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.

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