When you’re first starting to commute, picking a comfortable, safe route is especially important in making sure you have a happy experience you want to do again. You can be wearing every high visibility thing they make, using all your hand signals and still be at more risk riding down Sunset in Hollywood than wearing no helmet, in all black, riding down a quiet side street. Sounds crazy, I know, but so does riding down one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles. Trust us- there are better, quieter, safer ways. Maybe not quite as direct, but probably pretty close and totally worth it. They don’t call it the scenic route for nothing.
When you're looking for a new route, the best place to start is simple- ask around. Chances are, the folks at your local bike shop will have some good recommendations. You know, because they live and ride bicycles where you live and ride bicycles. And, if not them, hang out there long enough and you’ll eventually meet someone who does.
If you live in LA, Metro has a bike route map that is a good starting point as well.
And, if somehow you’re going where no man or woman has gone before, there’s Google Maps. You don’t get the personalized tips and colorful anecdotes of someone having ridden the route before you, but we’ve put together some general rules to help guide your selection. If you can, we always recommend mapping something out beforehand and then driving or riding it in off hours first so you can get a feel for what it's like and then you can make adjustments if necessary.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A ROUTE
BIKE LANES Off road bike paths are the best. Take a longer route if it gets you off the street. Bike lanes are the next best. Sharrows are ok but can give riders a false sense of safety- think of it less like a bike lane and more like you’re ‘taking a lane’ on a regular road.
TRAFFIC SPEEDS Look for roads with low traffic speeds. Risk goes up substantially as the speed variance between you and traffic increases. Sometimes (sometimes) heavier traffic is better than light. For example, going down Sunset Blvd with a bike lane when there is no traffic means you’re pedaling along as cars go whizzing by at 55 mph. But, in the middle of rush hour, you’re pedaling down your Sunset bike lane next to cars going 5mph.
LANES OF TRAFFIC When cars are changing lanes, they’re likely paying more attention to other cars than what is in front of them or beside them. Single lanes of traffic mean that cars won’t be changing lanes which means it’s safer for you.
SPACE No matter what the traffic speed is or how many lanes of traffic there are, if there’s no space for you- avoid that road.
INTERSECTIONS Other things to avoid- awkward, large intersections. Basically, anywhere drivers have more to deal with than just what's in front of them is less than ideal.
SHADE Shade is nice so seek out tree lined streets. But be careful when going under overpasses or other areas where you are going from sunny to shaded and back to sunny for long sections- cars can't see that well when they are in sun and the road ahead is in shade.
Now, go forth and make your own routes, earn your own colorful anecdotes and share your tips and stories freely. And, remember, if two roads diverge - be it in a woods or in the middle of downtown Los Angeles- it's always recommend to take the road less traveled (by cars).
A special thank you to Chase Spenst, our commuting contributor for today's post.
photos by Heidi Zumbrun