Yes, You Need a License to Ride a Bike in Los Angeles
Recently, cyclists are finding themselves being ticketed for not having a license on their bicycle. This has lead to outrage in the community from some, the bicycle licensing laws are meant to help recover stolen bikes not harass the people on them, and confusion from others. It seems a lot of people don't even know they need to have a license for their bike in California.
Here's the facts. The California Vehicle Code allows municipalities to take part in a bike licensing program by either creating a voluntary program for cyclists or requiring every bike to have a registration picture as seen above. Locally, at least the City of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Long Beach all take place in the program by requiring bikes to be licensed. If you're not sure whether your municipality requires licenses, call the municipal building and ask.
The good news is that registering your bike is easy. If you happen to live in Santa Monica, you can fill out this form, mail it in with a $3 check and they will mail you a license. If you live in the City of Los Angeles, it's a little trickier because you have to go to a station in person with valid ID and your bike to get a license. The most popular place to get licensed is the central office at their Central District offices between 10:00 A.M. and 8 P.M. every Tuesday and Thursday. The form is not available online for Los Angeles, but if you search long enough you can find a form for licensing a Bingo Hall.
In short, the law varies by municipality and even though the law states that you can't be ticketed for not having a license if you're not in your home town, many cops will ticket you anyway. To avoid the fuss of getting a ticket overturned, I would recommend taking the time to get the license.
And who knows? Maybe one day it will actually help get a stolen bike returned to you.