The color of stupid

December 28, 2015 § 50 Comments

Every good rant ought to begin with a confession. This one does, and here it is:

I have broken most traffic laws on my bike. I’ve engaged in dangerous behavior, reckless riding, scofflawing, cursing at motorists, whacking the hoods of cars that almost killed me, shouting back at pedestrians who insult me, and, in my youth engaging in physical altercations. So if you’re looking for someone who claims his shit doesn’t stink, it’s not me.

Despite the above confession, these acts do not and have never characterized how I ride, for this simple reason: The ride is a fail unless you and your fellow riders make it home alive and unhurt.

Of course there’s a fine balance between riding safely and riding in a competitive group. Hormones flow. Delusions blossom. Risk-benefit analyses wither on the vine. And at the end, or somewhere on the route, there’s an imaginary victory in an imaginary race that has a real ending and real competitors and real bragging rights.

Over time the instinct for survival has won out. There’s only so much reckless abandon I want to be around, foremost because I don’t want to fall off my bicycle (I’m fairly accomplished at that without additional assistance), and secondarily because I don’t want my day ruined scraping up the remains of someone’s poor decisions.

“How was the ride?” when asked by my wife isn’t answered well with “Someone died.”

Which brings us to the Nichols Ride, one of LA’s oldest and most famous group clusterfucks. I’ve done it once, simply to say I’ve done it. If you haven’t done it, there are a bunch of better alternatives. For one, it’s a one-trick pony. There is a steep wall, very short, that dislocates all but a small handful. It happens early on, so if you’re doing the ride for the competition aspect, your chances of making the split and “winning” are almost nil.

For another, the hard part of the ride is very short, a few miles along Mulholland Drive that end in a sprint between the same handful every week.

Lastly, the fast part of the ride takes place along badly paved, twisting, rolling urban roadway that is often clogged with traffic. Especially, there is “the” intersection, where you can either stop at the red light and get caught by those behind you, or approach it on the wrong side of the road at 35+, blow the red light and trust your skills to shoot the gaps in the traffic.

In the past, riders have been clocked head-on by oncoming cars as they salmon; others have been hit by cross traffic as they run the red light, and thousands and thousands have risked life and limb as they squeeze through this harrowing strait. What’s most interesting, of course, is that the people who set the tone for this egregious behavior are the same people almost every ride.

Disengaged from reality, consequences, responsibility, or leadership, they weekly leave their mark on the Nichols Ride with feats of inanity that encourage those other few who are similarly unhinged to follow in their footsteps. No matter how many times they’ve been reproached, reasoned with, remonstrated with, or begged, they keep at it. They don’t fucking care about you, which makes sense, because they barely even care about themselves.

So today, when Facebag lit up with this video showing just how unbelievable these clowns are, it was amazing to see the outpouring of anger at this behavior–behavior that gives every motorist a poster child to aim at when you say “I’m a bicyclist.”

But the stupidity of the culpable riders isn’t what’s exceptional. What’s exceptional is how long this type of riding has been tolerated, and how feeble our community has been when it comes to reining it in. Cycling has always had terrible people who run silly risks, but in the past those people were first given a talking to, and then ostracized. The group wasn’t willing to have gorillas in its midst, brainless people who endanger all and who give an already suspect sport an even more terrible name.

As cycling has grown, with so many huge rides and so many strong riders, the enforcers of yore have either left “the scene” and taken to riding in small groups on their own, or they have completely disengaged from the crazy rides. I’ve done the latter, and it’s a cop-out. The dynamics of cycling today, at least in L.A., call for a new brand of leadership.

Instead of treating every big ride like Death Race 2000, the people who have been around need to start opening every single ride with a little speech. Rides differ, but the message needs to be the same and it needs to be enforced. Something like this:

Listen up, assholes. This isn’t a bike race. You know how I know? Because no one has paid a fee or pinned on a number. This means you will follow the traffic laws. If you have a driver license you’re presumed to know what those are. If you don’t, raise your hand and I will explain the basics. If you can’t do that, don’t want to do that, or are too cool to do that, leave now. We’ll give you a huge head start and crown you king–but we won’t let you ruin our ride and, more importantly, our lives.

Sounds good in theory, but the problem is that nowadays no one wants to be the heavy, for various reasons. First is the fear of liability. If you’re the one laying down the law, who are the lawyers going to come looking for when someone falls off her bicycle and breaks an arm, or worse? Who wants to get sued for trying to keep things safe?

The other problem is that there are so many rides and so many schedules that it’s rare for the same people to show up every week for the same ride. So even though you can get the ball rolling, if you’re the “heavy” all you have to do is miss a few rides and the problem resets.

What’s the solution? First, these rides need to organize to this extent: The regulars need to agree that someone will always give “the speech.” This diffuses responsibility in case someone tries to pin the tail on you as the “promoter,” and it gives everyone a stake. Most importantly, it lets slower riders know that the asshat antics of the fast-and-furious-fools isn’t acceptable, and it encourages people to come up to these clowns post-ride and read them the riot act.

Best of all, it makes certain types of riding, i.e. the flagrant behavior seen in the video, uncool, and it gives each one of these rides the opportunity to ostracize those who would endanger everyone else for the cheap glory of a few seconds with your hands in the air.

There are already rides like this, where a chain-gang boss lays down the law and if you’re going to do the ride, you follow it. The Long Beach Freds come to mind, a group of hackers and Olympians who train daily on one of the hairiest and most congested roadways in SoCal, PCH. They stop at lights, don’t take crazy risks, and more or less look out for each other while also trying to rip each others’ legs off. They don’t give “the speech,” but if you get out of line you get sent to your room without any supper.

Gil Dodson, the ancient Fred around whom the Long Beach Freds are built, is proof that one strong voice and a group of like-minded riders can create an atmosphere of challenging competition and relative safety. Is that asking too much?

The time to change is now. Better to attend post-ride coffee than a post-ride funeral.

END

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§ 50 Responses to The color of stupid

  • Brian in VA says:

    I was just imagining the driver who had a cyclist cross over in front of him, wondering WTF? That’s just too stupid for words, WM. thanks for working to make a difference!

    We’re all in this together.

    • fsethd says:

      There is already a handful of riders (1) saying, “Who cares? Free country!”

      • Brian in VA says:

        It is a free country and everyone is free to be a dumbass until what they do affects those who don’t want to be dumbasses. I hate that shit and realize that there is little way to help them change.

        Do they also complain about how they’re treated by drivers? Or does free country apply to all?

        Sorry, I’m just shaking my head at the special kind of stupid that some folks are.

  • dangerstu says:

    Like you said pretty much everyone has on occasion done stupid shit. But to keep doing it on purpose takes some special skillz.

    Thanks for saying something about this, the more people that do the better.

    I saw the FB posting last night and that people were not naming names. Why doesn’t everyone as a group, before the ride, literally say “we don’t want to ride with you” so leave now.

    • fsethd says:

      The first act of cowardice is riding like that. The second is this pathetic “code of silence” where people won’t name the actual people putting everyone at risk. That’s the part I can’t understand.

  • Spinner says:

    We used to do just what you advocate: speech etc, and had a great group to safely “kill” ourselves within. Things changed in ’round 2000. New riders came to our rides who had just didn’t care to learn how we were doing it. “It’s a free country and I can ride like I wanna” is a statement I heard at least 500 times. They were strong, and as you know, the strong tend to dominate rides. Kinda sad. I gave up and now ride primarily alone….

    • fsethd says:

      But those people only show up because there are others to ride with. By ostracizing them they will leave or shape up, but it takes a group.

  • mark says:

    somebody should print your pre-ride speech out on a card and just hand’em out…thats awsome!

  • Worldchamp says:

    I agree with Spinner, there’s a large group of cyclist who started riding that seem to think they know it all even when they have 0 experience. It’s probably worse when the get 2 mos of experience and than are “experienced know-it-alls”

    On the track, I’ve seen Coach Roach try to explain why someone’s actions are unsafe and get totally shut down by the offender with “I know what I’m doing! Leave me alone!” Really?!?! You really don’t LOOK like you know what you’re doing. And it’s not like Coach is a new kid on the block that doesn’t know of what he speaks.

    It seems like a lot of the folk that used to rally the troops are tired and have given up. And some do a great job (Gerald of Palos Verdes comes to mind) but if he doesn’t show up, as you said, all hell breaks lose, like kids who’s parents are out for the night. Crazy.

    • fsethd says:

      That’s why we can’t depend on one or two people. Everyone has to step up and act like an adult.

      • channel_zero says:

        That’s asking quite a bit from some of the profamateurs. I’m not arguing against your main point.

        I do take umbrage with your characterization of the Nichols ride. If it was made more structured, it would be better still. At least that’s how it worked for me.

        We do agree, If you just GOOOO!!!! at the bottom, it’s not a great training ride.

      • fsethd says:

        The problem with profamateurs is that there’s no problem.

  • pppinko says:

    Well, as we age (at least for most of us) we get smarter, we gain perspective on our mortality, and we ride smarter. I admit to all the same confessions you began with, and further admit to still doing all those things; however I do feel worse about doing them now than I did in my youth. But, if we shall strive to be honest we should ask why do I (we) still do them. Because of how I think I feel when I am riding.
    There is an Italian saying: “Si, per me, sono sempre giovani quando sono in bicicletta.” It says, “Yes, for me, I am always young when I am on my bicycle.” I do not want to be older. This is what I am chasing most days when I an riding.
    The late Robin Williams, comedian and cyclist was quoted as saying when asked why he was such a passionate cyclist that; “It was the closest he (you) could get to flying.” This encapulates the core emotional feeling of cycling as well as the primary motivation for most cyclists. Freedom to soar, swoop, be graceful, powerful, swift and daring, dashing, and young-again.
    An explination is not a rationalization of inappropriate behavior. Risky and illegal riding is stupid, period. It is so for all the reasons we are all well aware of. What intrigues me is why it persists; and further, why so many of us follow those who do it. I suggest we simply choose not to follow them, once all the talking to, speeching to, etc. have been done.
    The “it is a free country…” believers can and will continue to appear (at least until they are picked off at an intersection) and will always ride with youthful & reckless abandon. Do not chase them, do not follow them, do not witness their behavior. Let them pound off the front or get the gap earned via running a red light to enjoy their delusions in the company of like minded souls. Do not chase them down, do not give them attention or recognition, do not acknowledge their “victories” or their daring-do. Do not ride with them as they want you to. They will soon either begin to conform to the group mores, or they will soon quit showing up. They want your notice & comraderie & affirmation. Do not give it.
    Be older, be wiser, be alive longer. To hope to change youth or immaturity in another is best done by quiet continuous example. It will be seen and learned when they are ready; if they are still around to see it.

    • fsethd says:

      Yep. It’s not about changing them; that’s not our role and it isn’t going to happen. It’s about OUR decision to let them join and ruin it for everyone else.

  • pvannuys says:

    Cheer up! The young and stupid are soon be joined by the older and stupid– there’s no fool like an old fool– on Electric Bikes! Decades of American ignorance about bicycles and riding is right not pouring onto a street near you. I look forward to the conflicts between the uber fit ignoramuses and these slacker ignoramuses. Perhaps they will destroy each other before they do irreparable damage to our already damaged reputation.

  • asher says:

    Yes, this. I’m lucky to live in a place where most of the rides worth doing (which, to be fair, I’m mostly not doing these days) still have enforcers, but even here it’s good to read a reminder. We live in a culture where nobody wants to be the bad guy who lays down the law, but we forget that in situations like this, that is the guy (or, just as often, the gal) who saves lives (and probably never gets thanked for it).

    • fsethd says:

      And we need to expand the circle so that everyone feels as if they have the obligation to call out crazy behavior.

  • …amen…
    …certainly my daily goals include getting home safely, and that does take a reminder sometimes. When i rode a motorcycle, i kept the keys on a skull keychain, and that reminded me of my mortality…

    We need MORE than a keychain, and individuals to give a speech, we need the group to know the rules, and to gently enforce the rules.
    When i first started riding the Pier Ride…now NPR…if i did something stupid, one of the more experienced riders would ride up next to me, put a hand on my back, and tell me calmly, “Hey, next time, it would be better if you wait behind the cars at the light.”…or whatever…
    This free country excuse is awesome. It is a free country…but, we STILL have rules within society…and if we don’t recognize any rules or authority…we have anarchy.
    Let’s just be clear…if YOU are using this, “i’ll do what i want, because it’s a “free country” thing…STOP saying that.
    Just say, “Fuck everyone, i’m an anarchist!!!”
    I can at least respect that.

  • Packmonger says:

    Great rant! I used to be one of those asshats running lights and such but after I joined up with a club and wore the kit with the name plastered all over it I realized that how I rode not only reflected on me but on the club as well. In a larger sense being on a bike in L.A. means that you are a representative of cyclist in general like it or not. I hope your rant resonates with the community.

    • fsethd says:

      Thanks, you’re right and you make a great point. We’re rolling billboards that everyone ignores until we do something wrong. Then we’re “representing the sponsor” in the worst possible way.

      • joninsocal says:

        Agree, the first time Helens, Cannonade, Castelli etc see a viral video screw up like this with half the ride wearing their logos it will take one phone call for the organizers to start taking it seriously again

      • fsethd says:

        Of course McCormick Ambulance might get interested.

      • Sausage™ says:

        Totally agree Jon. But it wasn’t a Helen’s/Cannondale/Castelli sponsored rider that pulled that move, but instead a Helen’s/Cannondale/Castelli sponsored rider (me) who caught it on tape and then twice spoke to Tommy about exactly why that move endangered the other riders around him and did us no favors with the oncoming motorist. For all we know, he’s got a FB thread going right with his circle of friends right now where they are discussing the reckless and life-endangering behavior of cyclists on Mulholland.

        Also, no profanity was used in either of the discussions with Tommy. That was saved for another rider and a totally different situation that had nothing to do with ride safety.

      • fsethd says:

        First person uses profanity on this blog is permanently banned. You have been warned.

  • Seth,
    Thank you for the kind words and for describing the Long Beach Freddies as group who values safety while riding hard and I applicate your mention of me, but it is a group effort and I am just a small part.
    The culture we create is achieved with everyone’s support…young, old, fast and slow. We welcome anyone and everyone to ride with us so long as they are safe.
    We enjoy you and others from the South Bay joining us to ride when you can….and we would like to do the same.
    Hoping this finds you well and on the mend.
    Happy New Year from all of Us!

    Gil Dodson

  • dan martin says:

    When I was a kid, my Dad would see shit like that, he’d always say, “thats how they make angels”.
    I wonder how those guys wives, girlfriends or mothers would feel if they saw that vid.

  • East Coast baby seal says:

    Aren’t these the same ass hats that scream bloody murder at any poor sod who happens to half-wheel (however briefly) in the pace line, or doesn’t hold the tightest of lines around a corner in a group. “You’re going to crash me out!” – So what’s a 2500lb car going to do – give you a boo boo?

  • Albie Lakes says:

    Seth, I believe, you left out the following:

    The first 10 miles of the Nichols Ride are conversational pace. All rules of the road are followed as the ride rolls through Century City, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and the base of the Hollywood Hills.

    The majority of riders (up to 100 some Sunday mornings) are not members or Velo Club La Grange

    Velo Club La Grange has an undeserved reputation of being douchey cos, ya know, they’re all rich, roadie scumbags who live on the Westside.

    As someone who has done the ride at all levels (getting dropped a few feet into the 5 mile climb to having the KOM for the “race portion”), IMO, the majority of riders, and especially the guys over 40 (half the peloton) are responsible road users.

    The move in the facebook video may have been the result of the conditions on that section of Mulholland. It’s twisty and windy and pockmarked. It’s a gauntlet of 12 miles of rollers. And, yet, it’s one of the few roads with limited car traffic on a weekend morning. If you live on the Westside of LA, there are few to no other options. Anyhoo, I think the dude in the video hit an off camber strip and got launched. He should probably know better, but he’s also not an MTB pro. The same thing could happen whether riding solo or with 30 other clowns.

    The Nichols Ride probably had the same rhythm and culture for 30 years, but in the last couple of years, a group of rogue (haha) cyclists has infiltrated the ride. They’re young guys (25 avg age) who came up racing alleycats and running red lights on various race pace night/evening rides. Some of these kids learned to ride urban roads believing that you can “time red lights.” One of the more well known bicycling advocates in the city ran a night ride based on that, um, strategy.

    Every major group ride in the city can become an unsanctioned race. As I mentioned, I’ve seen Phil Gaimon riding like a lunatic on a number of occasions (running reds, drafting buses to get a breakaway going). However, there are pros, Bahati being the prime example, who regularly do large training rides and treat them as a social experience. Bahati never contests sprints against fat, middle-aged weekend warriors.

    • fsethd says:

      Well … this is a much better picture of Nichols than my one experience, but my one time there was enough to convince me to never go back. Perhaps if it were closer to home I’d reconsider, but that first ten miles wasn’t even a little enjoyable, and the post-Mulholland part wasn’t, either. But that’s just me.

      I also disagree with your premise that this intersection is tricky. It isn’t. It has a stop light, so stop at it. Robert posted a very detailed explanation of how he, and presumably many others, deal with that intersection. It was so complicated and the result of a lot of experience that many people may not have, or that may lead them to an alternate strategy.

      Why not just do what the cars are supposed to do, i.e. stop? Will it ruin the ride? (Answer: Yes, because the crunch comes at the wall and the separation is only a few seconds, so the heroes who make the split will often be caught by the wankers who get dropped. Horrors!)

      This urban reality of getting “caught” by the people you “dropped” due to the “unfairness” of a red light is THE definition of the NPR, and honestly it has taken me years to get over the fact that my heroic breakaway might be nullified by the horrible unfairness of a stoplight.

      So it seems to me like there’s a simple solution. Stop at the light. It’s not only legal, at that intersection, it happens to be a real, real, real safe move.

  • Waldo says:

    Someone in the video has a bright future as a hood ornament.

  • Wheel Man says:

    Riders in the Twin Cities will recognize the name Ken Woods, who taught me, a USCF Junior in 1978, that “no one can ‘win’ a training ride, save it for the race”. If you’re on the road you need to ride lawfully, if for no other reason than the fact that the motorists who you piss off will take out their frustration on the next rider they encounter. “hit an off camber strip and got launched” is another way of saying that the rider was going too fast for the road, the conditions, and his skill level.

    • fsethd says:

      While I don’t think that the main reason for obeying traffic laws is to make a good impression on cagers, it’s an ancillary, positive byproduct of riding in such a way that the fewest number of people are endangered at any given time. And the sad fact is that you can win a training race … even if you’re the only one who knows or cares that you won.

  • David says:

    Physics doesn’t give a fuck how free your country is.

    • fsethd says:

      We could whittle it down even further: “Physics doesn’t give a fuck.”

      Or best of all: “Physics.”

  • Jorgensen says:

    The Video confirmed the intersection that came to mind.
    A very different ride than when I did it on a regular basis.

  • […] in the South Bay says behavior like this has to change because it’s better to attend post-ride coffee than a post-ride funeral. And Bike Newport Beach […]

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