Los Angeles: Motorcycle Commuting Notes After Two+ Years

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Motorcycle Commuting and Los Angeles: two words that seem to not belong together, for both motorcyclists and other vehicle drivers. I heard all the stories: “LA is the worst place to ride a bike!” or “Too many cars, too unsafe and far too many idiots.” Colorful responses such as these and other responses that are far too colorful for this article, came at me at a hundred miles an hour when I told my friends in San Francisco and Oakland that I was moving southward to Los Angeles. As a Southern California native, I grew up riding dirt bikes and I’ve been riding street bikes for over ten years, in five other cities.

For the past five years, I only had motorcycles, bicycles and public transportation: life was cheap. I lived in cities where cars were neither feasible nor practical. Family dynamics and a Bay Area Recession deemed it necessary for me to move back to the Greater Los Angeles Area. Upon my return a realization came to me: I needed a car. A car-less life in the City of Angels; is a hard life and I always thought it would be a nightmare without one. Upon my return and for the first year and half – I commuted to and from work on motorcycles around Greater Los Angeles.

Motorcycle Commuting on Interstate 5 and 405 Freeways

Year One

Weapon of Choice: Suzuki SV-650Y Naked Version

My first year of Motorcycle Commuting in Los Angeles was interesting and there were new experiences. I had never seen a motorcycle crash before I moved back home and one happened about twenty feet from me; it was sobering. If there’s an accident on either freeways and traffic is backed up, you get used to “charging traffic” or “splitting lanes” for miles. On my way to a job in El Segundo on the 405 Freeway, I came across the aftermath of what appeared to be a Honda CBR 600 in pieces with the ambulance leaving the scene with a rider in back. And I still had twenty miles to go, to get to work!

Dangerous moments on motorcycles, from my experience, are rare and they are “moments.” Riders have a saying, “You ride through the accident.” If a moment comes, you go through it and that’s sound advice. Which means you never panic: you slowly think your way out of it and act. I’ve only had two of these moments, so far and I was commuting on the same freeway – Interstate 405. I followed my own advice.

Intra – Los Angeles Motorcycle Commuting

Year Two

Weapon of Choice: Suzuki DRZ-400SM Supermoto

Intra – Los Angeles commuting possesses unique challenges. My 650 would be too heavy for commuting within the LA gridlock – Enter the Supermoto: the perfect urban machine for Los Angeles. With a one gallon gas tank, this bike cost five dollars or less to fill-up. Light, responsive and quick, the Supermoto looks like a dirt bike with street tires for incredible street performance.

I used to work for a digital agency in Santa Monica, while I lived in Altadena. I could take a few different routes to get to work and after a few days I settled to take the 110 Freeway, to Downtown Los Angeles, cross over to Pico Blvd and take Pico all the way to Santa Monica. This route is great except when you get to Beverly or La Brea Streets, traffic tends to start and not let up all the way to the office. I have two funny facts to share about my commutes with this machine

  • Riding on Sidewalks – Yes, I did it a few times and it’s fun and gratifying! It’s a gradual thing; traffic backs up and it’s more comfortable to go between park cars and right lane vehicles. Then the “gap” between the park cars and the right lane cars gets too narrow – Sidewalk time. I didn’t do it for long – a couple of hundred feet and then get back into traffic. It is gratifying, fun and reckless.
  • Using a freeway on-ramp to get off the freeway – I only did this once when traffic was backing up on the Interstate 110 Freeway and near Dodger Stadium and I decided to get off the freeway- via freeway on-ramp. It happened all too fast. I looked up and traffic started to back up and got into the far right lane. I remember looking over my shoulder and counting “three seconds to myself” and started a one-eighty degree turn. The turn radius on a Supermoto is very tight and I was surprised how tight this bike can turn. A red light was holding back oncoming traffic and I had time to complete the action – Never again. That was a freebie and respect the freebie.

Intra – Los Angeles Motorcycle Commuting

Year Three

Currently, I’m in third year of riding in Los Angeles and so far so good. It’s hard to believe I’ve been on these machines for ninety percent of the time. I have a car but I just prefer motorcycles. Los Angeles traffic is too much and I just don’t have the patience for it. The money these machines saved me has been great. To me, my Mini Cooper gets bad gas mileage and I hardly drive it; actually everything gets bad gas mileage to me. However, I do look forward to weekends when I do drive my car and give the motorcycles a rest.

Los Angeles Motorcycle Commuting defers from any other cities on many different levels, including:

  • Number of Vehicles – there are far too many cars to navigate and more cars equal more danger
  • Number of Stupid People, driving vehicles – Maybe it’s just me but I’ve seen amazingly poor driving in Los Angeles
  • Over hundred thousand streets in Los Angeles – exploring those streets has been amazing. Exploring DTLA via Supermoto is a Life Changing!

Knock on wood, I’m still commuting with no incidents and the city has turned me into an even better rider. I also realize that I’m lucky and came to Los Angeles with many years of motorcycle experience already under my belt. Learning to ride, in Los Angeles would be a nightmare and I feel for budding new riders that are learning in such a challenging city. That should not discourage you. If you want to save money, change up the commute and laugh at the silliness of LA traffic; sign up for a class and hope to see you out there.

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