By Agnes CONSTANTE
Since the reopening of Angeles Crest Highway on June 3, a total of 18 collisions have been documented by the California Highway Patrol. Of the collisions, three resulted in fatalities.
But despite these figures and the dangers of the road, the ’Crest remains a popular route for bicyclists and motorcyclists.
“It’s a wonderful road to ride on at any speed because it’s a beautiful road,” said Bob Berkow, one of the owners of Pro Italia Motorcycles on Verdugo Road and a motorcyclist.
The ’Crest, which spans 66 miles from La Cañada Flintridge to the 138 State Route in Palmdale, has a history of accidents and casualties. From 2005 to 2009, there were 643 accidents reported on the highway, 20 of which resulted in deaths. None were reported the weekend of July 9-10.
While Angeles Crest has a reputation as a dangerous road because of the accidents and fatalities, some cyclists find it safer than city roads.
“I think you’re more likely to get hit in the city, with people racing around,” said Will Katzman, a manager and mechanic at Montrose Bike Shop who bikes up the ’Crest once or twice each week.
After the Station Fire, the road was rebuilt and may now be easier for cyclists to use.
“While the ’Crest is dangerous, it’s really probably no more dangerous than any other roads … because you have lines of sight, the road is now in good shape, so it’s a matter of people who want to prove themselves who use it as a racetrack,” said Berkow.
Sharing the road with vehicles is one of the challenges cyclists encounter while riding, but cyclists are able to avoid crowding on the long and winding highway by going up at different times in the day.
“Earlier in the day it’s not bad,” said Jonathan Livesay, the owner of Montrose Bike Shop. “Once you get past Clear Creek where Angeles Forest Highway turns off to Palmdale, there’s really not much traffic at all.”
Livesay typically rides his bike on the ’Crest on weekday mornings.
California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Allen said most accidents seem to occur when cyclists speed and test their abilities against the road conditions. Longtime cyclists agree, and make sure to take precaution when riding up Angeles Crest.
“I don’t use the oncoming lane to make turns,” said Katzman, who has been mountain biking up the road for 10 years. “I’m basically abiding by the same rules as a vehicle, which is what we’re supposed to be doing.
“You really have to be focused and you have to really pay attention to what you’re doing because you don’t have any margin for error because if you crash, you’re going to be hurt pretty bad.”
One of the most popular destinations for cyclists on the ’Crest is Newcomb’s Ranch, a restaurant and bar located about 27 miles up the highway from La Cañada Flintridge. Assistant manager Freddie Rundall III said the restaurant’s customers tend to be regulars who are familiar with the road and who have been riding it for years.
“The people that have been passing away are not regulars,” said Rundall. “They’re people that are curious, that have not been up [the ’Crest] before, but through friends or media have heard about the place.”
For most cyclists, the allure of the scenic route is that it serves as a getaway from everyday city life and is a local road unlike any other.
“If you obey the speed limit on the ’Crest, it’s still a beautifully flowy road … A lot of roads are start, stop, sharp turns,” said Berkow. “The ’Crest has a flow to it, and even though it twists and it winds, it feels right on a bike.”