Los Angeles is a magical place, known for celebrity sightings, beaches and sunshine. But it is also known for traffic, smog and gridlock - and first-time visitors often comment that the town seems to have been built as much for the convenience of automobiles as for people. 'Bicycle friendly' falls low on the list of terms a responsible travel writer would use to describe this city. Yet here I am, doing just that.

Los Angeles’ reputation as a car-only town has been cracking for years, and recently that reputation may have crumbled for good. The much hyped 'Carmageddon' (in which a section of the 405 freeway was closed down for a day) did not, as many predicted, bring chaos. Rather it did the opposite, providing tangible evidence that Los Angeles is not as hopelessly auto-dependent as previously thought. More importantly, cyclists used the shutdown as an opportunity to showcase what they had long known - that biking offers a viable alternative to what is arguably the city's Achilles heel, namely a transportation infrastructure overly-geared to personal cars.

But one good year doth not a bicyclist's paradise make, and the proof is in the riding. Come to Los Angeles, ditch the car, and find out for yourself on these five fantastic bike rides around the city:

Explore historic downtown LA

Difficulty: Easy
Downtown Los Angeles is a mostly flat, bicycle-friendly grid that offers plenty of spots for the intrepid explorer. Newer skyscrapers are mostly to the west of Pershing Square, and Broadway is full of Art Deco buildings (do not miss The Bradbury Building) and theatres dating back to the days of vaudeville. Gourmands will not want to miss Little Tokyo and Chinatown, both within easy riding range.

Tour South LA

Difficulty: Moderate
Just south of downtown is a series of communities known collectively as South LA. Start your ride in the piñata district (because really, how many chances do you get to visit a piñata district?) on East Olympic and head south on Hill or Main past wide palm-tree lined streets. The Mercado La Paloma is a great place to break for lunch.

Beaches and dreams

Difficulty: Easy
Filled with sand and sunshine, character and characters, Venice Beach is a laid back spot in a city renowned for laid-backness. Home to Muscle Beach (where Arnold Schwarzenegger began his political career) and more medical marijuana shops than you can shake a stick at, Venice Beach is a great neighbourhood for riding, sunbathing or just chilling out. Santa Monica Beach is a few miles north, and both beaches have shops to rent bicycles by the hour or by the day.

Take a celebrity home tour

Difficulty: Moderate
The eco-friendly company Bikes and Hikes LA offers a variety of tours around the greater Los Angeles area, including a Hollywood Tour that can't be beat. Nothing screams 'I love Los Angeles' louder than a photograph of you and your pals posing on bicycles in a famous person’s driveway. Too fabulous for words! Check their website for prices & difficulty levels.

Cruise with the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition (LACBC)

Difficulty: Variable
The non-profit LACBC organizes biking events, including the LA River Ride and other regular thematic rides (such as the cycle-and-cuisine themed 'tour de taste').

This article was updated in April 2012.

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