Ultimate guide to cycling in Los Angeles
With glorious weather and unlimited climbs, LA boasts some amazing roads - you just need to know where to find them.
Online Production Editor
Los Angeles: the land of the rich and the famous. A place where stars line the pavements (no GCN presenters just yet), Hollywood’s biggest names earn their stripes, and people flock to make their big break.
In recent years, LA has attracted a new audience: cyclists. Home to one of the USA’s biggest cycling teams, L39ION of Los Angeles, a cycling culture has emerged to take advantage of the area's favourable geography, which is challenging and awe-inspiring in equal measure. Even some pros from Europe have started making an annual migration, leaving the less attractive climes of Europe behind.
Despite this, LA has earned a reputation for being less than bike-friendly, mainly thanks to tales of hectic roads filled with impatient drivers. That’s, unfortunately, a theme of many cities, but like anywhere else, if you know where to ride, the City of Angels offers some stunning routes. Want to find out more? Read on to get the lowdown on when and where to ride in California’s largest city.
For the full lowdown on LA's cycling culture, have a look at our GCN+ documentary, Cycling Heartlands: LA Guided by ex-pro cyclist and LA local Rahsaan Bahati, we visited the people and places that make this one of cycling's heartlands.
When to visit
Two local legends from two different generations: Rahsaan Bahati and John Howard
LA holds one major advantage over many cities in the world: year-round sunshine. That means no looking out the window in the morning to see just how bad the weather is and no obsessively checking weather apps.
OK, we can’t guarantee that it’ll never rain, but for the majority of the year, rainfall is scarce. That includes in the spring, summer and autumn months. The bulk of LA’s rainfall comes in winter between December and March but even then, we’re not talking about very much rain.
The biggest draw for cyclists is definitely the sunshine. Virtually every day in summer is sunny, as are the majority of days in autumn and spring, and you can usually still bask in the rays in the winter too.
That leads to favourable year-round temperatures that top out at an average high of around 29°C in summer, which only drops to the late teens and early 20s in winter. It’s basically perfect for cyclists. No wonder the GCN presenters are constantly pitching ideas for videos out there.
Mulholland Drive is one of the most famous roads in the world, and makes for a rewarding climb
Many people judge a cycling destination by the quality of its climbs. While we don’t think it’s critical, there’s no denying that an epic climb or two can define a cycling experience, so it’s only right to list our favourites in and around LA.
LA natives may read this and want to shout at the screen for not including their favourite climb, but there are simply too many to choose from. We’ve picked a few here to provide just a small snippet of what’s available, but there are many, many more we could have included.
Average gradient: 7.8%
One of the many climbs that litter the San Gabriel mountains, this popular ascent packs in over 1,000m of elevation gain. Averaging 7.8% over nearly 15km, it’s a real challenge, taking most riders over an hour to complete - unless you have your eyes on the KoM, in which case you’ll need to topple ex-pro Phil Gaimon (at the time of writing). That will soon change once we’ve had the chance to send GCN’s Ollie Bridgewood over there, though.
There is also a longer version of the climb stretching for over 40km which you can check out here.
Average gradient: 9.8%
In the same area you’ll also find Mount Wilson, a real leg-burner of a climb. It’s a little shorter than Mount Baldy but hidden in that distance is a more intimidating average gradient which falls just shy of double digits. Come prepared with favourable gearing and plenty of fuel as this will be a grind, but the satisfaction and views on the climb make it all worthwhile.
Average gradient: 34.2%
Buried in the heart of Los Angeles lies a street that appears to be a mere pimple in the road, until you see the average gradient. Don’t rub your eyes, you’re seeing it right. 34%! No pacing strategy is needed for a climb like this, it’s just an all-out effort to the top. If you manage to make it without hopping off, it will only be a minute or so of pain.
The Hollywood sign
Average gradient: 6.8%
If you’re visiting LA, you’ve got to take a trip to the Hollywood sign. It’s one of the most iconic sights in the world, and one that can be reached by bike. There are lots of routes up to the sign but this one starting at the foot of Beachwood Drive is one of the most popular. It’s not as challenging as some of the other climbs on this list, but it’s certainly not easy. And you’ll struggle to find a climb that ends at a more iconic location.
Where to ride in the city
All of these climbs are in and around LA, but it’ll take a little riding to get to some of them, plus a lot of effort to power to the summits. What if you want a more convenient ride or an easy spin inside the heart of the city? Here are a few suggestions.
Griffith Park is LA’s version of New York’s Central Park, only much bigger and wilder. It’s home to Los Angeles Zoo and the Griffith Observatory, not to mention the Hollywood sign, which of course we’ve already covered. That was just one climb in the vast park that has routes for riders of every ability. There are many more climbs to explore, plus plenty of easier routes for those who don’t fancy tackling long stretches of incline. Many of the routes are on roads that are either closed to traffic or have bike lanes. Just watch out for the sole mountain lion who calls the area home.
The LA River bike path
Despite its reputation, LA has plenty of cycling infrastructure and there are some gems to explore, including the LA River bike path. Made up of multiple sections, you’ll struggle to find a longer stretch of traffic-free tarmac in LA. The views aren’t always inspiring as it winds itself through the city’s urban landscape, but it still provides a welcome release from the hectic roads that surround it.
Marvin Braude coastal bike trail
Head to the Santa Monica coast and you’ll find another length of traffic-free tarmac. This one hugs the coastline, passing multiple beaches. 35km long but over smooth terrain, it’s easy to get a decent spin without having to expend too much energy. Not that you’d want to speed along, anyway, as you’ll want to appreciate the cool sea breeze and beautiful stretch of coastline.
Just be wary of the many pedestrians who also frequent the path - it’s not a route for those wanting a fast ride.
The Rose Bowl
Located in Pasadena, the Rose Bowl Stadium can hold a staggering 92,000 people. That’s a huge crowd, so this isn’t one you’ll want to try out when there’s an event on. Seek it out on any other day and you’ll find a quiet 5km route that winds itself around the stadium. It’s not as scenic as the rest of the options on this list, but for those who simply want to get out on their bike, it’s perfect. That’s why it’s a hotspot for cyclists and runners alike.
VELO Sports Center
Nelson Vails and Rahaan Bahati ride the Velo sport centre
Back in 1984, LA hosted the Olympic games and a new velodrome was built for the occasion. That was sadly demolished in the early 2000s to make way for a football stadium, but the VELO Sports Center was constructed in 2004 to replace it. It’s still the only Olympic-standard velodrome in the country and will soon have its own Olympic pedigree, with LA hosting the Games again in 2028.
Spoke Bicycle Cafe
Dante Young stops in at Spoke
We couldn’t complete this guide without providing at least one cafe suggestion: it’s essential for any ride, right? Located on the LA River bike path, and a short distance from Griffith Park, Spoke Bicycle Cafe is ideally situated near two of LA’s best cycling spots. Why not pop in before heading for a ride to the Hollywood sign?
Velo Pasadina has a remarkable collection of vintage and collector frames
A cycle shop that has become an institution in this part of the US, Velo Pasadena is a must-visit for any cyclist. Not only is it stocked with the latest bikes and tech, the store is also home to an incredible showroom of memorabilia.
Online Production Editor
Tom is our Online Production Editor who creates tech content for the GCN website