It's 5 p.m., and there are only 17 miles left in your commute down car-choked Ventura Boulevard.
In Woodland Hills, you speed by a bicyclist on a cucumber-green bicycle with matching helmet, jersey, shorts, glasses, gloves and shoes. In Encino, 20 minutes later, she passes you as the traffic slows to yet another crawl.
About 85 million Americans put foot to pedal last year, according to Ed Burke, assistant coach for the 1984 U.S. Olympic cycling team. Many of them are joining clubs in an effort to increase their skill, motivation and enjoyment.
Riding with a group often results in a longer, stronger workout, Burke said, and it's a good climate in which to acquire some techniques and make friends.
Although busy routes such as Ventura Boulevard are not ideal for every cyclist, many use the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas as a training ground because of wide-open spaces not found farther downtown.
Gary Canter, president of the Conejo Valley Cyclists, said Westlake Village is an ideal spot because of the flat, wide bicycle lanes along Westlake Boulevard and Lindero Canyon, Agoura and Triunfo Canyon roads.
"It's good for novice riders," Canter said. "There's a beautiful lake there and little traffic. The joggers are still there, but they're finding out from their doctors that the best way to go is to swim or bike."
Burke said many Americans are "cross-training," a trend that has grown in popularity in recent years.
"People aren't getting wrapped up in one activity and getting fanatical about it," he said. "They're combining several and obtaining good cardiovascular fitness."
Dr. Jerry Maryniuk, an emergency room physician at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, said 75% of all serious bicycle injuries are head-related.
"Probably half of head and facial injuries could be eliminated through the use of a helmet," Maryniuk said.
In "The Effective Cyclist," author John Forester writes that a simple fall will be experienced by an adult cyclist every 2,000 miles. Cyclists who join clubs are less prone to accidents, falling only once every 10,000 miles, on the average, he says. Of those accidents, 50% are caused by falling off a bicycle; 17% involve a car; another 17% involve another bicycle, and 8% involve a dog.
The following is a partial list of local clubs.
The San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club has "room for everybody," according to Dick Sanabia, its president. Many of the 1,000 members gather at Cal State Northridge parking lot A, Nordhoff Street and Darby Avenue, at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday for rides that range from 25 to 129 miles.
Among them are the "Beverly Hills Bash," a 42-mile ride that traverses the Sepulveda Pass; "Pig out at Paty's," a flat, 33-mile ride that drops into Toluca Lake in time for a late breakfast feast at Paty's Restaurant; "Oh Hi Ojai," a "real killer" that winds 129 miles from Santa Paula to Ojai, and the 25- to 40-mile "Woodland Hills Wiggle," which careens in, through, around and especially up a maze of streets about a mile south of Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills.
Twenty-five-mile time trials for racers are held on alternating Saturdays and Sundays of odd-numbered months on The Old Road near Magic Mountain at 8 a.m.
Meetings are held on the third Wednesday of each month at the Encino Community Center on Balboa Boulevard at 7:15 p.m. Membership in the 10-year-old club, which includes a monthly newsletter, is $11 for individuals, $14 for couples and $16 for families. The club also holds an annual "Nude Moonlight Ride" on April 1. (818) 787-2788.
The Ventura County Bicycle Club combines recreational rides, touring and racing for its 220 members. "We're a family club," said its president, Tren Morris. "You'll see a lot of members with baby carriers on the back of their bikes."
Recreational rides depart Sundays at 9 a.m. from Mission Park in Ventura. The 40-mile route varies, sometimes traversing Casitas Pass or the outskirts of Carpinteria and Ojai.
The last Sunday of every month, bicyclists depart on a breakfast ride at 9 a.m. from Mission Park. The flat route, following the coast, is cycled at a leisurely pace and takes hungry bicyclists into a Carpinteria restaurant for breakfast and back.
Time trials are held during three weekends in October and November. Call for location and times.
The 21-year-old club sometimes arranges informal tours to locations such as the Rockies, the Pacific Coast, and Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks.
Club meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. on the last Tuesday of every month at various restaurants in Ventura. Maintenance clinics are sometimes offered. Membership is $12 for individuals and $15 for families. (805) 644-4311.
The Conejo Valley Cyclists club has 200 members that make up a "very likable bunch," according to Canter. Members meet Wednesdays at 6 p.m. for a 17-mile ride through Hidden Valley, beginning at the Landing Shopping Center in Westlake Village, just off Lindero Canyon Road.