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March 3rd of 1996 marked the eleventh running of the Los Angeles Marathon and the second running of the LA Marathon Bike Tour. Over 19,000 ran and over 11,000 rode. I don't know if other city marathons have a bike tour associated with them, but if they don't, they should. For those who have run the marathon, it's a great opportunity to experience the marathon from a new perspective -- the topography of L.A. reads differently when astride a bike than when pounding the pavement. For those who aren't runners, riding the bike tour gives a good feeling for the excitement of running the marathon with only a modicum of the work and commitment required to do so.
a portion of the crowd of cyclists waiting in the dark for the tour to start
One of the best features of L.A. is its racial and ethnic diversity. The marathon is laid out to take advantage of it. Like in many large cities, we tend to isolate ourselves from each other. Events like the marathon and the Olympics bring us back together. I remember the 1984 Olympics which were held in Los Angeles. The city was magic. Our personal space shrunk; we greeted and talked to strangers (much like backpackers do when they meet on the trail); suspicion was on hold. We were a community. I get the same feeling at each running of the marathon. For a brief moment we are truly a melting pot. This is a moment to be savored. It's too bad we can't do this every month even though the feeling would probably change if we did.
The marathon organizers stressed that this was a "bike tour" and not a "race". This was to reduce liability but also to avoid the potential carnage of a destruction derby that might ensue if 10,000+ not-necessarily-trained "racers" took to the streets. The tour/race distinction was lost on more than a few. It's hard to pull in the reins when given the streets of LA without cars and traffic lights.
The bike tour started at 6am on Hollywood Boulevard near Vine and headed east. I got to the starting area at 5 AM; there were already several hundred ahead of me. The mix was as diverse as LA itself -- seasoned cyclists with bikes and outfits to match, cyclists riding two- seater bikes, a lot of mountain bikers, a few persons on experimental and sitting-position cycles, a few retro guys on high wheelers, and a lot of just plain folks riding a variety of bikes from grunge to big-buck. The young, the old, the fit, the marginally fit - the mix mirrored the marathon itself.
It was still dark at the start of the "tour". Our mayor, who is an avid cyclist, gave a brief speech and ended with something to the effect of "Let's get on with the race." Not a few of us in the crowd responded tongue-in-cheek with "'tour' not 'race' -- 'tour'." I guess even our mayor got caught up in the spirit of the thing just like we did.
So at 6am with the mayor, several elite cyclists and members of the LA Wheelmen leading off, the tour began. Even at this early hour there were musicians and spectators along the way to cheer us on. For me, the music, the crowds, the spectacle and the shared experience are a large part of what the marathon is all about. The bike tour is an opportunity for a lot of people who aren't runners or volunteers to share the feeling.
This year the LA Marathon changed direction and starting point. It used to start and finish near the coliseum; now it starts and ends in downtown LA. We bikers actually began and ended our tour around mile 17 so as not to conflict with the runners and wheelchair racers. This is probably a good idea but makes it difficult on those who want to ride the tour and then run (or walk) the marathon or 5K afterwards.
One of the advantages of a dawn start was the opportunity to ride as the sun came up. The air was cool (in the low 60's) and slightly humid; dawn broke with color. Last year was a different story -- we rode the slick streets of LA in a light rain at the first LA marathon Bike Tour. Luckily, the rain god was appeased and LA got it's rain on March 4th of this year instead.
You would think that with over 11,000 cyclists it would be a traffic jam all the way. Surprisingly, that wasn't the case. After a few miles interspersed with Metro Rail construction along Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, the crowd thinned and it was relatively easy to ride safely at whatever pace you wished. Los Angeles has wide streets along the route.
At the finish, Hollywood & Vine, Columbia Records Bldg. on the right
In about an hour we got to the finish at Hollywood and Vine -- a loop of around 21 miles. Looking back down Vine Street after the finish, I could see an ocean of cyclists stretching back towards Wilshire Blvd. Maybe the real accomplishment of this marathon bike tour was finding a way to get so many people up before dawn to ride in a group around L.A.
Thus with rock music reverberating against the Capital Records building and many more cyclists still to come in, I left the heart of Hollywood for home to watch the elite runners on TV doing the course the hard way.
©1996 Gary Fisher
The 1997 Los Angeles Marathon Bike Tour III
The 1998 Los Angeles Marathon Bike Tour IV
The 1999 Los Angeles Marathon Bike Tour V
The 2000 Los Angeles Marathon Bike Tour VI
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