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Life in the bike lane

One day last year, I had a rough day at school. It was November and it felt like there was no end in sight. I got on my bike to ride home, just like any other day. Something about riding home in the warm weather under a blue sky made me feel like it was the middle of summer vacation. My mind was nowhere near school, homework or how far I really was from summer break. It gave me a brief 20 minutes of freedom. When I got home and sat down to do my homework, my imaginary vacation dissolved to reveal the massive amount of homework I really had.

That sense of freedom is one of the reasons I love to bike. I got a used road bike for my birthday a few years ago. Near the end of my sophomore year I started riding my bike to school every day. I like riding it to school a lot more than taking the city bus, because I can leave whenever I want and I have more freedom. I’m on my own schedule, not a schedule issued by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Biking just seems to make more sense to me, because it is faster and more fun.

My ride to school takes me down Venice Boulevard. It’s a 10- to 15-minute ride. Last year I would meet up coincidentally with two of my friends who took Venice to school and we’d often ride there together.

Sometimes on my way home from school, instead of taking the faster route down Cattargus Avenue to Venice, I take a more pleasant route down Robertson Boulevard to 18th Street, which is a residential street. Ironically I discovered this route in a car last fall when my friend was driving me to school. It’s nicer to bike on because there are no street lights, there’s less traffic and it’s quiet.

Photo by Jasper Nahid, 16, Hamilton HS

Venice is my favorite street to ride down

I love biking on Venice because unlike most of the streets in L.A., Venice has a bike lane, which I can take to the beach. The bike lane is marked by a painted white line. Because it is also the right-turn lane, drivers often do not respect the bike lane and cut through it or just drive in the middle of it. Even so, it is safer and easier than biking with those same disrespectful drivers on a street with no bike lane.

One of my scariest experiences biking was on my way to school one day last year. I was riding in the bike lane on Venice and was behind a bus, which was going slower than me because of its frequent stops. I tried to get ahead of it by going around it to the left, but as I did, the bus moved out of the bike lane, forcing me into heavy traffic. People honked and I panicked. I thought I was going to get hit and had to cut off a car to get back to the bike lane quickly enough to not get stuck in car traffic or hit. I safely made it back, although barely. The bus drove past me and I thought that I was pretty lucky to not have been hit. It reminded me why I wear a helmet.

Biking around Los Angeles gives me a unique view of the city. There’s a woman who sells fresh-squeezed orange juice on the corner of Venice and Fairfax who I always see in the morning. And there are all these guys who sell used junk along the sidewalk on Venice in Mar Vista. I get the personal view of a pedestrian, but I don’t have to walk everywhere or wait around for the bus. Biking is always faster than walking, sometimes faster than taking the bus, and more fun than either.

I can go anywhere on my bike

One of the other great things about bike riding is that I’m not limited to a set number of destinations, like I am when I take the bus. I can bike almost anywhere I want with directions from Google maps.

Last spring I biked about 10 miles from my school in West L.A. to the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown for my apprenticeship at the museum. Although it took 45 minutes, it was worth it. I’m usually awful at getting a sense of a city and understanding directions. But now I can find my way around downtown and other neighborhoods in L.A.

Riding my bike also gives me a sense of community with other people who bike in L.A. It is not uncommon for me to get a thumbs-up or a smile from other bikers while I ride. It’s cool to think that that would only happen on a bike.

One morning last year I was making my usual commute, when an older man rode by me. He must have noticed that I wasn’t using my gears very well. He told me that I should start in a low gear (less resistance on the pedals) and as I reached the maximum speed on each gear level, move up to a higher gear. I hadn’t asked him for the advice. I hadn’t even asked for his name, but the fact that we were both riding bikes made it perfectly acceptable for him to teach me something. I have remembered his “lesson” ever since. It’s not for everyone and at times, it can be frustrating or scary, but I love biking in L.A.

Other stories by this writer:Othe

Catching on to soccer. Watching the World Cup is more fun than Sam, 16, thought it would be. (Summer 2010)

From Bach to rock. A cool music class has given 14-year-old Sam the freedom to play U2, Coldplay and Jay-Z on his cello. (May – June 2008)

Postcards from China. Want to spend five weeks in China? Live through Sam, 13, who tells us all about his adventures while vacationing there. (Summer 2007)