During Saturday's congestion-increasing highway closure in LA, cyclists raced an airline's 'Carmageddon' PR special. And won.

[UPDATED] Bicycles beat commercial airliner

UPDATED WITH RESULT: JetBlue’s flight 405 was still on the runway when riders from the Wolfpack Hustle of Los Angeles neared the end-point to win the bike versus jet race detailed below. The riders had covered 35+ miles before the aircraft had even left the ground.

The A320 took just 12 minutes to complete the flight: here’s the flightpath. The cyclists had a one hour headstart over the aircraft (a reflection of how long it takes to transit through a non-international airport) but would have still won the race without this cushion.

The cyclists took 1 hour 34 minutes, and also beat a rider on the Los Angeles Metro, who took just under two hours.

Part of the reason for the win was the route chosen: much of it was on a riverside bike path, with no stop-lights.

The aircraft and a taxi ride to the end point took 2 hours 54 minutes. 

Pic by John Carl Martin

The race will be soon featured in the Bike to Work Book. The book currently features a variety of commuter challenges, including the BBC Top Gear race between a car, a bicycle and a speedboat through London. Bikes tend to win such city races.

Here’s the JetBlue plane that should now be renamed ‘A Bike Whupped My Ass’.

The race was covered widely by the media, including newspapers and TV from Los Angeles and there was national and international coverage too (including the Daily Mail). A local news crew filmed the start and end of the race.

The cyclists raced within the law: there was no riding on sidewalks and no blowing through stop-lights.

The Twitter frenzy of the event made some folks rethink what bikes are capable of. @mynameis_nano wrote: "WOW the bike is gonna beat the plane! I think im gonna buy me a bike now! "


It all started on Twitter, naturally. 

Responding to JetBlue’s $4 ‘carmageddon special’ flights from one side of Los Angeles to the other, Tom Vanderbilt – author of Traffic – wrote:

"Given airport travel time, security, runway delay, etc., I’d bet a good cyclist could travel BUR to LGB faster than Jet Blue."

Bicycle advocacy groups the world over stage cycle commuter challenges, proving that cycling is the fastest mode of transport through congestion-choked cities. Normally, the challenges pit a car against a bus or tube passenger and both athletic and non-athletic cyclists. Generally, even the non-athletic cyclists beat cars, and the athletic cyclists beat them by huge margins. Public transport passengers always limp in last.

But what if the public transport mode is faster than usual: an aircraft?

In 2009, a helicopter v bicycle challenge was held in Sao Paulo. The bicycle won.

Jets are faster than helicopters and that’s what will be racing cyclists this Saturday. As a PR promo, budget airline JetBlue has scheduled a congestion-busting flight from Burbank Bob Hope Airport to Long Beach airport, to fly over the closed ten miles of Interstate 405.

The flight distance is 29 miles. The driving distance – on freeways – is about 40 miles. Bicycles will be able to take short-cuts, although all the routes will be legal and there will be no blowing through red lights. JetBlue says the take-off to landing time will be 45 minutes.

The race to beat the jet was taken up by the Wolfpack Hustle, a group of LA cyclists. On the group website it says: "No we aren’t Olympians or roided-out weekend warrior types… not even close. We are simply here to ride stronger, faster and to assert our rights to these gritty streets."

Via Twitter, JetBlue offered a couple of seats on the flight for cyclists to document the race. Joe Anthony of BikeCommuteNews and Ezra Horne will be on the flight. It will be twittered like crazy: the hashtags are #raceajet 
#flightvbike #carmageddon #OverThe405 UPDATE: LA.Streets blog will have live updates, including a scrolling map following one of the cyclists. 

The cyclists will leave at the airline’s recommended check-in time. As the race is door to airport, the people taking the jet will have to use taxis to get to the departure airport.

JetBlue has 1.6 million followers. If the bike beats the jet, that’s a lot of people who’ll get told about it firsthand. And then there’s the likely media interest (there’s already a story on USA Today, a TV slot on MSNBC, and, of course, there’s a ‘Carmageddon’ video from the Taiwanese news channel jokers:

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