Becoming a Biker in LA: Epiphany

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In this series, DnA will follow Caroline Chamberlain’s journey from four wheels to two, and along the way share hints and tips on becoming a biker in LA. In this first post, Caroline describes her biking epiphany.

photo (1) Los Angeles is undergoing a shift towards cycling that would have been inconceivable in its heyday as Reyner Banham’s “Autopia.”

But even though bicycle infrastructure is being enhanced by initiatives like bike lanes, bike trains, bike libraries and CicLAvia, it does not mean that everyone is ready to start pedaling.

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The region is vast, cars still dominate and many Angelenos are not schooled in how to navigate the roads safely by bike. One of those is DnA’s Caroline Chamberlain. Raised in suburban comfort, she has decided to try and make the switch to cycling.

In this series, DnA will follow her journey from four wheels to two, and along the way share hints and tips on becoming a biker in LA. In this first post, Caroline describes her biking epiphany.


I want to start by stating that this process terrifies me. I am a fairly nervous driver as it is (see image above). I’m 24 years old, but behind the wheel I’m probably closer to 60. I’m the driver that everyone passes and the one that memorizes the way lanes function on the freeway so I can change lanes as little as humanly possible.

So going into this I know I am not going to be the heroic LA biker who can fearlessly ride from the Eastside to the Westside or vice versa without stress or injury. My commute is short enough, and safe enough (I hope) to make it possible for someone like myself who has little experience biking to make the shift.

I feel strongly that Los Angeles–with its terrible traffic and poor air quality–needs more people to make the switch. But it’s important that people do their homework, because in L.A. car is still king.

Disclaimer: No BMWs were harmed in the production of this story. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The Last Straw; Cars Make You Crazy

Why did I finally make this decision? I realized enough was enough after a petty altercation with a BMW driver over a parking space. It was one of those days where finding a parking spot at work (at KCRW at Santa Monica College) was akin to warfare. After circling the structure fruitlessly for at least 30 minutes, I decided to change tactics and wait strategically by the stairs so I could follow someone to their car. After just a minute or two, I saw two students come from the stairs to my level of the parking garage. I pursued them like a hungry predator ready to pounce on my prey. I lurked closely behind them ready to swoop in on their spot. But then, I saw a BMW driver behind me try to steal the space away from me. Experience with many a BMW driver in L.A. made me assume the worst. I defensively steered my little VW Rabbit in a way to block her attempt to snatch my precious space from me, only to have the people I was following inform me that the girl in the BMW had been following them from the lower level. Embarrassing.

Pathetic moments like these reinforce the limitations and dehumanizing effects of a society trapped in the automobile.

photo (2)Practical Reasons for Making the Switch

Aside from the frustrating experience in the parking structure, and the reality that driving in LA can give the kindest person homicidal thoughts (see image below), there are several other practical reasons that make me want to become a cyclist.

Gas prices- self-explanatory

Convenience-It’s a 15 minute bike ride from my apartment to work.

Exercise- Less time at the gym!

Environmental concerns- I don’t think my taking up cycling will save the planet, but every little bit counts.

Parking- When I start thinking about errands in my neighborhood not in terms of what needs to be done, but in the number and level of difficulty of parking maneuvers I will have to perform, perhaps there’s a better alternative.

The Process

In following blog posts I will explain my process:

1. Consult with the biking world

2. Go bike shopping

3. Choose a route/routes

4. Learn about bike culture

bad parking job
Cars enable this kind of thoughtlessness. Spotted at Santa Monica College (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Further Listening and Reading

This series about biking is part of DnA’s coverage of changing mobility in Los Angeles. Listen to this show to hear about new kinds of cars (self-driven and hydrogen fueled) and an effort to turn the Hyperloop from dream to reality; also a jokey look at a conflict between bicycles in Everything Talks. UCLA has just installed the first “bike counter” in Southern California; it will track riders in the hope of fostering safety in numbers. Read the article here. This Los Angeles Times editorial asks if LA is ready to be a biking city.  The Los Angeles Times has also done extensive coverage on biking in L.A. in their series: Cyclists & Drivers: Sharing the Road in L.A. And if you think cycling is slowing down the pace of traversing L.A., try walking, as celebrated in this video of Angelenos on foot.