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Making Every Week Bike Week

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It's May 2015, and Los Angeles is celebrating National Bike Month, with workshop, parties, rides, and stops along your trip around the city, particularly during Bike Week L.A. this week and on Bike to Work Day on Thursday, May 14. Coordinated by Metro, Bike Week L.A. is an expanded range of events in celebration of biking not just to work, but anywhere one wants to go.

Whether everyone is on board or not, Los Angeles is already a bicycling city. Five years ago the cyclists in L.A. were relegated to a scene; today we have much more than that. The wealth of resources and bike-centric events make L.A. a fine place to be a cyclist these days, with a robust community emerging. Where just a few years ago every cyclist knew just about any other person who rode around town, today the person riding past could be anyone -- and that's a great thing. Bike Week and Bike Month have undoubtedly played their part in this achievement.

Established in 1956 by the League of American Bicyclists (called League of American Wheelmen at the time), Bike to Work Day and Bike Month have been celebrated for more than 50 years in the United States. Initially formed to advocate for paved roads to better accommodate cycling, the League was cribbing notes from another cycling organization across the pond, where Bicycle Week was becoming a coordinated national event across the United Kingdom after being launched by the Cyclists' Touring Club in 1923. Bike Week has since spread across Europe, with events that run well past the week-long kickoff in June, all the way into September.

Bike Week L.A. presents an opportunity for Angelenos to embrace alternative transportation and to see how it can work for them, with panels like "Is Bicycling in Your Future?," hosted by Metro, and "Ask an Officer" presented by the L.A. County Bike Coalition and LAPD. But this isn't a week full of of talk by any means. Bike Week is punctuated by several City Rides and on Bike to Work Day, bicyclists can find pit stops in dozens of locations and enjoy a free ride on Metro. All of these events are pinned on Metro's Where is #BikeWeekLA? map, along with quite a few businesses offering discounts for cyclists during the week.

There are two Bike-In movie nights scheduled during Bike Week, handlebar happy hours at several bars across town, including two at Angel City Brewery in the Arts District, a Women's Bike Night in Pasadena, a bike-themed art show, Color Wheels, open all month at the CalTrans building, and the second annual Bike Night at Union Station on Friday night to cap it all off. For a full listing of events and details, check out the event pages at la-bike.org and metro.net.

This steelhead sculpture will be on display at the Color Wheels art show at the CalTrans building
This steelhead sculpture will be on display at the Color Wheels art show at the CalTrans building

Making every week a bike week

For many who ride in L.A., there was a moment of conversion, when they went from trying out biking to falling in love with it. One of the reasons for this could be that bikes are a great vehicle for up-close exploration, and Los Angeles has plenty of nooks and crannies to delve into. Even while dozens of events are put on all over town for Bike Week and Bike Month, there are many more ways to get acquainted with bicycling and deepen your love of biking in L.A. throughout the year.

That conversion moment came for me the week following my 25th birthday. I decided to hold my own bike to work week to get myself out of the car and into better habits. I ended up biking only three days that week instead of five, but that week has given way to so much since then: New adventures, new routes, new friends, new skills, and a fresh perspective on how to survive and thrive in Los Angeles.

Two resources made these things possible for me: a network of bike collectives, and the Midnight Ridazz website. The bike collectives made it possible for me to have a functional bike that was both safe and comfortable, and more importantly provided a venue to learn how to do these things myself. Built upon a do-it-yourself ethic, L.A.'s bike collectives are great places to fix and learn about your bike, but there's also a whole other level of intangible rewards that come from spending time in these spaces -- and that's the community. These collectives are great places to meet people who bike the same streets, and share common interests that extend beyond bikes.

The Bicycle Kitchen, Bikerowave, and Bike Oven are L.A.'s trio of veteran collectives, while the Valley Bikery, Bikesanas del Valle and BiciLibre represent the new wave of community bike spaces (another, Ride On Bike Co-op, is launching in Leimert Park, and the SGV Bike Education Center is in the process of opening in El Monte). All offer low-cost used parts, stands, and tools, but more important are the volunteers and the knowledge they share. The best thing about these places is the way they empower people with the skills to keep their bikes running, and the opportunity to teach others too. Learning how to work on bikes (aka wrench) can be both exciting and frustrating, fixing your own bike yourself is thrilling, but empowering others to do the same is immeasurably rewarding.

Bicilibre in Downtown L.A. | Photo: Bicilibre Facebook

The Midnight Ridazz website was instrumental in organizing and publicizing rides through its Ride Calendar, and still is. Around before Facebook had any momentum, the MR forum offered a place to ask questions and share news and information, including so many grassroots-level efforts to protect cyclists and cyclists' rights. Conversations from social rides would carry over to the forum and back into the streets again; these encounters made biking so much less mysterious and alleviated the alienation that comes with riding a bike in L.A. The forum is much quieter now that Facebook is the virtual place to be, but rides are still posted in the calendar on a regular basis, providing a year-round schedule of weekly, monthly and annual social rides, all free and open to the public. (Ride postings tend to list the pace it will travel at so interested riders don't have to wonder.)

Safety in numbers

While some newer riders may feel that riding in the city can be a challenge, there are many resources available that could help them get their wheels on the road. Learning how to ride and make a bike comfortable are key, and figuring it out alone is an intimidating prospect.

For riders who wish to have a hands-on learning experience on bicycle safety, LACBC and BikeSGV both offer bicycle safety classes that provide a crash course with lessons on basic bicycle safety, bikeway classification, reading maps and planning safe routes of travel, safe road cycling, crash avoidance techniques, and more.

Another valuable resource that could help riders feel more comfortable on the road are social rides, which give us the opportunity to feel safe on the road with others. There are all kinds of rides, from relaxed cruises to high-intensity hustles, that give cyclists a chance to share the road with other pedal-powered vehicles, offering greater visibility and safety than a solo spin can.

Recognizing this need, local bike activist Nona Varnado set the wheels in motion to establish L.A. Bike Trains. L.A. Bike Trains serves new and veteran cyclists with an array of routes that move people from one part of the city to another during morning rush hour. There are currently 10 routes, including two newly launched routes that lead cyclists to UCLA. Anyone can join a bike train or sign on to become a conductor and lead a new route. Bike trains put the community in commuting. Having a commuting partner, or group, can turn a stressful morning ride into a pleasant way to start the day, commiserating with others who share your travel experiences.

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Open streets events

Social rides and bike trains are a few of the great ways cyclists can share their adventures with others. Yet it's undeniable that the biggest shared experience we get here in L.A. is CicLAvia.

With events throughout the year, CicLAvia is a great opportunity to spend a day with friends old and new, hanging out in the streets while the city comes out to play. The last CicLAvia event in the San Fernando Valley brought out an estimated crowd of 50,000, with more than 500 volunteers in action. Growing in popularity over the last five years, CicLAvia has become a place for everyone to get involved, and has inspired open streets events throughout Southern California. Last fall, the first open streets events in Orange County were held in Santa Ana and Garden Grove. Pasadena will host CicLAvia later this month on May 31. Long Beach will host two Beach Streets events this year, with the first on June 6. A number of open streets events have been proposed for , Lakewood, Montebello, San Gabriel Valley and beyond.

The most common thing I hear at CicLAvia is that people want to ride more but they don't feel safe -- so they get excited about these open streets events, but when the day is done they reluctantly roll their bikes back into the garage with a sigh, wishing they could have that experience much more often. We can, though, and the best way to see to that is to get involved. Neighborhood council and city council meetings, along with public hearings on street improvements are all opportunities to have your concerns and desires heard. At the least, a letter or email to your council member will ensure that they are informed about what the community wants.

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