9 Minute Read

My first cycling event: The LA River Ride

Los Angeles River Ride review: a great beginner's ride through some unique and historic parts of Los Angeles county.

Review of the LA River Ride back in 2013

I thought I’d start off this “review” with one that I don’t have a ton of recollection on. That being said, however, it was still quite an important ride for me when I look back on my time in the saddle.

Anyone who has a certainly level of competitive spirit in them should absolutely, positively do an organized bike ride if riding is a thing they’re into. Prior to this ride, while I had been bitten by the cycling bug, I certainly didn’t really quite understand what my love of this new sport would eventually take me on to do.

A little backstory

I did this ride in 2013, and prior to this, in 2012, I had moved up to Costa Mesa from Escondido, in San Diego county, where I had previously owned a condo. I had started dating someone in Huntington Beach and had started to meet a few friends when visiting. The girl I had been dating was doing a lot of running at the time and was trying to train for the Beach Cities Challenge and convinced me to run the Huntington Beach 5k on the 4th of July.

What does this have to do with cycling, you may ask? Well, I saw just how excited everyone was to get up early, put on some ridiculous costumes, and go run around near a neighborhood that I had started to really enjoy being around. Despite me being a bit angry of having to wake up so early, there was something about all that excitement that was infectious. Even afterwards, the entire town was basically a big block party, and I have some really great memories of the day. This is still a thing, by the way, so if you’re ever near Huntington Beach on the 4th of July, I’d absolutely recommend being nearby if you’re okay with crowds and other shenanigans.

Cut to several months later, after I had moved to Costa Mesa, I found myself getting into this whole thing a bit more. I started eating a bit better and even signed up for a half marathon for some reason! When the big event happened, I was there with some friends I had known for some time and I had another great experience.

Me having just run the 2013 Orange County Half Marathon

I still liked cycling more

I still wasn’t a big fan of running itself though. Just too slow sometimes. A great workout, but it was always a bit on the, how do I put it, stressful side for me. It’s hard on my body. Either way, history happened, I got into cycling, and I started really enjoying what I was doing.

My competitive nature (and buddy) got to the best of me. We found ourselves exploring Newport Beach. A lot. And it was wonderful. I was buying upgrades to my bike already and was even riding at night when scheduling wouldn’t permit me to ride during the day.

First pair of Oakley sunglasses on desk in front of keyboard

Could I perhaps recapture that same feeling from earlier, but from my bicycle?

The answer is absolutely.

And I did. About three whole months after buying my first real bicycle, my buddy and I signed up for the LA River Ride. And not even just the basic route, mind you, but the 70 miler.

I don’t really recommend this to others unless they’re already quite confident in their physical capabilities, of course! My line of thinking was that the route was flat, just following the flat LA River that flows south from Griffith Park to Long Beach.

Flat it was. Easy for me, it was not.

But I’m so glad I did it.

I honestly don’t have much in the way of documenting this event except for the official race picture I purchased online after the event.

Cyclist on bicycle after having ridden the 2013 Los Angeles River Ride

Despite not having much else from the day, I remember being excited to see Long Beach when we got there. And the Queen Mary, for some reason. I think partly because we had previously biked to Long Beach from Newport and it was fun for me (as the mapping nerd I am) to see the two experiences collide.

Panoramic photo of Long Beach harbor with the Queen Mary in the background

Oh! And they had these wonderful, warm quesadillas at the turnaround spot. So tasty after 35 miles.

We did it, and I have great memories of it, but I remember being supremely exhausted by the time we were done. Luckily, for a good portion of the first half of the ride we found a group to draft behind at about 17 miles per hour. The feeling of going that fast that easily was a feeling that I won’t forget. It’s a good thing we drafted them, too, because the way back was rough, as we had never ridden more than about 45 or 50 miles previously, I believe.

We made it back within a reasonable hour, got our things, and loaded up my car to make the very tired trip home to Costa Mesa.

A few things I learned that day

Not only was this a physical challenge for me, but it was also an incredible learning experience, too.

Be very cautious in group ride settings like this

Besides the general caution of “be safe out there”, this is important to reiterate. A novice rider can quickly feel comfortable in a pace line (however fast it really is) because of how much effort it saves. When you don’t know the people you’re drafting, this is a dangerous maneuver. I remember a bunch of riders during this ride coming up to a gap in the chain link fence to get back on to the river trail. Once one person clipped out due to the slower speed, everyone else had to as well, and it was nerve wracking for me at the time because it required me to make a fast decision as to what to do next. It’s important to be very aware of what is not only ahead of you, but behind you!

Learn the cyclist “signals”

This goes beyond the usual “left turn”, “right turn”, “slow down” signals that most of us learn when we’re kids (or Boy Scouts in my case). Cyclists have their own language of sorts, but it’s not too difficult to pick up after a few group rides. It mainly involves pointing out hazards in the road ahead of you (even small potholes so that those behind you see it when in a paceline with you), knowing when to pass, the infamous “car back” or “car up” to point out vehicles, and when things are slowing. Perhaps I’ll write more about this sometime.

Get a bike computer.

It was this ride where I realized that my phone just wouldn’t have the battery to easily handle longer days in the saddle. At the time, I had purchased an “extended battery” case for my iPhone, but it was heavier and a bit more cumbersome to bring around with me. Luckily at this point, you can get an entry level Garmin or Wahoo bike computer with a lot of features for a reasonable price.

It’s fun to check out other riders

Not exactly like that. The kinds of gear people use, bike computers, helmets, wheelsets, frames, kits - all of it - makes you hone in what you can learn from others and understand why some things are built and designed the way they are.

Be aware of your nutrition

I don’t remember the specifics, but I believe I had some issues with cramps in my legs during this event, as I did fairly often early in my cycling days during events of this nature. Eat the food they provide for you during these events, but be careful not to eat too much. Stick to carb-heavy foods, and drink a lot of water (learn to drink while coasting or pedaling). Basically, pay attention to your body, and use a training program leading up to longer events to understand this dynamic of riding. You don’t want to bonk or have cramps along the way!

So should you do this event?

Overall, this was a great event, but I think some of my memory of this is skewed towards romanticizing it due to it being my first real event I did on my bike. I remember the support being good, but I don’t know if the LA River Trail is the most scenic trail in the region. It’s extremely efficient at getting across a LOT of city by bike, but there are sections (at least at the time) that do not go completely through (Paramount, for example) that may make you a bit uncomfortable if you’re not already familiar with the area.

Long Beach is consistently rated as one of the best cities to bike in, though, so perhaps things have changed a bit since I’ve done this ride (and I think there have been substantial efforts to clean up the river since then, too - you can actually kayak in it these days), so it’s an event to look into if you’re curious. It’s never a bad idea to try out an event if you can do it!

If you’re making it into a weekend, do a second ride up through Griffith Park, perhaps even up to the Observatory if you’re up for it, or possibly take that trail up to the top of the Hollywood sign and pretend to be a tourist for the day. Not a bad idea either!

View out over Los Angeles at night from the Griffith Park Observatory

Overall Rating

I think the rating of this ride is going to vary on 1) how touristy you want to be, in case you don’t live near the area, and 2) your overall skill level. The LA Bicycle Coalition is the organization that puts on the event, and while they have their work cut out for them (advocating bicycles in LA is not a winning battle most of the time), it’s a nice event that starts and ends in a great location and has good support.

If you’re an avid rider like me who does stuff like this regularly, opt for the longer route for the bragging rights or skip the event, unless you really want to check it out as a first-timer. But if you’re a more novice rider who simply wants to see what the LA River trail has to offer, go check it out. Just be prepared that it isn’t comparable to riding around Tahoe or along the beach from Newport Beach to Laguna Beach.

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