Monday, April 28, 2014

Josephine peak fire road in San Gabriel Mtn's still closed as of April 27, 2014

I wanted to try exploring the Josephine / Strawberry loop in the San Gabriel Mountains this weekend, but the Josephine Road entrance at Clear Creek Junction is very clearly marked as closed. The trail look awfully appealing and you could just ride around the gate, but it is best to let the area recover so we can have long-lasting trails (hopefully someday soon).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Riding at night

Sunset on Mt. Hollywood Dr in Griffith Park
It's September and the days are getting noticeably shorter. Those morning or late afternoon rides are now becoming less doable as darkness encroaches. Well, now might be the time to get yourself ready for night riding!

Riding in the dark does not have to be a dangerous and scary experience! With some planning and proper equipment, riding at night can be just as pleasant as a daytime cruise. And you can easily extend your available riding time by starting your morning ride before the sun is up, or wrapping your afternoon ride well after sunset.

I'll share my approach to night rides by looking at 3 topics:
  1. Gear
  2. Route planning
  3. Safety tips

Gear
When it comes to your bike, there are two absolutely essential items that you need to ride safely in the dark. First, a good tail light keeps you safe by alerting motorists to your presence and allowing them to steer clear of you. Second, a good headlights has a dual purposes of alerting motorists or other road users ahead of you, and well as lighting your way and increasing your ability to ride normally with confidence.

The spectrum of what you can pay for these two items is huge, from a few dollars for a cheap single blinky LED to more than a thousand of dollars for the fanciest headlight sets. I have tried a fair amount of different products over the years, and I am really happy with my current setup.

On the front I have a NiteRider Lumina 650 Wireless / USB Rechargable Headlight. This things runs about $100, which was more than I was hoping to pay, but I am now totally satisfied and think it is well worth the money. In fact, a few weeks earlier I paid $25 for a cheaper headlight and it was pretty much worthless once I got up to speed. This thing recharges using a . It is super bright, which I love. I spend most of the time with it on the lowest of the 3 standard settings, and usually only go to a higher mode when I am in a particularly dark road and/or I get going really fast. I have used this light on fast night rides, moving 30+ mph on the flats at times. Even in these settings it works great, and I have never felt lacking for light.
NightRider 650 demo on a fairly dark street

Danger Zone Tail Light
On the back I use a Portland Design Works Danger Zone Tail Light. This thing runs about $25 and it ridiculously bright. There are 3 different modes, but I usually keep it on the second "crazy weird disco mode" (my name, not theirs), and it definitely gets the attention of motorists. I actually keep the light mounted on my bike pretty much all the time and will sometimes even turn it on during the day when there is a lot of car traffic. The mount seems strong, and keeps everything attached even in the face of LA's infamous potholes. You can definitely find lights cheaper than this, but this thing is well worth the money. I have yet to replace the battery, Highly recommended.

Depending on your needs, you can add extra blinking lights on your chainstays that project more light to the sides. This is good if you have a lot of dark intersections or people coming out of driveways. If you are traveling on curvy roads, an extra headlamp mounted on your helmet is a good way to project light where you want it.

Route Planning
The route you take in the dark might very well differ from your daytime preference. If a road has a lot of traffic and a narrow shoulder, consider a different way at night. I also avoid roads with lots of potholes and seams when in the dark, because even with the best lights it is never the same as riding during the day.

In general a road with street lights is preferable to a dark by-way when traveling in the dark. The extra lighting allows you to see obstacles, and also allows motorists to see you.

Secluded bike paths can always be dangerous at night depending on the safety of the area (some LA paths go through rough neighborhoods), amount of lighting on the path, and even wildlife. Critter large and small can make a path dangerous at night. For example, I now avoid the Ballona creek path after almost crashing multiple times as bunnies darted right in front of my wheel during a night ride.

Safety Tips
  • Always use your lights. If you have a lots of car to deal with, consider multiple flashing lights in addition to just the one tail light. Riding at night without lights is illegal in many places, don't give the police a reason to pull you over.
  • Keep batteries charged and ready for when you need them. Carry an extra battery for your tail light if you think there's any chance that the battery is running low.
  • Avoid dark clothing and consider reflective material to catch the attention of others
  • Be predictable and always assume that cars can't see you
  • Bring appropriate tools in case of a breakdown. A flat kit should be the bare minimum. In the dark you are far less likely to come across another cyclist able to help, so be prepared to take care of yourself.
  • For long rides, consider bringing an extra light. Whenever I go out on a long night ride, I throw my camping headlamp (a Petzl Tikka Plus 2) into my jersey pocket. If my headlight goes out I can wrap it around my stem to get some light in front. If my tail light goes out I have put the headband strap around my torso and put the light in blinky mode to give coverage from behind. It's not glamorous but it works in a pinch. 


Saturday, September 7, 2013

CicLAvia

CicLAvia is a fantastic event in LA modeled after Bogota, Colombia's weekly bike event: Ciclovia. Running every Sunday morning for the last three and a half decades, Bogota's Ciclovia closes more than 80 miles of roads to auto traffic. The city becomes alive with energy and people from all walks of life cruise the streets and enjoy their otherwise traffic-choked city.

LA's version is slighlty less expansive and less frequent, but the momentum is growing with each and every successive event. It is a great opportunity to get outside and safely share the road with thousands of fellow riders (and walkers/skaters/dogs/etc.) Each time the route different, giving you a chance to see parts of the city you might not even know existing. The third and final event of 2013 is coming up on Sunday, October 6, 2013 from 9a to 4p. It uses a hub a spoke model centered in downtown LA and reading out into Macarthur Park, Chinatown, Boyle Heights, and the fashion district. Read more at  http://www.ciclavia.org/. A few pictures from the June 2013 CicLAvia shown below.

 



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Car-free LA: Highway 110 secret path by Dodger Stadium and Elysian Park

The "Car-free LA" series profiles rideable terrain in and around Los Angeles that separates you from the endless stream on cars. All are rideable by road bikes unless otherwise noted.

This hidden trail hugs the side of the 110 freeway as it cuts through the hills in Elysian Park, just north of downtown LA. It can be used as a clever connector between the southern terminus of the LA River trail and downtown, avoiding an otherwise extended detour through industrial parts northeast of the downtown core.

Finding the trail the first time on either side can be a bit tricky. Here are a few pics to help:

Northern access point on Avenue 26 where it runs under the 110 freeway. Take the stairs in between the two overpasses.

Picture of the trail heading southbound

Southern access point. The entrance is on Stadium Way, just east of the 110 overpass. You can see the southbound overpass and northbound underpass in this picture.

It requires some hike-a-bike up stairs on the northern side, and I wouldn't really recommend it at night given it's remote location. As the Strava name for this segment suggests (not my naming, by the way), it can be a bit dodgy. But that is part of the fun ;)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Car-free LA: LA River Trail (Upper Section)

The "Car-free LA" series profiles rideable terrain in and around Los Angeles that separates you from the endless stream on cars. All are rideable by road bikes unless otherwise noted.

Most people in Los Angeles do not even realize that there is river running right through the city. It is most famous for its appearance in film: a prototypical place for car races and chases. The river is not the most beautiful thing in the world with concrete lining and industrial setting, but it is something.

LA River bike path looking northbound at Fletcher
Dr. bridge. Just this year watercraft are now allowed here.
A seven mile trails run along the west side of the river in the Burbank / Glendale area. Seven glorious car-free miles along the west side of the river. You'll share the path with walkers, skaters, homeless people, and the occasional horse, but the path is generally pretty wide open and makes for a nice ride - fast or slow. Much of the river along the path has a "soft bottom," which allows trees and grasses to grow naturally and makes for a much nicer view and provides a habitat to surprisingly diverse population of birds. I mean nicer on a relative scale to the pure concrete section featured in Grease, Fast and the Furious, and countless other films - I am not trying to claim this is Yosemite Valley in the midst of downtown LA, but it is better than nothing.  Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets, Black-necked Stilts, Mallards and other birds are usually around in abundance and are easy to spot. I am always surprising to see a growing number of fisherman on the banks of the river, but I really hope that they aren't eating whatever they catch.

From the north end you can easily hook up with Griffith Park and come back over the hill via Mt. Hollywood Drive or other flatter roads, and on the south side Elysian Park offers some traffic-light roads to explore (when there isn't a Dodgers game).



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Oodles of Poodles

So I went into the Angeles National Forest this past weekend to explore some trails that I noticed on the side of the road the last time I was in the area. Coincidentally, two others guys were in the parking lot and planning to do a very similar ride. We headed down and then up a lesser traveled portion of the Silver Moccasin Trail (SMT). The trail was fun in some sections and absolutely brutal in others. With a mix of sharp switchbacks, steep sandy ascents, and super steep hike-a-bike ascents, it took us over an hour to cover 2.7 miles.

I was beat at the top of the climb. I walked over to a bush to take a nature break, and as I finished my business and walked away one of the other cyclists asked, "So, do you know about the Poodle Dog Bush?" "Uh, no," I responded. Sounded like a made up thing to me. What is this guy going to give me a lecture about the types of plants up here? He continued, "the plant you just visited is a Poodle Dog Bush. They can give people a pretty nasty rash, very similar to poison oak. Are you allergic to poison oak?" Dang, I remember seeing some signs about this the last time I was riding in the area, but I really didn't take notice. And yes, I am very, very allergic to poison oak. My body likes to freak out at the slightest contact. This was not a good start to the ride.

We continued riding for a few more hours, and I tried to dodge the Poodle Dog, which seemed to be everywhere now that he had pointed it put. The seeds sit dormant in the ground for years, and the massive Station Fire in 2009 was just the trigger that they were waiting for to burst back onto the scene. Most people have heard of poison oak, ivy, and sumac, but Poodle Dog is lesser known since it only pops up in certain conditions and altitude bands. It is also known as Turricula, but that is not nearly as fun to say.

I knew that I had already made contact with my legs and arms on the ride and during my break, so the odds of getting a rash were pretty good. To make things worse, the heat was oppressive that day, and I realized that every time I wiped my brow, touched my arms, or swatted a bug on my leg it was another potential spread of the problem. When I got back home I spent ages scrubbing with Tecnu and soap rinsed by cold water, hoping that there was some chance that I could still wash away the dastardly allergens. Getting the oils/irritants/compounds/whatever off your skin, and clothes, and other stuff is absolutely crucial to ensure that you don't keep re-exposing yourself and spreading the rash. I speak from experience having done this oh-so-wrong in the past.

But it was a lost cause. About 30 hours later I start to see the first real signs of the rash. Over the next two days. Itchy, bumpy, red-ish areas on my forearms, ankles, lower legs, the back of my keen, the crook of my elbow, the ridge of my ears, part of my forehead. I guess it was time for me to experience the Poodle Dog. At first I was really scared by the way people online had described the impact as worse than poison oak in all way: more intense, longer lasting, potential scarring. However, I am 3.5 days post exposure and so far it is pretty manageable. I take a Benadryl and apply some cortisone cream once or twice a day. The rash is way more moderate than my experiences with poison oak, where I sometimes would end up with white socks turning yellow as all the puss would continuously run down my afflicted legs (yeah, that's gross). I am just hoping this mild reaction holds steady without getting worse and then fades soon.

If you are reading this post, there's a good chance you were recently exposed and looked to see how others fared (or maybe you are just a dog enthusiast led astray, in which case I can't really help you). Just realize that everyone reacts differently. Some people can roll around in Poodle Dog or poison oak/ivy all day and never get a rash. Other just have to have a slight exposure and their throats start swelling up. So there's a chance you will get away easy, and I wish you the best. If it gets really bad, see a doctor. In the past they have hooked me up with heavy duty steroids that can battle the rash in a way that no topical ointment can (no word on how the steroids helped my cycling performance, I drink too much beer and eat too much to make for a proper lab rat).

As a side note, there were too many good options for the title of the post. Here are a few of the other candidates:

  • When Poodles Attack
  • Man vs. Poodle Dog
  • I Got 99 Problems and Poodle is One
  • Protracted Poodle Plague Presents Problems
  • Poodle Dog Attacks Cyclists, One Hurt
  • Who let the (poodle) dogs out? (sung like that oh-so-annoying song)
  • The Itchy and Scratchy Show (sung the way it is on the Simpsons)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Do-it-yourself bike repair in Los Angeles

Do it yourself (DIY) bike shops is a concept with growing popularity, and there are a couple of great locations to check out in the LA area.

You might be asking, what is a DIY shop? Well, it is a workshop that usually consists of some bike repair stands, tools, old and new spare parts, and volunteers to help you along with whatever job is at hand.

Which may then lead to question number two: why would I want to use a DIY shop? People come in for lots of different reasons, such as:

  • It's cheap. Most places ask for donations based on how long you are using the tools and floorspace, roughly in the range of $7 per hour. Plus, there is a huge advantage in not having to collect all the required tools yourself. Bike stands, wrenches, grease, and many other odds and ends are necessary for many repairs, and for most people it doesn't make sense to buy it just for the occasional job.
  • You can learn new skills. Whether is changing a tire or building up a new frame from the ground up, DIY shops are a great place to learn the necessary skills. It also makes you more confident about how your bike works and more capable to make small fixes at home and on the road independently.
  • Meet new people. DIY shops can be a great way to meet other like-minded cycling folks in your area. These places generally don't take themselves too seriously and can be a humorous bunch.
  • It can be quicker. Depending on the workload in your normal bike shop, you might have to wait many hours or days to get your bike back while it waits in the queue for repair. (One word of caution of this one. Sometimes a seemingly simple job at the DIY shop can spiral out of control if you make a mistakes, can't find the right replacement part, or realize that there are a lot more things that need fixing on your rig. This has definitely happened to me, and what I thought would be a quick job required a second visit the next day to wrap things up.)

So, what are the options in LA? Here you go:

Bicycle Kitchen - http://www.bicyclekitchen.com/
4429 Fountain Ave, LA CA 90029

Bikerowave -  http://bikerowave.org
12255 Venice Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90066

Bike Oven - http://bikeoven.com/
3706 N. Figueroa Street Los Angeles, CA 90065

14416 Victory Blvd. Suite #104 Van Nuys, CA

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Car-free LA: Mt. Hollywood Drive

The "Car-free LA" series profiles rideable terrain in and around Los Angeles that separates you from the endless stream on cars. Most are rideable by road bikes unless otherwise noted.

Mount Hollywood drive is 4.1 miles of pure car-free riding in Griffith Park, just about 6 miles northwest of downtown LA. The road was originally used by automobile traffic, but was closed to cars many years ago. It is a great way to get from the Valley side of Griffith Park to the LA basin side if you are looking to get in a bit of climbing. The views in both directions are fantastic, with great vistas of the San Gabriels, Griffith Observatory, downtown LA, the Santa Monica Mountains, and even the Pacific Ocean on a clear day.

Great views to Griffith Observatory and DTLA
View of the ridge from the south side

Southern entrance (LA side) to the
car-free section. You can ride around
the right side of the gate
It is like having a highway all
to yourself!


The other great thing about this stretch of road is that it is easy to connect up with other car-free and traffic-light bikeways like the LA River trail, Vista del Valle, and Zoo Dr. 

Be aware that it is not maintained like a normal road anymore, so expect some gravel, potholes, cracks, and general roughness. If you are super particular about road quality you may be turned off, but most people (myself included) will gladly trade off a bit of rugged road conditions in order to escape cars and enjoy riding with only the hum of your chain and the sounds of nature. Watch for walkers, cyclists coming in the opposite direction, kamikaze squirrels, and the occasional service truck on the road. If you get really luck (or maybe unlucky depending on how things turn out) you might even get to see the Griffith Park mountain lion! Although no one has actually seen him in person, so no need to fear.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New mayor in Los Angeles - what does it mean for cyclists?

Over the weekend Los Angeles inaugurated it's new mayor, Eric Garcetti, concluding Antonio Villaraigosa's 8 years of leadership over the city. The change of faces in the mayor's office has many folks wondering what the future looks like for cyclists in the city.

In an interesting twist of fate, a broken elbow became a watershed moment for cycling policy in Los Angeles during the last administration. Under Mayor Villaraigosa, LA saw the creation of CicLAvia and the addition of hundreds of miles of bikeways. With a mayor that understood the joys and challenges of LA cycling himself, the progress was real and lasting. 

Back in February, the LA Bicycle Coalition surveyed candidates on bicycle issues, and Garcetti's camp responded by saying all the right things. He stressed focus on safety and promoting cycling with activities like monthly CicLAvias. His track record as a council member is promising, and I wish him all the best in his new role. It is important that the voice of cyclist's continues to be heard in city hall. 

Take action: contact the mayor and tell him that you care about bicycle issues in LA.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Monday night rides in LA

Riding your bike through the streets of Los Angeles in the dark? Believe it or not, it is somewhat of a normal thing for a small group of folks. With all of the traffic, a night ride can actually be a rare opportunity to escape the peak congestion hours and see LA from a new angle. There are two ongoing "eastside" rides that are most well known:
  • Wolfpack Hustle - Departs from Tang's Donuts at 10p on Mondays. This ride has a mix of fixie and road riders. Distance generally ranges from 25-60 miles, with pretty high speeds for much of the ride. The group gets a B- on average for safe riding -- traffic lights are observed in some cases, but the pack has a tendency to keep rolling. All rides start and end at Tang's: 4341 W Sunset Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90029.
  • Cyclones  - Departs from Velo Love at 8p on Mondays, I have yet to do this ride, but I heard that they are more safety conscious than the Wolfpack Hustle and the pace is a bit more mild. Velo Love (AKA SWRVE): 3421 Verdugo Rd, Los Angeles, CA.
These rides are a mix of regulars and first-timers. Consider a helmet and front/rear lights mandatory. Familiarity riding in a group is another must in order to keep things safe.

There a number of other "party rides" that I have not listed here, but may be up your alley depending on what you are looking for. The focus tends to skew more toward drinking and smoking various substances vs. riding, with each ride having it's own atmosphere. See Midnight Ridazz for a ride calendar.

If you aren't used to riding at night at this just sounds like absolute madness to you, it might be worth giving a shot just once. In a couple of days I will summarize what you need to survive a night ride. So stay tuned.