Los Angeles: motorcycle travel notes after more than two years

Motorcycle commuting and Los Angeles: two words that seem not to go together, both for motorcyclists and other vehicle drivers. I heard all the stories: “Los Angeles is the worst place to ride a bike!” gold “Too many cars, too unsafe and too many idiots.” Colorful answers like these, and other answers that are too colorful for this article, hit me a hundred miles an hour when I told my friends in San Francisco and Oakland that I was moving south to Los Angeles. As a native of Southern California, I grew up riding dirt bikes and have been riding street bikes for over ten years, in five other cities.

For the past five years, I’ve only had motorcycles, bicycles, and public transportation – life was cheap. He lived in cities where cars were neither feasible nor practical. Family dynamics and a recession in the Bay Area made it necessary for me to move back to the greater Los Angeles area. Upon my return, I realized that I needed a car. A life without cars in the City of Angels; It’s a hard life and I always thought it would be a nightmare without it. Upon my return and for the first year and a half, I traveled to and from work on motorcycles in the greater Los Angeles area.

Motorcycle commuting on Interstates 5 and 405

Year one

Weapon of Choice: Suzuki SV-650Y Naked Version

My first year of daily motorcycle commute in Los Angeles was interesting and there were new experiences. I had never seen a motorcycle accident before returning home and one happened about twenty feet from me; it was sobering. If there is an accident on either highway and traffic is jammed, it will get you used to “loading traffic” or “splitting lanes” by miles. On my way to a job in El Segundo on Highway 405, I came across the aftermath of what appeared to be a Honda CBR 600 in pieces with the ambulance leaving the scene with a passenger behind. And I still had twenty miles to go to work!

Dangerous moments on motorcycles, in my experience, are rare and are “moments”. The horsemen have a saying, “You get over the accident.” If there comes a time, check it out and that’s good advice. Which means you never panic – think slowly to get out of it and act. So far, I’ve only had two of these moments and I was traveling on the same highway: Interstate 405. I took my own advice.

Intra – Los Angeles Motorcycle trips

Second year

Weapon of Choice: Suzuki DRZ-400SM Supermoto

Commuting within Los Angeles presents unique challenges. My 650 would be too heavy to travel inside the Los Angeles traffic jam. Get on the Supermoto – the perfect urban machine for Los Angeles. With a gallon tank of gas, this bike costs five dollars or less to fill. Light, responsive and fast, the Supermoto looks like a dirt bike with street tires for incredible performance on the street.

I used to work for a digital agency in Santa Monica, while living in Altadena. I could take a few different routes to get to work and after a few days I settled into taking the 110 freeway, into downtown Los Angeles, crossing to Pico Blvd and taking Pico to Santa Monica. This route is excellent, except when you get to Beverly or La Brea streets, the traffic tends to start and does not slow until the office. I have two fun facts to share about my travels with this machine.

  • Riding on sidewalks – Yes, I did it several times and it is fun and rewarding! It is a gradual thing; traffic is backing up and it is more comfortable to pass between parked cars and vehicles in the right lane. So the “gap” between the cars in the parking lot and the cars in the right lane becomes too narrow – Curb time. I didn’t do it for long, a couple hundred feet and then I was back in traffic. It is rewarding, fun, and reckless.
  • Using a freeway entrance ramp to exit the freeway – I only did this once when traffic was backing up on the Interstate 110 Freeway and near Dodger Stadium and decided to exit the freeway via the freeway entrance ramp. Everything happened too fast. I looked up and the traffic started backing up and I got into the right lane. I remember looking over my shoulder and counting “three seconds for me” and starting to turn eighty degrees. The turning radius on a Supermoto is very tight and I was amazed at how tight this bike can turn. A red light held back oncoming traffic and I had time to complete the action: never again. That was a gift and respect the gift.

Intra – Los Angeles Motorcycle trips

Year three

Currently, I am in my third year of riding in Los Angeles and so far everything is going well. It’s hard to believe I’ve been on these machines ninety percent of the time. I have a car, but I prefer motorcycles. Los Angeles traffic is too much and I just don’t have the patience for it. The money these machines have saved me has been fantastic. For me, my Mini Cooper consumes little fuel and I hardly drive it; actually everything gives me bad gas mileage. However, I look forward to the weekends when I drive my car and give motorcycles a break.

Los Angeles motorcycle commuting differs from any other city on many different levels, including:

  • Number of vehicles – there are too many cars to navigate and more cars equate to more danger
  • Number of stupid people, driving vehicles – Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve seen incredibly bad driving in Los Angeles.
  • More than one hundred thousand streets in Los Angeles – Exploring those streets has been incredible. Exploring DTLA via Supermoto is life changing!

I knock on wood, I keep riding without incident, and the city has made me an even better rider. I also realize that I am lucky and came to Los Angeles with many years of motorcycle experience under my belt. Learning to ride in Los Angeles would be a nightmare and I feel sorry for the budding new riders who are learning in such a challenging city. That shouldn’t put you off. If you want to save money, change the trip and laugh at the stupidity of Los Angeles traffic; sign up for a class and hope to see you there.

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