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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

SoCal cycling 25 years later: Ridership, diversity and cars are all up

Returning last month to live in southern California after more than two decades away, I wondered what changes – if any – I would notice upon my return. For the most part, everything looks and feels pretty much the same, albeit with even more people to contend with everywhere you go. I’m guessing I will form opinions on many things during the next year or so as I fully adjust, but right off the bat one thing struck me: how much the cycling scene in the LA area has changed. So far, I think almost all the change I have seen is largely positive.

What’s different

Ridership is up

When I stared riding seriously in the late 1980s – by seriously, I mean dressing head to toe in dedicated cycling attire – there were few riders out on the road. Yes, there were the Rose Bowl and Montrose group rides even back then, but that was a dedicated crowd. Seeing possibly 10 riders while out on a weekend ride on my preferred roads in Pasadena, La Canada, etc. would have been a big deal. Today, in the same area I see that many people every 20 minutes.

Diversity has grown by leaps and bounds

I’ve taken two recent rides in Griffith Park and been pleasantly surprised to see how much the diversity of riders has increased. Back when I started riding, serious road biking, not for transportation or general pleasure, seemed to be a pursuit of (mostly) white males. That has changed with racial and gender participation clearly making strides toward better reflecting the region’s population. Overall in the US, diversity of cyclists is growing, but quite slowly.

Although there are still additional strides to be made in increasing diversity and getting even more people out on bikes, I think both trends indicate that the sport can continue to grow in the future. Statistics show that the number of cyclists in the US has remained essentially flat over the past five years following strong growth in the previous decade. Making the sport feel more inclusive and open to all people, feels like a great way to spur additional growth.

Infrastructure has improved – but still needs work

Spending the last 15 years in Portland tends to spoil a cyclist given the tremendous commitment to bike lanes, paths, routes and safety measures. The LA area has a long way to go to catch up, but progressive change has happened. Bike lanes and bike routes are more prevalent, and paths like the Chandler Bikeway in Burbank show that there is a commitment to finding innovative ways to separate bikes and cars. This is especially important for less adept cyclists and children learning to ride.

What has stayed the same

Most riders greet each other with a nod or a wave

Believe it or not, back when I started road cycling everyone nodded or gave you a quick wave as they passed you going the opposite direction. I’ve found that 90% (totally unscientific) of riders still do that. It must be ingrained in the culture here. In Portland, I put the percentage of riders who do that closer to 50%. I don’t know why, but I prefer the nod/wave ritual and return it 100% of the time.

Traffic is crazy, so you need to ride defensively and safely

Shockingly, I’ve encountered more than a few riders here riding without helmets. For me, a helmet, bright colors and daytime running lights are an absolute necessity on these roads. You also have to be comfortable riding in traffic and down the middle of the road lanes that are marked as bike routes.

The weather is ideal for riding

There might be better places in the country for riding year-round, but I have yet to find them! Be warned though that you will seem wildly out of place riding in just a jersey and shorts when it’s under 60 degrees outside. Everyone else will be in jackets, tights and other cold weather gear. You’ll get some looks of wonder.

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