Guide to Bicycling at Caltech and Pasadena

Table of Contents

Caltech bike commuter benefits

If you bike to work at Caltech, you are eligible for Caltech's bike commuter benefits, which grants you 9 free parking passes per term (if you need to occasionally drive to work) and one free taxi ride home per term. Forms to register as a biking commuter are here.

We also encourage you to register your bike with Caltech in case of theft. This will help your bike to be returned to you if it is recovered.

To ride safely, ride your bike in the street  
We very strongly recommend that you ride in the street and not the sidewalk, because it is safer in the street. The California Vehicle Code clearly states that cyclists have as much right to be on the road as any other vehicle (for more California bike laws, see here). If you follow traffic laws and are assertive, giving clear indication of turns and stops and taking the lane when you feel it will make you safer, you will find that riding on the road is far more convenient, faster, and safer than riding on the sidewalk. Always ride in the same direction as traffic. You are three times as likely to get hit riding against the flow of traffic.

Riding on the sidewalk poses many dangers to both cyclists and pedestrians. You are twice as likely to get hit riding on the sidewalk and crosswalk than if you ride your bike properly in the road. Cars do not expect cyclists on the sidewalk and will often zoom out of driveways and make left turns without looking for cyclists on the sidewalk. Always give way to pedestrians crossing the street. In many cities in Los Angeles County and the US is illegal to ride on the sidewalk unless you are under 12 years old or younger. 

You can also get a ticket for riding on the sidewalk in Old Town Pasadena and South Lake Ave.

If you have to use the crosswalk, please step off your bike and walk it across the intersection instead of riding. You should not be riding in the crosswalk. Better to always ride in a straight line when you can so that cars can predict your behavior.

If you are uncomfortable riding a bike on high traffic streets we recommend you gain experience and confidence by riding on streets with slower traffic. There are many techniques which you can use to avoid accidents and stay safe. Please check out Bicycling Street Smarts for more information and think about taking one of our defensive cycling classes.

Remember that as a pedestrian or a cyclist you are an asset to the road and your presence helps to calm the streets and make them safer. The most dangerous roads are ones where only cars exist.


  • Ride on the road, not the sidewalk
  • Be where drivers will see you
  • Use lane positioning and hand signals to indicate your intended direction!
  • Use both a front and rear light at night and consider bright/reflective clothing
  • Ride in a straight line. Do not weave between parked cars
  • Always signal left/right turns and stops.
  • Stop at stop signs and red lights.
  • Ride in correct flow of traffic
  • Always ride to the right unless you are passing another vehicle or turning left.
    Keep a safe distance from parked cars and watch for car doors that may open.
  • When raining, the road is slick, so allow extra time to stop. Please also check your brakes.
  • Wear a helmet. Make sure your helmet fits and fastens securely. Your helmet is your safety measure of last resort (Your riding behavior matters the most)
  • Perform basic maintenance regularly (oil your chain, check/adjust your brakes, fully inflate tires to prevent flats)
  • Carry a repair kit (tire patch, tire levers, pump, first aid) 

Caltech Bike Lab offers a FREE 1 hour defensive cycling class taught by CICLE at the Caltech Y every quarter.  

Taking a basic defensive cycling/ traffic safety class (1 hour of your time) is an easy and effective way to gain confidence for riding your bike on the street. Check our blog and calendar for details! The class is FREE because it is subsidized by Caltech Bike Lab and the Transportation Office.
CICLE also regularly offers free (adult) learn to ride classes locally, check their calendar.

Sustainable Streets offers defensive cycling classes and other classes in the Burbank, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood area.

How to choose a good bike route

Avoid major arteries without bike lanes where there is a greater than 10 mph differential between you and the cars. Instead, choose your bike routes wisely.

Take smaller streets in general, and use Class I and II bike routes when possible. Google Maps has great bike routes for LA, and more are being added. You can also try to plan your route using right turns since they are often easier to make than left turns.

Cordova Ave is a decent bike route close to Caltech with bike lanes on some portions that connects to Del Mar Station. If you are comfortable, you can ride on Green and Union (one-way streets going each way). In addition, Wilson Ave is a useful north-south route that crosses the 210 Fwy. Hudson and Mentor are also useful one-way streets. 

At our shop on campus, we have detailed maps of LA that you can check out for trails and routes. Here is an updated map of Los Angeles with bike routes. Here is a map of Pasadena with bike routes.

For excellent bike routes all over the city submitted by LA cyclists, check out CICLE's list of LA bike routes. We love the Pasadena to Downtown LA route!

How to trigger a green light with your bike

Intersections with loop detectors that detect metal can detect bikes as well as cars. Many Pasadena intersections have these loop detectors. However, you have to position your bike wheel in the right position on the loop to trigger the green light. Here are examples of ways to use your bike to trigger the detector to give you a green light:

If you experience problems in Pasadena with non-responsive loop detectors (on car or bike), you can call the city at (626)744-4799 and the detection for that intersection will be checked. When you call, be sure to provide information about the location of the intersection and the direction of approach.

How to securely lock your bike

When possible, we recommend securing your bikes inside your home/office because no lock is infallible. 

Secure your bike frame and not just the wheel. 
When you need to lock your bike in public, we recommend that you use a U-lock and cable combination to secure both your wheels and your frame to an immovable object. If you only lock your wheel, the rest of your bike will get taken, so always lock your frame FIRST. Best to secure your frame through your back wheel, so both your frame and rear wheel are secure. Then, if you have quick release on your front wheels, you probably want to also secure them with an additional chain/cable through the U-lock. Alternatively you can try to deter thieves by replacing your quick release bolts with regular nuts and bolts or with pinhead locks 

Seats and seatposts are also very commonly stolen on campus if you have them on quick release. You can also try deter thieves by replacing quick release bolts with regular nuts and bolts -- local bike shops should have the parts for this.

Use a U-lock and not a cable lock

Caltech attracts many bike thieves looking to steal bikes, and they come with bolt cutters, so use a more secure U-lock rather than a cable lock. U-locks provide more protection than cable locks and don't cost much more. In general, smaller U-locks are harder to break than larger U-locks because the typical method is to use a car jack to fit inside the U-lock and pry it open. Chains are also good for locking bikes, just make sure that the chain is thick enough to resist most bolt-cutter attacks.
Ensure a safe location

 Make sure that the object that you are locking your bike to is secure. For example, secured bike racks are better than posts (which could be unscrewed from the ground) or small trees. Because no lock is unbreakable, we recommend that you do not leave your bike locked outdoors for long periods of time and that for commuting purposes you do not choose an extremely expensive bike to ride.

Take your bags and lights with you.
Your bike lights and bags are easy items for a thief to steal.

What are the closest bike shops to Caltech?
The three closest bike shops to Caltech are 1-2 miles away.

Pasadena Cyclery (northeast of campus, Bonnie and Hill Ave) is a great local family-owned bike shop that is well stocked with tubes, tires, tools, lights, helmets, accessories, and affordable bike repair. They also offer an affordable complete overhaul service for your bike. They have a Caltech discount.

Every 1st Saturday of the month Pasadena Cyclery hosts a FREE basic bike maintenance (i.e. how to change flat, oil chain, etc) and riding tips class! See their calendar for details.

Incycle Bicycles (west of campus, Fair Oaks and Valley) Bikes here are expensive, but the store is well stocked with tubes, tires, tools, lights, accessories, etc and they also do bike repair.

We also highly recommend Empire Bike Shop on Fair Oaks. Their bike repair is very affordably priced and they have a Caltech discount.

In South Pasadena : The Cub House is a bicycle and clothing store that boasts itself as "America's #1 Bike and Plant Store."

In Altadena : Open Road Bicycle Shop (aka the Bunny Museum) offers affordable bike repair from a friendly owner dedicated to the craft. An alternative to riding up Lake Ave. to get to the store is taking the bus. The store is recognizable due to a very large bunny in the storefront.

REI Arcadia hosts both a FREE Basic Bike Maintenance class every month. They also host more comprehensive bike repair classes for a fee. Check their store calendar for details!

Where can I borrow a bike (for short term rental)?
  • Caltech has a bike share program run by students! Go to the Sherman Fairchild Library and sign out a bike through the library staff. Please check out Bikeshare's website. Contact them for up-to-date information.

  • If you only need a bike occasionally, the Caltech Parking office at 515 S Wilson Ave has folding bikes that you can borrow. Caltech students, faculty, and staff can borrow a folding bike (with helmet and lock). Borrowing a bike is free with a $20 refundable deposit. Currently they have 2 bikes available on a first-come-first serve basis. Registration form is here. For more info contact Kristina.Valenzuela AT caltech DOT edu.
  • You can also borrow bikes locally through services such as Spinlister!
Where can I buy an inexpensive bike?

We often get asked where to find a cheap bike to ride around the city/learn to fix/turn into a giant squid for Burning Man. Here are our recommendations for sources close to Caltech.

We generally do not recommend purchasing mountain bikes for the purpose of riding your bike in the city. Mountain bikes are equipped with tires good for riding on rough terrain such as dirt, rock, and sand but are much less comfortable and less fast than road/hybrid bikes on paved streets.

We recommend road or hybrid bikes if you are biking around the city. Road/hybrid bikes are expensive if you purchase brand new. Instead you can get a much better deal purchasing used bikes. For this reason we recommend looking at:

  • Around the Cycle is a local bike shop buying and selling used bicycle parts and entire bikes. Lincoln Blvd, Pasadena.
  • Empire Bike Shop. Empire is a family-owned bike shop located at Esther and N Fair Oaks in Pasadena. They have used bikes for sale (incl. ones for around $100) as well as standard bike parts. They're cheaper than any other bike store in Pasadena, and the owner Rafael who runs the shop is very friendly. They have a Caltech discount. 
  • PCC Flea Market and Rose Bowl Flea Market. PCC Flea is free and the Rose Bowl Flea has an entry fee. 1st and 2nd Sundays of the month, respectively. There's often bikes for sale. Loads of interesting (non-bike) things for sale too.
  • Open Road Bicycle Shop. Open Road is located at Colorado Ave and N Sierra Madre Ave. They have used bikes for sale usually around the end of the school year (~May). A good place for getting bike parts for older bikes if you're fixing up something yourself. Open daily 11 am - 6 pm. They have a Caltech discount.

  • Bicycle Kitchen. They gets lots of bikes donated to them since they are the original LA bike co-op and these you can acquire for fixing up at affordable prices. Like many co-ops, Bike Kitchen never turns anyone away for lack of funds, so don't let price keep you away from fixing up a used bike. As long as you're willing to work on it, you can acquire and fix up a used bike. (Margie: I got one for $40 incl. parts and after 6 hours cumulative work time  over two visits, I got myself a functioning bike). That said, all co-ops (including our own Bike Lab) rely on community support so do try and give back as much as you are able! They recently moved to an awesome new location and have open hours every day. Bike Kitchen is really popular so you often have to reserve stand time in advance, especially on weekends. Call and ask for a "project bike" if you want to check out their used bike stock and schedule stand time to work on it. Their volunteers will help you work on your bike! 
Many bike shops including Open Road give significant discounts on bikes/parts if you are a member of the LA County Bicycle Coalition. LACBC student memberships are $15 and we encourage you to join and support the bike community! 

If you must buy online, one inexpensive online source for new bikes is which offers free shipping. The bike is shipped to you unassembled and you can assemble it yourself. Amazon also offers bikes for sale online. There is also Ebay, but shipping can be expensive.

Other bike shops that specialize in used bikes

Coco's Variety in Silver Lake

Plenty of Bikes in Long Beach/Signal Hill

Check out the Bicycle Lifestyle Guide from local bike organization C.I.C.L.E!