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 -
4429 Fountain Ave, LA CA 90029

Bikerowave -
12255 Venice Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90066

Bike Oven -
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.