bicycle ride
November 24, 2011 12:07 AM   Subscribe

Is this 90-mile bike ride around LA possible and realistic for a casual rider in four days?

Route, as shown in the link, is roughly a counter-clockwise loop, starting in Redondo Beach. Then goes to Hawthorne, downtown LA, Glendale, Burbank, Van Nuys, Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park, down the mountain bike path through Will Rogers Park - Santa Monica - down the Strand back to Redondo. I don't plan to follow the exact street/paths as marked, but plan to hit those areas.

At night I'd be staying in hotels.

Main worry points:

- Is this entire route bikeable? I have ridden my bike little beyond the coast between Santa Monica and Redondo. Have I placed my Google Maps lines in areas that would be very foolish to bike, even if legal to do so? (Due to traffic, terrain etc.)

- I have a hybrid bike with no suspension. How bad will it be taking it down the fire roads of Topanga Park? Should I just walk it down the whole way instead?

I have a portable pump, patch kit, tire levers, multitool, gps and know how to use them, backpack full of clothes etc., so I think I'm ok gearwise. Anything else I should know about my first 40+ mile bike ride? I'm thinking of getting into bike touring and buying a touring bike, and thought this would be a decent way of getting a feel for the experience.
posted by mnemonic to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What's the longest distance you've ridden? How often and what kind of terrain?

You really won't need a backpack full of clothes for this. Have you ridden long distances with a backpack? How has it affected your body?

I'm mostly asking because these are questions you should ask yourself. Every body is different and and everyone rides differently.

Hybrids are nothing like a touring bike, and this really won't give you a good feel for riding one. It will give you a good feel for riding a hybrid, which is upright and heavy and not built for distances. I'm not suggesting you should hold off on doing this until you get one. You can ride long distances on any kind of bike. I can't comment on this route, but if you're breaking it up into 25 mile chunks and you've done that distance you should be okay physically. Although how your bike fits, what you're wearing, and other such things might come into play.
posted by loriginedumonde at 12:16 AM on November 24, 2011

backpack full of clothes

is a mistake. Get a rack and panniers. Having to put up with a hot, sweaty, itchy back and aching shoulders takes a lot of the fun out of distance riding.
posted by flabdablet at 12:29 AM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're youngish and in decent shape, and spending your whole day riding with many food/water breaks, you might want to keep going after 22.5 miles. So, the practical part of this answer is, "don't make non-refundable hotel reservations for all 3 nights."
posted by scose at 12:32 AM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

My advice is to street-view your route. Make sure you aren't on expressways. And for the squiggle bit through the mountains, this has the potential to be the most dangerous, because your speed is near-zero when climbing and cars will overtake you very suddenly as they come from behind corners. If there is no shoulder you will be in their way. Looks like you're going over a fire road? It would be nice if there are no cars, but very dangerous if there are, because there is not much room to pass and they will squeeze you into the ditch. Also they will kick up dirt in your face.

Ideally you need local cyclists to comment on your route. I am not one of those people, but try asking at your local bike shop. Also, try the Southern California regional board on Oh and I agree that 90 miles is probably 3 or even 2 days.

The true joy of touring is riding through beautiful scenery where there is little traffic - it's a predominantly rural experience, where cities are rare blips. You may have to escape LA to find this. In some ways your plan will work well as a test because if you can handle city riding in LA you can handle a lot. But it might discourage you if the experience is stressful. So let this be a vote of encouragement -- you can go touring, anybody can, and it is amazing. Physically it is not as demanding as you fear. It is slow and steady, and you make miles not by pushing hard, but by virtue of having nothing else to do all day but spin those pedals.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:59 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

As others have said, you need local knowledge about whether the route you propose is reasonably safe and interesting.

Riding 90 miles in 4 days should be easy if you have done day rides of 30-40 miles. My wife and I did a 2-day, 90 mile tour from Amherst, MA, to Brattleboro, VT, a couple years ago, with only short day rides as training that year (I think the longest might have been 37 miles). It was challenging but doable; the challenge came mostly from the hills. As others have suggested, you might want to allow for the possibility of going further; if you make hotel reservations, check the cancellation policy carefully!

However, I find that urban and suburban riding goes more slowly than riding in the countryside. Waiting for traffic signals slows you more than you might think, especially since they aren't synchronized for cycling speeds. Here in Paris I figure on averaging 7-8 mph when commuting, whereas my average speed in the country is 12-15 mph depending on terrain.

For rides of 20-30 miles you don't need to worry about eating while riding; just be sure to stay hydrated. You might carry a couple energy bars in case you decide to go longer one day. Everyone varies, but I find that I can ride as far as 40 miles without eating; however, if I am going to be out for more than 40 miles, I need to start eating by mile 20 in order to keep my blood glucose up.

I disagree somewhat with loriginedumonde about hybrids; depending on what kind of hybrid you have, it might be rather similar to a touring bike. My Trek MultiTrack 730 hybrid (1997 model) has a frame geometry that's quite similar to Trek's old touring bikes. Many European touring bikes, such as these Tout-Terrain bikes from Germany, use flat handlebars and a relatively upright riding position. For touring, you do want a bike that lets you enjoy the scenery without craning your neck; even with a drop-handlebar touring bike, many people (myself included) suggest that you have your handlebars at the same level as the saddle, or even slightly higher.

If you have flat handlebars on your bike, consider adding bar ends to get an alternate hand position. Being able to change hand positions can make a long ride much more comfortable.

If your bike has wide tires, like most hybrids, make sure you inflate them to the right pressure. Many cyclists overinflate their tires. This article (PDF) from Bicycle Quarterly gives a useful chart of how much to inflate different sized tires, based on the weight that each tire is bearing. Having underinflated tires takes more energy, and you risk snakebite punctures when going over curbs or hitting potholes, but having overinflated tires results in a harsh ride that can wear you out.

And as folks have already said, you should get a rack and panniers to carry your stuff.

Finally, don't overthink this. If you can fix basic problems like flats, and you have a bailout plan (even just calling a taxi) if you have a major problem, you should be set. Have fun!

P.S. If you do get into touring, some useful resources are the touring forum on, and Neil Gunton's amazing site.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:03 AM on November 24, 2011

Best answer: I know the Topanga State Park fire roads very well. They are difficult to bike – people do them, but you have to be in very good mountain biking condition. It can be done, but I would be worried about taking them on with a bike that lacks suspension. The grade is very steep, the roads are unpaved and very uneven and rocky.

An alternative would be taking your bike north to Topanga Canyon Blvd, and crossing the Santa Monica Mountains that way.

While this would add some miles to your overall trip, I do think it would make it more doable. Topanga Canyon Blvd is a proper paved road, and bikers ride it all the time.
posted by visual mechanic at 2:49 AM on November 24, 2011

I once rode 26 miles in a few hours over varying terrain. It was the first time I had been on a bike in years. It was easy. As a general rule of thumb I'd take the distance of riding and divide it by seven to compare the effort required to that of walking. At 25 miles a day give or take, you're looking at "Can I walk 3.5 miles a day?" if the answer is yes, then you can cycle that distance.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:54 AM on November 24, 2011

Best answer: A fellow long distance cyclist friend made a great observation: "the body knows time, not distance."

Everyone has different levels of fitness and there are different factors that can influence how much distance you can cover. At the end of the day, what determines how tired or grumpy your body can be isn't the fact that you biked for 25 miles but that you spent 3 hours in continuous aerobic activity.

How far do you usually go with an hour of cycling? 8 miles? 10? 12? take that number and divide your expected daily mileage by that to get an idea of how much time you're going to be pedaling. Now does that amount of time spent in 'exercise' sound crazy or mild to you? If crazy, go ahead as planned. If mild, as others point out, maybe tack on a bit more. If you've done hiking or day walking, you may want to compare the amount of time you've spent doing that to the amount of time that you'll spend on a bike (though, note, an hour of hiking with a pack is a much more strenuous activity than pedaling a bicycle with all of your gear in a rack and panniers.

But, generally, just do it. Don't overthink the gear. Yeah, a backpack isn't optimal, but don't worry about getting a rack and panniers if the investment will cause you to postpone. Also, don't overthink the route. Bike tours are all about trying to chart journeys on incomplete information, so if you want the "real touring experience" then getting yourself inadvertently stranded on a highway onramp and figuring "How the hell did I wind up here and WTF do I do know?" is fairly representative ;)

you're touring LA, not deep Patagonia. Have fun, get out there and don't spend too much time researching on the internet.

... though, one thing ... food and water. I assume you have, at least, a couple of water bottle cages on your bike? If not, I assume that you're likely to see a gas station or 7-11 at least once every 15-30 minutes?
posted by bl1nk at 6:18 AM on November 24, 2011

Unless things have changed radically, I would want to be very cautious at least on the part that's between Wilshire and Glendale. People in that area are not looking for bicyclists (or pedestrians, which is what I'm familiar with.) Actually I kind of get the feeling people who drive in that area may have a death wish of some kind, for both themselves and others. And there aren't a lot of roads that go through that way, so the craziness tends to get sort of concentrated, especially if people are doing the "the freeways are too busy, I can do 50 on this side street" thing during rush hour.

Given that it's LA there are probably other areas on your route that are like that... that's just the only one that I've personally been terrified to deal with (while in a nice heavy clearly visible car.) I mean, it's no Sunset Boulevard, but still.
posted by SMPA at 7:28 AM on November 24, 2011

The long Hoover St. stretch will be mostly through South-Central LA. It can get rather sketchy to drive through there. It may just be MY stereotyping, but I would be concerned about a bike-jacking through there. If I am off base on this I would welcome being corrected by folks who live down there currently.
posted by Danf at 7:34 AM on November 24, 2011

Best answer: Have you mapped this somewhere like ridewithgps or something so you know the elevation changes? A casual cyclist pace is something like 12 mph. What is your plan for the rest of each day?

I bike all over LA and have biked around most of the areas on your route other than the mountain bike trail. I've personally never had any problems in neighborhoods considered sketchy. The bike-jackings I've heard about happen late at night. I personally would avoid any of the major blvds because they feel a lot like riding on the freeway. Hoover can be busted in parts, but usually the cars aren't too crazy. But I would look for side streets. You see more of neighborhoods that way anyway. If you want advice on specific streets, I'm more than happy to give you my thoughts. They wouldn't be all encompassing, but perhaps helpful?

I dunno, but if I were to do something like this I wouldn't be so concerned with making a big circle as with coming up with an interesting route where I want to stop at a lot of places along the way with awesome food and whatnot. I'm also the sort who would want to hop on a few of the river paths, but that's just me. Being able to bail with my bike on a metro rail line is also useful.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:02 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The advice from bl1nk about dividing distance by expected average speed is good, but just a word of caution: in the city, you stop frequently for traffic lights and such, which breaks the ride up into a series of sprints. This is especially pronounced if you ride in stop-and-go traffic and try to keep up with the cars. For me in Chicago and New York, I can get up to 20mph over a few blocks, but I can't keep that up for long. When I go on longer rides, I don't plan for more than 10mph. Your ratio may be different, but the point is to remember that you can't sustain your sprinting speed for 22 miles.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:08 AM on November 24, 2011

Seconding that you're riding through some of the roughest neighborhoods in the city. Be careful.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:01 AM on November 24, 2011

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