June 28, 2014 § 170 Comments
After experimenting with riding in the lane on the fastest, most heavily trafficked section of Pacific Coast Highway between Temescal Canyon and Trancas, I reached the following conclusions.
- A large group of 10 or more riders can do it easily and safely with little or no cager hostility.
- A small group of 2-4 riders will get a small amount of harassment in the form of honking and yelling, with an occasional chop.
- Riding in the lane and obeying the traffic laws while politely defending my right to be there is safer and more enjoyable riding on the edge of the lane or in the gutter.
Last Sunday I rode by myself, further testing the practice, curious to see what the difference in cager reaction would be towards a small group versus a solo rider. Exiting onto PCH at Temescal Canyon at about 8:00 AM, I elicited six quick angry honks, but not much else all the way to Cross Creek and back. My confidence soared.
Then yesterday morning I took the plunge, getting out solo on PCH at about 7:00 AM on a Friday morning. It was the worst cycling experience of my life. As dedicated as I am to lane control on this stretch of PCH, I simply cannot recommend that a solo rider tackle this stretch of road riding in the lane on a weekday morning.
I stopped counting the honks at fifty, and that was only until Cross Creek. One driver after Pepperdine got on my rear and laid on his horn for almost a full minute. I was buzzed several times, and although this has never really bothered me in the past because buzzers usually pass with plenty of room, one cager missed me by less than a foot. I was flipped off and yelled at continually.
The hatred and anger fed on itself; as one motorist began honking, others would lay on their horns as well. I noticed that by far and away the most common harassing vehicle type was a pickup, usually with a toolbox in the back or a modified tool rack in the bed. Young surfer types in cheap cars were also more likely to honk, but I was blasted by everyone.
Going up Pepperdine I thought I would be killed. Drivers were screaming and tailgating, and a line of cars was backed up behind me in my lane. A succession of about ten cars in a row honked as they passed. I even got screamed at by a jogger who was running against traffic on the shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” she yelled. I have pretty thick skin and am pretty good at holding my ground, but I was shaken. I’ve never been abused like this before on a bike, and the cute chick in pink running tights added insult to injury.
However, none of this was anything compared to what happened after climbing the hill past Latigo. Firmly in my lane, traffic backing up behind me, I heard the squeal of tires. My heart leapt into my mouth. “I’m going to get hit,” I thought. I looked back and a Toyota minivan packed with construction workers had avoided rear-ending me by a couple of feet.
They were laughing, doubtless from the look of abject fear on my face.
I wasn’t just terrified, I doubted the principle that you’re safer in the lane — at least riding solo on this stretch of PCH during a workday. One of the criticisms that gutter bunnies make about lane control is that riding in the lane makes you more liable to getting hit from behind. Despite thousands of miles in the lane, I’ve never had a cager rear-end me or even come close, but it almost happened yesterday.
The minivan changed lanes and raced by, and a pickup got on my tail and started honking and gesturing. I was still shaking from the minivan, so I flipped him off. He raced past and pulled over, jumping out of his truck and motioning me to stop.
We had a heated exchange. He told me to ride “in my lane,” pointing to the shoulder where he was parked.
“That’s not a lane, it’s a shoulder, and the law doesn’t require me to ride there.”
“Yeah? Well you’re a fucking idiot because you almost got killed. And you could have killed someone else!”
“By making someone hit the person in the car who hit you, asshole!”
“So it’s my fault when a driver runs me over illegally and then someone who’s tailgating him has an accident?”
“You’re fucking right it is! Get out of the road! You were in the middle of the fucking lane! You have the whole goddamned shoulder! What’s wrong with you? You’re a complete fucking idiot!”
I thought he was going to punch me out. I tried to stick to the law and my right to be there, but I was still shaking from fear, and the conversation got crazier. “I don’t give a shit about the law!” he said. “Your Nigerian president spies on me with his fucking IRS and lets all these fucking Mexicans into the country. What about those laws? People break laws all the time!”
The only thing that might have fanned the flames was to mention the 2nd Amendment or maybe Benghazi, or to tell him that it was Kenya not Nigeria. “You don’t seem real happy about laws being broken,” I said.
“Damn right I’m not!”
“So why are you making the case that it’s okay to break the traffic laws? I have a right to be here.”
“Fuck you! This isn’t a goddamned debate it’s a fucking freeway! You are gonna be in the right all the way to the fucking morgue and you’re gonna kill someone else. Hope you and your fucking legal rights are happy! And I’ll tell you something else. You are the biggest idiot I have ever met in my whole fucking life. Goody-bye, Big Fucking Idiot!”
With that he got back in the cab and drove off, but not before I started again, got out in the lane, and made him pass me in the other lane.
Still, I was shaken, and worse, my ride was worse than an 8-hour trip to the dentist. When PCH turned into two lanes past Yerba Buena, I moved over onto the shoulder. My stress level plunged. I was happier dodging shit and running over glass and nails than getting continually harassed.
On the return trip I stayed in the shoulder except for sections — particularly past Cross Creek — where the parked cars are right against the fog line and there’s nothing to do but get in the lane. Moreover, when I did get in the lane I never ventured more than two or three feet from the edge, even though this encouraged cagers to squeeze by in my lane, passing me uncomfortably closely.
When I got back to the bike path at Temescal, I was relieved beyond belief.
So although I still think that group riding in the lane is the way to go for this roadway, it’ll be a while before I tackle it again solo on a workday morning.
In order to make this stretch safe, and more importantly, enjoyable for bicyclists riding solo, much work needs to be done. More groups need to take the lane so that cagers expect us there. Shared lane markings need to be put in the lane, along with plentiful “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage. The people who are advocates for lane control need to get their asses out on PCH on a workday morning, solo, and ride this stretch of roadway. And don’t be surprised at the brown stripe in your chamois after you get home.
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June 12, 2014 § 132 Comments
I belong to a listserv called “CABO,” the California Association of Bicycling Organizations. It is an amazing place, where traffic engineers argue with one another about whether bikes should be in the road or shunted off to the side in bike lanes, cycle tracks, hamster wheels, etc.
It was from CABO that I first learned about riding in the middle of the lane. I tried it out on Del Amo eastbound between Prospect and Hawthorne one day and it scared the crap out of me. However, it scared the crap out of me less than being shoved up against the nonexistent shoulder and having close-passing pickups shave me by inches.
The thing I learned is that no matter how pissed off my presence made the cagers who had to slow down behind me, they always changed lanes and passed. I’ve never been hit from behind or even had brakes squeal from a rear-approaching vehicle.
Eventually I tried it on Hawthorne. Same thing. The occasional honk or middle finger, lots of (presumably) pissed off people slowing down, changing lanes and then passing, but that’s pretty much it. Riding my bike and hogging the lane was better than scrunching up against the edge and having people pass me within a few feet or a few inches.
Taking it to the next level
After getting comfortable with riding in the lane on local streets I took this method to PCH. I did it with a group of 8 or 10 riders, and I have done it several times since then. The results were unsurprising (to me). We got a few honks but people slowed, passed in the other lane, and left us alone.
I have used these experiences as the basis for encouraging people to get out in the lane on PCH.
Then yesterday I found myself in a new situation. I was on PCH with just one other person, Jay. I suggested we ride in the lane and he looked at me like I was crazy. “Okay,” he said. “But I’m fine in the gutter.”
And he is. As one of the most skilled off-road and on-road bike handlers I know, he’s not the least bit fazed by rocks, glass, chugholes, car doors, trash cans, the ends of surfboards, Cher, etc.
What I found during this little experiment was amazing, and a lot of it was bad. Whereas a medium-to-large sized group attracts little motorist hostility, two riders taking up the lane evokes the Wrath of the Cagers. We rode from Temescal Canyon to Decker Lane, averaging 15 or 16 mph, and we were met with an endless stream of honks, shouts, middle fingers, and plain old-fashioned road rage.
I was tenser after the first five minutes than I’ve ever been in any bike race. This was as to nothing when we hit Pepperdine Hill after Cross Creek. Still taking the lane, we climbed at a very slow speed, perhaps 10 mph or less. With 30 or 40 drivers backed up behind us, I fully expected to be run over.
Cars came raging by us in the next lane after having had to slow to a crawl on the hill, and they revved their engines, honked, flipped us off, screamed, and were livid. Of course the point is that they all slowed and passed, but the other point is this: how much fun is a bike ride when you feel like everyone wants to kill you?
Answer: no fun at all.
When the weird turn pro
On the return ride it was pretty much the same until we reached Cross Creek. I told Jay that I was done, I couldn’t take any more of the honking and screaming, so we rode for about two miles in the gutter up against the long line of cars parked at Malibu. What’s weird is that as awful as the lane had been, the gutter was now worse by orders of magnitude.
Despite the cager rage, I have become so accustomed to the smooth, wonderful riding surface of the lane, where you have better visibility, no obstacles, and lots of room to maneuver, that getting back in the gutter is intensely stressful. The other amazing thing about riding in the lane is that you ride side by side and get to talk. So we got back in the lane and started to take advantage of a good tailwind and flat road. Averaging 22 or 23, with sustained segments of 25-27 mph seemed to result in much less cager rage and not a single honk.
And here is where the CABO advocates have their work cut out for them: if it’s this hairball for a pair of riders who can carry a steady speed over the course of a 100-mile ride, what would the experience be like for an elderly traffic engineer pedaling up Pepperdine Hill at 4 or 5 mph? I’m not easily cowed or intimidated, but the unending torrent of honks and curses was unnerving, to put it mildly, and it didn’t seem like the rage abated until we were cruising in the mid-20’s and up.
In other words, it’s really easy to advocate lane control and vehicular cycling on PCH, but after my experience there’s no way I’d recommend that the average cyclist take the lane on PCH solo. Unless of course you want to!
How educational was it?
For the drivers, I’m convinced it was very educational, although also rage-inducing. One woman roared by us honking and flipping us off, then pulled over about 1/4 mile ahead to talk on the phone. We passed her, and after she finished talking she came by again.
This second time she didn’t honk or rev her engine. She expected us to be there and acted accordingly. I think she was educated by our behavior.
Another educational encounter was less prosaic. At the light past Latigo a sow in an SUV put down her window. “Why don’t you get out of the road?” she asked.
“Because we have the legal right to be here,” I answered.
“Yeah, but it’s really dangerous.”
“Only if you don’t know how to use your brakes and change lanes,” I said.
“It’s DANGEROUS!!!” she screamed, roaring off at the green light. There were several cars backed up behind us and behind her. Several of them honked and gave the middle finger salute.
Still, the implication is that only by getting more and more people in the lane will PCH drivers come to expect us to be there and make accommodations, maybe even to the sluggard dragging ass up Pepperdine Hill at 4 mph. There’s no way to know for sure, but I think a lot of the anger was because people simply didn’t expect us to be there.
What this means in practical terms is that if vehicular cycling advocates really want to make a difference, at least on PCH, they need to get off their keyboards and out in the traffic, preferably in ones or twos. It is hairy and will scare the crapcakes out of you but there’s no other way to acclimate cagers to the presence of single riders in the lane on PCH.
We’ll be out there again this morning, although with a larger group. My sphincter’s already clenched.
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May 16, 2014 § 41 Comments
There is a rancid piece of burnt meat that bicycle “advocates” regularly wrap in a burrito and try shove down the throat of everyone else. It goes like this: Cars hate us because we’re not nice. Until we are nice, we will never get the treatment we deserve. The latest purveyor of this bankrupt, blame-the-victim, “Can’t we all just get along?” vacuousness is someone named Richard Fries. You can read his thoughts here.
The problem isn’t, and has never been, that “we are our own worst enemy.” It is something much simpler. Road cycling is a negotiation for space. For the car, more space means quicker travel, if even a mere second faster. For a bike, more space means reducing the chance of hitting something or getting hit.
That’s all there is to it. If you’re going to use the roadway, you will have to negotiate your place on it every pedal stroke of every single ride, and it’s a zero-sum game. The more space for you, the less for the car. You win, they lose, and no none likes to lose.
Of all the losing strategies in a negotiation, none fails as quickly or completely as “being nice.” People win tough negotiations by being tough, by being firm, by being consistent, and by understanding the strengths, weaknesses, psyche, and intentions of the other party.
There are two scenarios in which bikes have to negotiate with cagers. The first is the group ride. In this scenario, the bikes are in a strong position. They occupy the entire roadway. The cager, if he’s going to pass, has to be ultra-cautious in order to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic if it’s a two-lane road. If it’s a four-lane road, he has to be careful not to hit anyone in the group — not because he cares about them, but because doing so will expose him to liability due to the large number of witnesses.
In the group ride scenario, being nice adds nothing to the negotiation. Unless the driver is severely impaired or intent on killing you, in which case your demeanor means nothing anyway, you’re going to win the fight for road space. The cager will give you and your pals a wide berth. He may honk, he may flip you off, he may scream obscenities, but you will certainly win the negotiation for space on the roadway.
“But if you’re a jackass then he’ll hate all cyclists!” the Friesians claim.
Maybe he will, but so what? There’s no evidence that being a “nice” group rider, whatever that is, will cause him to treat a single cyclist any differently. It’s like saying that because he got beat by someone with a full house, he is going to go easy next time on someone with a pair of two’s. The group ride is the strongest hand you have. If it makes you feel good to wave and smile at cars, do so, but it isn’t affecting your negotiation at all. You’ve won, the driver has lost. Sucks to be him.
The single cyclist scenario
The other scenario is when the cyclist is alone. In this negotiation, the rider’s mere presence will not force the driver to cede ground if the rider is up against the shoulder. The cager need not slow down, and need not particularly fear hitting the rider, especially if the driver is confident in his driving skills.
Ever meet someone who admitted to being a shitty driver? Me, either.
In this negotiation, the cager has (for him) a small risk of getting hit since he needn’t change lanes or cross the yellow line, although a miscalculation could scratch his clearcoat or get some of your internal organs on his door handle. He also has much more size and speed relative to the single rider. Against a group of 20, the car’s mass is much less intimidating, and the driver has to psychologically contend with the multitude of riders who might, quite reasonably, come to the defense of anyone who was hit.
The single cyclist is in the weakest of all positions. He’s against the shoulder, so he’s at the mercy of whatever detritus the road offers up. He’s alone, so there’s no one to back him up. He’s fighting for a narrow sliver on the edge that doesn’t put the cager in much, if any risk. Even if the rider wins this negotiation, the cager loses nothing and the rider’s risk increases exponentially.
Make no mistake, the driver calculates all of these risks, summed up as “Am I gonna hit him?” and almost every time the car will make minimal adjustments in speed and position for the single rider who’s playing gutter bunny. The only thing the single rider can do to put the cager at risk is to occupy the full lane and force him to increase his risk by making bigger adjustments.
Now the cager has to make some hard choices. “Kill the cyclist and fuck up my hood and possibly have him come through the windshield and knock out my implants?”
“Run over the cyclist and deal with insurance, ambulance, wrecker, and possibly the police?”
“Curse the bastard, slow down, change lanes, and honk?”
Very few cagers make the conscious decision to kill or intentionally hit. Rather, they make the obnoxious adjustment of braking and changing lanes or worse, waiting as their blood pressure mounts and you gaily pedal on to work with that smug satisfaction of knowing that you’re not only saving the environment but you’re driving someone insane in the process.
What’s nice got to do with it?
What’s most important is that none of the cager’s choices depends on the cyclist’s demeanor. Whether you’re Miss Manners or a fire-spitting demon’s rectum, the driver is going to make his decision based on where you are in the lane and how much risk you pose to him and his cage. The more risk he faces, the more he will compromise.
The only time that nice would be a factor is if you somehow were able to divine the driver’s demeanor, and something in it told you that smiling or waving would get you more roadway than, say, implacably taking the center of the lane.
Ask yourself when the last time was that being nice got you a good result in a conflict. Without exception, it’s when you had zero leverage, the other person had all of it, and your only avenue was to smile. Think getting pulled over by a cop. Forgetting your wedding anniversary. Trying to get a credit card company to take off a late fee.
Nice is the last ploy before you get your head staved in.
In scenarios where you have leverage, the best results are always obtained by maximizing the leverage such that it increases the other wanker’s risk. Ever won a chess game by being nice? Ever won a bike race being nice? Of course not.
It’s the same when you’re alone on your bike. You can depend on niceness if you want, but the best way to get your piece of turf is by playing the hand you’ve got and playing it to the hilt. Take the lane and hold it against all comers. Make them consciously choose to kill you — there will be infinitely fewer who make that choice than those who clip you by mistake as they veer too closely while you’re sucking gutter.
And if for some reason you’d rather be the sniveling, smiling simp begging for mercy, I guess that’s okay. Just don’t demand that I do it, too.
Did you know that you can subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay”? Your donation will go directly to helping me ride in the middle of the lane. Plus, everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.
May 3, 2014 § 29 Comments
Saturday, May 3rd at noon, my pal Joel Elliott will start riding in circles; actually in “L’s.” He will be riding his bicycle for 24 consecutive hours to raise awareness for his daughter Hannah, who has selective mutism. Joel will be riding to bring attention to the failure of the Torrance Unified School District to properly address Hannah’s needs.
Joel’s goal is to ride at least 328 miles in that time. Of course I know Joel as being pretty much a wanker, so the 328 miles is hopeless … but what he’s riding for is not!
Hannah suffers from selective mutism, a rare condition that renders her unable to speak. Even though the Torrance school district agrees that Hannah qualifies for special services, they refuse to consider the advice of experts in formulating an individual education plan to help her. This is like someone saying, “I know you’re an Olympic caliber athlete, but you don’t need any special training in order to get there.”
In other words, cheap-ass bullshit.
Selective mutism is fully curable, but it takes time, patience, lots of love, and the right kind of help. With selective mutism, the wrong kind of help makes it worse. The district certainly understands this, but due to its inherent cheapness or its unwillingness to treat each student as an individual, it is unwilling to meet Hannah’s needs.
In a very real sense, her life is at stake. When treated properly, 99% of selectively mute children begin to speak within two years, but Torrance Unified doesn’t seem to care.
This school year has been extremely difficult. Though Hannah’s teachers have been amazing, the principal and the district continue to generate obstacles for Hannah.
Another parent recently reported that earlier this year, her daughter found Hannah on the playground, surrounded by a group of older boy who were abusively bullying her. Hannah was standing with her hands over her ears as tears streamed down her face. The other little girl stood up for Hannah and broke up the abuse, and though the matter was reported to the principal, the school has never reported the incident to Hannah’s parents.
This is just one example of how a child with developmental issues, a child who is fully capable normal adjustment, has been thrown under the CYA bus of Torrance Unified.
Joel’s ride will take place on the 1-mile industrial loop just outside of the Strand Brewing Co.’s tap room, on the famous TELO crit course in Torrance. Everyone is invited to come help Joel kick off his ride. Hannah needs a voice. We can all speak for her, by speaking from our bikes.
May 2, 2014 § 40 Comments
The first time I had a case in Judge Ballbreaker’s courtroom, he scared me pretty good. The first case that day was Ninewhacker LLC v. Stinkboard. I’m not making that up.
The attorney for Mr. Stinkboard shuffled up to the lectern. His hair was stringy, greasy, and uncombed. He was wearing a tan corduroy jacket with an orange tie that hung off to the side of his neck; the tie was spotted with what looked like grease or coffee stains. His blue jeans were lashed to his waist with an ancient cordovan belt, and the collar on his wrinkled, light blue shirt was unbuttoned at the top.
The lawyer, who I’ll call Mr. Geetus, had three or four days’ worth of stubble and was wearing tennis shoes. “Mr. Geetus?” said Judge Ballbreaker.
“Yes, your Honor?”
“Before I call this case I’d like to say a few words about courtroom decorum. And I’ll be brief. When I get up in the morning I shower, wash my hair, shave, and put on a three-piece suit and a white dress shirt that has been starched and pressed. I’m wearing all of that under my judicial robe, Mr. Geetus, and it’s for a reason. The reason is that I represent the federal district court of the United States government, and it’s my belief that as a representative of our federal courts people will have greater faith in the work that I do when my appearance shows the lawyers, the debtors, the creditors, the plaintiffs, and the defendants in my courtroom that I respect them enough to look my very best. Do you understand me?”
“I think so.”
“I don’t think you do, Mr. Geetus, because you’ve come into my courtroom looking like a slightly refined version of a bum. You’ve not taken the time to make yourself even slightly presentable. In short, you’ve come into my courtroom dressed in such a way as to communicate that you don’t care what anyone thinks about how you look, and more importantly, that you don’t care what people think about your client. You’re an officer of the court, Mr. Geetus, and you can’t be bothered to comb your hair, shave your face, or press your shirt. So here’s what I’m going to do. Are you listening?”
“Yes, your Honor.” Mr. Geetus was now about two feet tall.
“I’m going to continue this matter until next Thursday. When you next come into my courtroom you will be professionally attired and you will attend to your personal hygiene such that all who look upon you will regard you as an honorable member of an honorable profession. Do you understand?”
“Yes, your Honor.”
“Good. And I’ll add something else. If you were a pro se litigant who had never been in a federal courtroom before, or if you were an indigent petitioner without the means to pay for legal counsel, I would accord you nothing but the highest regard and would treat you with the dignity I’d show to a lawyer wearing a two-thousand-dollar suit. But you’re not. You’re an experienced attorney and you are an officer of the court. So look the part.”
Mr. Geetus slunk out of the courtroom, and Judge Ballbreaker surveyed the rest of us. “I hope you all got the memo,” he said. “That this isn’t the place for beach attire.”
On Wednesday evening I received an email from the court’s electronic filing system. Due to the annual May Day protest at City Hall, anyone with a morning hearing was advised to allow for street closures, full parking, and traffic congestion.
“Great,” I thought, figuring that instead of leaving at 9:30 AM for an eleven o’clock hearing I’d have to leave at eight. Then I thought of other major downtown traffic events, where I’d been stuck in traffic that was so bad I couldn’t park within a couple of miles of the courthouse.
So I had an idea, a very multi-modal one. I’d drive downtown with my ‘cross bike in the car. If traffic looked like it was going to be too gnarly, I’d park in the ‘hood in South Central, pedal the two or three miles to the courthouse, lock my bike outside and still get to the hearing on time.
On Thursday morning I put on my lawyer outfit, loaded the bike, and tossed in my giant, bright yellow messenger bag, which I’d need to carry my briefcase, bike lock, and cable. Sure enough, the traffic was terrible, and by ten o’clock I was nowhere near downtown.
This was multi-modal transportation in action. If I’d felt any greener the dentist would have had to clean my teeth. I found a spot on Avalon, unloaded my bike, and headed downtown with plenty of time to spare.
I hadn’t gone more than a mile when my rear tire went soft, then flatted. I’d had the foresight to bring a tube and CO2, but hadn’t brought tire levers. The new tires fit more tightly on the rim than a noose after the trapdoor had opened, and within minutes I’d torn most of the skin off my palms trying to get the tire off.
The weather was blazingly hot for Los Angeles in May, and beneath my wool suit I began to sweat profusely. It forever to change the tire. The cuffs of my white dress shirt were covered in dirt and smudges of grease and I was sopping sweat, but I still had enough time, even if my case was the first one called, and my cases never get called first.
There’s never “plenty of time”
Once I’d inflated the tire, I raced to the courthouse. When I got there I pulled out my lock and discovered that I’d left the key to my Kryptonite back in the car. Now the oaths got really artistic and I went into full TT-mode, retracing the trip to the car, blowing stop lights and weaving through the dense downtown traffic.
I recovered the key and did another TT back to the courthouse. I now had five minutes to spare. The security people looked at me funny and checked my giant yellow messenger bag twice in the scanner before they let me through.
As luck would have it, I got to the courtroom at eleven o’clock sharp, gave the clerk my card, and found out that the first case on the calendar was mine. I limped up to the lectern, as wet as if I’d just gotten out of the shower.
Rivulets of sweat poured off my head. My collar was drenched. My suit was rumpled and my necktie askew. Worst of all, I hadn’t had time to switch from my bright orange-and-blue ‘cross shoes into my courtroom Oxfords, and the cleats clattered on the floor as I walked.
Judge Ballbreaker looked at my dirty shirt cuffs and completely disheveled suit. He remembered me from the previous hearing and he remembered the lecture he’d given us about appearance. “Mr. Davidson?” he said, looking sternly at my shoes and my big plastic yellow bag and my just-got-out-of-the-center-of-a-tornado appearance.
“I’m so sorry, your Honor. I got the court’s email about the May Day demonstration and rode down here on my bike, but I forgot the key to my lock and had a flat tire and didn’t have any tire levers and … “
“You rode to court on your bicycle?”
“Yes, your Honor.”
He peered over his glasses. “What kind of bicycle?”
“It’s, uh, a ‘cross bike, your Honor. A Giant.”
“I see,” he said. “I ride a Giant, too, a TCR. Integrated seat post. Those are good bikes.”
I was stunned. “Uh, yes, your Honor. They sure are.”
“Next time you come here on your bike, counsel, be sure to bring tire levers.”
“Uh, yes, your Honor.”
“However, you’re to be commended for cycling to court. I wish more people would do that.”
He went over the ruling in my case, explaining why he’d granted my motion. Then he finished with the most amazing comment of all. “Your appearance this morning is excused,” he said. “But don’t think that the next time you can show up in your kit.” Then he grinned.
“Yes, your Honor,” I said. Yes, indeed.
Did you know that you can subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay”? Your donation will go directly to buying extra tire levers! Plus, everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.
March 6, 2014 § 12 Comments
Don Ward is a big guy with big opinions and a big mouth and big, big, big, big street cred to back it all up. Infamously known as “Roadblock,” he’s the legend behind Wolfpack Hustle and the mainspring behind the off-menu L.A. Marathon Crash Race.
If you don’t know what a marathon crash race is, then you are tone deaf when it comes to urban cycling in America. Beginning in 2009 the Wolfpack Hustle riders “crashed” the L.A. marathon course. As soon as the barriers went up, usually around 4:00 AM the morning of the marathon, the ridazz would hop the barriers and race pell-mell from the start to the finish, ripping down L.A.’s biggest and most off-limits-to-bikes thoroughfares in the glory of a pre-dawn 26-mile beatdown.
The crash race, like all bike races, also featured crashes. Dudes on fixies, road warriors in full bike racer drag, the curious, the crazy, the anarchic, the manic, the insomniac, and every other species of rider found her way over the barriers and onto the marathon race course to sample that sweet asphalt freedom that is normally RESERVED: FOR CAGERS ONLY. It quickly became known as the largest unsanctioned race in the country.
It was the running of the bulls, L.A. style.
Have you ever been to Pamplona?
Whatever the running of the bulls used to be, it’s not anymore. In 2014 this completely bizarre, alien tradition of getting drunk and running from fighting bulls is now a college stunt. In addition to frat boys, it’s mostly a mix of young white guys, frat boys, some English fellows, frat boys, and boys from frats. What is the cachet? Hint: There isn’t any.
The L.A. Marathon Crash Race found out the hard way that you can’t be a rebel without a cause and a rebel with a city permit. Rebels don’t need no fuggin’ permits. What they need are open streets and a good criminal defense lawyer. The crash race’s demise, however, was much more terrible than everyone waking up one day and suddenly realizing that it would be “cool” to bike downtown L.A. in the wee hours, thereby making the crash race forever uncool.
No, the death of the crash race, like its life, was deeply embedded in the tattooed, drunken, drug-using, marginalized, borderline poverty line cycling counterculture that makes up the vast majority of bicyclists in greater L.A., a counterculture much of which may not even be tattooed or drunken or drugged. In short, the sanitized social view of cycling as something done by middle-aged white men on expensive bikes wearing $900 Rapha outfits had been turned on its head by Roadblock and the Wolfpack Hustle.
Most L.A. cyclists aren’t “cyclists”
The might and main of people who ride bikes in L.A. are not part of the lycra road riding crowd. They have a lot more in common with the Wolfpack Hustle, economically and socially, than they do with Velo Club La Grange. They ride bikes for transportation, and also for fun. Most of their riding terrain is the asphalt of urban Los Angeles rather than the off-road tracks of the Santa Monicas or the groomed climbs of the PV Peninsula.
Wolfpack Hustle began as an expression of this common bicycling humanity, a rejection of roadie elitism, a rejection of USA Cycling’s dictatorship-cum-greed, a rejection of cagers, and an assertion of every Angeleno’s legal right to ride in the street. It was no accident that Roadblock chose the night, a time that cyclists are typically terrified of riding, to establish the legendary late night ride of the Wolfpack Hustle. Even the word “hustle” was a carefully crafted mission statement. Life’s a hustle. To live in the city you gotta hustle. Ride your bike in traffic you sure as shit better hustle. Don’t straggle or fugg off in the group … hustle.
To lead is to advocate is to compromise is to change
Ward became a leader. No, he became the leader. He tapped into swirling currents of ostracism and outsider-ness that percolate through the urban L.A. cycling community, and he, with them, became a vanguard for the rights of bicycles in CARS ONLY LOS ANGELES. More importantly, he saw the connection between poverty and transportation and urban survival and police-community relations and took the issue of cycling rights to its logical conclusion: Human rights.
As an advocate he was hard-nosed, efficient, smart, and an ingenious consensus builder. The Hustle went from an outlaw ride to an organized ride that received the informal blessing of the LAPD. The success of issues related to riding bikes in downtown Los Angeles owes a lot to the work of Don Ward, and in the process he’s gone from cocktail-tossing revolutionary to patient member of the cycling establishment.
This repels many, who call him “corporate” and a “sell out” and who long for the good old days of outlaw rides and devil-take-the-hindmost. But these criticisms only prove the point: You can’t advance without compromise and you can’t compromise without change. Which means, of course, changing yourself.
Victim of a petty schmuck
The crash race was shut down by the “Chief of Investigation and Enforcement of the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services,” or “COIAEOTCOLABOSS,” for short. It’s pronounced “Coya-Yotco-Laboss,” or just “dipshit.”
Dipshit informed Roadblock that if he went through with the crash race he faced jail and fines for whatever the city had to pay as costs for enforcement. A revolutionary would have promptly placed the letter in the round file, or perhaps would have sent an email along the lines of “I have two sweaty balls. You are free to lick them.”
Jail and fines, of course, are the way you bring a responsible advocate to his knees. The event’s “cancellation” came five days before the crash race, which was itself no coincidence, because it gave the disorganizers no time to try to obtain the mysterious “permits” without which such an event couldn’t be held. No matter that the whole beauty of the crash race is that it piggybacks on the existing infrastructure supporting the L.A. Marathon. No matter that the city’s “enforcement costs” are zero. And no matter that this is just one pinhead’s power play.
What matters is that an outlaw event, once tamed, can never return to the wild.
Thanks to Don Ward, L.A. is a better place to ride a bicycle for countless people. Thanks to Don Ward, bicyclists for five years sampled the sweet, evil pleasure of crashing the marathon. Thanks to Don Ward, a huge section of LAPD no longer looks at bikers as de facto criminals.
If we have to trade the crash race for all that, it’s a trade well worth making.
Hats off to you, Roadblock. Ride on.
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February 27, 2014 § 33 Comments
I got an email today from a very pissed off bicycle rider. He said that the main reason motorists hate cyclists is “usually that cyclists don’t obey the rules of the road. And that is absolutely right.”
Then he added that he “for sure doesn’t stop at all stop signs, and doesn’t even pause at some, like remote t-intersections, where there is no one I can impede. But I at least pause at almost all of them, and stop at any with cross traffic, and always yield the right of way unless waved through. But I constantly see guys just blow thru stop signs as if they don’t even exist [Ed. note: As if what doesn't exist? The stop signs? The guys?] A couple coming down the hill crossed onto my road in front of traffic, which was going uphill so I didn’t have to brake but noticeably slowed; they just blew through. I yelled at them ‘You are giving cyclists a bad name!’ I heard a ‘Huh?’ in response.”
The angry cyclist continued: “Climbing up to a 3-way, stop, where I might have wanted to roll without stopping, since I was climbing, some guy with a huge smile on his face, comes sailing by, ‘Hey look at me, I’m having a great day!” and just blew through the stop. Had I tried to roll through the stop sign as I wanted, I would have been t-boned. I yelled at him too. I’ll soon be known as the grump of Whapdale Heights.”
He concluded with this: “Sometimes cyclists scare me more than cars. I talked to another cyclist who does stop at stop signs, and who said he’d almost been rear-ended by other bikes when he stopped. I know you’ve blogged about this before, but maybe again? Or another angle? Or you don’t think it’s an issue?”
Don’t think WHAT’S an issue?
I didn’t know how to respond other than to say that it’s not my job to explain the behavior of cyclists any more than it’s my job to explain the behavior of motorists, or astronauts, or chimpanzees. I also noted that from a safety standpoint, five bicycle riders had been killed by cars in SoCal in the last five days, and the number of motorists killed by cyclists since the beginning of time is, like, zero.
So, as Noel would say, “There’s that.”
Still, Grumpypants has a point, and I think the point is this: He’s comfortable running stop signs, rolling stop signs, and ignoring the law when he deems it safe and convenient for him, but he damn sure doesn’t think it’s a good idea for you. His premise also speaks for itself: Cagers hate cyclists because they break the law, and that’s as it should be.
He made no mention as to whether it’s okay for cyclists to hate all cagers for the few drivers who also break the law, or whether death and dismemberment are fair punishments for cycling traffic infractions. There was likewise no word on where he stands vis-a-vis the rash of hit and runs in LA (we’re number one!), and on criminal penalties for killing cyclists, and on other minor issues such as the right of cyclists to operate in the lane pursuant to law without having to suffer police persecution and/or death.
My guess is that Mr. Grumpypants didn’t think of these things, or worse, he thought they were of much less importance than his own “close” calls with happy, smiling cyclists who weren’t following the letter of the law.
But now that you mention it …
I suppose I’m also one of those happy, grinning idiots at whom he shakes his fist when I go ripping through a stop sign before he can beat me to it. I am probably one of the people who angry, latte-chugging PV housewives curse in their cages as I happily pedal to work. I’m certainly one of those smilers who controls the lane while livid cagers, delayed for three or even five seconds, spit bile and venom only to whizz around me and beat me to the stone-red light.
Who hates whom?
The nub of the problem, of course, is the assumption that cagers hate cyclists. They don’t, and how could they, when most cyclists are also motorists? Who in the hell are “they?”
For every nutjub who screams and froths and flips me off, fifty others sigh in envy as I pedal along. They know that as between us, the one who’s pedaling to work is the happier one.
In addition to the cagers who are cyclists, and the cagers who wish they were cyclists, there are the great unwashed millions who don’t care one way or another. They see me in the lane, or they see me *pause* through the stop sign, and they could care less. “Bikes aren’t cars,” they think, if they think at all. “It’s a heck of a lot harder to get a bike going from a full stop than it is to mash on an accelerator.”
In other words, I reject the premise that “motorists,” whoever they are, “hate” me. And the ones who do could care less whether I blow a stop, roll through one, pause significantly, or put both feet down and do a little bow. They have deep-seated psychological problems, vote Republican, and are likeliest to shriek “Guns don’t kill people!” after every mass shooting.
Even more to the point, and perhaps this is where Mr. Grumpypants and I really diverge, I get on my bike and am willing to die for it, or at least be horrifically maimed and spend the rest of my life an even bigger vegetable than I already am. It comes with the territory, unfortunately, because when car meets bike, bike loses. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s the way it is in the big city.
So I make it a point not to smash into the cagers and to have them not run into me, and I remind myself every few seconds or so that there are no guarantees, that my fellow cyclists are not the enemy, and that since tomorrow may be my Unlucky Day, I’d better pedal hard and flog a few baby seals while I can.
After more than thirty years in the saddle and a regular output of 8,000 – 15,000 miles a year, if I do eventually get clocked by some cager who “hates” me, it’s still been worth it. I had more fun at age 50 on last week’s Donut Ride than the average cager has in a lifetime of commutes. But if they’re gonna take me out, they better take extra special aim, because chances are slim that I’ll be waiting, cow-like, for them to mow me down at a stop sign as I shake my fist at a fellow biker.
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