Across the L. A. Basin on Route 66

Trip #2

December 3, 2004

80 miles


Thinking about this trip brings a big smile to my face. Biking from San Bernadino to Santa Monica gives a stranger a wonderful introduction to the L. A. Basin and a real feel for the character and history of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. This is also the first bike trip I purposely take after my commitment to Bike Across America. Also there is a funny story which made this trip a mini-adventure. Read on:

I am in Long Beach, California for work. I have only been to L. A. twice before - both for brief visits. Being an urbanite from the east coast, my first visit exacerbated my phobia of unending suburban sprawl and round the clock gridlock. My second visit include a two hour business meeting and a three hour visit to the new Getty Museum. Being a building nerd and a yard man, I spent 2 and 1/2 hours outside the buildings of the Getty complex enjoying the quality of the design and construction and the incredible landscaping of the place. I am still there after sunset and see that iconic vista of L. A. sprawled out below in a grid of twinkling street lights. So I'm warming up to L. A. a bit.

On this trip, I get this idea that, after work is done, I should start my bike across the U.S. Following the route of old Route 66 seems as good a strategy as any. The plan comes into focus. Rent a bike. Get to San Bernadino. Bike back to L.A./Santa Monica. Bike the rest of the way across country.

Being in downtown Long Beach, I see the Long Beach BikeStation, a bike rental and repair shop at the end of the Metro Blue Line from downtown L.A. For more information see BikeStation. I go there and Chad rents me a great touring bike. Now. how to get to San Bernardino? Amtrak won't accept bikes between L.A. and San Bernardino, but Metro Link, the regional commuter rail system, will. I take the Metro Blue Line (with my bike) to Los Angeles Union Station, and catch a San Bernardino train. In about an hour and 1/2 I'm in San Bernardino, in awe at the huge rail yard they have there. It makes sense, San Bernardino is at the bottom of Cajon Pass, one of the main entrances to the L.A. Basin. I find a cheap hotel for the night.

The Ride

I start out before sunrise with two small flashlights taped to my trouser legs, facing rearward, to keep me from getting run over. I find old Route 66 and start my travels along the continuum that is the L.A. Basin.

San Bernardino used to be the center of a large agricultural area. Now it is the one of the older "nodes" at the west end of the L.A. Basin. As you travel west, you soon leave the older developed areas of San Berandino and run into the super new, super perfect shopping centers and residential subdivisions that have covered former agricultural areas of the west L.A. Basin. You can see little hints of what used to be farms, vineyards, and orchards. But "little" is the operative word. There appears to be very little open space left.

The ride feels likes it's gently downhill as I bike towards Pasadena. The northern portion of the L.A. Basin, which Route 66 traverses, seems higher in elevation that the areas to the south, which provides some broad vistas of the metropolitan area.

I ride through many places I have heard before in TV shows and other places. Rancho Cucamonga, Claremont (which is beautiful), Santa Anita Race Track (also beautiful) and Pasedena, and many that I have never heard of before. Fontana, Azusa, San Dimas. But Route 66 plugs along from one town to the next, with only "Welcome To..." signs, and not open space, separating them.

Pasadena is a real treat. I've always heard about it, and the big freeway battle, and the old neighborhoods, and the historic Arroyo Seco Parkway (now the Pasadena Freeway). There are many well maintained older houses with character, tree lined residential streets, and a pleasant retail hub downtown.

Huntington Drive is the local road that connects Pasedena to downtown L.A. proper. It has an open character, but the neighborhoods adjacent seem less tony than the ones in Pasedena.

Now Chinatown, and the northeast edge of downtown L.A. along Sunset Boulevard. The Sunset Boulevard section is an older section of L.A. The road is a little narrower, the traffic a little more congested, the neighborhoods a little scruffy in places, but all very interesting. As I approach Hollywood, I bump over to Hollywood Boulevard. This route gives me a good cross section of the flavors of the place.

Past West Hollywood, the route changes to Santa Monica Blvd. From the increasing pleasant residential neighborhoods west of Hollywood, the character of the surroundings changes,too. First they get richer as I ride through Beverly Hills and past Rodeo Drive. Then they get bigger, more commercial, and the road gets wider and has more traffic as you approach Century City. Then, more low rise commercial and a tremendous amount of street construction and sidewalk closures (Metro??). This is less enjoyable. I'm moving about as slow as the stalled traffic as I approach I-405.

Once west of I-405, the Boulevard narrows, the biking becomes easier and more pleasant. Arriving at the Pacific Ocean, I pay my proper respects. I perform appropriate biker ablutions and spend time in reflection for what may be one of my "trip ends".

I head south through Venice Beach. I pass through a reasonably undeveloped green stretch on Lincoln Boulevard, before wrestling my way south on Aviation Blvd, and to the Green Line Metro near LAX. I hop on, transfer to the Blue Line, and return to Long Beach.

The Joke is On Me

Now the real lesson here is keep up with technology. The bike I rented had some fancy (at least to me) gear changers on it. There were levers that shifted down, but I couldn't figure out how to shift back up. So pretty soon, after some slight grades out of San Bernardino, I'm on the lowest gear on the front and back sprockets. HMMMMMM. Never did find the "up shift" mechanism. No problem. I found a bottle cap in the street and wedged it between the bike frame and the front derailleur. That got me to the middle set of teeth on the front sprocket. I took out some packing tape (which I had used to tape the little flashlights onto my pants legs for my pre-dawn riding) and taped my toothbrush across the top of the bike frame and under the wire that controls the back derailleur. Now I have three gears in the back, with the toothbrush as my gear changer. I felt a little stupid when I got back to Long Beach, and they showed me how the shifters work. But the ride across L.A. was generally so flat, it wasn't a problem.

I've completed 80 miles, gotten a great task of what L.A. was and is now. Only 2,920 more to go!

Last Update: January 6, 2007