So You Want To Bike In LA. Here’s How To Get Started

Published July 22, 2019

You’ve already accomplished Step 1.

Considering to bike in L.A. is the hardest part!

The city’s history has made it very clear that cars rule the roads.

For example, L.A. took some heat off of drivers for pedestrian fatalities by being one of the first cities to place blame on people for walking into the streets, and so it criminalized jaywalking. And a more recent LAPD campaign about pedestrian safety suggested that walkers wear reflective vests as opposed to, say, that drivers should be safer.

But by law, bicyclists have the same rights to the roads as vehicles — even if it doesn’t feel like it all the time.

And there are ways to make it work. Biking is my main mode of transportation ever since I moved to L.A. in 2012, and it’s how I frequently get to the office, to interviews, and more.

Since you want to take to two wheels, too, here’s my advice on where to begin.

Mayor Eric Garcetti is seen biking along Wilshire Boulevard during CicLAvia in 2017.

Mayor Eric Garcetti is seen biking along Wilshire Boulevard during CicLAvia in 2017. (Courtesy Mayor Eric Garcetti via Flickr Creative Commons)

CONSIDER THE BENEFITS

Biking can make a lot more sense than driving in many scenarios.

You don’t need to comb an area to find parking, for example. If I’m out, I’ll often lock up on a bike rack, parking sign, parking meter, etc.

Depending on the area, you also won’t be slowed down by traffic. In fact, it might be faster than driving. There are many times when I’ve blazed past a line of backed-up cars in downtown L.A., Culver City, Santa Monica and more during rush hour.

The thrifty should also know that biking is a great workout – think of it like SoulCycle, but for free.

Speaking of money, if you ever decide to give up your car completely and stick with walking/transit/biking, it can save you a bunch. When I sold my VW Golf years ago, I figured I saved about $700 each month (car payment, insurance, gas, parking, etc).

START SMALL

Think of the usual routes you take that are pretty short and are mostly on quieter side streets.

Perhaps it’s to get a few things from the grocery store a few blocks away, to meet up with friends at a nearby coffee shop, or drop books off at the library.

You’ll be able to get comfortable with bicycling by doing these trips you’re already familiar with that aren’t too demanding.

GET YOUR GEAR

It won’t take a lot to get you started. Obvi, a bike is necessary. But get the right one for the task.

If you’ll mostly be riding slowly on a variety of terrain like sand and gravel, beach cruisers are a fine choice. They are cute and easy to ride because of their wide wheels and heavy frame. However, they’re not really built for speed or hills.

If you plan to go faster on city streets or up and down a fair amount of inclines, then opt for a road or hybrid bike. Thinner wheels mean a quicker ride. The faint of heart will want one with several gears to deal with the many, many hills of Los Angeles.

If you’re a newbie to how gears work, start with a low gear once you begin to pedal. Then when it becomes too easy, switch to a higher gear so more of that pedal power gets you going faster. But when you hit a hill, downshift to a lower gear so your legs don’t have to work as hard to push you up.

Finally, if you don’t want to buy one right away, there are many bike share programs in the region to get you started and comfortable on a bike. Here’s a few:

Santa Monica Breeze bike share bikes are shown in a stock photo from 2015.

Santa Monica Breeze bike share bikes are shown in a stock photo from 2015. (Serena Grace via Flickr Creative Commons)

If you do own a bike, get a good lock – cable locks and chain links can be easily cut through, so invest in a U-lock of some kind. Remember that the best strategy is to have your bike more secure than the one next to it, and that there are right and wrong ways to lock it up.

Personally, I fit the U-lock around my back wheel AND the triangle part of the frame, with an extra cable looped around the front wheel.

Credit: Leo Duran

(Leo Duran/LAist)

Credit: Leo Duran

(Leo Duran/LAist)

The availability of bike racks can be hit-or-miss in the region, but remember that locking up to a tall parking sign or a parking meter are good alternatives.

Invest in a bike helmet, too. Technically, only children 17 years old and under are required to wear helmets in California. However, I’m a firm believer that it only takes one bad spill to change your life forever, so everyone could benefit from wearing one.

As a beginner, don’t worry about spending a fortune on one – many affordable models rate very highly in scientific tests. But I highly recommend ones with vents since that aeration will keep you cool in the sun (and I promise they don’t mess up hair as much as you might worry they will).

Bicyclists at the intersection of Spring and 3rd Streets in downtown L.A. The city recently reconfigured the lanes so cyclists have to cross diagonally to where the bike lane continues on the opposite side of the street.

Bicyclists at the intersection of Spring and 3rd Streets in downtown L.A. The city recently reconfigured the lanes so cyclists have to cross diagonally to where the bike lane continues on the opposite side of the street. (Leo Duran/LAist)

And to make sure you’re seen at night, you may want to get a reflective vest and ankle cuffs. Front-facing lights are important, too, and actually required by law.

Once you’ve reached a certain level in your biking expertise, there are several companies that make bike-specific clothes that are perfect for the office or everyday wear (check out our reviews of some of them from a few years ago). No Spandex necessary.

TRY NOT TO BIKE ON THE SIDEWALK

A first-timer’s mistake is to ride nearly exclusively on the sidewalk. It might make sense because it feels safer to be away from traffic.

But it can be surprisingly dangerous.

A bike on a Los Angeles sidewalk.

A bike on a Los Angeles sidewalk. (Susanica Tam for LAist)

Riding on the sidewalk means that you’re harder for cars to notice at intersections and crosswalks. Plus pedestrians and vehicles are liable to appear suddenly from driveways, entryways and from around corners at any time and into your way.

Biking on sidewalks is also illegal in different cities across the region — it’s legal in L.A. city, for example, but against the law in Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach.

Generally, it can be safer to stick to bike lanes or roads, ideally on the right side whenever possible (except, for example, when turning left).

If you have worries about sharing a lane with traffic, there’s a little psychology on your side.

Stay with me, but if there’s not enough room for a car to pass you, don’t automatically veer as far right as you can possibly be. I’ve learned that it encourages vehicles to get extremely close when they try to get by, which is dangerous for everyone involved.

Instead, be brave and take up the entire lane. Then, when there is a good opportunity and more than enough space, move aside. Drivers might be frustrated for a few seconds in their commute, but they will slow down or change lanes to make sure they don’t hit you.

You’ll both eventually get to where you need to be, and no one was hurt in the process.

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BE PREDICTABLE

No driver or pedestrian likes a bicyclist who does whatever he or she wants on the road. There are plenty of those people out there already, and they create a bad name for the rest of us.

But be the change you want to see in the world, and be courteous.

The easiest rule to remember is that as a bicyclist, you are obligated to follow all the rules of the road like cars – stop at stop signs, yield to pedestrians, give the right-of-way at intersections, etc.

Use proper hand signals, too, to communicate which way you’re headed.

Diagram of proper bike hand signals.

Diagram of proper bike hand signals. (Courtesy City of Boston)

NOW THAT YOU’VE GOT THE HANG OF IT

When you’re ready to take longer bike rides, I’ve found Google Maps to be a good start at devising the best routes that use a combination of bike lanes and side streets. When you encounter the route in real life, though, just remember to trust your own senses on whether the path is really the best one for you. If you’re nervous about biking in and around traffic, we also have a list of L.A.’s best bike rides in areas that are car-free or have very light traffic.

There are some really great hangouts right off of bike trails, as well. Spoke Bicycle Cafe is alongside the LA River Bike Path, and it’s great for a snack or beer. You’ll be able to catch some great views by cycling on a beachside route like Long Beach’s Shoreline pedestrian/bike path.

Finally, find a local bike shop with friendly staff to help you with maintenance. It can be a hard task because, even among bicyclists, we know that some shops are nicer to work with than others.

A FEW CAVEATS

Now that you’re a little more comfortable biking in L.A., here are a few doses of reality:

SoCal’s crumbling roads aren’t always in the best condition for bikes or cars, with potholes ravaging the pavement. So depending on where you go, it might be a rocky experience. And L.A. keeps battling on whether bike lanes should be built in the first place.

On top of that, Los Angeles drivers aren’t the best – a study by GasBuddy reports that Angelenos are the most aggressive in the country behind the wheel. Safety is a constant and very real concern — watch out for yourself at all times.

Also, I never kid myself: L.A. can get really, really hot. Sometimes I won’t bike because I don’t want to be gross and sweaty at my destination. It’s okay! You don’t have to bicycle all the time. If you do, remember to bring enough water.