Learning to fly

March 22, 2019 § 6 Comments

There is some stuff you can only see on a bike ride, stuff like watching an Olympic medalist swimmer and 7-time world record holder launch off a steep muddy descent through the air like a missile, shouting, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” even before she lands with a thud and rolls into the bottom of a deep ditch.

I was in front and everything up until then had been, well, fine. You could hear the tires quietly rolling behind, everyone picking a line down the muddy slope, when suddenly I heard the onrushing sound of an accelerating bike picking a completely careless line off the trail, the sound of quiet tire-on-dirt replaced by the chaotic noise of tall grass being torn aside by the onrushing bike, and then the immortal “I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine!” and thud.

I’ve been good, but I guess I’ve never been fine

Baby Seal was unimpressed with the head sticking out of the ravine, the body twisted the just-so way of someone who was going to be quadriplegic, and least of all impressed by the “I’m fine.”

“Dude,” he said to the Olympian and world record holder. “You can’t crash like that until July. The Tour is in July.”

I was more concerned about having killed one of America’s greatest swimmers ever on her first Wheatgrass Ride, and concerned about how fine she really was, because she kept saying “I’m fine!” even though she hadn’t actually moved after crumpling into the ditch.

Sure enough, up she sprang. “See? I’m fine!”

And then she did what you would pretty much expect from an Olympian and world record holder. She hopped back on her bike and half-pedaled, half-walked, half-swam down the hill in an abbreviated 200m freestyle.

I tried to think of something encouraging to say, something better than, “Good job not dying back there.”

So instead I did what cyclists do whenever one of their own narrowly avoids a horrific demise. I understated. “Not bad for your first time off-road. Pretty solid 4-point landing, that.”

Meanwhile back at the coffee shop

As we sat at the Sckubrats recapping the day’s event, which will never be forgotten, Sippy, who was indeed fine, had a few questions. “How come that other girl told me that it was an easy descent?”

“Her? The one who turned around and went down on the paved road after telling you it was fine and you’d have no problem on the muddy, treacherous, steep horsetrail?”

“Yeah, her.”

“She was on a bike, wasn’t she?”

“So?”

“So she was lying. If the person is on a bike, he/she is lying.”

“What?”

“‘It’s only a few more miles. It’s not too steep. It’s not too windy/cold/hot/rainy/snowy. The road is fine. There’s sag. It’s no drop. I’ll wait for you. I’ll lead you out. Convo pace.’ All lies.”

“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t know. But how do I know you’re not lying now?”

“Easy,” I said. “I’m not on a bike. I’m sitting in a chair.”

Jerry wandered up and plopped down, heavily. “Man,” he said to me. “That was a gnarly hard pull you took back there. I was gonna go up to the front and take a pull and help you out.”

I looked at Sippy. “See?”

She nodded sagely. “Got it.”

________________________

END

Benchmark

March 19, 2019 § 10 Comments

I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”

What do you mean somebody else is gonna do a profile on Greg Leibert? Is there another Greg Leibert I don’t know about? Greg Leibert the CEO at Mesmerize? Greg Liebert the engineering consultant? Greg Leibert the helicopter pilot who crashed in Antarctica?

‘Cuz I mean if it was one of THOSE Greg Leiberts I would sort of shrug and say, ah, well, okay, write whatever you want, dude. But on the other hand. IF you are talking about Greg Leibert the bicycle, then I am offended and challenged all at the same time.

There is no bicycle, there never was any bicycle, there is never gonna ever be any bicycle like Greg Leibert bicycle. And it’s not like people haven’t tried. Oh yes, they have. And when they try to bicycle like Greg Leibert bicycle, most generally all they get is a mouth filled with their own puke. The greenish yellow kind that burns like battery acid and eats off your teeth.

Just the facts

People have been writing and videoing and oohing and aahing over Greg Leibert bicycle a long time and generally it is the same old thing. Let me rehearse. The fax.

  • Greg Leibert bicycle kicked your ass in a bike race.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle kicked that other dude’s ass in a bike race.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle kicked a bunch of people’s asses on a training ride.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle kicked all those same people’s asses who he kicked on a training ride all over again in a bike race.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle kicked your ass and that dude’s ass again in a bike race.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle did a workout on VdM so hard it broke the hill down into a flat street.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle is a very nice fellow.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle never cusses (much).
  • Greg Leibert bicycle helped a granny over a mud puddle once.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle was kind to a puppy that one time.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle tore some grown men’s kidneys out backwards in a bike race and made them weep.
  • Greg Leibert bicycle used to be Greg Leibert Kansas foot runner who was real fast but not fast enough.

Okay, those are the facts and you don’t need to memorize them because the next story that comes out about Greg Leibert bicycle in a couple of months will tell them all over again, rearranged. You know what I say to that? Shoddy pumpernickel. That’s what I say.

Shoddy pumpernickel

I liked the way it sounded so I said it again.

Listen up pillow-babies

I don’t care about any of those facts because they are just facts. What I care about are the pillow-babies and the Faceblab babies, the folks who see Greg Leibert bicycle and all they think is “There goes tall wrinkly Yoda in a Speedo,” or “He ain’t that fast for a motorcycle,” or “I was gonna come around him but.”

Yes, all of you pillow-baby Flaceblab concept kit wearing team turkeys, listen up because I am going to tell you what Greg Leibert bicycle is, was, and will always be, no matter how many preen laps you do around CBR getting hooted at by three drunk homeless people, no matter how many selfies you take in your newest $800 Dopefinn Dopesquatch kustum kit, and no matter how many #fakewatts you generate in your Zwift cave bathing in your own stink and sweat.

What Greg Leibert bicycle is, is a benchmark. If you want to make the needle move on the badassometer, you will need a time machine, and you will need to go back to when Greg Leibert bicycle wasn’t a brokedown old Yoda who is still faster than 98% of the riders out there, no sir, you’ll need to zip back to the late 90’s or early 2000’s when he had more hair on his chest than a grizzly bear, yes, you’ll have to go back in time to those days when there wasn’t no Garmin, wasn’t no Stravver, wasn’t no power meters except for the right one and the left one, wasn’t no carbon bikes or electronicified shifting, when most racers was too flat fuggin’ broke to dope, you go back to THOSE days and try on Greg Leibert bicycle for size and see if you can swallow back the puke when he stomps it because unless you was one of the few, the cagey, the talented, the mean, the living-in-the-backseat-of-an-old-BMW Chris Walker, you wasn’t gonna do anything except tail off the back like an old cigarette butt getting pipped and flipped out the car window.

In other words, benchmark.

Gnash your teeth, pillow-babies, because the mark that Greg Leibert bicycle set wasn’t in 0’s and 1’s, it was in broken manhood and shattered egos.

There’s marks and then there’s marks

Greg Leibert bicycle set the benchmark for bicycle but he set the benchmark for human being, too. There were plenty of really, really good bike racers who beat Greg Leibert bicycle, but many were also really, really big unpleasantness. Doper unpleasantness some of them, arrogant unpleasantness some of them, you get the point.

What set Greg Leibert bicycle apart was his legendary Let Me Walk Your Dog Across the Street Ma’am attitude, his willingness to tear out your kidney on a climb and then put it over a mud puddle so some little old granny didn’t get her tennis shoes wet.

Greg Leibert bicycle invented bicycle friendliness, and it’s why road cycling in his back yard is pretty darned friendly. And when he gets mad he actually does say “Darn.” And he never calls anyone a “sorry maternal fornicator,” even the sorry maternal fornicators, which is pretty much everyone on the NPR.

There are lots of other benchmarks that Greg Leibert bicycle set, for example benchmark of sincerely laughing at your stupid jokes.

Benchmark of nodding sympathetically at how you almost won that race but got 58th.

Benchmark of stopping to help you fixaflatfillawaterbottlechangeadiaper.

Benchmark of driving the van to races. Or the Prius. Or the dog cart.

Benchmark of helping you stragetize how you was gonna upgrade from Cat 5 to Cat 1 next year.

Benchmark of coming to your party and never making an ass out of himself.

Benchmark of towing your maternal fornicating self to the finish line and gifting you the win.

Benchmark of being polite when he met your parents.

Benchmark of doodling a hilarious cartoon that you loved so much you tattooed it on your undercarriage (not me, really).

Benchmark of listening to the tale of your epic training ride/gigantic power numbers/29th spot on the Strava leaderboard for your age-weight-gender/new bicycle gewgaw/question about training that you have zero interest in hearing his answer to.

Benchmark of supporting his club and new riders.

Benchmark of encouraging instead of discouraging, clapping instead of slapping, cheering instead of jeering.

Benchmark. Of. Friend.

_________________________________

END

Sponsored by VO2 Max

Flog physiology

March 14, 2019 § 5 Comments

I rarely, I mean never, write about actual sciencey trainingy sporty stuff as it relates to bicycling. I don’t know anything about it, I don’t care anything about it, and I always fear that facts will delude people even further into thinking that their avid hobby makes them special, different, better, or worst of all, athletic.

However, the weekly Flog Ride that goes off every Thursday does have some sciencey type benefits, and every week after the ride I send out a little email recap to everyone who participates in which I berate, cajole, praise, offend, encourage and suggest better ways to do a ride that is voluntary, unorganized, unowned, and like all such rides a random happening of riders who have all assumed the risk of riding on public roads with other bicyclists and cars.

This past week Kristie Fox penned a particularly excellent description of the Flog Ride’s “lead-out” section, so excellent in fact that it hardly belonged in the weekly email, and as it smacked of science, reason, training effects, and applicability to the sport of cycling [OXYMORON ALERT], I thought it appropriate to re-post it here, especially as it contains a brief history of time and the Flog Ride.

THE FLOG LEAD-OUT AND WHY IT MATTERS

When the ride first began in October of 2014, it was six continuous laps, essentially a race, with no regroup at the top of the golf course. In order to make the ride safer, a regroup was added in the parking lot at the country club, with a neutral descent down to Malaga Cove Plaza, keeping all riders together for the start of the next lap. The effect was that, instead of a steady-state and uninterrupted solo chase effort by each rider for the duration of the six laps, the ride became an interval session, a near-VO2 or threshold interval for 5-7 minutes, repeated six times.

This change increased the intensity of the efforts but shortened the duration and added a rest period. Essentially, it changed the structure but conserved the overall energy expended on the ride. This is shorthand for, “It was still a brutal beatdown.”

Of course, it also made the ride more “social,” as in the original iteration if you got dropped, which everyone did except for Stathis the Wily Greek, you were by yourself for six laps.

The lead-out that now exists at the start of each lap is intended to provide the same intensity. Prior to the introduction of the lead-out, the effort began at or before the right turn onto PV Drive North leaving Malaga Cove Plaza, and the fast descent out of the turn propelled the group at a very high rate of speed to the bottom of the climb up PVDN. If you were not at or near the front on the turn, catching up to the leader took a high power output because the interval began at the turn.

Of course due to traffic there was also separation as one or two riders could squeeze through and the others were left to chase. Hard.

Seth loved to attack out of the turn here and force the others to chase. After some screaming between Seth and G3 last year, the group decided that a neutral turn onto PVDN was a better option for the ride due to traffic safety, but the slow start was compensated for with the addition of a lead-out.

The lead-out was intended to conserve the energy of the ride: Its function was to get the group back up to the pace they would have been at had everyone been shooting the turn balls out, sprinting to the bottom and then clawing their way up the climb. Again, the goal was conserving the overall energy of the ride and maintaining the difficulty of the effort. The first climb had always been an all-out or threshold effort. In the new formulation, the lead-out goat sacrificed herself to the other riders by setting a pace comparable to what it would have been in previous years with the fast descent and attack up PVDN.

Without this element of an initial hard effort up PVDN, the ride would have lost one of the most challenging parts of the course.

For those who are trying to win the lap point atop the golf course, this crazy hard lead-out also made each lap more strategic. You had to decide whether to go full gas with the lead-out and take advantage of the gap it created, as may riders would certainly get shelled, or sit back in the chase and see if you could make up ground by holding a steady effort a-la Cobley and not going into the red, then smacking down whoever remained on the wall. The lead-out also gave riders a chance to get on the leaderboard by awarding them a half-point in an environment where the same coterie of riders generally tended to scoop up all the lap points. It was, in other words, a trade-off: You give it your all and you’ll get a half-point and the ride’s intensity will be preserved. You, unfortunately, will be fucked atop PVDN when your lead-out ends.

Sciencey stuff

The PVDN climb is a:50 to 1:30 effort, depending on who’s leading. Intervals of this duration and intensity are some of the hardest from an energy standpoint. They straddle the line between glycolytic and aerobic thresholds. Performing an all-out, supramaximal VO2 effort of this duration requires a minimal amount of passive rest before an athlete can perform another effort of a similar level, and even more active rest, which is what we do on the Flog. If you can do the lead out and still latch onto the group at the top, win the lap, or outsprint any of the leaders at the golf course bumps, you have not done an all-out, supramaximal effort, in other words, you have not done the lead-out.

As a result of this effort, if done correctly,  you will be in a state of oxygen debt, rapidly trying to replace oxygen stores in the muscle. This means deep heavy breathing that would not allow for acceleration. Gasping for breath. In addition, the first 45 seconds rapidly use stores of phosphocreatine and glycogen, with a smaller contribution from aerobic pathways. Return of these stores to levels that would allow another high effort to begin  requires more than 3 minutes of passive rest and up to 9 minutes of active rest. It would be impossible to recover from a true lead out and still have a good performance on the same lap, because as the amount of time of passive rest required to recover would put you at the wall on Campesina. If done properly, you may not even be recovered by the next lap. Even with the proper amount of passive or active rest, both mean and peak power decline after the first interval if subsequent intervals are performed immediately following the prescribed rest periods. That means that if you have done an all-out effort, your peak and mean power will be lowered somewhat for the rest of the ride.

So why would someone want to volunteer to do the lead-out if peak and mean power will be compromised? Because this is a training ride, and we all have aspects of fitness we are trying to improve. Although you will experience some decreases in power, there are some adaptive reasons doing even more than one lead out can be a good fitness tool. Plus, you’ll earn, yes, EARN, a ½ point.

The anaerobic power  reserve (APR) is an overlooked component of fitness that contributes to performance. The APR is measured by the difference between maximal sprinting speed and speed at or just below VO2 max. The greater the reserve, the more rapidly the athlete will fatigue. We want to develop power and be capable of sustaining it over time. We want to increase our maximal power, and then close the gap between that power and our speed at VO2 max. That is how we get faster and less fatigued over time.

Let’s say your weakness in this equation is  maximal power. Using the lead out as a way to increase your maximal speed/ sprint ( by doing more than one per lap) will develop maximal power and also cause increase your ability to perform at or above VO2 max. If you are using the lead-out for this purpose, you need to take advantage of the rest of the lap and the proceeding lap as a rest phase in order to fully develop this system.

If your weakness is V02 max, you will want to use the lead out in the opposite way: As a catalyst to increasing your time at VO2 max over the course of the ride. This will extend your endurance and speed at VO2, and the bottom end of the APR equation. You would do this by performing the lead out at maximal effort that approaches or reaches VO2, then attempting another effort after a short active recovery period of one to three minutes, depending on your fitness level. Yes, your effort will have less power and add to your overall level of fatigue, but you are developing your resistance to fatigue at VO2, which is a different fitness component than power. The more minutes you spend at VO2, the more this system will develop.

If you do both of these types of training methods, over time your pace  and endurance at VO2 will increase, in addition to your maximal sprint pace. This translates into better race and group ride results, more points, and a lot more pain.

_______________________

END

Death and the over-achiever

March 13, 2019 § 4 Comments

I read this story a couple of times about Kelly Catlin’s suicide. It was a disturbing story on many levels and one worth thinking about.

Kelly was an over-achiever. She graduated with a degree in math and Chinese, enrolled in Stanford’s graduate school, and won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics … all by the age of 22.

She was a classical violinist, a heavy-metal aficionado, a skilled gamer, and a community volunteer.

At 23 she was also dead.

Poring over the news story for clues, they were all there, in her own words and the words of her family:

Talented at literally everything she did. She just felt like she couldn’t say no to everything that was asked of her …

Disciplined, strong, and endlessly hard working … There wasn’t anything Kelly couldn’t do …

She was strong and cold, austere and terrifying.

Kelly always had a nihilistic and occasionally morbid sense of humor.

It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be

Of course Kelly herself had a tall order explaining how one person could do so much and be so superlative at all of it. In a statement that sounds like it was crafted straight out of a PR department, she described her reasons for pursuing such an amazing array of interests at such a high level thus: “Through a synthesis of these interests, I aim for a well-balanced life and the opportunity to touch people’s lives.”

Yet candor about the obvious impossibility of being the best at everything you attempt came out in this VeloNews interview: “But the truth is that most of the time, I don’t make everything work. It’s like juggling with knives, but I really am dropping a lot of them. It’s just that most of them hit the floor and not me.” Most.

In a sentence that looks prophetic, like all post-hoc attempts to piece together self-inflicted death, she adds, “You cannot plan for the unplannable, and — to go back to the juggling analogy — sometimes those knives will hit you.”

A factor in Kelly’s suicide may well have been that in addition to an impossible lifestyle in which everything teetered on a knife’s edge, she suffered a horrific concussion several months before her death. Whether she received psychiatric counseling for its after-effects is unknown, but her family talked about how after the concussion she seemed to be suffering in a variety of ways that affected her mental state.

No one to talk to

What is clear, at least from the news reports, is that Kelly had no one in whom she could confide. The closest she came to talking about the unbearable pressure of her life was in an interview with a stranger in a bike magazine.

It’s easy to chalk up her death to the extraordinary stress of an extraordinary life, but people kill themselves all the time under much less over-achieving conditions than these. What suicide has in common is that the victim feels unable to talk to the people closest to her, a kind of estrangement from intimacy that becomes its own self-perpetuating wall of eternal isolation. Where did that come from?

I think John-Paul Sartre wrote a play about being locked in the cage. No Exit.

____________________________________

END

Come together (right now)

March 11, 2019 § 8 Comments

On Saturday morning we dropped down the hill, quickly hitting 45 mph, each bit of velocity ramping up the cutting edge of the sharp wind that knifed through all the layers I’d carefully amassed. There wasn’t a lot of conversation en route to the 5th MVMNT Ride, but then again with me, there never is.

I’ve been told by people who know that I don’t talk much. It’s not as if there’s anything important or deep going on between my ears, but riding is a great time to shut up. Most of the bad things that can happen on a bike are prevented by silence and observation.

In fact, I recently told a guy who is working hard to improve his cycling that the two most important things are to shut up and watch. When you rode with Fields, you knew to shut up. First, you didn’t want to embarrass yourself. Everyone was listening, and memories were prodigious. Second, people didn’t talk a lot. It’s not that bicycling was serious business, but falling off your bicycle was. Third, there was the Man Code. Men in Texas are taciturn. Period.

Racers, start your vocal cords

Of the many great things about the MVMNT Rides for Friendship, Unity, and Diversity, perhaps the best is the slow speed. Fact: The slower you go, the less serious you are. And the less serious you are, the more you talk. And the more you talk, the more people you meet.

Cycling’s perfect chat zone is between 10 and 13 mph. Anything less than that and you might tip over. Any more than that, falling off starts to hurt.

We had gotten a marvelous break from the rain and cold of the last few months; it was a “chilly” 55, but sunny and windless.

I couldn’t believe how the ride has swollen. The final head count was upwards of 150 riders, and with each ride these events have become, bit by bit, more diverse. A few people even drove over from the West Side to join; a solid 20-mile haul through nasty LA traffic to enjoy conversation, new scenery, and the chance to trample a racial barrier or two.

Choosing space

Everyone who pays attention knows that the USA is a racially segregated nation, and Los Angeles is the poster child for this crime against humanity. Where you live is largely determined by the color of your skin.

Study after study shows that social barriers are reinforced by physical separation, and it makes sense. How can you relate to people with whom you never talk or interact?

With each iteration of this ride, more and more people are accepting the invitation to get out and share physical space with others, to get out of the cycling cocoons in which they normally pedal, and most especially to slow down and talk.

Helmets and pine needles

I didn’t talk with a lot of people, but I did spend most of my chat allotment with Tyra Lindsay, a woman who approached me about my bare head and wanted to know why. An hour later we were still talking … I can’t say I convinced her, but then again I wasn’t trying to.

What I was trying to do was have a conversation, one of those tennis games where you volley an idea, the other person sends it back over the net, and each side does their level best to keep the volley going, no one looking for the kill shot or the crazy topspin or the drop shot over the net.

In the process I learned she was from Alexandria, Louisiana, with lots of family in Marshall, just a few miles from where I spent my summers in the piney woods of East Texas. We shared memories about the smell of the red dirt, the wafting aroma of pine needles crunching beneath our feet, volleying, volleying, until we reached our destination at the Korean Friendship Bell, dismounted, and took in the view.

Afterwards we assembled at The Bike Palace in San Pedro, where we descended like locusts on the donuts and coffee before heading home.

____________________

END

Get a move[mnt] on!

March 8, 2019 § 2 Comments

Tomorrow is the first MVMNT Ride of 2019.

It leaves at 8:00 AM from 736 East Del Amo Boulevard in Carson, in front of the Buffalo Wild Wings.

The ride will be about four hours long and it will be slow. People will talk. Learn each others’ names. Not sprint for KOMs. Have a good time. Hopefully talk trash, at least a little.

The ride goes to the Korean Bell in San Pedro and finishes at The Bike Palace, where riders will be treated to sugar and caffeine as well as a chance to meet, shake hands with, and kiss the signet ring of JP “Baby Seal,” the legendary cyclist, pillow baby, ex-newsletter-ist, #socmed magician, and most all-round nice guy on earth after the apocalypse.

What is a MVMNT Ride, aside from something that’s missing a bunch of vowels? Glad you asked! It is a ride designed to get people of all ethnicities together, to break down racial barriers, to soften stereotypes, and to realize that we are all human beings who share the same basic, most fundamental and primitive human need of all: TO RIDE OUR FUGGIN’ BIKES!

Hope you can make it, even if it means getting out of your favorite socioeconomic cocoon! Remember, it’s not every day you get to shake hands with a seal.

_______________________________

END

Uphill battle

March 7, 2019 § 19 Comments

A jury in Fresno last month awarded two cyclists just under $400,000 for injuries they sustained when they crashed in a bike lane covered with sand and gravel. The jury agreed with the cyclists that the county had a duty to maintain the bike lanes, and that their failure to do so had caused the cyclists to fall.

Photographs showed sand up to seven inches deep, and a massive, 10-foot swath of sand covering the bike lane. The sand ran along the bike path for as much as 100 feet at a stretch.

On the one hand this counts for a victory, since Fresno County will certainly take the condition of its bike lanes a bit more seriously. From another vantage point, though, it illustrates the incredible challenges that cyclists face simply in order to use the public roads.

Bike infrastructure?

There is a lot of debate on the utility of bike lanes. Most people, without analysis, think they are good things, a kind of magical zone created by a stripe of paint that makes cycling safer and that encourages more people to ride.

A minority view, and one I agree with, is that cyclists are safest when treated as normal road users who follow the rules of the road, riding in the lane, without the fake protection of green paint, white lines, or walled-off “protected” bike lanes that are often anything but.

Regardless of which view you espouse, the Fresno case perfectly illustrates why bike infrastructure is far from a panacea, and in many cases is a kind of trap for cyclists, wary or not.

In the Fresno case, if the roadway had been pockmarked with, say, 10′ x 5′ chug holes, no one would doubt that the county had been derelict in its duty to maintain the roadway in a safe condition because such conditions would be obviously hazardous … to cars. But a bike lane covered with sand was only considered a hazard when two people were seriously injured, even though sand is much more deadly to the average cyclist on road tires than a pothole is to the driver of a car.

The point is that “bike infrastructure” takes much more maintenance than if bikes simply rode in the traffic lane, which is almost always in better condition than the adjacent bike lane for two simple reasons. One, it’s used by cars and cars get preferential treatment and therefore better maintained pavement, and two, bike lanes are off to the side of the travel lane and become receptacles for garbage and detritus in the roadway that gets kicked over, blown over, and tossed out by cars.

Anyone who regularly uses any bike lane knows that it’s only a matter of time before you’ll have to go out into the travel lane to avoid a hazard, or because the bike lane abruptly comes to an end. And of course venturing out of the bike lane becomes doubly hazardous because the traffic doesn’t expect you to ever leave your white-striped baby crib.

Fighting the king

When a cyclist gets hurt because the city, county, or state has failed to maintain the roadway and has allowed a dangerous condition to exist, the cyclist has an extremely hard fight on his hands to hold the governmental entity accountable. This is because the laws are written so that it’s comparatively much harder to sue the king than to sue his subjects.

In addition to a strict 6-month claims filing deadline, which if you miss almost always will kill your case, you also have to prove that the county knew or should have known about the dangerous condition. In the Fresno case that was a much lower hurdle because county employees used the road daily and the sand in the bike lane was massive.

But in many cases the dangerous condition is something as small as a crack that is merely a bit wider than the 25mm bike tire width; and although maintenance crews are often aware of these cracks, they may neither report nor repair them because they are too small to cause a problem for a car. In other words, juries are sympathetic to giant pot holes but they can be much less so when it comes to evaluating a crack that is only 30 or 40mm wide.

There are a host of other procedural and legal barriers that you have to overcome to hold the city or county liable for their negligence, and on top of that you have to deal with stereotypes and prejudice, the type that defense lawyers love to trot out in a horrific game of victim blaming.

Victim blaming par excellence

In the Fresno case, the county’s attorney tried to poison the jury by telling them that cycling was inherently dangerous. However, defense lawyer David Overstreet’s justification for the cyclists’s injuries was like the ranting of an insane person. “This is not bicycling like maybe you did when you were a child. These are expensive bikes. These are different kinds of cycling that most of us have never done.”

Can you even begin to unpack this gibberish? I can.

  1. This is not really bicycling. So any positive association you had with bikes as a child is irrelevant. Hate them.
  2. Because the bikes cost a lot, the riders are rich. They don’t need the money. They are greedy. Hate them.
  3. Road cycling is different and weird. They dress funny and go fast, so they deserve to ride on unmaintained, hazardous bike lanes. Hate them.

Overstreet also suggested that the cyclists deserved to fall because they were riding close together. In other words, if they had been more spaced out, perhaps they wouldn’t have fallen when their tires hit the seven-inch-deep sand trap.

Whatevs.

Double standard

Here in the South Bay we have a notorious stretch of road on Vista del Mar that is horribly cracked and torn up, and has been for years. in both directions. The times I have emailed the city with photos, they have either denied that the cracks exist or have remedied only the biggest ones, i.e. the cracks that could affect a car or a motorcycle. The plethora of smaller hazards, all of which are potentially lethal to a cyclist, have never been repaired.

I’ve successfully sued the city on behalf of a cyclist injured on Vista del Mar, but it led to only modest repairs in the immediate vicinity of the collision. In other cases that I’ve successfully litigated against cities for failure to maintain the roadway, there rarely seems to be fundamental change to the effect that engineers and maintenance crews realize that roads need to be safe for bikes as well as cars.

Kudos to attorney Doug Gordon for taking on a hard case in a hostile jurisdiction, and helping his clients get some modest compensation for what they suffered.

I wish I could say there’ll be no more cases like that. But with more and more people pushing bike infrastructure as the next holy safety grail, I know there will be.

___________________

END