The Many Attitudes About Cycling

This morning I rode down PCH (Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1 if you’re not an Angeleno) with a friend. She recently moved down here from Marin too and she was raving about how much nicer people are in LA. She had just been back up in Marin a couple weeks ago and got sworn at, honked at, and yelled at while riding her bike. Her argument was that people in Marin are entitled and people in LA are much more laid back.

My argument would be that people in LA haven’t seen enough cyclists yet to hate them.

Yes, I have had some terrible, shitty, faith-in-people-crushing experiences while on my bike, and Steve has had more than me. And largely all that hatred and anger from those people isn’t because of me. It’s because of them and their issues. But it’s also because they’re doing the same kind of mass stereotyping thing that people who make racist or sexist judgments do. ‘I’ve met some asshole Asian people, therefore Asian people are assholes.’ Or: ‘I see a lot of cyclists and they clog up our roads and that one got in my way that time and I saw another one blow a stop sign and they’re annoying, therefore all cyclists don’t deserve to be on the road.’

It’s a hatred that comes from familiarity. Ideally, eventually, that familiarity will breed resigned acceptance. But, right now, I know that there are bike lanes and bike sharing and good bike routes and places you can get in a long ride in the Bay Area, but I also know that means there are people on those routes who don’t want to see one more fucking cyclist.

In LA, I don’t know that there are bike lanes and bike sharing and good bike routes and places for a long ride on the weekend. However, where you do ride, the people are still more befuddled and amused by you than annoyed. It may be how the first person who ran the Grand Canyon was treated. Now, there’s too many damn runners.

Yes, there are cycling group rides here. Safety in numbers! But, there isn’t the sheer quantity of weekend warriors and casual riders and commute bikers that you see in the Bay Area. That has meant that the main problem for me has been the problem you have with tourist drivers up in Marin: they just have no idea what to do with bikers on the road. While it’s not really their fault, it can actually be more dangerous for you sitting out there in the open on your bike with just some plastic on your head for protection. Biking around LA, which has mostly been commute biking for me and a little bit of training now, I’ve come across so many people who just aren’t sure why I’m in the road or what I’m doing or how they should react. Mostly, that’s fine and we can work it out. Tons of drivers have been weirdly thankful when I’ve moved over so they can make a right turn on a red light. But, every time someone gets mad because I need to get over to make a left turn or I have to come into the right lane so I don’t get doored by a parked car or they can’t get by for 30 seconds on the narrow street, every time I worry that this is just building up the resentment. And I don’t know how to avoid that.

What bothers me, though, isn’t the difficulty of finding places to ride or of getting around by bike. I’m not even really that bothered on a personal level by the angry hatred or the casual confusion. Those are problems, but they’re problems that will resolve themselves in the long arc of history. Hopefully.

No, what really bothers me so far about LA is the general attitude of dismissiveness in which that arc of history will never be able to plant roots and take hold. So many people keep raving to me about how great the culture is here and there’s so much to do and so many places to go and there’s something happening every week. True. Great. Fantastic. Then, the conversation usually has me next saying that yeah, but do they know any good places to ride, because so far it seems like biking is sort of rough here. You have to deal with a lot of cars — which isn’t just an annoyance thing, but a danger thing — and if you want to get away from the traffic and congestion then you have to drive really far to start a ride somewhere — which is fine for the weekend, but not a good use of time for weekday training. And, bike commuting can be really hit or miss — as in hope they miss and don’t hit you. And, every. single. time. I say this or ask about biking or mention open space or want to know how to get around, the local says ‘oh, yeah, well that’s just LA’ or ‘LA isn’t really a cycling place’ or ‘it’s a car culture, get used to it.’

That’s what really pisses me off. As if these are not even legitimate concerns worth having. As if they don’t even warrant a counter-argument. That’s an attitude towards cycling I’m not sure even allows a place for cycling to exist within it.

11 thoughts on “The Many Attitudes About Cycling

  1. There are plenty of great places to ride in LA. If I recall you are living on the westside which does make it more difficult. Why don’t you come over here to Pasadena? It is closer to USC and we have all of the San Gabriel mountains to ride in. 100’s of miles of roads with very few cars….

    1. I rode up Santa Anita (?) in Pasadena yesterday and then around the Rose Bowl. It was pretty nice, though man it’s hot out there. The two times I’ve biked in Pasadena now, I died and had to guzzle gallons of ice water.

      1. It is hot in August and September in Pasadena. Riding up Santa Anita and around the Rose Bowl isn’t really where you want to go. Try going up Angeles Crest Hwy to Upper Big T and Mount Wilson. If you really want a big day take it up to Dawson Saddle and Cloudburst Summit. I am happy to show you and your friends around if it helps.

  2. My sister has lived in Brentwood for over 15 years now and I remember always biking up PCH to that canyon, forgot what it’s called… But yeah…I lived in Las Vegas one summer in college and biked everywhere as I didn’t have a car and I was such a curiosity! They all said the same thing…it’s just a car place, nobody bikes, that’s just how it is… Good luck and don’t get hit!

  3. having lived in LA for 5 years, and then lived in SF for 6 years, I can say, without any hesitation, I’d cut off my left arm to move back to the Bay Area, and you couldn’t pay me enough to move back to LA. Screw car culture, the people are just so horrible and self-obsessed. I’ll take the North Face wearing crowd any day over the $100,000 car and living in a one bedroom studio crowd.
    If you are on the west side, PCH north until you get to any one of the canyons and head on in. Topanga is pretty popular. Head up the hills to Old Topanga or stay on Topanga until you hit Mulholland, take that to Cornell and then to Agoura. From there you will be near West Lake Village and Thousand Oaks — more room out there. But, as always, be aware of the cars…idiots abound.

  4. I’ve never biked in LA, but I’ve run in some parts of LA where I don’t think people were even used to seeing people ON FOOT. I stayed a few times downtown and in Universal City where, when I’d cross the opening to an alley, cars would slam on their brakes. Like, really slam them on. I always imagined them yelling to themselves, “What IS that? Is that a deer?” Given that, I would imagine biking would be rough!

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