The Biking Scene in Los Angeles from a Newbies Perspective: A Dissertation

I think all the people interested in biking in Los Angeles ALL mean well. From the Midnight Rydazz, to Biking advocates at LACBC, Ciclavia, C.I.C.L.E. to bloggers.

I am a very new biker, but I won't forget all the obstacles I've had to go through just to get into biking.

I got broken into the biking scene because my partner is a well-established figurehead in the bike community.

This post would not be up right now if it weren't for her. She's shown me what to look for in a bike, how to fix things, how to lock it up, how to deal with a flat tire, and the Bike Kitchen. She held my hand A LOT to get to where I am now, which is someone who could bike from the San Fernando Valley down to LA.

However, this was all very intentional on my part. I was really really looking to get out of my car, but I also didn't want to randomly jump into biking without knowing that I'd be wasting time, effort, and money.

Before I met my partner, what stopped ME, already a semi-committed environmentalist and wannabe biker was a few things:

1) After 6 years since my last bike, I wasn't even sure I remembered how to ride or if I could ever ride safely again. Definitely not in those narrow bike lanes where someone could hit me while opening the door or where the cars were just speeding up.

2) I wanted to get a cheap bike, but not get ripped off, but I didn't know what to look for.

3) The last time I invested in a bike, a used mountain bike, it got stolen. I really didn't know how to use a bike lock, or even think of using one. I just didn't want my stuff stolen again.

4) I was intimidated that I didn't know what I was talking about when I first went to the Bike kitchen.

I mention these obstacles because if these things stopped me, a committed semi-environmentalist and former WOULD-BE biker, it would probably stop a lot of other ordinary people, WOULD-BE BIKERS from seeing the true value and opportunity in biking in LA. Perhaps there needs to be something, an education program, an organization catered towards these beginners and novices/ordinary people.

What mitigated all those concerns for me, was that my partner helped me do things 1-4.

1) She took me on group rides throughout the city. I was scared as hell at first, but slowly got used to it after the first few times

2) She helped test out the used bike I bought off craigslist. For $150! I wouldn't have known and would've paid their asking price.

3) She showed me how to lock up my bike.

4) She accompanied me to my first visit to the Bike Kitchen. I can't stress enough how I lucked the fuck out.

While Biking is now quite normal for me and pockets of other Angelenos, it is still not something ordinary Angelenos do or at least feel like they can do. If biking is to be taken seriously, ordinary people need to be able to bike, and it starts by making them feel like they can, that it's normal, and that they should.

When I encourage my car-driving circle of high school friends to bike with me (or take public transit for that matter) --- the common response I get is that "It's not safe."

I have a few ideas to assuaging that #1 overriding concern:

1) Formal Group rides. Sounds simple, but I'm not just speaking in the recreational sense, but for transportation and commutes. There's always strength and more confidence built in numbers, and it helps make a commute seem a lot easier.

Group rides start out informally, but I don't know if a lot of people in LA have access to these networks of bikers. If there were a formal group system akin to bus drivers leaving a stop at a certain time or conductors, that would quickly make bike riding a type of institution --- a visible one at that. Or perhaps even a pack full of bikers (a Biker bus), biker taxis that you can call for if you need help for the cost of a Metro bus ride.

My idea is like a really big buddy system for bikers. A new biker would have someone to trail after who can help look after them and break em in --- perhaps also a way of creating green jobs with even greener transportation where the expense for maintenance relies on the bike user, but the biker can actually get help if they don't actually know how to maintain a bike.

Conversely, you don't actually have to know how to fix your car just to drive it a long way, which brings me to my second idea.

2) What I also glean from what would-be riders say is that there is a lot of uncertainty fraught in a commuting bicycle ride.

There's a lot of conscious thinking that happens before and during a ride: how greasy your hands are, how sweaty you are, your tires, pot holes in the pavement, sewer things.

In contrast, you don't have have to think a lot about the fact that you're driving a car when you're driving it. It's all very seamless.

So the question would be: how to make bike commuting a seamless process?

The answer would be: A public and quasi-public infrastructure that supports biking. This would make bike commuting smoother.

My first idea was gas stations with bike repair kits and even bike mechanics. I am very new to biking and outside of Orange 20, I don't really know where the bike shops are. When I got a flat on Griffith Park Blvd., I had to walk all the way back to Orange 20 in the Bicycle District. A good 4 miles. When I got a flat on Los Feliz Blvd. THE SAME DAY, I had to walk all the way back a good 5 miles to Orange 20 again. Luckily, mercifully, I rode to my partner's house after quite the mentally exhausting day. That kind of thing DOESN'T happen to a driver.

I think gas stations are one quasi-public infrastructure that keeps drivers driving. It's a way of maintaining the car. Bikes don't really have those little centers where you can maintain the bikes.

You have to know a lot to ride a bike to commute via bike. Conversely, you (assuming you're not a new driver) don't really have to know a lot about the car to commute via car.

Long-term, I don't know that the answer lies into driving seams into the driving experience (i.e. tolls and paying for parking) as much as it is making biking the more advantageous mode of transportation, and I think that starts with making SPACES PLACES to be. Everything that you should need needs to be within 3-5 miles. I hate having to go all the way down to Vanowen from Nordhoff St. in Panorama City just to find A book store.

3) Centralized Lost and Found stations - not directly related to riding, but related to "alternative" forms of transportation other than the car.

I've had a number of stuff fall from my bag while riding. I lost my cellphone while riding on Sunset Blvd. Thank God it wasn't my wallet.

On a separate occasion, when I lost my house and car keys on the 761 from Van Nuys to Westwood, I went to a Metro station to retrieve a pair of keys, I was appalled at how many keys were lost and how all this steel was wasted, never to be found again. I still can't find my keys.

4) Selling people and making acceptable the electric bike. My friend who bikes in Michigan, made this point to me. Only a certain demographic is really able to bike for commuting purposes --- the young, the sporty, the non-familial. What about those with knee or weight problems? What about older ladies who don't like pedalling? Electric bikes are something to put more people on bikes, experiencing the streets.

Transitioning from Car Driving to Bus and Train-Hopping in LA

After 20 years of a life in LA, only in the past few months have I also started riding the bus and trains.

I'm feel like I'm making more than a concerted and strained effort to make public transit in addition to biking my main mode of travel. My transition from car driving to bus riding and train-hopping in LA has been leeched with plenty of growing pains.

-The first time I took the bus in about year was on a trip from the Valley to LA Union Station. I thought I could buy a $5 all-day Metro Pass.


I had to buy a TAP Card...not at all available at any bus station cause that would be too convenient. I had to pick one up at Ralphs. A public pass via a private vendor!

-A week ago was the first time I tried to use the bus and trains for something important.

That morning I had to go to a meeting in Compton from the Valley. I biked to the Red Line in North Hollywood, transitioned to the Blue Line in Downtown, and got off in Compton.

Taking the red line, the underground subway from North Hollywood down to LA seemed like punishment because I couldn't actually contact anyone while underground.

The inspectors on the Blue Line were giving me shit for the bike being in THEIR way. So I had to stand up in the handicapped section of an empty ass bus.

-On Parking Day LA, September 18th, 2009, as a full-fledged newly-initiated biking enthusiast, I was fumbling with the bike rack on a Metro bus, holding up the bus for 2 minutes, and ultimately failing to pull down the bike rack correctly. The bus driver, (on the 233 Bus on Van Nuys going south at about 7:30), made a gesture to quit it and rudely told me to get on the next bus. I waited about 2-3 minutes for a Rapid line and thankfully correctly put my bike on the bus.

One of my main concerns with using the bus and trains from the experience of driving has been losing the flexibility and mobility I have with my car. With my car, I could get into almost any nook and cranny in LA at any time of the day I want.

Having a car in LA is like having a mobile phone in that it offers you the ability to connect with other people, places, things on your own terms and you can act more quickly and/or be more spontaneous with such a tool.

In contrast to this flexibility and mobility offered by the personal vehicle is the public transportation infrastructure of Los Angeles. It's like limiting my usage of the phone to pay phones.

Biking in Los Angeles, a Noob's Perspective

For years I had been entertaining the thought of not having a car. My fantasy has been to avoid paying car insurance, gas, and parking.

Instead, all my transportation needs would go towards biking.

With the help of a special friend, I took step one towards this, and am now biking for the first time since my 2nd year of college, when my mountain bike got unceremoniously stolen.

While my personal reasons for biking are entirely practical, I feel like my personal transition to biking in LA is an more of an impractical achievement fretted with inconvenience as opposed to an actual, practical solution.

Here are some of the little annoying hurdles obstructing my daily use of a bicycle as a form of commute throughout Los Angeles:

1) The fact that I can't really take both hands off the wheel yet to signal for turns
2) The bike is very greasy to handle, which means my hands get really dirty. If I had to wear a suit to work or some interview, unless there were a shower at the place of employment, it'd kinda suck
3) Wouldn't know what to do if I got a flat or got any other malfunction, leaving my biker noob butt stranded in the middle of nowhere
4) In comparison to the car, would not be able to travel all that practically and reliably from the Valley to South LA

Th first one and third points I WILL eventually get over with more time behind the wheel and on the streets. Perhaps, there could be better supportive biking infrastructure for the third point, like a patch kit at every stop.

The second one I MIGHT be able to get over with practice. Maybe I'll get good at finding a shower, or place to wash my hands and/or shower in public, if there isn't any private establishment to provide that.

The last point however, is one problem that might be unfixable and due to the nature of Los Angeles.

With that last point I have in mind a very specific situation that actually happened: From my house in the Valley,, I wouldn't be able to make it that comfortably on bike to a job interview in Huntington Park. Obviously, I'd need to take the bus and trains, meaning I'd need to plan well in advance and everything about the trip...not too fond of having to pre-emptively strike and shell out $62 on a bus pass for one month, which seems kinda high and like I'm saving on nothing.

For an individual to be biking on Los Angeles streets with cars, you need a youthful, bodily fearlessness and extremely sunny, but fierce resolve. I cringe everytime I think about having to carry on through narrow streets and sidewalks where there are no bike lanes. I don't want to slam into a person, a car door, another biker, or into some driver. You need some nerve to ride into the middle of the street with alongside anxious LA drivers only see bikers as obstructions to clear lanes.

If biking is to be done and used by lots of people, then it has to be practical for the lots of people. Maybe if the biking networks available address the transition for new riders there'd be more infrastructural change in LA transportation that could eventually address that fourth point.