How-To: Ride a Motorcycle in LA

By the time January rolls around, I’m pretty much done with the cold and am more than ready to be riding once again. Unfortunately, winter is far from over across most of Canada and unless you’re an elected public official to whom the rules seemingly don’t apply, you should be staying home at the moment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about where you’ll travel when this pandemic business is behind us. This time last year, I spent two glorious weeks in California reviewing a selection of bikes I’d arranged prior to my arrival. Each morning I’d drive over to a storage unit in a sketchy neighbourhood and roll up the garage door to reveal a selection of brand-new motorcycles.

Cold weather and lockdown measures have Dustin dreaming of the days when he can travel again. Particularly on something as fun as the Ducati Supersport S.

Drawn to the warmer weather and the wide variety of motorcycle fleets available, I decided to spend a fortnight in the City of Angels getting some much-needed treatment for PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome) inflicted by the cold Canadian winter. Beyond all of the obvious reasons for enjoying motorcycling, doing it regularly helps prevent skills and reflexes from getting rusty. It also happened that my girlfriend lived there at the time, so the trip was unabashedly self-serving.

It’s impossible to experience everything that a city that size has to offer in such a limited period of time, but after spending two weeks exploring LA County and its surrounding areas aboard a diverse selection of brand new motorcycles, I feel like I’m pretty well qualified to provide at least a high level overview of pros and cons that may save riders time or frustration if they happen to plan a trip there once travel restrictions are removed.

Get Outta Town

My old man has always been a veritable well of humourous, albeit occasionally offensive anecdotes and helpful advice. One such gem incapsulates his thoughts on Los Angeles: “The nicest road in Los Angeles,” he would opine, “Is the one out of town.” Surely to cause friction with those who live in and love the city, he’s got a point. Not only is it a wildly expensive place to live or even visit, but the roads are terrible by every measure. Covered in garbage and filled with potholes, construction, and homeless people are rampant. Much of the city is shockingly dilapidated. Businesses that weren’t boarded up frequently had bars on the windows. And this was pre-Covid.

The LA area offers some incredible roads for riding, but you’ve got to get out of town to experience them.

The city also defines the term urban sprawl. None of the places I’d hope to visit seemed to be within close proximity to each other. Parking is either non-existent or wildly overpriced. Then there’s the traffic. All day. Every day. Gridlock as far as the eye can see. And further. One must plan a day’s meetings, meals and activities accordingly. If you’re even remotely predisposed to road rage, avoid LA at all costs. Zombie-like commuters mindlessly follow the sea of taillights ahead, most glued to their phones rather than paying attention to the task at hand. I can’t even blame them.

Whether you’re looking to relocate or merely visit LA, real estate, rent and short-term accommodation do not come cheap. The closer to the ocean, the more expensive it gets.

LAX is an International hub, so once you’ve arrived and picked up your bike, the best thing you can do is get the hell out of the city as quickly as possible. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) offers spectacular ocean views and the canyon roads north of the city are among the most entertaining I’ve encountered on this planet.

Lane Filtering and Splitting

Traffic in LA is legendary with good reason. It defies comprehension. It’s almost a bizarre point of pride for locals who brag about how much of their lives is wasted behind the wheel in bumper-to-bumper gridlock. If you do happen to find yourself there, travelling by motorcycle is the only way to do it. Thankfully lane splitting was made legal for motorcycles back in January of 2017 by the great State of California, allowing riders to cruise through the soul-sucking congestion and arrive at their destination in a fraction of the time. The California Highway Patrol often reminds motorists to be aware of, and courteous to, motorcyclists. Can you imagine? Some drivers even heed this advice as they will move over in the lane to offer some breathing room for you to pass. Others either didn’t get the memo or don’t care, so be vigilant and ride carefully if you’re passing in between cars. As this was still a novelty to me, I’d get excited when a light turned red and I could cruise up to the front of the line. I also split lanes slowly and cautiously, constantly looking into my mirrors for bikes flying up behind me. I’d duck in between cars to let them pass at triple digit speeds as vehicles crawled along at a snail’s pace.

It may feel strange, but lane splitting is totally legal in California and its the only way to get around LA quickly.

Motorcycles are also permitted to use HOV lanes in California. They don’t need a clean air certification sticker or require a passenger and there aren’t any stipulations on time of day. Highways like the 405 even have two HOV lanes in some places. Given the temperate climate and these helpful life hacks, I can’t understand why more people in LA don’t ride motorcycles. If I moved there, the first order of business would be selling my car.

Driven to Distraction

One should assume that every driver is on their phone, because nearly all of them are. Making calls, texting, even swiping on dating apps. Heck, I witnessed one guy watching a movie on his phone while driving on the freeway. Despite State law being quite clear that it is illegal to use a handheld device while piloting a motor vehicle, the message doesn’t seem to be sticking.

Get used to seeing this. Texting and driving may be illegal in LA, but nobody seems to care.

Pack Layers

It may be California, but the weather can change on a dime based on the season, time of day, elevation, or proximity to the ocean. Temperatures can dip down into the single digits at night, so you’ll want skin covered during rides in the evening or early morning. Getting caught in stop-and-go traffic, riding inland or in the midday sun will have you peeling off layers. Micro-climates in the mountains can also mean that weather varies from one corner to the next, so prepare and pack accordingly.

Once beyond the city limits, scenery (and temperature) can change from one turn to the next.

Hide Your Valuables

During my time in LA, I witnessed an abundance of vehicles with broken windows, and spoke to a number of motorcyclists who had their bikes backed over or vandalized at various times. With parking at a premium and crime abundant, having a storage locker to safely secure the motorcycles nearby to where I was staying was not negotiable. It may seem like an extravagant and unnecessary expense, but it was a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Finding secure storage options are a must if travelling in and around the LA area.

Bright Idea

If you’ve spent any time traveling in the United States, you may already be aware that daytime running lights aren’t mandatory. As a Canadian, you’ll be shocked and appalled at, A) How big a difference DRLs make to visibility regardless of time of day, and B) The number of people in the LA area who drive without their headlights on at dawn, dusk or night time.

Daytime running lights may be mandatory in Canada, but not the U.S. Lots of motorists in LA drive without their lights on, drastically reducing their visibility.

Armed and Dangerous

There are indeed more gun savvy states than California where virtually anyone can buy and carry a weapon, but it is important to consider the fact that some drivers down here may indeed be armed. It is perfectly legal to carry a concealed handgun in your vehicle if you’ve got the proper documentation. Stir perpetual congestion in with inconsiderate drivers, add generous amounts of lane-splitting envy, and mix thoroughly to create a delicious recipe for road rage. So maybe tread lightly and think twice about honking or flipping someone off.

Meant to educate rather than alarm, keep in mind that some motorists may be armed and angry.

Choose Your Weapon Wisely

There are many options for motorcycle rentals in and around the LA area. Depending on where you’re headed and for how long, you may want something that is narrow enough to lane filter, yet torquey and powerful enough to tackle passing and accelerating up the twisting canyon roads outside the city with ease. But you may also want something that’s decent on gas, as California regularly has the highest fuel prices in the nation.

The BMW R1250 RS struck a keen balance by feeling light and agile in the city and tackling canyon curves, but also smooth and comfortable on the highway.

Silver Lining

Granted, most of what I’ve shared about Los Angeles doesn’t exactly paint it in the most positive light, but the city does have many redeeming qualities. There is much to see and do. It’s been the location for many films and television shows, while inspiring songs, fashion trends and pop culture references. It’s the epicentre of the film industry, as well as hot rod and classic car culture. It has an incredible food scene and one could theoretically ski and surf in the same day, if they so desired. Spend any time there and you’re almost guaranteed to see celebrities, famous film locations, and one-of-a-kind exotic cars you’ve never laid eyes on in person. However you plan on spending your time there, getting around on two wheels is the only way to do it. So plan accordingly.

There are lots of great places to visit in LA, but none of them are in close proximity to each other.

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