What's your vision of a perfect life, a perfect world? If you're in Los Angeles, you can help make it all happen.

What's your vision of a perfect life, a perfect world?

Mine would have a lot of wonderful requirements, but here are my top five:

1. Health. A pollution-free environment, and healthy people who get lots of fresh air and exercise. If they want it. I would want it.

2. Friends. Lots of relaxed adventures with cool, interesting people

3. Coffee. Lots and lots of caffeine every day. Preferably organic, shade grown, fair trade, and hand-packed by members of an autonomous collective of indigenous transgender people of color who donate a portion of their profits to help underserved communities of dolphins with special needs.

(Okay, maybe I've had too much coffee...)

4. Books. Lots of books. And time to read them. Even if it's just a page, read out loud on a busy street.

5. A healthy dose of silliness. Laughter at my expense is okay. I probably did something to deserve it.

You can help make this vision a reality!

If you're in Los Angeles, you can help make it all happen.

Group bike rides cover most of this. And there's a new one that's having an impact at least twice a month.

This bike ride has an immediate positive impact on your health, and you're reducing pollution by getting around on your own power. You'll meet lots of interesting people, and the ones you're not ready to throttle by the end of the ride will probably become friends.

Still not convinced? Well, there's going to be coffee at the beginning of the ride. Probably more in the middle of the ride. And usually at the end of the ride, unless we drink wine instead. (I guess that should be #6 above)

Nick stocks books on the Street Librarians' Ride

There will be books. In fact, we'll be stocking the free boxes of L.A., providing fine literature for readers all over the city. There will be a dramatic reading at every stop. You can read one too, if you want.

That covers everything on the list except the silliness. But this is the Street Librarians Ride, created by stand-up comedian and journalist Nick Richard. So you should probably be ready for some silliness.

Are you in? We meet on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month. Usually 12:30 at Stories Book Cafe in Echo Park. But check the Facebook page to make sure:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/livebiketalk/events/

The books we leave behind always get picked up, so you know someone is reading them. It's good to know there are still people in L.A. who read books. Let's encourage them. Street Librarians Ride!

These changes don't just enable you to do the impossible once. They help you learn faster, so that you can redefine what is possible and what is impossible.

Note: There's a free prize at the end of this post!

Are you looking for a new bike ride?

Here's a way you can have a good ride anytime, anyplace, anywhere in the world. Try this technique and you'll never get bored. You'll get some good exercise, make new discoveries, and... well, I'll save the third thing, the big bonus prize, the absolute number one reason you should try this out, for the end of the post.

Bikesharing depot in Rome, ItalyFirst of all, try these steps (and don't forget the free prize at the end of this post):

  1. Open up Google maps or some other mapping browser and look up your own address.
  2. Put it right in the center of your screen.
  3. Zoom out once or twice. The more ambitious you are, the more you'll zoom out
  4. Figure out a tour that takes you through the safest, most challenging, most scenic areas on your screen. If you don't know what they are, go out and find them!

It's up to you what you'll include in step 4, but here are few things that come to mind: Coffee shops, parks, museums, places you're not supposed to ride but you'll do it anyway, steep hills, your favorite place.

I just made this up. As far as I know, nobody else has talked about it. Maybe there's a reason for that.

Try it out, and tell me what you think. I'll share mine in a future post.

Now for your free prize:

I'm reading a book called The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler. It's about how to achieve "flow," a very powerful state of mind where you can do things that are normally out of human reach.

Think riding your mountain bike off the roof of a skyscraper, landing on a slanted roof farther down, which you use as a ramp to propel yourself into the air where you do a double backflip before opening your parachute and gliding to a perfect landing on the front lawn of the Embassy.

Kotler writes about the conditions that can put you in that state of mind in a "normal" day-to-day world. If you get there, you can move beyond your limits as a musician, photographer, dancer, or stock trader. You can take something you're good at and become extraordinary in a short amount of time.

One of the key conditions is novelty. There's a reason the best athletes, artists, and professionals are always pushing the envelope. Whenever you stimulate your mind with something new, it creates physical, chemical, and electrical changes in your brain and in your entire nervous system.

These changes don't just enable you to do the impossible once. They help you learn faster, so that you can redefine what is possible and what is impossible.

If you start seeking out new bike routes in your old neighborhood, you might discover that you have more energy, or you're communicating with people more easily. You'll think more clearly, even when you're dealing with issues that have nothing to do with bike rides.

When you bike a new route, you're on your way to developing superhuman powers.



2

Carlos asked me how long it took me to ride my bike from Temple City to downtown Los Angeles, and he laughed when I told him I spent 2 hours on the ride.

I have tremendous respect and admiration for the kind of bike riding Carlos does. He has a carbon frame racing machine, with aero bars and wheels as thin as capellini. He could make the trip in a quarter of the time, maybe less.

But that's not my way, and it doesn't have to be your way either. Not always.

I've met a lot of would-be bicyclists who are put off by bright multi-colored lycra shorts and intimidated by speedy racers. If this is you, don't worry. There's nothing wrong with riding slow, wearing anything you want.

Your bike can be an amazing tool of discovery. It will take you places you'd probably never go by foot, and probably never notice by car. It makes you a part of the landscape, puts you in contact with the weather, scenery, maybe even the people. Slow down, and you might get a gift from the universe.

I can ride pretty fast when I need to, but it's usually not my choice. Early in the morning, seeing the moon reflected in the water of the Rio Honda, it seems a waste of the morning if I go too fast. I get up extra early just so I won't have to race.

Slow down, and you might get a gift from the universe. A lot of people are doing it.

"It's a party on wheels," someone once told me on Midnite Ridazz. Nobody left behind, half the bikers riding one-handed with drinks in the other. Once I pulled out of the group to use the restroom, and when I came back out the bicycle parade was still sauntering past me, flickering lights ablaze, no hurry.

One of my dreams is to join the Wolfpack ride. I don't know at this point if I could keep up. Maybe some day I'll try out a triathlon, just to say that I did it. But when it comes to the pure enjoyment that makes riding a bike worthwhile for me, I'm more in favor of the people who strap a radio on their rear rack, and saunter along at their own pace.



The things we'll do to go on a bike ride.

Today the city of Los Angeles closed off several main streets to traffic, leaving it safe for bikers and pedestrians. It's called Ciclavia. I love this day.

Of course, being in Los Angeles, everyone lives spread out far from the center. We commute into the center on buses, trains, maybe even cars, in order to ride our bikes around the city.

Ciclavia was great, but the drama came on the home trip. Imagine thousands of urban cyclists squeezing into a tiny string of subway cars.

We were ready to wait patiently for out turn, but as we worked our way through the crowd towards Union Station, we were told that the Red Line was temporarily closed.

I was outraged for a while. I thought they arbitrarily blocked us off so that instead of dealing with hordes of bikers on a Sunday afternoon, they would have to deal with hordes of bikers a few hours later on a Sunday evening. It didn't seem logical.

It turns out the real issue was a bomb threat.

I didn't wait for the news, though. I met a friend who had her car parked a few miles away, complete with a bike rack on the back. She handed me a spare key with the idea I would ride my bike to her car, and drive back to pick her up.

But when I got there, the car key was useless because she had "The Club" locking the wheel.

For a biking event that ended at 3, I didn't even get home until after 5. Not a disaster, but it got me thinking.

I could have just got on my bike and taken a ride anywhere I wanted today, and avoided the hassles of a group trip. Why do we really ride our bikes?

For me, it has never been about racing or speed. I thought I was just using the bike as a fun way to get around, and save some money along the way. But it turns out I'm willing--even eager--to spend 7 hours of my time to take a 45-minute bike ride if it's part of a big group event.

I had a lot to do this weekend, and doing Cyclavia meant giving up some sleep. But I didn't just ride. I met a professional musician, and talked about wine with a dude from Argentina. I even got a new business idea which may someday provide the means to go on more bike tours.

Biking is a social event, something I hadn't thought about since the last time I went on Midnite Ridazz. That's another reason I ride a bike.

Biking is social, something that can bring strangers together.

 

Even if you just have a few hours free, you can jump on your bike and have an adventure. There's a small residential road that I had never explored, but on the maps it looked like it continued on for a while.

I had a free afternoon with just about three hours until sundown, so I took a bike ride down the mystery road to see where it would go. It turns out this particular section of Olive street intersects with El Camino Real, the Royal Highway of "New Spain."

I ended up in the historical center of San Gabriel. The road went almost in a straight line to one of the early California missions. People from the San Gabriel Mission went on to found the city of Los Angeles, so this bike ride took me to some of the roots of LA's history.

I even got to see one of the first and oldest grape vines in southern California, and later on I tasted some California wine to celebrate.

If your a biking newbie, this just reinforces the point: It doesn't matter how far you want to ride or how much time you have. Just get on your bike and explore. You'll run into something interesting you've never seen before, or discover a new bike route to places you've already been.

If you live anywhere in or near Los Angeles, I hope you made it to the Tour de Fat yesterday. Not just because we raised $13,000 for local bike groups, not even for the music. Not even for the beer.

I don't usually post these things. I'm going to get woo-woo and ethereal about bikes here, so be forewarned.

When I moved to L.A. I wasn't expecting to find such a vibrant bike culture. If we had a few thousand bikers who were trying to make it work as a viable form of transportation in a hostile car-dominated environment, that would have been enough. But Los Angeles bikers have gone far beyond this.

Never in any time or place have I seen so much creative energy, such a perfect synthesis of organized cooperation and individual expression. L.A. bikers are evolved beings, at the pinnacle of human greatness.

At the Tour de Fat you kept hearing people say, "take care of your vehicle." And the vehicle is you. This is cosmic, no matter what you believe in.

If you believe in evolution, you're here because a million different lives were lived and destroyed, each one building upon the others. A billion experiments of trial and error, a million things that could have gone wrong but didn't, a thousand possible seeds and eggs that could have united, a hundred generations and the final pinnacle of all this, the only outcome that made it, was you.

If you believe instead in some sort of divine being that brought you into existence, the meaning is the same: You are a miracle. You're here because of extraordinary circumstances, and you're capable of accomplishing unimaginable things.

But most people live their lives in silent desperation, mediocrity, and never break out of their own self-imposed prisons. Not you. Not the bikers.

What I saw yesterday was a thousand people who chose to get around on their own power. A number of brave souls renounced their cars and dared themselves to use their bikes for transportation for a year.

Rarely do you see such a powerful group of energetic, creative, self-reliant souls all together. When you ride a bike, you're taking back your cosmic birthright and affirming your own personal power.

Our planet is in trouble in so many ways, but people are waking up, and in the coming years I think a lot of you are going to discover your own form of greatness.

This is why I'm still optimistic. This is why I choose to take care of my vehicle. This is why I ride.

There are now so many people using their bikes as transportation in Los Angeles that we actually have a parking problem. A number of businesses (notably independent cafes and restaurants) have installed bike parking in front of their doors. I suspect this has been invaluable in helping them survive the recession.

Anyway, I've been wondering whether the owners put up bike racks to attract more bike commuting customers, or whether they did it because many of their customers were bikers already.

Which came first? And could anybody build up their business by showing that they're edgy, forward-looking and ecologically aware by catering more to bike riders?

I want to start chronicling the ways I avoid traffic when biking around Los Angeles. I'm not sure how to organize this, probably with a category and sub-cats so you can follow along and get my suggestions.

Does anyone with WordPress skills have tips on the best way to do this?

A few of the main routes I plan to post here:

  • How to bike from PCH to Santa Monica without carrying your bicycle up a staircase
  • Bicycling from downtown to each of the university campuses and back
  • Bike rides around the terminal stops of all the metro lines
  • Major east-west and north-south corridors

We'll see how this goes.

Yesterday I made it from the Westside to downtown L.A. half an hour early. In rush hour traffic, the bike is faster than the bus. Faster than driving, too, in a lot of situations.

Not to mention an early morning cruise along the beach, then zipping past quiet homes with lush trees and interesting gardens.

It's good to challenge yourself. It's good to have these happy reminders of why we do it.

This morning I got stuck behind a bus during my bike commute. It felt like I was sucking air right out of the exhaust pipe. But this usually doesn't happen, because I have tactics I use to keep my lungs safe most of the time. If you ride your bike in a polluted urban environment like Los Angeles, there's really a lot you can do to minimize the smog you breathe in.

First, if you have the option, you can cut your exposure to pollution by 10-30% just by riding in off-peak hours. The best time is early in the morning, before rush hour. Next best would be midday, or late at night.

If you're not commuting by bike, and you just like to ride for the fun of it, be a weekend warrior. Ride your bike on the days when there are fewer cars on the road.

If you commute to work, and have to ride your bike during rush hour, you can save your lungs by taking alternate routes.

Almost every busy street has other streets running parallel to it, and the traffic on these other streets can be a lot lower. If you can get just 50 feet away from the heaviest traffic, you can make a dramatic cut in the amount of pollution you breathe in.

In fact, a Danish study found that when you bike on streets with low traffic volume, you can reduce your exposure to pollution by 50% to 60% or even more.

And when you think about it, you'll have a safer, more quiet ride. Also more scenic. You're more likely to pass parks and gardens. You won't have to worry as much about being hit.

If you commute by bike, there might be stretches where you have to be on the busiest roads, but probably not for the entire route. Anything you can do to reduce the time you spend riding in traffic will pay off.

There will be more stop signs, and you might add an extra 10 minutes onto your journey. But you could also add years to your life.