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Biking in LA: Style, safety and survival on two wheels

Los Angeles critical mass.
Los Angeles critical mass.
waltarrrrr/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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Whether it’s about skyrocketing gas prices or expanding waistlines, many Angelenos have found good reason to consider making their daily commute by bicycle. But if you’re new to the two-wheeled movement, you may have questions.

How do you choose the right bike? How to “share the road” with road ragers? What if you get a flat on the way to an important meeting? And the question always in the minds of Southern Californians: What to wear?

James Rubin and Scott Rowan have logged thousands of city miles between them, and they’ve compiled their bike expertise into a road-ready guide for urban spaces, making it an essential bible for navigating city streets all over the world.

Rubin told AirTalk’s Larry Mantle that “The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide” was inspired by the pockets of biking activity that they noticed popping up “not just in LA but all around the country.”

Their tips run the gamut, but everything ties back to the issue of safety. Rubin of course advised bikers to wear helmets, though it’s not required by federal law. And while some areas allow cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, Rubin said his co-author Rowan is adamant about not going on them.

Rubin said that he’s “a little less militant, but [he’s] not advocating people should ride on sidewalks.” Sometimes it’s unavoidable, so if you have to hop onto a pedestrian walkway “the best option of course is just to get off” and walk the bike, he said.

Rubin said biking defensively is most important. Though accidents involving pedestrians may not always be the fault of the biker, the biker will most often have to pay the price, as a bicycle is legally considered a vehicle of the road.

“One of the things really hammered home in the researching of the book is that cyclists really have to behave as drivers,” he said.

This Sunday marks the third occurrence of CicLAvia, which began in response to heavy congestion and car pollution. The event clears a 10-mile stretch of road for people to enjoy a space usually filled cars. Though roads will be closed, safety might still be an issue; event coordinators hope to recruit not just cyclists, but more pedestrians and other non-motor-dependents as well, some who might not be as experienced pedaling on city streets.


Are you considering taking your Schwinn for a spin? Are you a seasoned bike commuter with road stories to share? What would it take to get you out of your car and into the spin cycle?


James Rubin, co-author with Scott Rowan of "The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide," and an L.A.-based journalist who has written for regional and national publications including the Economist Intelligence Unit.