Cycling in LA: How to Survive

Picture courtesy of jhwill Flickr

Picture courtesy of jhwill Flickr

This ain’t no San Francisco. In a recent survey, 70% of respondents said Los Angeles is not bike-friendly. In fact, the city had to pass an anti-harassment law just so drivers wouldn’t verbally or physically assault cyclists on the road.

So what’s a cyclist supposed to do?

Use the bike routes. On Metro’s bike map, there are Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 routes. Class 1’s are completely separate paved bike paths. Class 2’s are the bike lanes on the roads. Class 3 routes are the ones generally recommended if you have to bike on streets without bike lanes. Although there are many more Class 3’s than the others, utilize the routes as much as possible. The bike routes are more likely to have less traffic and lower speed limits, which makes it safer for everyone.

Be cautious of Google bike maps. Google’s bike directions are in beta, which means they have not been completely finalized. This may mean that the bike directions provided will direct you to an unsafe road for cyclists. Try driving the route in a car beforehand to ensure that you will feel safe and confident on your bike.

Look out for sudden dead ends and opening car doors. I’ve experienced this personally on Santa Monica Blvd’s bike lane through West Hollywood. When the bike lane reaches Beverly Hills, the lane suddenly disappears and you are fighting for space on a narrowing road. Also, assume any car you ride by will swing its driver-side door open at any time. This is a common accident with cyclists.

Fight for your right… just not literally. Cyclists have a right to be on the road. However, cyclists who are aggressive only make things worse for impatient drivers whose road rage could turn ugly. Pick your battles and always be aware of your surroundings.

Join a cycling group. The Midnight Ridazz is a group that takes nighttime rides through LA in huge packs, and it looks pretty fun. You can find a list of other cycling groups here or join up with competitive cycling clubs here.

Learn bike etiquette and safety. The LA Department of Transportation has all the rules you’ll need right here. Also, this site has other safety scenarios and tells you how not to get hit by cars.

Santa Monica and Long Beach have great bike lane systems, and slowly but surely, LA is getting the message that it needs to adapt to cyclists. A couple of Class 1 bike lanes are being added downtown on 7th street, but the city is still decades behind in the advancement of a bike-friendly culture. Stay safe out there, be aware of raging drivers, and always wear a helmet!

Kristen Creager

Kristen Creager is a marketer and musician, originally from Michigan. Her favorite thing about the city is the inspiring creativity and energy that flows through it. You can connect with Kristen on Twitter @kristencreag.


  • Reply October 5, 2011


    Good advice. The one point I would disagree on is the advice to take Class 3 bike routes whenever possible.

    Many, if not most of these, were established years ago and never updated, and too often route riders through some of the most crowded and dangerous streets in the city, such as Lincoln Blvd in Santa Monica and Pico Blvd east of the 405 in West L.A. – streets I wouldn’t recommend to even the strongest riders.

    If possible, I would suggest that less experienced cyclists drive a planned route before riding it, or ask other riders for advice on what routes to take. Consider Class 3 routes nothing more than a suggestion. Or at the very least, consider an alternate route if you find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable.

  • Reply October 6, 2011


    Thanks for your comment! I never knew Class 3 routes should be taken with as much caution as the Google Maps routes should. Great to know!

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