East of Western Avenue, after the stars of Hollywood Boulevard have faded, and where the number of cars whipping by outnumbers pedestrians at least tenfold, I gazed into the windows of stores in L.A.'s Little Thailand and Little Armenia.
The architecture left a lot to be desired - old, broken-down buildings that retained the sun-bleached letter traces of businesses past. In a car, this less glitzy strip would fly by blandly while you changed the radio station, but I took the opportunity to stop at a restaurant called Hollywood Taron to chat with a couple guys chilling on the restaurant's patio. Aaron Graham, a recent grad from the University of Washington, told me that the two of them were on a road trip down the west coast.
"He likes to find hidden gems like this in cities," Mr. Graham said of his buddy, Ilya Golotavy. "You know, places run by first-generation immigrants." I went inside and ordered my first-ever lahmajune - the Armenian take on pizza, a snack I enjoyed on the patio as the sun finally broke through the clouds.
Heading onward, as I biked past hipsters lunching at cafés along Sunset Boulevard near Silver Lake, I noticed that Los Angeles has a smell, and it's not just the exhaust. The scent is a combination of a faint but permeating flowery perfume and baking tortillas.
"Bicycling becomes a process of discovery," Milam had told me, explaining that biking in L.A. often forces you to see parts of the city you would never get to in a car. After consuming the last carrot cake muffin at Delilah Bakery on Echo Park Boulevard, my planned final stop, I continued on without consulting a map. And as I happened upon MacArthur Park in the Hispanic neighbourhood of Westlake, where old men and families gathered to play and watch the orange light of the setting sun illuminate the downtown skyline in the distance, I knew what he meant.
That night, I was escorted back to my hotel in West Hollywood by 300 bicyclists who had met up downtown for a Critical Mass ride. At a stop, I got talking to a guy who rode a six-foot-tall bike while wearing a tutu and an army jacket. I asked him if biking in the streets of L.A. was a daily battle against cars.
"It's more of a beginner bike thing that people think it's a war zone and that it's really dangerous," Matthew Simmons, a 30-year-old paparazzo, told me. "When I first started riding, I got into some confrontations with motorists, but after a while you tend to get used to what pisses cars off and avoid it." And what is that? Mainly, he says, if you're moving too slow, they'll yell at you to ride on the sidewalk - which he points out is legal in Los Angeles. "But that's sort of reserved for the really old dudes on mountain bikes that ride 20 miles to work on the sidewalk."
Pulling over at North La Cienega Boulevard, the steep street that would deliver me to my bed, I became once again a lone rider, rolling past an unending chain of steel carriages. Glancing back at the distant darkness though, where the bike horde had already disappeared from view, I didn't feel alone.
Where to rent bikes
Beverly Hills Bike Shop 854 South Robertson Blvd.; (310) 275-2453; bhbikeshop.com. Hybrids $25 (U.S.) a day, five days $100; road bikes from $50 a day. The shop lends hybrids for city touring and will soon bring in a stock of road bikes. Col de Sag Coldesag.com; 323-254-1043. Call it bespoke bicycle touring: This company does everything to set up private bike tours short of actually pedalling. They can set up a romantic ride for two through the city ending with a picnic ($150 (U.S.) including food). Perry's Beach Café and Rentals 310-939-0000; www.perryscafe.com. Bikes from $9 (U.S.) per hour, $25 per day. With eight locations along the coast, this mini-chain is a good place to get set up for your boardwalk beach ride. They also offer guided tours for groups of three or more. [-rule-]
Where to stay Andaz West Hollywood 8401 Sunset Blvd.; 323-656-1234; westhollywood.hyatt.com. From $223. This second edition of Hyatt's new boutique brand was updated this January from its previous incarnation as the "Riot Hyatt," where bands like Led Zeppelin came to crash after playing the Sunset Strip. Redesigned with elegance and fitted with eye-catching art, amenities include a rooftop pool with ambient music and daybeds, and a hotel restaurant run by French-trained chef Sebastien Archambault.
Bicycle routes and transit in Los Angeles County http://metro.net/riding_metro/maps/images/la_bike_map.pdf Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition http://la-bike.org Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.) www.cicle.org Midnight Ridazz cycle activists www.midnightridazz.com
Special to The Globe and Mail