As fitness centers and yoga studios closed due to COVID-19, and stay-at-home rules opened up people’s schedules, Angelenos have been taking to their bikes. “There is a bike boom that we haven’t seen since the 1970s,” says Eli Kaufman, executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). “That’s what we’ve been after for decades.”
But as parents dust off bicycles they’ve had sitting in the garage for years and kids get more time than ever on two wheels, a focus on safety has become essential. “One of the things that’s tough about being an advocate in this moment is seeing all these families who don’t know the rules of the road, who don’t have proper safety gear, and who are taking risks that they don’t even know they’re taking,” Kaufman says.
Check your equipment.
“If you’ve got a bike that you haven’t dusted off in a while, there’s something called the ABC quick check – air, brakes, chain,” says Kaufman. Before you even get on the bike, check the air in the tires, that the brakes are operating properly and that the chain is in good condition. This video from Walk ‘n Rollers offers a step-by-step guide for kids and parents.
All bikes should also have a headlight, blinking taillight and side and rear reflectors. “It’s about being seen. You’re trying to illuminate yourself so that you draw the attention of drivers,” Kaufman says, adding that brightly colored clothing is also a good idea. If you need lighting or want help with a bike tuneup, visit your local bike shop, which is deemed an essential service during the pandemic.
Bike shops can also help you find the right helmet, which is required by law for anyone under age 18 and recommended for all. “I’m always amazed to see parents who dutifully get their kids in helmets, but then decide to get on our streets with no head protection,” says Kaufman, who has a 12-year-old son. “It just baffles my mind.”
Choose your ride.
For groups including young children or inexperienced riders, Kaufman recommends seeking out a route where the streets are more calm. The LACBC curates Family Friendly Rides that will steer you in the right direction. These self-guided tours are chosen to have elevation gain, difficulty and technical challenges manageable for most riders, and include points of interest from flora and fauna to cultural landmarks. Another option is the bike feature in Google maps. “They do a pretty good job of directing people off the most-beaten track,” Kaufman says. “They’re not looking for the fastest route as you would for a car.”
Try to avoid riding at dusk – especially in summer – when westbound drivers headed toward the sun are easily blinded. You’ll be more visible and safer at other times of day. There’s also safety in numbers. Children should have adult supervision, but even decades-long bike commuters connect with other riders via bike trains. “We encourage parents to ride with kids regardless of their age,” Kaufman says.
Kaufman calls this a golden rule of cycling, because the more predictable you are, the safer you are. “Don’t find yourself in a spot that is going to catch anybody by surprise,” he says. One example of this is to ride with traffic so that you are able to make eye contact with any drivers who are nearby, and are riding where drivers expect to see you.
Predictability also means following the rules of the road, which LACBC is happy to teach you via its Metro BEST (Bicycle Education and Safety Training) program (visit www.metro.net/riding/go-bike and click the “Bike Classes” tab), with monthly virtual classes designed to teach riders to navigate the urban environment. “What that means in Los Angeles is everything from the rules of the road to basic bicycle maintenance and making sure that your bike is road worthy, to how to deal with the scale of Los Angeles,” Kaufman says. For Los Angeles Unified School District students, virtual bicycle clubs include guest speakers such as former Olympians, bike commuters and bike entrepreneurs.
“There’s a broad culture of bicycling people, and the common theme among them all is that they’re all generally people who care,” Kaufman says. “They give a damn about the world that they live in and they want to minimize their negative impact and maximize their ability to enjoy their communities.”