All aboard the Los Angeles Bike Train

Bicycle trains offer bike commuters a fun, safer ride to work with regularly scheduled group rides. Ride leaders commit to a regular departure time and route, allowing other commuters to join in.

Bike trains are usually used in the context of biking to school along with walking school buses. Such group riding and walking programs are used by alternative transportation advocates as a way to address parental “stranger danger” fears.

Bike trains are also used in the context of adult commuters. Well-run bike trains are a proven method of encouraging others to ride to school and work by providing a “safety in numbers” benefit. The group activity helps newcomers overcome anxiety on the road.

L.A. Bike Trains in Los Angeles extends the train metaphor by assigning route numbers on regularly schedule rides. “Conductors” lead the rides to various destinations around Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Bike Train routes

Bike enthusiast Nona Varnado began thinking about a Los Angeles bike train shortly after moving to California from New York. “I’ve never really owned a car and I’ve never been afraid of streets or traffic,” says Varnado. “When I first moved to L.A., I almost turned into a car person. I was terrified, and I realized what the barriers are around here.”

“I needed people who really understood the streets to show me how to get around Los Angeles on a bike. I’m lucky; I work in a bike shop. I have a lot of bike friends, so it’s easy for me to get that help and get started. Other people don’t have those resources.”

At the same time, she saw the tremendous social bike culture in Los Angeles with Midnight Ridazz and similar events and thought about how to bring it all together. “I realized bike trains can be that bridge for lots of people,” says Varnado.

Since the launch of Bike Train earlier this year with three routes, organizers Varnado and Bruce Chan have grown the network to eleven routes, with more on the way. “Los Angeles is a really large city. We have routes in South L.A., East L.A., Santa Monica, the Valley, and several routes to downtown,” Varnado says. “We’ll add two more routes in the next two months. I get email requests everyday for new routes.”

The routes currently listed at LA Bike Trains typically run once a week to prevent conductor burnout and keep things sustainable. Now that the system is launched and running, the organizers have found funding to be the biggest challenge. “Everything we do has technology behind it so we find out quickly what we do right and what we don’t do right, but it takes funding to make these things happen,” says Varnado. “We’ve received great support from LADOT and Bike Metro, but we need more visibility with signs and apparel and outreach. We have communities who don’t use electronic media to find out about these things, so our conductors there go to the neighborhood parks, bring coffee and talk to people.”

Learn more –> LA Bike Trains”. Nona Varnado will participate in a panel discussion about community cycling with Carlos Babcock at the California Bike Summit next month in Oakland, CA.