Michele Fitzgerald was initially skeptical when friend and avid cyclist Chris Kelly approached her about joining him in a new business venture: leading bicycle tours of various Los Angeles tourist sites.
"When Chris proposed this idea, I thought, 'Ooh, cycling in L.A. . . .' " says Fitzgerald, a Miami transplant who assumed the streets of this automobile-dominated city would be too congested and dangerous for bike riding. "People can really get freaked out by the traffic in L.A. When I thought about a Hollywood bike tour, I wondered how we would logistically get around."
Kelly managed to allay her concerns after he mapped out urban bike routes that emphasized side streets that were quieter and safer than the city's main boulevards.
So in 1999, the two actors and high school tutors formed L.A. Bike Tours, which is run out of a small office space on Hollywood Boulevard. The pair offer tours of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the Venice Beach area and the Getty Center. Families are welcome (with some age restrictions).
The Hollywood, Venice Beach and Beverly Hills rides offer leisurely bike trips with numerous stops at various sites and landmarks. The La Brea Tar Pits, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and the Los Angeles Farmers Market are a few of the high points of the Hollywood tour. An ocean-side ride from Venice Beach to Santa Monica Beach and back highlight the Venice tour. Rodeo Drive and numerous stops at celebrity homes from the golden age of Hollywood are included in the Beverly Hills tour.
The Beverly Hills tour is slightly more challenging than the other two. For example, the uphill climb to the Pickfair estate--the honeymoon home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford--is a good workout. And Fitzgerald encourages all but the hardiest souls to walk their bikes up the steep incline that leads to the Greystone Mansion, the magnificent 55-room estate built by oil magnate Edward Doheny.
The 35-mile Getty Center journey is recommended for bicyclists looking for more strenuous exercise. The tour consists largely of the ride to and from the Getty Center from the L.A. Bike Tours' office in Hollywood. There are only a few stops along the way as cyclists make their way steeply uphill toward the Sepulveda Pass, though the company's policy of going only as fast as the slowest person still applies.
"I wish I could easily summarize [our clientele]," Kelly says. "It really is everybody. The one common denominator is a sense of adventure. Our customers are sincerely looking for something unique. They're willing to take the chance to be the first person to do something different."
The Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Venice tours are also enjoyable bonding experiences for families with kids 12 and older, Kelly says. L.A. Bike Tours will accept younger children, but only if the youngsters are up to the task. A modified tour of Beverly Hills, which excludes the more strenuous rides up to Pickfair and the Greystone Mansion, is also offered to families.
Kelly and Fitzgerald believe their company offers a compelling alternative to the standard van and bus tours of tourist areas such as Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The bike tours are designed for groups of four to 15 people and include a 20-minute bicycle safety class.
"Even if you're in your own car, you don't get the same feeling you do when you're on a bike," Fitzpatrick observes. "There's something about being out in the open that's so different than being in an enclosed vehicle. It makes you feel more a part of the experience. Also, on the Beverly Hills tour, people think we're their neighbors [and not tourists]. If you pass a celebrity, they happily wave and talk to us."
Fitzgerald and Kelly also try to offer as much flexibility as possible to their tour groups. Participants are sometimes offered the choice of taking alternate routes along the way. They can also choose to linger at certain sites that interest them.
"What I like about this bike tour, as opposed to a tour bus, is that you're going along slow enough that you can see everything and you're not just getting a quick spiel," says Tom Adams, a retired IBM computer programmer from Rochester, Minn., who recently took part in the Beverly Hills tour with his wife, Mary Pat.
Historical information at each tour stop is provided by Fitzgerald or Kelly. Fitzgerald says the pair tries to be as accurate as possible with the information they dispense.
"[Before we started leading tours] we talked to a lot of companies and people who did tours," Fitzpatrick says. "There were people who said to just tell them 'whatever.' [There were tour guides] who said they have actually lied. That bothered me. If I think something may not be true, I will say it's a rumor."