “Massachusetts Bicycle Club,” “The Dayton Bicycle Club,” “The Silent Steed – Galop Brillante,” “Véloce-Galop,” “Mercury March,” “The Bicycle Waltz,” “Wheelmen’s March,” “Women En Bicyclette,” “Katie Rides a Wheel,” “The Pretty Bicycle Girl,” “East Orange Cyclers,” “League Meet March,” “Pretty Girls in Bloomers,” “The Bloomers,” “Mulrooney on a Bike,” “Dorothe!,” “Let Us Ride Together,” “Ye Merry Cycle Song,” “She Rides a Bike,” “The Bicycle Girl,” “Penn Wheelmen March Two Step,” “The Century Run March,” “The Pittsfield Wheelmen,” “Bloomer March – Two Step,” “Hannah Go Hide Your Bloomers,” “The March of the Bloomers,” “A Corker – Bicycle Song,” “Cycling Song,” “The Pike Belt March and Two Step,” “Get Your Lamps Lit,” “The New Cycle Path March and Two-Step,” “The United States Wheel March,” “Climbing on My Golden Wheel,” “Ridin’ on de Golden Bike,” “Since Hannah’s Done Learned to Ride a Wheel,” “Have You a Wheel,” “Johannah, Is Your Heart Still,” “Sparking on a Wheel,” “Sweetheart I Love None but You,” “Spin ‘Round,” “Wheeling, Wheeling or Love A-Wheel,” “You Don’t Have to Marry the Girl,” “A Romance of A Wheel,” “Keating Wheel March,” “On the Wheel – Mazurka-Waltz,” “The Bicycle Craze,” “The New Columbia March,” “The Wheel,” “Angel Grace and the Crimson Rim,” “Mary Belle,” “Rosie Steel,” “The Bicycle Belle March,” “The Bicycle Girl,” “The Cycling Maid or The Maid’s the Thing,” “Wheelman’s Patrol,” “Allen Wheelmen March and Two Step,” “Brooklyn Bicycle Club March,” “Cyclopia March,” “L.A.W. Waltzes,” “Mercury Wheelmen March,” “Turner Wheel Club March Two-Step,” “The Black Diamond,” “The Cycling Club March,” “What Will the Girls Do Next?,” “Bicycle Song,” “At My Time O’ Life,” “Bicycle Parade March – Two-Step,” “At My Time O’ Life,” “Bicycle Parade March – Two-Step,” “Cycling Song,” “The Wheel Galop,” “Speed the Wheel,”  “Under the Trees On The Cycle,”  “M’kinley and Hobart’s Bicycle,”  “Happy Little Coons,” “Cycler’s March,” “Give Me the Girl That Rides the Wheel,” “Little Zulu Lu, A Congo Elopement,” “Making Love on a Wheel,” “New York and Coney Island Cycle March Two-Step,” “Wheeling Together,” “Wiener Volks Radfahrer,” “Ben Hur March,”  “Frontenac Two-Step,” “He’s Got a Wheel,” “The Cycle King,” “The Patee Bicycle March – (TwoStep),”  “The Scorcher,” “The Yellow Fever – Two-Step,” “Upa Tree March,”  “Bicycle Galop,” “Julienne,” “Mary Ann O’Grady and Her Bike,” “My Silent Steed,” “Rhoda Rode a Roaster,” “The Bicycle Girl,” “The Cycle Queen – Two Step for the Piano,” “The Cycler’s Song – ‘My Wheel for a Comrade’,” “When You Teach a Pretty Girl to Ride a Bike,” “When You’re Riding a Bike,” “Chain and Sprocket Club March,” “Electric Wheelmen – March and Two-Step,”  “Fairhill Wheelmen – March and Two-Step,”  “The Hobo – March and Two-Step,” “Wheelmen’s Parade March,”  “When the Boys and Girls go Wheeling,”  “Winthrop Cycle Club – March and Two Step,” “Bicycle Race,” “Bicycle Race Galop,” “The Cyclists National Grand March and Two-Step,” “The Pacers Two Step,” “White Flyer Two-Step,”  “Olive Waltzes,” “Before She Went Back Home Again,” “I’m Going to Ride a Bicycle,” “Mike’s Got Wheels in His Head,”  “Willie’s Misfit Pants,” “Vorwärts – Voran! – Bicycle-Galop,” “On Wings of Steel,” “The Bike Intermezzo,” “The Cycler’s March,” “The Neverout March – Two-Step,” “Up To Date,” “Melissy,”  “My Little May,” “The Chaser – Two-Step,” “The Kid That Knows It All,”  “When Riding Out with Nellie On My Bike,” “Glendron Bicycle Two-Step,”  “King Klondike,” “The Columbus Bicycle March,”  “The Roof-Garden Cycle Party,” “Windsor Wheel Waltzes,” “A Nice Situation for a Girl,”  “Bicycle Episode or The Pleasures of Wheeling ,” “Camille the Queen of the Wheel,”  “Dora Brown,”“Queen of the Bicycle Girls,” “Rosey’s Scorcher,” “The Jolly Girl from Gay Paree,” “The Pretty Little Scorcher,”  “The Scorcher (March and TwoStep),” “Bay City March – (Two-Step),”  “Berkeley Cycle Club Two-Step,” “C.B.C. March,” “The A.W.C. March,”  “The Crackajack March,” “The Lebanon Bicycle Club – March Two Step,” “Off to the Races March and TwoStep,” “Radelin (Bicycling),”  “Dear Old Uncle Charlie,” “I Knew,” “Coasting in the Moonlight,” “Lily Crow,” “The Winner – Two Step or Cake Walk for Piano,”  “Side by Side Two Step,”  “Lizzy Hogan on Gendron Wheel,” “While Riding My Wheel,”  “Mary Ellen Simpkins’ Bike,”  “Rosie and Mamie,” “The Cyclone March and TwoStep,”  “The Scorcher – Galop Brilliante” “White Heather Two-Step,”  “The Cycle Race March,”  “Bicycle Waltz,” “My Bicycle,” “An Easy Mark Two Step,”  “The Wench That Rides a Wheel,” “We All Went Following On,” “American Wheelmen’s March Two-Step,” “Good Roads Two Step March,” “L.A.W. March and Two-Step,” “A Breeze from Blackville – Cake Walk and Two Step,” “I Mot – Och Medvind,”  “A Florida Cracker,” and “When the Band Plays in the Park.”

THE CAR CRAZE & STREETCARS

The Erie & Sturgis Gasolene Carriage

The year after the first Bike Boom, the car craze began to sputter to life. On 30 May 1897, the Erie & Sturgis Gasolene Carriage made its way through downtown before breaking down after a short distance. It was the first “moto tally-ho” to putter along Los Angeles’s streets. The automobile was primarily a novelty plaything for the ostentatious wealthy and industrious farmers. until the mass-produced Model T Ford and others brought down their price. Oil was already gushing since the discovery of it underneath Beverly Hills in 1892. By 1910, Los Angeles had the highest per-capita car registration in the world.

Los Angeles also boasted, though, a popular streetcar service, the Los Angeles Railway (LARy), had been around since 1895 (and boasted its peak ridership in 1924). Los Angeles, too, had the largest network of electric, interurban rail in the world, the Pacific Electric Railway (PE), which had formed in 1901. And, of course, there were still cyclists.


THE CALIFORNIA CYCLEWAY

The California Cycleway

In 1897, plans were drawn up for the California Cycleway, an elevated bicycles-only toll road that was to have connected Pasadena‘s Hotel Green to Los Angeles Plaza. To start with, developer, Horace Dobbins, purchased a ten-kilometer right-of-way from its starting point to Avenue 54. Built of Oregon pine, a short stretch opened on 1 January 1900, connecting the aforementioned hotel to South Pasadena‘s Raymond Hotel. The roundtrip toll was 15¢ ($5.07 in 2022 dollars,). Dobbins was not, himself, a cyclist, and like many non-cyclists, he fundamentally misunderstood the main appeals of cycling, namely that it’s free, convenient, and connects one the amenities of the city. Dobbins’s cycleway cost about as much as a Metro day pass, required cyclists to lug their bicycles up a long staircase, and then allowed them to ride back and forth on a roadway that towered above anything a cyclist would want to cycle to. A decade later, the cycleway was abandoned and dismantled. In 1940, much of its planned route was repurposed for the Arroyo Seco Parkway, a deliberately winding, scenic, car-only road that was essentially one of the first freeways. The portion that was built became Edmondson Alley. Realizing that the California Cycleway was impractical, I think that it should be rebuilt and completed. The Venice Canals, Angels Flight, live steamers, and the trolleys and trains at amusement parks and outdoor malls aren’t especially useful for commuters but people love them because they’re charming.

Horace Dobbins in a motorless carriage on his California Cycleway

THE CAR CRAZE CONTINUES

In the 1920s, 200,121 Americans were killed in automobile collisions and old issues of the Herald and Times used to run such stories regularly. Over time, though, traffic deaths became so normalized that they stopped making the papers at all. The American Automobile Association infamously shifted the blame to the victims by promoting the term “jaywalking” (“jay” being a 1900s slang term for a rube) to describe urbanites would dare to cross the street anywhere except in designated crosswalks and only when permitted by traffic signals. Additionally, having served their purposes of selling homes in the suburbs, the privately-owned PE and LARy trains ended operation. Los Angeles didn’t even have a public transit agency until 1951, when The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority was formed. The city was increasingly deformed by the car — sent sprawling outward and redesigned to prioritize the automobile with a sprawling suburbscape of uniplexes, drive-in cinemas, drive-thru banks and restaurants, indoor malls surrounded by vast surface parking lots, and service stations on practically every corner of every intersection.

THE DECLINE OF THE BIKE

Bicycles seem largely to have vanished from most of Los Angele’s streets. They became playthings for children to ride in suburban cul-de-sacs or reserved, like the penny-farthings of old, for athletic performances. By 1970, 79% of bikes sold in the US were children’s. In 1932, Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Games. For the occasion, a velodrome was assembled inside the Rose Bowl. When the Olympics ended, it was disassembled. One gets the sense that bicycles were only used for transit in developing countries and “old Europe.” Bicycles were prominent in the Italian neorealist classic, Ladri di biciclette (1948) and Louis Malle’s Vive le tour (1962). In 1949, Jacques Tati made his directorial debut, the bike-centric Jour de fête (1949). His final film, amusingly, would be the automobile skewering Trafic (1971). Yves Montand sang “La Bicyclette” in 1968. In England, where psychedelia was often suffused with Victoriana, the bicycle was celebrated by a young David Bowie, Tomorrow, and the still Syd Barret-fronted Pink Floyd. American hippies embraced bikes too, albeit seemingly more often motorbikes rather than bicycles.

SECOND BIKE BOOM

The second Bike Boom arrived in the 1970s, on the shoulders of the environmental movement that also brought the first Earth Day (1970), in which Angelenos cycled through the smoggy city in gas masks. During the Nixon administration, the country also achieved the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970), the formation of Greenpeace (1971), and the passage of the Clean Water Act 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The 1973 oil crisis saw the price of a gallon of gas reach 53 cents in 1974 — $3.11 in 2022. Even faced with “pain at the pump,” the EPA reported that year that 40% of urban work trips made by cars were under four miles.

My mother, however, was an avid cyclist and I remember riding in the child seat of my mother’s Peugeot, directing her to stop whenever I spied a random bolt or washer on the road that I collected in an empty glass peanut butter jar. In our home, there was bike art in the form of framed reproductions of American Crescent, Falcon, and Gladiator bicycle posters. Los Angeles, in 1975, responded with an ambitious Plan of Bikeways that called for the creation of 1,500 miles of bike lanes plus bike facilities. Of course, politicians are generally less interested in actually fulfilling promises than they are making them and there’s no sign of that network today. In fact, an updated plan — Mobility Plan 2035 — which promised the creation of a network of bus-only lanes and bikes lanes — was passed in 2015. About 7% has been completed after seven years, at a rate of 1% per year. At this rate, it might be done in 2115. To speed up the process whilst simultaneously saving money — add your name to the Healthy Streets L.A. petition.

BMX BANDITRY

Although the share of bicycles sold to children shank as the share sold to adults grew, bicycles remained popular with young people. BMX (“bicycle motor cross”) culture arose in Southern California. In 1971, a group of children riding modified Schwinn Sting-Rays were filmed for Bruce Brown’s documentary, On Any Sunday. My own first bike (without training wheels) was a green and yellow Schwinn Sting-Ray I. BMX spread quickly and the  National Bicycle League (NBL) was organized in Florida in 1974. BMX remained rooted in Southern California, however, and Skip Hess launched BMX Products (makers of Mongoose Bicycles) in 1974 and later manufactured them at a facility in Chatsworth. The NBL was followed by the American Bicycle Association formed in January 1975 by Bob Bailey in Torrance but went bankrupt in December 1975. From 1974 to 1976, the American Bicycle Motocross Association (ABMXA) was headquartered in Reseda. A second ABA was established by Merl Mennenga and Gene Roden in 1977 and held the first ABA National the following year in Azusa.

RAILS TO TRAILS

The decades-long consolidation of the rail industry led to eh abandonment of many train lines. The Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 led to the conversion of many abandoned rail corridors into public trails. In Los Angeles, thanks in part to our once-massive interurban rail network as well as to our many freight lines, there are so many abandoned corridors that could either be repurposed for light or commuter rail… or redeveloped into pedestrian and bike paths. Metro’s Rail to River Active Transportation Corridor Project will transform the first stretch of the 42-kilometer long BNSF Railway Company Harbor Subdivision, abandoned in 1996, into one such path.

CYCLING IN THE 1980s

The 1980s saw another decade of reversal in the bike’s fortunes. President Jimmy Carter urged Americans to conserve energy by dressing appropriately for the weather. When he was unseated by former California governor Ronald Reagan, the new president removed the functioning solar panels from the white house. “It’s morning again in America,” indeed. The same year that Reagan made that proclamation, the Olympics returned to Los Angeles. Although bicycle racing had been part of the Olympic Games since 1896, it was only in 1984 that female cyclists were allowed to compete, and did, riding in a 79-kilometer race in Mission Viejo, one of several South Orange County master-planned communities designed in the 1970s with bicycle mobility in mind. A new velodrome was built in the Harbor District city of Carson. Reagan died in 2004, although the 2003 demolition of the Carson velodrome probably wasn’t on his radar. It was replaced with the Home Depot Center (now the StubHub Center).

The image of bicycles being for athletes or children (or man-children) was reflected in Hollywood films. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) was a children’s fantasy-science-fiction film that memorably featured children on levitating bikes flying over a forest and through Porter Ranch and Granada Hills. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) followed the adventures of Pee-Wee Herman in his efforts to retrieve his bike after it gets stolen from the Third Street Promenade. Along the way, he passes through many Los Angeles locations, tries to impress children on bicycles, and adults with motorcycles.

THE REBOUND

Suffering from the nation’s worst air pollution and automobile congestion, the Southern California Rapid Transit District, formed in 1964, began investing substantially in less (or non) polluting alternatives to driving, including light rail, commuter rail, and bicycling. The Blue Line, a light rail service, was launched in 1990. In 1991, Los Angeles was the first large American city to pass an ordinance requiring bicycle parking. That same year, a commuter rail service, Metrolink, was founded and began operation in 1992. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation (Metro) was launched in 1993.

ADVOCATES AND ORGANIZATIONS

Bicycle culture began to rebound in the 1990s and 2000s when there was a marked upsurge in bicycle advocacy and group-cycling culture. Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition was founded in 1998 by Joe Linton and Ron Milam. Critical Mass, a group cycling event, first launched in San Francisco in 1992, as “Commute Clot,” made its way to Los Angeles in or around 2001. Los Angeles Critical Mass is today the largest community bicycle ride in the US. In 2001 I bought my first Los Angeles bike, a 1972 Raleigh Sprite 27, from Lars Lehtonen, who around that time launched the bicycle event aggregator/calendar, Bike Boom. Wolfpack Hustle, a fast-paced ride, started in 2005. Midnight Ridazz, a late-night group bicycle ride, was launched in 2004. Ted Rogers started Biking in L.A. in 2008. You can also start or join a Bike Train.

BIKE SHARE

Although bike-share as a concept had existed at least since 1965, improvements in technology made it a more viable concept in the 2010s. In 2009, the University of California, Irvine introduced its ZotWheels automated bike-share program, the first bike share in California. In 2012, Anaheim launched California’s first municipal bike-share (but pulled the plug in 2014). Fullerton followed suit but pulled out in 2015. Santa Monica‘s Breeze Bike Share was launched in 2015. Metro Bike Share was launched in 2016 and was the first North American system to be both branded as part of the public transit agency. In March 2011, the City of Los Angeles approved a bicycle master plan, adding more than 2575 kilometers of proposed bikeways.

RULES OF THE ROAD

Today, Los Angeles cyclists may travel on any street (except those which expressly prohibit bicyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians — namely the interstate freeways that carve through mostly working class communities). Riders under eighteen are required to wear helmets. Passing motor vehicles are required by law to ensure a passing distance of at least 3 feet (0.91 m) although don’t count on them to do so. Efforts to allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs haven’t yet succeeded but it’s only, surely, a matter of time. Metro Bus and Rail services are both bicycle accessible. All Metro buses have two or three bicycle racks on the front of the bus. Metro Rail allows bicycles on trains at all times. Bicycles are allowed on the Metrolink commuter rail system, which offers storage for two bicycles at the rear of each carriage.

BIKE TRAILS

The Marvin Braude Trail

Bicycles may also use segregated bicycle paths, from which automobiles are prohibited. There are really too many to list but a partial one should include the Marvin Braude Bike Trail (35 kilometers from Santa Monica to Torrance), the Huntington Beach Bike Path, the Newport Balboa Bike Path, the Los Angeles River Bike Trail, the Rio Hondo River Trail, the San Gabriel River Bike Trail, the Santa Ana River Bike Trail, the Compton Creek bicycle path, the San Jose Creek bike path, the South Fork Trail, and the Whittier Greenway Trail. Many are along the banks of the many creeks, streams, washes, flood control channels, and rivers — of which there are almost certainly more than you suspect… and many more waiting to be daylit and lined with bike and pedestrian trails.

Northern Terminus of the Azusa Bike Trail

There are also more bike shops than most are probably aware of. On the blessedly few occasions on which I’ve ever gotten a flat, I’ve never not been able to find and walk to a bicycle shop where they can fix it much more quickly and easily than me. The oldest bicycle shop still in operation today is Palms Cycle, which was established in 1930. I’m not going to list any others here but I’ve tried to include as many as possible on the map. Let me know if I’ve missed any.

BICYCLE CLUBS

If you think you might feel more comfortable riding in a group or open streets event, you have options. Clubs include Bicycle Club of Irvine, Bodacious Bike Babes, Compton Schwinn Masters, Crankheads Cycling Crew, Crankin’ Time Cycling Club, Different Spokes Southern California, DockRiders, East Side Riders Bike Club,  Eastside Bike Club, Elegants Bicycle Club, Foothill Cycle Club, Gorilla Smash Squad, Green Leaf Killer Cycling, Kushtown Society, Lightning Velo, Los Angeles Wheelmen, Los Angelopes, Los Ryderz, MoM Ridaz, Major Motion Cycling Club, Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade, Real Rydaz, San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club, She Wolf Attack Team, Sins and Sprockets, South Bay Wheelmen, Velo Allegro, Velo La Grange, and the West LA Cycling Club.

OPEN STREETS

The L.A. River Ride an annual event organized by Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. There are numerous open street events, including Garden Grove’s Re:Imagine Garden Grove, Santa Ana’s SOMOS, Santa Monica’s COAST, the San Gabriel Valley‘s, 626 Golden Streets, and the best known, CicLAvia, which was launched in 2010 and which organizes events several times a year in various regions of Los Angeles.

EPILOGUE

So think about riding a bike more often. The only pain at the pump you’ll feel is from the mild workout you’ll get inflating your tires. And finally, to quote bike evangelist Lars Lehtonen, “GET A BIKE!”


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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson Collegeand the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubithe StoryGraphand Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Nobody Drives in LA — Bicycling in Los Angeles

  1. I’ll open by saying that our younger daughter lives in Davis CA, which is often listed as the “poster child” town for being bike friendly. What helps this designation is that the town has a topography that could be compared to a billiard table. My wife and I, on the other hand live in a suburban area that isn’t hilly, but does not have bike-friendly streets, and I’m at the age where healing after a spill takes longer than it would have 50 years ago. At least if I did have a bike, keeping the tires inflated would be easy because I have a couple of electric air compressors.

    Here’s an essay I wrote a few years ago:
    Secret World of Bicycles

    Some years ago, I started logging into the LA and SF Streetsblogs, after being linked to them by transit-oriented websites. My main interest is in rail-based transport, especially electric railways, but the Streetsblogs also have a strong representation from the bicycling community. I’ve been a driver of motor vehicles since the 1950’s, and have not used a bike for many years. I have gone through periods where I rode public transit a lot, and have taken a cross country trip that was over 98% rail (Amtrak and local rail systems). Wandering into Streetsblog has been a consciousness-raising experience in seeing how the world looks to our fellow citizens on two wheels. Following are a few comments on how the bike sites look to outsiders:

    A foreign language? One encounters strange terms like sharrows, panniers, velo, CycLAvia, wrenching place, and dooring. “Sharrow” sounds like a farm implement, or a bird; I think the term for words like that is “neologism”. “Pannier”, “velo” and “CycLAvia” sound European, which is a negative thing to many Americans. We’re the people who have yet to embrace the Metric System, we consign soccer to the “minor sports” category and don’t go bananas over the World Cup tournament. “Dooring” (since when is “door” a verb?) turns out to be a serious hazard when cycling along a street with parallel parking—I found that it means being whacked by a suddenly opened driver’s door on a parked car. Then there are bicycle kitchens, which, I’ve found upon seeing a photo of one, look like workshops. Why not call them that? Even “bicycle repair center” makes more sense. “I’ll have one mountain bike over easy, and a fixed-gear, well-done.”

    I’ve read articles on “Practical Cycling”, which is something that must increase if bikes are to be taken seriously. I found that “Practical Cycling” means using bicycles for going to work and running errands, trips that most Americans would do in a motor vehicle. Right now, outsiders look upon bicyclists as a “fringe element”, people who can be categorized thusly:
    Recreational cyclists: The folks we see on weekends forming pelotons (oops, there’s another one of those dadburn furriner words!) of enthusiasts in skin-tight shorts, vividly colored jerseys and weird-looking helmets. Or you’ll see a car or SUV (typically a Volvo or Subaru) with a bicycle or two in a special rack on the roof. Brings to mind horses riding in a horse trailer.
    Mormon missionaries: If you see a pair of young men in dark pants, white shirts and neckties pedaling along on utilitarian bikes, they’re on a “Mission from God” and they aren’t the Blues Brothers.
    Low income workers: Usually from “South of the Border”, these cyclists ride second or third hand bikes, and are probably saving up for (as one writer said) a 1995 Toyota Corolla. I’ve driven through the Salinas Valley, seen the lineup of cars on the edges of the fields being harvested, and noted that some of the farmhands drive newer cars than me.
    Children: One commentator said wryly, “It’s amazing how handing a teenager a driver’s license shuts down that part of the brain that governs bicycling.” This attitude seems to be changing; news reports have indicated that many young people are in no hurry to join the motoring public.
    Dedicated environmentalists: Members of this subset are often vegetarians as well as bicyclists. They live up to their ideals and are certainly worthy of praise and emulation, but typical Americans look upon them as “eccentric tree-huggers”.

    Then there are the “Automobiles are an invention of the Devil” partisans. They refer to streets with lots of cars as “traffic sewers” and from some of their rhetoric, one would think they’d like to see those gas-guzzling, road-hogging fume-belching machines wiped off the face of the earth. If they were running the Hereafter, Henry Ford, Charles Kettering, Walter Chrysler and Alfred P. Sloan would be in the lowest level of the Nether Regions. The problem with this attitude is that it’s not widely held. We can assume that even if most cars disappeared and fuel went to $20 a gallon, government officials and wealthy people would still have THEIR personal vehicles. We would be like third world countries where the “kleptocrats” cruise around in chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benzes while the general populace either walks or jams into rickety buses. And this would be most annoying to the average person who remembered the “good old days when I had my own car and could go anywhere I damn well pleased”. We would be back to the days of 100+ years ago when Woodrow Wilson said something to the effect that nothing can breed thoughts of socialism in this country faster than the rich and privileged racing through our towns in their gas buggies, frightening horses and endangering the citizenry.

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