L.A.'s Unofficial Late Night Bike Marathon

March 19, 2012
Bicyclists take advantage of empty streets closed ahead of the L.A. Marathon for a late night ride.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 18, Los Angeles was preparing itself for flooded streets. Rains were expected this night and the morning to come, but the city was more concerned with the 23,000 people who would soon be competing in the 27th annual L.A. Marathon. Five hours before the official start of the race, parking enforcement trucks trolled the city streets to tow away the last remaining cars in the race path.

The marathon runners were still asleep, perhaps dreaming of the grueling, 26.2-mile adventure there were soon to begin – from "Stadium to Sea," as its organizers have dubbed the point-to-point race. But as the city and the runners waited, another race had already begun. More than a thousand bicyclists had gathered on the official route at 3 a.m. to hold their own marathon – an unofficial race through the 26 miles of city streets now conveniently cleared of cars and traffic, a rare opportunity in a city better known for its car culture than its burgeoning bicyclism.

Packed along the sides of Sunset Boulevard in the city's Silver Lake neighborhood, the overwhelmingly male crowd lingered, waiting for the roads to officially close. Lycra shined in the night, as cyclists pinned on racing numbers, tightened their helmets and prepared themselves for what promised to be a very wet late night bike ride into downtown, then back west through Hollywood, Beverly Hills and right to the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. As the cyclists prepared to hit the streets, it felt like a ciclovia, the street closure festivals increasingly common in cities around the world – a cocktail of one part Tour de France, two parts Critical Mass and a twist of late night raver revelry.