Bike law basics: STFU

May 28, 2020 § 14 Comments

Cyclists are pretty good at a collision scene when it comes to refraining from admitting fault. This is in no small part because the vast majority of the time it’s the driver that was negligent, not the person on the bicycle.

However, what do you do post-collision? What do you do in the hospital when the cop calls or comes by to take your statement? What do you do when you get a friendly call from the friendly insurance adjuster just friendlily checking on your “condition” and asking a few friendly questions about what happened? What do you tell friends and family who want to know what happened?

With regard to law enforcement, it’s crucial that you tell them everything as thoroughly as you can for the purposes of the traffic collision report they’re going to write. It’s also important that you not make things up. If you don’t recall, it’s important to say so, because gaps can often be filled in with evidence or with deposition testimony from witnesses, from the defendant, or from crash reconstruction. Inserting what you thought happened rather than what you saw and recall, though, creates a whole bunch of problems later on if the facts contradict your story or if you change your story.

But what about the friendly adjuster who is calling with a few friendly questions? In this case it’s important to remember the following lovely Russian proverb:

The first thing you do, is you shut up. And after you get through shutting up, you shut up some more.

Russian Granny


First, the driver’s insurance company is not your friend. They are your mortal enemy when its comes to getting paid for the injuries and damages caused by the motorist who hit you. Nothing you say will be used to your benefit, and everything you say that can be used against you, will be.

Second, you have no obligation to talk to them. Adjusters love to make it sound like you should, or you’re supposed to, or sometimes the creepy ones will insinuate that you must give them your version of events. Fact: You don’t have to tell them shit and you shouldn’t. The only thing you should do when the driver’s insurance company calls is get a) The name and number of the adjuster b) The name of the insurance company 3) The claim number. That’s it.

Don’t be faked by them sympathetically calling to find out “how you’re doing.” This is their first attempt of many to show conclusively that you weren’t hurt at all or that you weren’t hurt as bad as you claim later. Never, ever tell an insurance adjuster anything about your injuries when they first reach out to you.

Third, as tempting as it is to tell your side of the story to a sympathetic listener, especially when the common scenario has arisen that some jerk hit you and then didn’t apologize, didn’t call EMS, didn’t ask how you were, and immediately began lying to the cops about what happened, you can be pretty angry and feel badly wronged. It’s natural to want the other side to hear what really happened, and for the adjuster to know you’re pissed about the shoddy behavior of their insured.

But you know what? That’s what they want you to do and it’s why they speak as friendly, sympathetic folks who just want to “get your side of the story.” Even if you handle the claim on your own, you should never, ever recount your side of the story to the adjuster until you’ve had plenty of time to reconstruct it with a copy of the traffic collision report, with witness statements, with review of the damage to your bike/clothing/equipment, and with your own recollections.

Fourth, speed is your enemy and it’s the ally of the bad guys. The more quickly the insurance company can lock in a confused narrative, an ambiguous statement, or anything that even remotely suggests fault on the part of the cyclist, the more easy their battle later on. By the same token, you only benefit by moving slowly. You just got hit by a 5,000-lb. car, remember? You’ve been traumatized, hospitalized, and are simply trying to resume some semblance of normality, and sorry, the “needs” of the enemy insurer are not on your priority list. You’ll have plenty of time at a later date to set forth your side of the story, and it must be on your timetable, not theirs.

Keep in mind that their “rush” is wholly fake, because in California there is a 2-year statute of limitations for bodily injury claims. What possible reason could there be for their “rush” to get information?

So what do you say when they call? Nothing at all. Get the info I mentioned above, then hang up. You don’t have to be polite, nice, apologetic, nothing. If you have to say something, tell them not to call you again as you intend to hire a lawyer.

The last and perhaps most difficult place to STFU has to do with friends and family. Everyone wants to know what happened, and if you hire a lawyer, the nosier among them will want to know the status of your case. The Perry Mason wannabes, or worse, your actual lawyer friends, will want to know the guts and details of the case.

This is another great place to practice shutting up some more. The only person with whom your communications are confidential is your lawyer. Friends and family, with the exception of your spouse (not your girlfriend/boyfriend), share no confidentiality for purposes of your case. This means that in deposition you will be asked whom you’ve spoken with the case about, and you’re required to name those people.

Woe to you if they are anyone other than your spouse or lawyer, because those people can then in turn be deposed and there’s zero guarantee they will help your case. In fact, they will often greatly harm it because they’ve misremembered what you said, or they didn’t understand it in the first place. Don’t expose your claim to the potentially damaging testimony of friends and family who suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of experienced defense counsel.

So what’s the best way to handle these inquiries? Simple. “My lawyer instructed me to discuss this with no one. I can’t talk about it.”

I’ve yet to hear of a client using this line and have anyone take a second stab at prying. It really works.

Silence is well-known to be golden. Now you know why.


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May 26, 2020 § 5 Comments

The best way to enjoy birdwatching is to go out into the wild and enjoy nature’s beautiful creatures in their native habitat. I went for a bicycle ride on Sunday and enjoyed observing the following amazing feathered friends.

  1. Komhawk: Falco whakkus: The Komhawk is very slender, long-legged, and long-winded, averaging 150-155 lbs. and significantly less on Zwift. In adult birds, the upperparts are dark blue-grey lycra with a silly logo or emblem resembling an infringed trademark from Target, with the usual beaked nose and receding cyclist chin contrasting sharply with the slight tummy bulge. This species may be confused with the Zwift Falcon (Falco smarttrainerus) and the Trainerroad Falcon (Falco dumbtrainerus) which have similar brain anomalies but are primarily found indoors swathed in their own sweat and bad smell. The Komhawk’s habitat is roads with a tailwind, the rear wheel of mopeds, and any fast-moving group that can allow it to go from last place to first with minimal expenditure of energy. The Komhawk feeds on large insecurities and small birds that are fumbling about on its segments and will go on frenzied alert upon spotting this “prey.” Small birds fear it more than most other predators due to its massively delusional #socmed postings and bizarre Strava ride titles. It is often seen soaring at twilight hunting insects eating them on the wing. The Komhawk is one of the cleanest birds, bathing daily in whatever trinkets it has harvested. The nest is a platform built of CPUs that can simultaneously display leaderboard rankings for age/weight/zip code/gender.
  2. Fredded Grouse: Tubbo goofus: The Fredded Grouse is a chunky, medium-sized bird weighing from 180-250 lbs. and featuring short, rounded, stubby wings, and boldly fatted “cankles.” Fredded Grouse have two distinct morphologies: Dropped Quick and Dropped Hard. In the dropped quick morph, the head, neck and back are grey-brown, turning bright pink, brilliant red, violet, then deathly gray once the grade approaches 3% or the speed increases above 12 mph. The breast is broad with barring and splotchy marks. There is much white on the underside, flanks, and chin wattles, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance reminiscent of a century jersey designed by someone’s color-blind kid. Dropped Hard-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but are more conspicuous in the excuses they get for having been dropped by elderly ladies in walkers. The “Freds,” a kind of ruff on the sides of the neck, as well as a crest on top of the head, are used to indicate breeding season, which occurs infrequently. Very, very infrequently. Both genders are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band and often utters a call that sounds like “Slow down, Herman!” while males tend to have unbroken tail bands, shattered egos, and a call more closely resembling a harpooned whale. Females may also do a display similar to the male when bragging about recent equipment purchases. Like most grouse, they spend most of their time on the ground foraging for caffeinated chews; mixed cookie dough rich in pecans seems to be particularly well-liked. These birds forage on the ground, in trees, or, when on a budget, in dumpsters. They are omnivores, eating both Domino’s and Pizza Hut.
  3. Badass Warbler: Dendricus delusionalus: The Badass Warbler is among North America’s most abundant neotropical migrants. Inactive during most months of the year, the Badass Warbler comes to life in late spring and early summer, when the weather is fine and their colors are most visible. They are perhaps the most versatile foragers of all warblers, willing to feed on triathletes, obese cyclists, people on the roadside with a flat tire, and small children on training wheels. The Badass Warbler hunts its prey by accelerating quickly from behind, passing the victim, then slowing down due to the effort or due to the prey having gotten back on his bicycle. Other places yellow-rumped warblers have been spotted foraging include rest homes, crematoriums, and of course piles of manure. When bugs are scarce, the Badass Warbler also creates fake profiles on Zwift, lying about age, height, and weight in order to harvest a maximum number of trinkets before being banned. On their wintering grounds in Mexico they’ve been seen sipping the sweet honeydew liquid excreted by aphids as well as garishly colored pina coladas and cherry-flavored margaritas. While foraging the Badass Warbler will occasionally catch a much bigger, stronger, and faster prey than was expected, at which time the prey will be released with the announcement that today is an “easy day.”
  4. Expro Duck: Anas ustabegreatus: The Expro Duck is found in muddy, shallow, algae-coated ponds, sewage treatment plants, and moist garbage dumps. The Expro Duck’s principal source of food is beginning riders who dote on tales that begin with “Back in the day.” Yet the Expro Duck is omnivorous, also attending group rides until the pace picks up, at which time the Expro complains about all the “kooks,” “newbies,” “Freds,” and “disrespectful younguns.” The Expro mates year round, primarily with younger females just getting into cycling. Expro mate pairings are polyamorous, given they have a suitable territory. A typical reproductive cycle involves multiple stages: Smiling kindly on a group ride, nattily wearing a classic jersey, treating to a latte, copulation, brief public pairing displays, and child support. The Expro Duck courtship period is characterized by billing, bowing, and nibbling. Males generally initiate billing, which is the touching of bills between individuals and exchanging components, particularly upgrades from mechanical to wireless. After a pair bond is cemented, the mating pair looks for a territory to build a nest in. A pair bond becomes permanent when the male willingly goes slow on a beatdown ride in order to not be separated from his struggling partner. Copulation behavior among pairs always falls under the same general pattern. First the male chases the female and gives her tips on cadence, gear selection, and nutrition. Then, the female moves to the display platform and squats with her head under the water. The male then mounts the female, using his claws and wings to balance on the female’s back while she brings her head above the water. Sexual intercourse usually takes no longer than two seconds.

Isn’t nature wonderful?


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The Christian battle and defeet

May 24, 2020 § 7 Comments

I do not wake up every day wondering how to make people happy and I am very successful at that.

What I sometimes do is send socks to my friends in far-flung places because my friends are often bicyclists and a good sock is hard to find.

This afternoon I came home from a somewhat strenuous bicycle ride. I never got more than about five or six miles from home but 6+ hours later I had ridden 62 miles and clumbed a few yards shy of nine thousand feet.

Lunch tasted good and involved lots of butter. Later I reclined on my spacious floor and checked my email. This piece of pricelessness was waiting for me.

Hey Seth,

Hope all is better than well and I want to thank you again for the socks. Growing up in Bellaire [pronounced “Blair” in Texas, ed.] there were two choices as to where Episcopalians would congregate to pray, St. Mathews or St. Marks. St. Marks was not in Bellaire but actually in West University but that’s irrelevant or irreverent.

Episcopalians had and likely have two levels of churches, high church or low church. High churches, of which St. Marks was one, were strict on dress code and adhered to a robust performance with much pomp and pageantry. Low churches, of which St. Mathews was most definitely one, were just happy to have you spend your Sunday morning in “God’s House.”

Religion was never much of a topic in the DeBarbieris house but, leaving dad at home, my mom with her four snot-nose heathens would make the pilgrimage to church on a random basis, usually after the heathens had done something so awful that hell seemed a likely outcome for all involved.

We attended St. Mathews for a short period of time until it became clear that even God was not going to have much sway with the police department. Why we left will forever be a mystery but it did not have anything to do with guns I don’t think. St. Mathews was good with me because it required no preparation. “Git in the car kids. We’re goin’ to church,” is what mom would say, and off to church we’d git.

However, there was an upside to attending spiffy St. Marks. Showing up to “God’s House” wearing a wrinkled shirt, Levi’s jeans with knee patches peeling away at the corners, mismatched socks and scuffed shoes was unacceptable. God forbid that a Christian would try to sweet-talk or smartass his way into heaven with scuffed shoes.

So in order to get past the folks at St. Marks who preferred that heaven’s select look presentable, mom declared that all of the DeBarbieris heathens would receive a new set of Sunday [pronounced “Sundy” in Texas, ed.] clothes. I remember dad being a bit skeptical about this and reminding mom that the family name “DeBarbieris” meant “Of the barbarians” in Italian, but nonetheless we all got suited up with Sunday clothes that included “shiny shoes” when we began attending St Marks. Those “shiny shoes” made us little kids feel extra Christian and heaven bound for sure.

I am a bit older now, pushing 70 which is the new 50 while still looking like I’m 30, and I don’t (publicly) refer to my dress shoes anymore as my “shiny shoes.” But … a couple of months ago I purchased a really cool pair of very Euro black shoes with a white sole and some bolts on the bottom, when I murmured, in the presence of my wife, “These are definitely shiny shoes!”

Then a few days later I received the socks from you and realized I was now the complete package! I now have “shiny shoes” with matching socks suitable to attend church at St. Marks. I am sure they would still recognize me after my sixty year absence. This shoe/sock combo is also suitable to conduct church in my capacity as high priest for the smelly, unwashed heathens on their bicycles. God knows I love my socks and now you know why.

Thanks again Seth


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Call of the wild

May 23, 2020 § 3 Comments

One thing I like about Chaucer is that I’ll be reading along, minding my own business, and something will leap out and grab me by the mind, fierce fingers with long jagged nails digging deeply in, and say “WtF iS tHAt?

For example the line, “Selde is the Friday al the wowke alyk,” also known as “Seldom is Friday like other days in the week.”

I mean, why Friday? I swear, that one has bothered me for a long time now. Why Friday?

I’ll be in my monthly shower and bam. “Why Friday?”

I’ll be eating some diet cornbread made with bacon, butter, and eggs, and bam. “Why Friday?”

I’ll be cleaning my chain and bam. “Why Friday?”

Each time I wonder “Why Friday?” it sets off a chain reaction. What was it people used to do on Friday? What about Tuesday? Tuesday’s pretty damned special. I once knew a lady whose kid was named Tuesday. But I never knew any kid named Friday. Monday is the name of an awesome song, so awesome they repeated it twice in the title.

All that wondering stopped this morning as I lay on floor, eyes gazing at the asbestos stucco on the ceiling when I realized that Friday was unlike any other day of the week because it ushered in Saturday. Friday was the day of excitement, of anticipation, or as my East Texas lawyer buddy used to say, “It ain’t the flop on the bed, it’s the walk up the stairs.” [*Note: An East Texas girlfriend, upon hearing this aphorism, said “Sounds like that boy needs to get him some new flop.”]

Saturday, the day of the Donut, the day you open your eyes and the gore rolls through your veins like a thousand railroad trains, the day of battle, the day of grown men prancing around in form-fitting garish underwear, the day that friendship dies and is replaced by spitting, traitorous alliances of grim necessity, Saturday, the day whose unfolding will stay with you all the rest of the wowke, the day of the wild, the day that calls you.

For a couple months now the covids have put a full stop to the real Donut. Don’t get me wrong, a certain concatenation of creatures has continued to do their own Saturday “Donut” ride, thumbing their nose at the potential infliction of needless suffering and covid death, so strong is the call of Saturday.

But for me the call has ebbed with each wowke. Every Saturday it calls me, but it calls me less. Now that we’re on the edge of being permitted to go about the business of spreading covids in earnest, “reopening” as it’s euphemistically called, the call has become roar.

It’s tried to, anyway.

This morning I lay there and listened as hard as I could. There was a faint murmuring off in the distance, the clink of chains, the buzz of e-derailleurs, the wheeen of brakes on carbon wheels, the desperate pant of the drop.

I listened as hard as I could but all I heard was the call of the tame.


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Life’s work

May 22, 2020 § 19 Comments

Everyone has a life’s work, a thing they are destined to do for all their days on earth. Unfortunately, most people don’t figure out what this is until they’re dead.

My brother was a cellist and a poet. I’m sure that the latter was his life’s work. I’m not so sure about the former, because he gave it up in young adulthood. It may have been, though. He had only two teachers, Paula Baker and David Boyle. You can find Boyle’s name in these old programs from the Houston Symphony Orchestra, along with my old flute teacher, David Colvig.

I never met Mr. Boyle, but I met Ms. Baker a lot. She had two very pretty daughters.

Did I mention she had two daughters?

A life’s work is something that drives you. When you are doing it you have no eyes or mind for anything but that. When you’re done with it for the day, before long you start thinking about it again.

A life’s work isn’t a hobby or a job, although it can be both. It’s certainly not appearance or success or money, although all three of those can come along with it, or even be part of it. A life’s work always leaves something behind for other people. It’s something they look at after you’re dead and say, “Wow, she did that.” But in addition to earning recognition, your life’s work makes someone better. It enhances their moment. They breathe more freely, with a bit of wonder, than they did before.

My brother loved Pablo Casals. I didn’t know much about this nonpareil cellist, and what I did know what wrong. I thought he was Puerto Rican; he was Spanish. I thought his name was Pablo, it was technically “Pau.” I vaguely thought that he was a great musician. I didn’t know that he was the greatest cellist ever.

The first time I really listened to the music was at my brother’s funeral, when they played Casals’s rendition of the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No 1. It is one of the most soulful, deep, and beautiful pieces of music ever written.

A couple of days ago I was riding along Golden Meadow and I saw this bumper sticker.

It made me think of Casals so I looked him up on Wikipedia. He lived to be 96, and was a lifelong opponent of the Franco regime. He was also extraordinarily funny, as you’d expect from a brilliant musician. My two favorite quotes, maybe ever, are his.

The first was when he was asked about the 60-year age gap between him and his new wife, whom he married when he was 93. “I look at it like this. If she dies, she dies,” he said.

The second was his response to being asked why he still practiced three hours a day though he was in his 90’s. “Well,” he said, “I seem to be noticing some improvement.”

This struck me hard, first with laughter and then with reflection, reflection that great musicians, and indeed great anything, spend hours a day practicing. Six to eight hours day is standard fare for anyone aspiring to be a concert pianist. I remember that it was pulling teeth to get me to practice piano, and later flute, for even an hour a day, or often even an hour a week. It’s no surprise that I was pretty rotten at both.

On the other hand, it never took much to get me to ride my bike for seven or eight hours at a pop. In college I rode 500-600 miles a week and don’t think I ever missed a class. My grades were pretty good, too. Even later it was never especially hard to convince myself to go out for a long ride. But is riding a bike a life’s work? No. No way. How do I know? Because it doesn’t leave anything behind for anybody else. It’s simply another form of selfishness, albeit it one that is relatively easy on the environment.

On Jan. 28 of last year I started memorizing Chaucer. I’m now up to over 3,000 lines and am 3/4 of the way through the third part of the Knight’s Tale. Sometimes I spend five or six hours a day memorizing and reciting. I wake up in the morning and rip off a few hundred lines as I’m waiting for the water to boil and the bread to toast. The problem with memorizing Chaucer is that it seems a lot more like riding a bike than it does like playing Bach’s cello suite. It doesn’t really leave anything behind. One thing I know for sure about your life’s work. You have to proclaim it and not be afraid of the unavoidable ridicule. Your life’s work doesn’t have to be grand or beautiful in the eyes of others, it just has to be yours, and it has to measure up to you in your own eyes. Casals knew he wanted to be the greatest cellist ever, and he knew that before he performed, it had to be right. Casals refused to play the Bach suites in public until he was good enough. So he practiced them every day.

For thirteen years.

Maybe I’ll get bored with Chaucer soon. It’s only been a year and a half. But maybe not.


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When the revolution comes, it will be Stravavised

May 19, 2020 § 10 Comments

It is finally here. Took a dang long enough time, fer fuggsake. Yep, the revolution. The bike revolution. Brought to you courtesy of the covids.

#sadface news for #bikehaters: Millions of people in the USA are now taking to the streets on their bicycles, and most of them are new converts, and a whole bunch of them are never going back to the old way.

Statistics? None.

I mean, there is this story in the NY Times, doing everything it can to make it sound like the lid hasn’t been blown off the shitter. But in between their desperation to make it sound like this is a one-off thing, they cram in all these noisy facts. Most bike sales ever. Can’t keep low-end anything in stock. People lined up around the block. No end in sight.

And here’s what they don’t say: Bike shop employees working themselves to the bone and not even making a dent in the demand for service, products, and repairs. Bike shop owners making something that is a unicorn in the bike shop biz, i.e. a “profit.”

They don’t say this, either: “People are going batshit crazy as they discover the joy, freedom, satisfaction, thrill, happiness, empowerment, hormone flood, jacked up libido, weight loss, Vitamin D shower, disappearance of niggling aches and pains, sound night’s sleep, chubbier wallet, rosy pallor, and life control that comes with swapping out buses/subways/cars/Uber for a bicycle.

I don’t blame them for not saying any of that. If they did, they’d be delivering a steel-toed kick to the groin of the zillion-dollar industries that make up anti-depressants, psych therapy, #socmed, food supplements, chiropractic/massage/acupuncture, sleeping pills, payday loans/credit cards, botox, and the economic leech-system built around cars. Who’d advertise with them if they called out all those folks, for dog’s sake?

Anyway, for people who are still sitting around waiting for things to “get back to normal,” I can only suggest, politely, that you have met the future, and it is a bike.


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Two good rides

May 17, 2020 § 4 Comments

I rode to Manhattan Beach yesterday. There wasn’t much traffic even though it was Saturday and rather late in the morning, about 8:30 or so.

One function of the pandemic is reduced car traffic. Everyone seems to be thinking twice about going anywhere by car, and that’s probably because for most people there’s no “where” to go to.

But there was a bunch of bike traffic. Bikes everywhere, and they seemed to fall into three groups. 1) The usual suspects. 2) Newbies. 3) Ustabefit types.

The Ustabefit riders were easily identified by their nice but old bikes and their serious cycling duds that didn’t fit so good anymore. I think it’s pretty awesome that the pandemic has spurred so many people to start riding and has encouraged so many who used to ride to ride again.

What was equally awesome was the utter absence of cager hostility. In the South Bay it’s usually a fact of life that sooner or later you’re going to draw a honk, usually sooner. But the scads of people taking to the streets, or the lessened car traffic and concomitant decreased stress, or some combination of the two meant that there was lot of pleasant coexistence that I normally only associate with downtown LA and Long Beach-type places.

It also shows how silly the whole idea of bike lanes and bike infrastructure is. People are perfectly capable of riding in the street and cars are perfectly capable of not hitting them, if they so desire.

I got home and went shopping at the Food 4 Less on Sepulveda and Vermont. I bought several pounds of potatoes, a 5-lb. bag of sugar, some canola oil, and a bunch of other stuff that ended up weighing over 20 pounds when you added in the u-lock and cable.

To get home I have to go uphill a bit, and although Basswood/Shorewood aren’t mandatory, I never avoid them, reasoning that I won’t live here forever and I’ll look back regretfully on having lived at the top of a wall and having not ridden it every chance I had.

Things were going well up Rolling Meadows. I rode over the little wooden step-ramp and then pedaled hard up Silver Spur, but the backpack and my commuter bike and my tennis shoes were making me feel less than sprightly. I labored up Basswood, really labored, as in “she’s in labor.”

I took a hard run at Shorewood and at the point where my momentum turned into deep mud and I was going to have to pedal and pedal hard, I swung a leg over and got off. I walked all the way to the top, fully expecting a peloton of 100+ friends, acquaintances, and cycling enemies to come charging down this desolate suburban street with cameras flashing, all shouting, “Look at the wanker! Too weak to pedal! Pushing his effing bike!”

They didn’t, though, and I wouldn’t have cared if they had.

Sometimes you gotta know when to hold, know when to fold ’em.


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