E-Biking Up The Hill

Transportation Board Member

It’s commonly held that there isn’t any reasonable bicycle route from White Rock to LA, at least if you don’t have Pajarito Road access. This has come up in the Transportation Board so often I decided to give it a try; nothing illustrates a problem better than experience. And to see if it was practical for less-than-athletic bike riders, I decided to use my longer-range eBike.

Ultimately, the consensus is correct: the route is unacceptable. The shoulder on SR 4 is too small, the constrictions on the Truck Route are prohibitive, and the big surprise? Once you get to town, Trinity is essentially useless — even the Road Diet section.

But the real fun is in the details.

Some basics: I was using the lowest assist setting on my eBike (to get maximum range) and never pedaling hard. The idea was to see if it could be easy enough for someone who doesn’t ride a bike often.

Total round trip distance from my staring point to Smith’s LA was just over 24 miles. Just to Omega Bridge and back is only about 21 miles. Time to Omega Bridge was a tad over an hour with a return time of about 45 minutes. That’s significantly over an hour longer than by car, but the times would be less using a higher assistance level. I intend to try faster runs in the future.

Leaving White Rock, my first surprise was that the shoulder on SR4 is almost always wide enough to use, and usually in even better shape than the road. But it’s not wide enough. Most of the time my handlebar was slightly across the white line. At times the flat dirt at the side is wide enough to pull off, and when I saw a big line of cars approaching I did so, only stopping once. A rear-view mirror is a must on this route.

The turn onto the Truck Route is routine and simple. The climb is mostly bike-friendly, with a few spots where narrowness makes things a little tight. But since there are two lanes for uphill traffic, they can and do usually leave plenty of margin. One pickup driver did not, coming within a foot of my bike. Anyone riding this route should expect some such behavior.

I did not try to cross Omega Bridge in the traffic lane. There is no margin at all, and a mistake on the part of a driver would squash me like a bug. There really isn’t a practical option other than to go into the Large Intestine and pick up the sidewalk inside the lab.

Once across, I turned right onto Trinity, going immediately to the sidewalk. The bike lane at that point is generally seen as a right-turn lane for cars and soon pinches off anyway.

Once past the hospital parking lot it’s obvious that the bike lane is useless. First there is construction, but once clear of that, the bike lane is full of snow, rocks, and other trash from the road. Once again, the sidewalk was the only reasonable option. Once past the Road Diet section, there is no useful shoulder.

The other side of the road looked better because the snow had melted and I looked forward to using it on the way back. But after doing a bit of business in town, it turned out that lane was also full of rocks, debris and road trash. Once again, no option but the sidewalk.

Getting back out of town is no problem. A left at Diamond gets you on the sidewalk, and from there through the Large Intestine back to the Truck Route.

That’s when the real fun starts.

The upper part of the downhill Truck Route is a white-knuckle horror. The guard rails are extremely close to the lane. Three layers of resurfacing have left what shoulder exists in a ragged state that kicks your tire sideways. Of course you want to get by these stretches as fast as you can, but that means moving out into the single lane and hoping for mercy. I did all this, but I think prudence would argue for using the uphill side both ways.

The final insult at the bottom is thick weeds growing through the guard rails, forcing a bicyclist out into the lane and obscuring vision around the curve where an aggressive driver might not see a cyclist until too late. I simply waited until the coast was clear, which probably only took ten seconds.

The shoulder along SR4 headed to White Rock is less friendly, being on the downhill side. The drainage sometimes encroaches to the white line and there are fewer opportunities to safely move completely off the road.

Overall, I do not recommend cycling up the hill at this time. There is significant risk, even for an experience bicyclist.

If there were a good route, I’d probably do it fairly often. It would add an hour or more to a trip up the hill, but it’s kind of fun most of the way. The physical exertion was not a problem even with just modest eBike assistance. I’m in my 70th year, so I guess most people could manage it, especially using a higher assistance level.

When I started out at 10 am, the temperature was 29F. It did increase a bit during the ride and was well into the 30s when I got back at 1 pm. This was not at all uncomfortable with just thick jeans, normal tennies, a t-shirt, sweater and light jacket. Gloves, of course. Many folks tell me it’s too cold to ride in winter, but it’s really just a question of dressing properly. To me, summer is actually more challenging.

Almost every driver along the route was considerate, giving me plenty of space and slowing down when opposing traffic made this tricky. While that’s commendable, it also presents me with a bit of guilt — my presence on these substandard roads is an inconvenience to everyone driving there. It’s not fair to them, and it bothers me to have to cause that aggravation.

Though this report was triggered by discussions at the Transportation Board, it is my experience and opinion alone and in no way reflects any official position of the Transportation Board, Los Alamos County, New Mexico, the Federal Government, or the United Nations. Any mistakes are mine alone, except for the incompetent in the pickup truck.

The Board is forming a Bicycle Safety And Promotion working group. We will have a meeting schedule set up soon.

Also, there are two openings on the Board. It’s surprisingly interesting to find out the nuts and bolts of Transportation in LA County, and help improve things at the same time.

Interested in applying to a board?