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Motorcycle on LA Freeways
February 16, 2014 5:28 PM   Subscribe

So I've just moved to LA (awesome) and am thinking of getting a motorcycle as my primary mode of transport. Thing is, when I mention this to my friends (most of which aren't licensed to ride a motorcycle), I get incredulous looks and/or stern warnings as to how silly and dangerous a proposition this is.

Now, I'm an experienced rider and I've survived crazy Indian traffic where I was riding a bike for the better part of three years... in short, I think I can handle it.

But, it'd be great to hear from people who are riding bikes in LA.

Specifically, do you perceive LA traffic to be more dangerous to motorcyclists than other cities?
If so, how?

Also, any general tips you may want to share with regards to riding a motorcycle in LA would be much appreciated.
posted by oxidizer to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You may also want to ask this question on /r/MotoLA.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:36 PM on February 16


I see lots of motorcycles on the freeways of Los Angeles every day. I'm not sure I'd choose it (not an experienced motorcyclist), but I know people who do it all the time and don't feel unsafe.

One thing I'll say -- you want a motorcycle, not a scooter. Scooters don't go on freeways.

Another thought -- are you coming to L.A. from an Indian context, and talking to Americans?

Because Americans call motorcycles motorbikes or motorcycles, pretty much never/rarely is the term "bike" used for motorbikes. Bike is the preferred term for bicycle here. People might think you're proposing riding a bicycle on the freeway, which is absolutely outrageous and not going to fly at all.
posted by Sara C. at 5:41 PM on February 16


never/rarely is the term "bike" used for motorbikes

Among motorcyclists, "bike" is very commonly used to refer to a motorcycle. It's context-dependent.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:48 PM on February 16 [24 favorites]


I'm clarifying because in India, "bike" pretty exclusively means motorcycle whereas "cycle" is the preferred term for bicycle. Someone coming to the US from India and announcing that they plan to ride a bike on the LA freeways is going to get a lot more disapproval than someone announcing they plan to ride a motorcycle on the LA freeways.

Anyway, to make it 100% clear to the OP, lots of Angelenos ride motorcycles on the freeways here. It's perfectly legal and OK to do. You will need a special license, and rules of the road can differ in different jurisdictions so make sure you're up on the specifics for California.
posted by Sara C. at 5:52 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Part of the danger is that California drivers are not nearly as accustomed to motorcycle riders as many Indian drivers are. Most of the danger comes from unaware drivers.

If you plan on riding in the HOV/carpool lanes, it could be an improvement. If you plan on lane splitting, I'd consider that dangerous. Again, most drivers you'll encounter are not accustomed to watching for motorcycles and, unless you drive a motorcycle that has been customized to be very noisy, no drivers can hear you coming.
posted by quince at 6:04 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Scooters that are 149cc and higher are actually legally ok to go on the freeway. I have a Vespa GTS250 that goes up to 75mph and I occasionally hop on the freeways in LA (10,405,5,110,etc). I've never felt unsafe and I lane split when traffic is stopped and some cars are good about making room for you.

I ride everyday around LA and it is amazing. Easy parking. You won't die and the only people that seem to tell you that it is dangerous are those that don't ride. If you're a cautious rider you will be fine.

Also LA has many awesome roads like around the coasts and canyons.
posted by xtine at 6:07 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


40+ years ago, my father was riding his Honda Hawk from Claremont to UCLA to use their library. He was run off the road by an off-duty LAPD officer in his truck. The cop was absolutely mortified. My father got off with some roadrash, minor burns and a scraped up bike, which he kept on riding. I had a motorcycle endorsement and rode a motorcycle in my late teens and had some horrifying but non-injurious interactions with clueless drivers.

I will say this, the idea that you can handle it is self-delusion. There are generally more cars than motorcycles, sharing the same roads. The cars outweigh the motorcycles+riders by a factor of 3-4 or more, and offer their drivers a lot more protection. Against this you have your wits and better maneuverability and acceleration (on clear, dry roads). Overall though things are stacked against you. You may well make it through life riding without being dealt a hand you can't win, but that will owe as much to chance as it does to any of your special-snowflake virtues.
posted by Good Brain at 6:16 PM on February 16 [9 favorites]


Ah, a fellow Indian motorcyclist in the US!

First of, let me begin by telling you, driving in US roads is nothing like driving on Indian roads. Don't call yourself an experienced rider if all you have ridden on is Indian roads. You are experienced on Indian roads, that's it. And if all you have driven are those sub 300 CC toys in India, then yeah, you know how to balance your motorcycle and throttle, that's about it.

Now, if I appeared rude, I am sorry. I didn't intend to be, just wanted to give a quick idea of what it is like. I used to ride those Pulsars, R125s and had a Unicorn.

That said, motorcycling in the US is awesome. I started out with a Ninja 250R, quickly upgraded to a 500R and currently settled on a 650R (yeah, Kawi fan here).

So, let's look at some US specific stuff you should probably know -

1. California allows lane splitting. This makes it closer to "home" (India) where there are practically no lanes. So you get a little more freedom.
2. The downside, car drivers don't pay you any attention. As far as they are concerned, you are just a speck of dirt on the road. As long as you always keep this in mind, you should be fine.
3. Define what you mean by primary mode of transport. If it is just to and from work, fine. Grocery shopping, it becomes harder. Friends come over and you want to take them somewhere, out of question. And everywhere you go, you have an additional burden of carrying your jacket / helmet shoes. Keep that in mind.
4. I am assuming you don't have a family, but if you do (or once you do) be prepared for some changes.
5. Go the official way to get a license. Take a MSF class. It's ok, there's no "ego" issue here. Crazy Indian traffic sure, but keep in minds cars in most Indian cities don't go more than 30-40 kmph before hitting a signal, a cow, an auto or another motorcyclist. Here, we are talking 60 mph . So, don't cheap out on a real good helmet , jacket, MSF class etc. In fact, these are the huge initial expenses, but they are worth it. After that, your savings on gas will eventually catch up (unless you are riding a gas guzzling motorcycle...)

As you can see, I am a huge motorcycling fan, and I love to encourage people to get into motorcycling. And in all of US, California is the most _ideal_ state for motorcycling in the US, ever (that and Texas). You have strong communities of motorcyclists you can turn to for help.

My only pet peeve is fellow Indians who think driving on Indian roads somehow makes them experienced enough to take US roads lightly. Don't do that. Approach motorcycling in the US with the respect it deserves, and you will find it awesome.

Good luck!
posted by harisund at 6:28 PM on February 16 [17 favorites]


As someone who has lived in LA and been friends with people who ride motorcycles, I can tell you that few if any of those people kept their bikes after a few months of being put in mortal peril every day when riding. LA is nothing like you think in terms of safety. It is miserable and I have witnessed motorcycle accidents and those are even more miserable. This may be where your friends are coming from too, but I don't know. YMMV.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:31 PM on February 16


LA traffic is just like any other major city in the southwestern United States. I would be utterly petrified to ride a motorcycle daily in LA, just as I would be in my hometown of Phoenix.

I'm making a generalization here, but I would assume that in India, motorcycles and scooters make up a much larger percentage of traffic in major cities. People are more used to having bikes and scooters zipping around them, and they're more used to a chaotic flow of traffic. Based on my experience driving in a couple of different developing countries that are less car-dominated and more scooter/motorcycle-dominated, people are very on their toes when they drive (which is actually a good thing).

I would have to tell you that traffic is entirely different in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is the ultimate car city (for better and for worse... probably for worse in most people's minds, even though I love LA). Nobody is going to be looking out for you on your motorcycle. Everybody drives very aggressively and very quickly... you are an old grandma if you drive below 10 over the speed limit, and people will regularly cruise at 80 on freeways marked at 55 or 65. People zip in and out of lanes that were designed for 1960s and 1970s traffic, not the traffic we have today in 2014, so lanes are small. Freeways don't have good shoulders, and roads twist and turn with very poor visibility. You have to gun it to get on the freeway and brake hard to get off, because many onramps and offramps were designed for slower speeds and slower drivers decades ago. Nobody in LA seems to know how to merge. And nobody in LA pays attention to cell phone or texting laws. Surface streets are even more chaotic than freeways, and have even worse visibility. LA is a city with far, far, FAR more cars than it can handle. It is unbelievable how crowded it is.

Plus, Los Angeles has the worst conditioned streets and roads of any major metropolitan area in the United States (this is not anecdotal... this is backed up by data). Not only will you be avoiding millions of aggressive car drivers, but you'll also be avoiding massive potholes, places where roads have been busted up by growing roots, places where bridges or roadways have settled leading to full-on jumps on the freeway where you can literally get air on your bike, et cetera. Roads get maintained in LA literally every 20-30 years, if you're lucky. A family member's street was paved in the 1950s when the neighborhood was built, and it has never been repaved since.

There is a reason your friends think you are crazy. I think my wife is crazy sometimes for riding a motorcycle here in Phoenix, and Phoenix is a city with wider streets in far better condition, with better and safer drivers than LA by miles. I still think it's nuts because Phoenix is a car city, and people out here do not pay attention to motorcycles and scooters (I've seen multiple near-accidents with my own eyes over the past couple of years).

I hate to burst your bubble, but your friends are right. Be aware that it is a totally different world and there is a reason why people think riding a motorcycle in LA is a daredevil activity.

I wish more people would ride scooters and bikes as they are fun, and the more scooters and bikes we get out there, the safer everyone will drive. So I wish you well in your quest. But whatever you do, do everything you can to get trained. Likewise, realize that you have a lot to learn.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:00 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I see people riding motorcycles on freeways in L.A. every day. I know to look out for them, and so does any decent driver. California is the only state where it is legal to "split lanes" on a motorcycle, so people expect it.

Also, despite the perennial cries of "drivers in X city are the worst," people here drive quite well, because they do it so much. People are exceptionally courteous, especially in comparison to any big city on the east coast or anywhere else in the world.

I really have no idea what people are talking about above. Anyone who is a confident, licensed rider should be able to ride with ease in any major American city. It's as "crazy" as driving a car or walking down the sidewalk. And if you've survived in India, a place I've never been to but is famous the world over for absolutely insane traffic conditions, your main concern in L.A. will probably be dozing off behind the wheel because of how safe and easy it is.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:06 PM on February 16 [6 favorites]


NO.

Pedestrians and motorcyclists die all the time here in car accidents.

I can personally count about one fatality per year of someone I know, or someone I am one degree of separation away from.

Everyone drives SUV's, and because this is LA, pretty much everyone is driving while talking on their cell phone and either drunk, high, or both.

A good friend rode a giant ass Harley as his primary vehicle when he first moved here for 6 years.... After his second near-fatal accident, he's lucky he can still walk. He'd been riding for 25+ years, but on the east coast.

Another aquaintance was killed on his bike at 2:00am by a drunk driver.

I'll stop there.

Yeah, please don't do this.
posted by jbenben at 7:13 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I did this for about 4 years. My only mode of transport was my Honda. I've never ridden anywhere else except LA so I have nothing to compare it to. Let's just say I didn't get into any terrible accidents that required going to the hospital. Some things to consider...It's a pain in the ass riding at night when it's cold. It's a pain in the ass riding early in the morning when you are still tired. It's a pain in the ass when your friends want to meet somewhere on a whim and you have to go through the whole routine of getting your gear on and being in that motorcyclists frame of mind. You have to be there mentally 100% or you could risk getting into an accident. That's something car folks don't usually have to think about. Also it's a pain in the ass going somewhere and being dressed nicely, with nice shoes on instead your riding boots. Also think about how you are going carry your grocery shopping home with you.
posted by cazoo at 7:16 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I have no idea what Dr Jimmy is talking about.

I almost hit a motorcyclist this morning on Crescent Heights Blvd because he was doing that split-lane thing with me coming up on my right, and I was about to make a right hand turn.

The freeways ARE safer, I think. It's the surface streets that are more dangerous for bikes.
posted by jbenben at 7:17 PM on February 16


As an alternative, a good friend of mine bought a new car a while back that turned out to be a lemon. He traded it in and never got another car.

He uses UBER exclusively to get around and says it SO much cheaper than driving, cabs, etc.

There's Lyft and a bunch of similar services, too.

You can get a bike and heavily supplement with Uber or Lyft, etc..

Good luck with your decision!
posted by jbenben at 7:21 PM on February 16


Riding a motorcycle is statistically more dangerous to the rider than driving a car, both per motorcycle owned and per mile driven, and I think a lot of non-bikers would be reacting to that inherent danger moreso than any uniquely dangerous aspect of LA freeways or streets.
posted by muddgirl at 7:37 PM on February 16


I just want to add that I'm not saying that LA has worse drivers out of some sort of bizarre prejudice (I love LA).

It's not just that motorcycles are more dangerous for riders, it's also statistical fact that some cities are far safer to drive in than others. In the US, LA is one of the most dangerous major cities to drive in. Here is one example of a study done in the last year which shows that drivers are far more likely to get in a wreck each year in LA, than in other major US cities. Of course, it's just Allstate's claims data, but that's still a survey of a fairly large number of drivers.

Note the high accident rankings for other major LA suburbs, too, like Pasadena, Glendale, or the South Bay area.

In other words, there is a reason why my buddy's West Hollywood auto insurance costs so much more than what my insurance does in Phoenix, beyond pure cost of living differences- despite the fact that we both have clean records and comparable cars. Wrecks are just that much more statistically likely. And a any wreck for a bike has that much higher of a percentage chance of being serious.

Yes, people are friendlier and lay on the horn a little less and flip you off less than they may in some big East Coast city, but that doesn't mean LA is a safe city to drive in. By objective measures, it's a challenging city with rough driving conditions.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:42 PM on February 16


I'm not a motorcyclist but I live in Southern California. I have two comments. One is that "I can handle it" strikes me as not very reassuring because I assume most motorcycle accidents happen not due to motorcyclist error but due to other vehicle (car or truck) driver error. So it's not like you have full or near full control over what happens. The second comment is that I presume the more time you spend on the road the more chance you have of having an accident, and in LA everything is very spread out. so you are probably going to spend more time on the road. On the other hand, having very few rainy days compared to many other places probably is something that helps negate some of the increased risk of more time on the road. Do watch out on rainy days - Southern California drivers are not used to driving in those conditions, including reduced visibility.
posted by Dansaman at 7:59 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Even if I was a confident rider, I wouldn't feel safe riding in LA until I was an expert at getting around. There are all kinds of hazards that you need to know about, like construction, bad road surfaces, choke points, etc. and the margin for error when you encounter them is effectively zero in a lot of places. It's a big city, and it'll take a while to become an expert at it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:12 PM on February 16


I agree with prior comments that LA car/truck drivers are not looking for motorcycles on the road and that it is different than asian countries-- motorcycles are relatively rare, like 5% of traffic, although have noticeably increased in the last few years IMHO. There are many more motorcycles here in LA than in the Midwest. my perception of motorcycling's dangerousness here is that about 3% of those motorcycle drivers are completely unsafe/unaware/pull illegal moves like popping out in the bicycle lane or sidewalk to avoid traffic/are just dumb (see jbenben's experience of lane splitting on the right despiite her displaying turnsignals above). So it's like the responsible good motorcycle drivers are invisible and Angelenos only remember the idiots, which is coloring the opinions here i think.

I do ride a bicycle frequently and would reccomend it highly regardless of whether you pursue motorcycling or not!
posted by holyrood at 8:53 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


If the OP already rides a motorcycle, then I think it's safe to assume that the OP is more or less okay with and aware of the inherent increased risk of riding a motorcycle.

Los Angeles has a huge number of bikers compared to a lot of other cities. It also has some uniquely shitty features re: getting around town.

I don't ride a motorcycle, but I've heard from motorcycle enthusiasts that

And in all of US, California is the most _ideal_ state for motorcycling in the US, ever (that and Texas). You have strong communities of motorcyclists you can turn to for help.

is true.

(I would never ride a motorcycle in LA, but I wouldn't ride one anywhere. Ride to live, OP).
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:11 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


You can mitigate a lot of the dangers of motorcycling listed above by mostly not being a dumbass. Always wear good safety equipment. A good helmet (starts at 200 really for a decent one and goes up from there), a good suit, and good boots and gloves. These things are literally the difference between life and death. They also greatly increase your visibility to other drivers. I wear a bright white helmet with a pattern on it (for coolness and noticeably) and a bright red suit. People see me. Don't go with a blacked out sport bike that looks cool. Get a a 'naked' bike (us slang for standard motorcycle-honda nighthawk or such) or a dual purpose bike (KLR650, NX750, GS1200) that are taller, you sit up taller and are MUCH more visible than one of the superfast bikes. They are also much cheaper, easier to ride, cheaper to run overall and get better mileage. Being on a regular bike also helps keep you in the transportation mindset and out of the boy racer mindset. This is key for going home on the bike, not to the hospital or morgue.

For the experience of driving in India, you have probably developed a keen sense of situational awareness and that is a good habit to keep. no matter how good you are and visible you are someone is going to try and kill you and be completely unaware they are doing it. You must see it coming and be able to avoid it-luckily you are on a machine that more agile, faster to start and stop and you have much better visibility out of than a regular vehicle so if you are aware you can do it. This is the big reason riding is so exhausting. The high noise level doesn't help either (loud noise is very fatiguing).

The thing you won't have is an ingrained sense of driving habits in the US. Take the motorcycle course and read some books and be hyperaware as you are learning the customs here. You're goal for the first year is to just stay with traffic and observe how other riders are interacting around you (and get home alive every night). There are two distinct periods of danger in a motorcyclists career-the first year as you learn how to ride in traffic and avoid accidents and then again at about 3-4 years when you start to get complacent about how good you are. As an experienced operator you don't need to learn how to operate the bike and drive in traffic at the same time, but don't fall into the complacency trap.

Anyway, you can ride safely and avoid almost all accidents (sometimes it just isn't your day no matter how diligent you are-on a bike, in a car, walking down the stairs, pissing off LAPD, eating bad sushi, whatever). And riding a motorcycle is fun, far more environmentally responsible, and wayyyyy easier to park.
posted by bartonlong at 9:20 PM on February 16 [6 favorites]


I felt a lot safer on LA freeways on a motorcycle than I did in Cambodia on a scooter. I don't know how it all bears out statistically. Probably some of my perception is the completely different driving style. (I live in the San Francisco area and commute on my motorcycle daily).

The answer is if you are willing to take on the risk of riding a motorcycle in general your risks of doom aren't any worse in LA than they are elsewhere.
posted by MillMan at 10:01 PM on February 16


I've motorcycled across the country a few times in various directions. It's a wonderful way to get around recreationally when you're well-rested and can move at your own pace. Not feeling well? Fine, just wait until you're better. But relying on a bike as primary transportation is a whole 'nother thing, especially if you have a substantial daily commute. I did a 60+ mile (round trip) commute north of San Diego in winter for a few months, and it was not a lot of fun to have to get to work on time early in the morning, in a heavy rainstorm, on a bike. The guy I was living with at the time was a former professional racer for Moto Guzzi who commuted primarily by bike, but even he had an old Studebaker for when biking conditions were poor.

The thing I'd worry about most would not be LA traffic or LA drivers, but my own physical and mental limitations when I needed to get somewhere when I wasn't at my best. When you absolutely have to get somewhere and a bike is your only option, you find yourself riding when you're tired, or you have the flu. Your senses may be dulled, your reactions slowed and your judgement muddied, and traffic situations that would otherwise be no big deal can get the better of you. I really like motorcycles, but I'd advise always having alternatives.
posted by jon1270 at 4:35 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I lived in LA for 4 years (96-00) and had both a truck and a bike. I probably spent about equal time on them. Motorcycling is more dangerous, but also more fun. If you're an experienced motorcyclist, then LA is not too bad. I find NYC worse than LA. Tokyo is better than both, fwiw. There are times and places where you want a cage (like when you want AC!) but there are times when a bike is definitely better. The weather in LA is generally good, so weather is almost never a big concern as it would be in the PacNW or Northeast.

If you want safety, you'd never ride a motorcycle or drive a car for that matter.
posted by gen at 5:28 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


When I lived in Southern California (up until 2010), I rode a motorcycle near-daily as my main vehicle. I got the same flak from non-riders that you've gotten, and it was tiresome and inaccurate. You can definitely get by with a motorcycle as your main form of transportation. Being able to split lanes through LA traffic is the best feeling ever, as is the wind in your face on those 90ยบ days. Worth noting that I rode my bike for years on the highways daily and never had a single accident on it, even a minor one. On the other hand, I've had many, many accidents while driving a car, both major and minor.

My only point of concern would be the occasional rainy day. Driving a car in Southern California when it's rainy is barely safe. Something about precipitation turns everyone in the entire southern half of the state into a braindead moron, so I almost never ride in the rain. Too dangerous, both because other drivers are acting erratic and because your slowing/stopping time is so reduced with the road slickness. I've ridden in the rain a lot, but I've never liked doing it.
posted by booknerd at 8:44 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I'd like to add that LA (and So Cal in general) has such an abundance of great weather days. As opposed to other parts of the country, you'd never have to lock up your bike during the winter because of snow. Yes it rains but so infrequently that if you aren't willing or wanting to ride in the rain, you can easily just call a cab/lyft/uber or take a bus just for those few days out of the year.

Personally I always wear a full face helmet, armored jacket, and boots almost every time I ride as do the friends I ride with. Being safe, situationally aware, and non reckless will pretty much avoid most accidents -- typically you're in no less danger than being in a car. Riding a motorcycle doesn't mean you go super fast or lane split all the time, but you probably already know that.

There are roads that aren't in the best of shape, occasionally you'll have to dodge a pothole or crack on the road. But there are many roads that are being repaired or repaved as well.

Just by safe lane splitting I beat some of my friends in traffic, whether on the streets or freeway. It is really a joy to ride, as well. Not everyone feels awesome getting in their car every day but personally every time I get on my bike it is a pleasure to ride even if I'm just running a bunch of errands in the city.

Moreover, parking can be very nice. Did you know that you can park your bike for FREEEE at LAX? Just go around the gates and you'll see many motorcycles and scooters parked short and long term. I've done it so many times and I basically never have to ask my friends or family for a ride to the airport ever. Granted I also don't have more luggage than a carry on even on international flights, but the joy of directly getting off the plane and riding back home without having to wait is really nice.

Some parking garages even let you get around the gates and park for free. Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, free parking in those parking lots even directly next to the beach and even when the cars are full there's always a spot for a bike somewhere. The Grove? Free parking. Street parking can also be handy because in high trafficked areas, you can just find a spot between meters that are paid up and you have "free" parking in a desired area. Also you can avoid the madness that is circling for a spot at Whole Foods or Trader Joes.

The only difficulty I've had with finding parking in LA is probably DTLA since lots want you to pay full price still, but sometimes you can park between cars or just suck it up and pay. I've seen bikes in alleys but I don't trust that too much do I don't do it. However I find myself more parking for free (safely) in Culver City Metro station and just taking the Expo rail line to DTLA.

I've had people bitch at me for parking between cars at meters but I just ignore them. It's legal to park between meters. Some people may get jealous/whiny about taking up space between cars but I'm not a jerk and I only park if there is enough room for a car to get in/out. You're one less car taking up a full parking space so I don't know why people get huffy sometimes, but whatever. Motorcycles still have to pay registration and tax like all other people that own vehicles.

If you're comfortable with group riding (I'd only recommend if you are comfortable with riding yourself, because group riding does come with different challenges sometimes), there are so many different Motorcycle (and scooters that welcome motorcycles) meetups of all types of people.

The ride up the PCH from Santa Monica to Oxnard is so lovely. There are many fun canyon roads around Topanga. Just open a map and you'll see what I mean. Some easy cruising roads but many challenging twisties as well. Out to the east? You got Angeles National Forest. Take big Tujunga and ride towards the Devil's Punch Bowl.

Lastly but not leastly, if you don't have a M1 license already, PLEASE take the weekend MSF course. It's like $200 and a weekend of your time but they teach you everything and you will probably learn something even as an experienced rider. Plus you basically get your license without having to take the notoriously difficult DMV riding test.

Happy riding and stay safe!
posted by xtine at 10:27 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I rode a motorcycle as my main transportation in LA for a while. I stopped because even though I never got in an accident, I was highly stressed out all the time (I'd been riding for 15 years prior, so I wasn't a noob). One day on the freeway there was an accident right next to me and that was finally it.

The problem is other drivers. They either don't see you or they don't care (or they're outright hostile to motorcyclists).

Death comes from behind on the roads in LA. Everyone I know has been rear-ended. It sucks in a car, but it's potentially lethal on a bike.

Also, the roads here are terrible. I regularly see potholes that could swallow a front tire.

Everyone's different, but for me the stress of being on a bike around LA drivers made it not worth it.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:37 AM on February 17


When it rains, the tiniest bit of precipitation turns the road into a giant oil slick as it mixes with months and months of oily grime on the streets which would be regularly washed away in other climates.

This is why rain is so damn dangerous here in SoCal. Just adding this because folks seem to think the danger presented by rain here is some sort of nebulous mystery. It is not.

I notice a lot of the people commenting were riders here before texting became a big thing. I can't tell you what a HUGE factor that has become in the last 5 years.

You might want to google to confirm if there has been a measurable increase in motorcycle and pedestrian accidents, and or, motor vehicle accidents in general.
posted by jbenben at 10:54 AM on February 17


As someone who learned to drive in a rainy place and later moved to Los Angeles, I find that the "ooooh noooooo slippery roaddddssssss" thing is a nonissue. Drivers who learn to drive in places where it rains learn this in the first 10 minutes of drivers' ed. Rain + Oily Grime happens everywhere it rains.

I wouldn't say that driving in the rain is a 100% total nonissue, and you will have to factor Angelenos' inability to drive in rain into your own defensive driving on those days. But remembering that LA drivers are going to be stupid in the rain is really the extent of the difference between driving here and driving in other cities.

I think the upshot of all of this is that you should get here, check out the road conditions, and see what you think. I would not recommend moving here under the assumption that you will take to motorcycling as your main form of transportation. But it's definitely something people do. I see motorbikes on the freeway every day during my commute. I have multiple friends here who commute via motorcycle at least some of the time. None of them are dead yet.

One thing worth noting is that, of all my friends who commute by motorbike, all of them either have another vehicle or live in an area where public transit is convenient. I don't know anyone who only gets around with a motorbike.

Moving here from New York City as a driver, I found that there was definitely an adaptation period where I had to learn to drive like an Angeleno. However, I'd assume this is going to be true anywhere, and it would be silly not to move here because people drive fast. You'll get the hang of it.
posted by Sara C. at 11:28 AM on February 17


Just to add some actual numbers to this: the Office of Traffic Safety and CHP put out a report that has the fatalities numbers for 2011 (the last year data is available for). They don't have per-vehicle-mile fatality figures, but LA has about a third of the total injuries and fatalities for California, which is a little over the roughly 25 percent of licensed motorcyclists. Interestingly, there were more pedestrian deaths than there were motorcycle deaths in 2011.
posted by klangklangston at 4:43 PM on February 17


Interestingly, there were more pedestrian deaths than there were motorcycle deaths in 2011.

Unsurprising, since there are surely a lot more pedestrians than there are motorcyclists.
posted by jon1270 at 4:35 AM on February 18


Thanks for all the thoughtful input!

I thought, I'd chime in and clarify a few things:

I took up biking (a perfectly valid alternate term for motorcycling ;) about 20 years ago and have been riding on and off ever since.

I got licensed in Europe and much later in life spent three years navigating Indian streets. It's true that Indian traffic tends to move at a slower pace with bikes swarming all about. What makes Indian traffic challenging is the simple fact that you never quite know what to expect. This is true everywhere you operate a motor vehicle, of course, but in India it's a whole different ball game, trust me. Someone rightly mentioned "situational awareness" and I'd say riding in India has elevated that aspect of my skillset to new heights indeed.

When I say "I can handle it", it's to express that I've been under pressure on the bike before and reacted correctly. Of course, I've no influence as to what's thrown my way by other drivers out there - I do know that I can trust my instincts though.

All in all great insights and info on this topic, thanks again everyone :)

For those interested: I picked up a Kawasaki ZZR600 for a really good price yesterday.

See you out there.
posted by oxidizer at 1:20 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


One thing you can do in California is add on a brake light modulator (or separate LEDs) that blinks for a bit before glowing steadily to warn slower-decelerating cars&trucks: Deceleration Warning Lights

It used to be a California (and some other states)-only thing, but it's now legal in the whole US to run a headlight modulator during the day.
posted by morganw at 11:08 AM on February 20


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