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What kind of pictures do you take when you're [tag-tec]bicycle touring[/tag-tec]?

You and your bike on a cliff edge or a rickety bridge, overlooking an ice cold torrent of swirling water? How about this instead:

Out on the 7th Street bridge where it crosses the freeway. During rush hour. I saw a group of [tag-tec]bike tourists[/tag-tec] there, taking photos of each other, making certain to get all 10 lanes of dead-stopped traffic underneath. "Now that looks scary. You wouldn't want to fall down there."

It really makes sense, after all, doesn't it? You want photos of your [tag-tec]bicycle travel[/tag-tec] to get an "Oh, my God" exclamation of disbelief. Rivers and mountains are great when you can be there, but what about the profound effects of five million commuters trying to drive home all at once? Isn't the result an emergent quality of nature, too?

Adventure is where you find it.

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The first step for beginners is just to get on the bike and go somewhere. The most dangerous part of cycling is that pretty soon you're wondering how far you can go. And you'll almost always surprise yourself.

This is good, but it's also addictive.

Soon you'll want to ride. You'll want to jump up on that shaky metal bike frame and work your gut off while the world whistles by in the hiss of wind in your ears.

You want to ride. I mean blaze down the Sunset strip in a glory of carbon-neutral velocity with the hair of little furry animals flying into your teeth.

Soon you'll wake up on a beach in Santa Barbara, crank your way over the Rockies and have fresh Maine lobster for dinner. You'll know the aroma of Roma as she throws her stale cappuccino atmosphere into the holy incense of your bulging Presta valve tires.

But you don't need to be a [tag-tec]bicycle freak[/tag-tec]. Just make your own ride. Anywhere. Now.

Even if it's just a peek into the garage to look at your bike.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just ride.

Ride like an ant, knowing that it's just a matter of time until you become a giant.

Ride around the block. Slowly.

Pick up some sandwiches on your bike, and eat them with someone you love. Race your neighbor to the end of your street and back. Even if (especially if) you're both over 40.

[tag-tec]Beginner Bike riders[/tag-tec] Beware

The bike will change you. Once you get going, you've got all that momentum propelling you towards health and happiness and fun and adventure, and it's hard to stop, even if your best friend just adjusted your brake pads.

It's all over now. Soon you're going to fixate on fixed gears. You'll never lose your balance. You'll eat more and take the stairs, and keep going when your partner is too tired. (Unless you have a two-tired partner).

[tag-tec]Travel Italy by bicycle[/tag-tec]. Follow the historic paths of your ancestors, slaves, traders, soldiers, centurions, pioneers, priests, knights and kings and druids. Your bike will make your thighs hurt and your knees squeal, but you'll see things that a car would never show you.

Your city, your town, your country and others will never look the same. Even your favorite park, your most familiar place, or the best parking place will be completely different when viewed from the Bicycle Zone.

Don't trip. Don't fall. And don't blame me if you scrape your knee. That's what it's all about. You'll be tougher. Faster. Maybe even poorer but wiser (and oh so much happier).

Go ahead. Take a ride.

A short one.

I dare you.

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I won't use this blog to complain about the woes and horrors of urban cycling, without offering a practical solution to whatever gripe I'm harping on. So here it is, a problem and a solution. Most people who bike around L.A. already know this, but just in case...

For the most part, the official L.A. Department of Transportation bike routes suck. I'm talking about the big streets with green "Bike Route" signs, like Olympic Blvd.

Maybe if you're riding on a weekend or the middle of the day they're OK, but during rush hour you're going to risk your life and piss off a lot of motorists. And that's when you're not stuck behind a bus that blows dust and diesel into your face, and stops every 2 blocks.

But I finally figured out that these streets aren't the real bike routes.

Secret LA bike routes that get you to work on time

The streets marked "Bike Route" are actually pointers to the best places to ride in peace. They give you clues to the secret bike routes that will get you where you're going in one piece.

The secret bike routes always run parallel to the official ones, and they're usually just a few blocks over. Motorists don't like them because they have lower speed limits and more stop signs. But on a bike, you can make better time. I can usually knock 10-15 minutes off my commute, not to mention lower stress and probably less gunk in my lungs.

Here are some of the better bicycle routes in Los Angeles:

East-West: Instead of taking Olympic Blvd, use San Marino. Instead of Beverly, use Temple or 7th Street. LADOT got it right when they made 4th street into a bike route, so use this one.

North-South: Instead of Vine/Rossmoore, use Gower. Instead of Hobart, use Oxford.

If you know of any other routes, please leave a comment.

You can get the LA Department of Transportation bikeway map at http://www.bicyclela.org/maps_main.htm

Better yet, you can get a specific route and directions at http://www.bikemetro.com