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Rebel Without a Car – When You Ride a Bike, Ride it Right!

Enci Box rides a BikeThere are many reasons one should be riding a bike here in Los Angeles. The weather, the exercise, the rising gas prices are just a few of them.

In Southern California we get an average of 15-20 inches of rain each year, which means that we can ride almost every day, without having to worry about our clothes, hair, or makeup.

Riding a bike is also very healthy. It works all our muscles, it keeps us toned, gets the heart rate going, and through sweating we cleanse our bodies. 

Of course we can also save on average $100-$150 a year on gym membership if we ride our bike at least three times a week and run/jog another three days a week, not to mention the money we save on gas if we ride to do local errands or commute to work on a bike once or twice a week. No need to ride and run indoors if you can do it outdoors for free.

Now, as simple as bike riding is, there is also a lot to learn and to take into consideration. Southern California is visited by thousands of people every day. People from different states with different laws, visitors from other countries and nations. Each state and each country has their own laws regarding bike riding and everybody has also their own interpretation depending on their personal experience and perception of safety.

But if one doesn’t follow local laws, it can be costly and it can also be dangerous. While you could get a fix-it ticket for not having a light or reflector, you can also get hefty tickets for not stopping at red lights or stop signs and you can also put yourself in danger by riding the wrong way or by being invisible.

Want to know some basic tips that can save your commute from angry drivers, close call collisions and make it more comfortable for you as well? Here are some tips (some of them are also the law in California) to get you started:

1. Ride in the same direction as traffic (you will be able to see signs, lights and predict motorists behavior better)
2. Ride with a front light and have at least one reflector in the back. While a reflector is the law, I would recommend that you also have a red blinky light either on your helmet (tie it on with a ziptie) or under your seat. If your back light is too low you might not be very visible during traffic, when cars cut in and out of lanes.
3. Ride in a straight line, DON’T zig-zag in and out from between parked cars. This will make you visible to drivers and also predictable. Drivers won’t see you if you are between parked cars and also a parked drivers won’t see you when they are ready to open their door into traffic.
4. When riding on the sidewalk (in the City of LA it is legal, in LA County and some cities such as Beverly Hills it is illegal) ride slow and give pedestrians right of way at all times!
5. Motion your intentions to motorists and pedestrians. If you are ready to turn left or right, let others around you know by either a hand signal or by looking back and making eye contact with the motorist behind you. Only change lanes when you visibly made sure it’s safe. Don’t rely on sound. New electric vehicles are super quiet, even another passing cyclist you might not hear unless you look back and check your surrounding.
6. Wear a helmet! In California the law is that anybody under the age of 18 must wear a helmet! If you are over 18, it’s not the law but I highly recommend it. The streets are so busted up here, that one could fall off their bike and then it’s a good idea to have ones head protected.
7. If you ride in a bike lane, like the one on Sunset Blvd or on Santa Monica in West Hollywood, stay out of the door-zone. Ride close to the left white line, not in the center of the bike lane. The door-zone is deadly! If someone opens their car door and your handlebar gets caught on the door, you can get flipped out onto traffic. (I personally don’t like bike lanes and avoid them as much as possible. I ride on streets that have no separated bike lanes and have two lanes for each direction, that way I can take the rightmost lane and motorists change lanes safely to go around me.)
8. Don’t ride in the gutter and don’t ride in the right-turning lane when going straight. Basic principles of the road are to ride a bike like you would drive a car. Same rules apply with some exceptions, where cyclists can ride where cars can’t be driven.)

These are basic rules of the road in Southern California. It might seem to some people simple and even riding a bike seems to some people like a simple thing to do. But aside from riding, there are other things that can make riding a bike more pleasurable, safer, and more efficient, from setting your bike seat and handle bar in the most comfortable position, placing your foot on the pedal the correct way when going downhill, turning or on responding the right way when there is a hazard up ahead or to avoid conflict.

I would highly recommend two bike skills classes in California, both of which I took and which helped me not only understand the law but made my bike commuting experience fun, when I felt that it was stressful.

One of the classes that I recommend is the Confident City Cycling class bySustainable Streets, a 501(c)3 non profit. (My husband is on the board and he is also teaching some of the classes). Confident City Cycling is a two-weekend class at four hours each day (Saturdays or Sundays) and there are classes in Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Burbank, with more classes coming. Classes are FREE to the public ages 16 and up and you have to RSVP ahead of time because space is limited. The first weekend of the class is in a classroom setting, where you’ll learn the basics about biking, the rules of the road, and bike maintenance. The second day of the class you will be riding out on the streets as well as in a safe environment practicing how to avoid hazards, quick-turns, stops, etc.

This class changed the way I ride on the streets and a refresher every now and then helps me in staying confident on the streets of LA.

The second class is an off-road class at Malibu Creek State Park by CORBA(Concerned Off-Road Bicycling Association). They have a FREE Skills Clinic the first Saturday of each month (since 1992!) from 9am – 1pm. This class was tremendously helpful for me, even though I don’t ride the mountains. I used to get white knuckles just riding down some steep streets around Silver Lake and my shoulders would tense up a lot during my regular city commute. This class teaches body positions when riding downhill or over a bump, it teaches quick-stops on loose gravel as well as riding up and down stairs. When I took this class, there was a lady in her 60s on her beach cruiser and she was the first one riding up some stairs and she did fantastic! Just three hours of class can teach you so much about confidence and also about respecting the trails, I since then tell everybody about it.

Take both classes and you’ll be a champion in the saddle even if you are a skilled cyclist. You have nothing to lose, and lots of skills and confidence to gain. You’ll have more fun, you’ll be a safer cyclist, and you’ll enjoy the streets so much more.

My husband and I have been riding in Los Angeles to work, to auditions/interviews, to jobs, and of course also for recreation for many years, and we have seen the bike population grow daily. The more cyclists get on the road and the more educated we all become about cycling and cyclists’ rights and responsibilities, the more bike friendly this city will become. And who knows, maybe we can claim to be the bike friendliest city in America when my son grows old enough to ride the streets by himself.

This article appeared in the on-line magazine for actors The Networker, in February 2012.


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