I never thought I’d write the words “Los Angeles” and “fun bike tour” in the same sentence without the phrase “cold day in hell” included. We are Portlanders, after all, and expect our cycling to be complemented by friendly drivers, great signage and green vistas. (In other words, we’re bike snobs.) L.A. is famous for many things, but cycling is not one of them.
Consider me chastised! The San Gabriel River Trail, or SGRT, starts just east of Long Beach in Seal Beach and runs 38 miles north all the way to Angeles National Forest at the north end of Azusa. Most importantly: it is entirely free of motorized vehicles. We rode north to south, stayed the night in Long Beach, and then returned via the Los Angeles Bike Path, which connects to the Rio Hondo Bike Trail before hitting the SGRT once again. A snazzy loop – check it out on Google Maps! You could do it in a day, or stay the night and enjoy some food and exploring midway on a fun L.A. bike tour. Since it took us awhile to figure out where to ride in this area, I figured I’d crank out a quick post about it for other people who are at a loss for road biking in L.A. Sooo what is riding the SGRT like? It’s a cruise on a silky-smooth bike path decked out with mile markers plus directional arrows. The entire 38 mile trip south had just TWO street crossings, with most interchanges swooping down through underpasses or tunnels beneath freeways and roads. A perfect place to pop in headphones and hammer away on a bike, as we saw many local cyclists doing.
Scenery varies from nature to urban, with just about everything in between. We cruised by green city parks, up over a dam with sweeping views of the valley, through golf courses, along cement-lined rivers, past rock crushing operations and electrical transmission plants, along freeways at rush hour (going faster than the cars!) and along a river through bird watching areas where big hawks hunted. There were sections police taped and others featuring shoddy shack after dilapidated stall full of horses, chickens, and other animals in some strange city-meets-country mix. Which is to say that it’s eclectic!
Just to keep things interesting, it happened to be the first day in about a year with any real rain in the forecast. Luckily, we’re from Portland and have great rain gear…which I’d conveniently talked Chelsea into leaving at the van. “It’s not gonna raiiiiin, and if it does, we’ll just find a coffee shop.” Why she ever listens to me, I don’t know. So instead, halfway along the ride we spent some time spinning along getting mildly wet before things cleared up. Until the end, that is, when the last couple miles opened up a screaming headwind with solid rain. Why does that always happen when you’re tired and hangry? (I bet a PhD student could do a cycling study measuring the exponential correlation between wind speed and time since last solid meal.)
We arrived at the end of the trail in Seal Beach, where the San Gabriel River dumps into the Pacific Ocean. Just a few miles left on city streets into Long Beach and a hot shower at our destination. No worries, Google Maps has “bike friendly” routes. Wrong. We immediately find ourselves on a four lane (each way) “avenue” at rush hour in Los Angeles. Not to be outdone, my lights decide to run out of juice just as the rain really picks up. (Chelsea’s piercing glare at the back of my helmet serves to provide some illumination at least.) And me? I couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of two innocent Portlanders biking in the snarl of L.A. traffic. A Portlandia episode comes to mind…
In short: we made it! Rather than pitching a tent under a bridge next to people who may not want to share their space, we went the credit card touring route and snagged a little 300 sf apartment in Long Beach via Airbnb. It was still pouring rain and we were tired, so I grabbed some take-out for dinner, talking to my buddy Eric along the way and hearing about the Snowpocalype occurring in Portland. Then C and I lounged watching a movie about mountain bike racing on the Continental Divide. (2,700 miles in 17 days with 150,000 feet of climbing! People are amazing.) Next morning, we biked around Long Beach awhile, which happens to have divided bike lanes and bike signals at stop lights in the downtown area. Then we headed north on the L.A. Bike Path, looping back to the SGRT and back to Azusa. A successful impromptu trip!
For those cyclists visiting the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend any of these trails for either a fun longer day ride or as a way to explore either end of the trail as an overnight trip. Perhaps not a destination trail, but worth renting a bike if you’re in the area on a work trip and need to log some solid mileage. While there were some slightly gnarly underpasses strewn with garbage and people who potentially didn’t want us there, we didn’t feel threatened the entire time and the trail was clean and safe. I’ve never been on a road-bike friendly path for that long away from cars and the sheer variety of the trail made for a great urban ride. Way to go Los Angeles for putting something like this together! Cheers, Dakota and Chelsea