I hate your e-bike

March 17, 2018 § 16 Comments

Yep, I said it. I hate your e-bike. I would love to take it out behind the shed and shoot it, dismember it, and throw all the parts into a customized, one-off, e-bike shredder. Do you know how happy it would make me to hear the sound of that lithium battery getting ground into a million little pieces?

Real happy. Real, real happy.

My wife and I were on the S&M bike path yesterday morning. It was about 8:00 AM and bitterly, bitterly cold for Los Angeles, probably 54 or maybe even 55 bone-freezing degrees. As we approached Admiralty, a really happy, helmetless, zippily commuting dude whizzed past. It was galling as I glared at his fat rear hub.

There I was, all dressed up in my finest bicycling underwear clown suit, daintily pedaling my 100% carbon bike while introducing my duly impressed wife into the mysteries of #profamateur cycling, and some jerk on a 60-pound bike owned me like Muhammed Ali in the 8th Round of the Rumble in the Jungle. My hatred knew no bounds until, of course, we got back up on the bike bath and began overtaking him.

He had eased off the gas considerably, perhaps to save battery power, and as we prepared to pass him he veered over onto us, looking only just as he veered, then jerking his behemoth bike back over to the right. But did he apologize? Oh no, not he. He was having too much fun on his dogdamned e-bike. “I know your pain,” he said as we passed.

“If you really knew my pain,” I thought, “you’d shoot yourself.”

The evil of the e-bike

Much has been written about these scourges, technological monsters that give everyone and anyone the power to go fast with no skills, no training, no protection, as they mix it up with non-powered bicycle traffic. People claim they are dangerous but the reason I hate them is simple: They are an affront to my swollen and sensitive ego.

I’ve spent a lifetime developing this level of grumpy snobbishness about bicycling, and in one fell swoop the e-bike has deflated my ego balloon with the flip of a pedal-assisted switch. They’ve made me so paranoid that my first look now isn’t to see whether the overtaking bicycle (there didn’t used to be any!) is Dura-Ace, SRAM, or Campy, but whether the huge, ugly battery is in the hub or the down tube. And those rolling, fat-tire abortions that go as fast as a Tarmac? It’s all I can do not to break down and cry when they pass.

And let’s make no bones about it. E-bikes are cheating because they break the fundamental rule of cycling, stated so eloquently by Thomas Beller in the New Yorker: “The momentum you give is the momentum you get.” There is something horribly wrong, Beller notes, about the e-bike rider who hadn’t worked to go that fast and who, after he braked or came to a stop, wouldn’t have to do a lick of work to pick up speed again.

Call it whatever you want and point to whatever benefits you want, but it’s cheating. Cheating who? I don’t know. Cheating what? Don’t know that, either. But I knows me a cheater when I sees one.

The gathering storm

If you hate e-bikes, well, you have a problem. The problem is that they are experiencing astounding growth in China and Europe, and astonishingly, even here in the United States of Lazy and Fat. According to a #fakenews story at CNN, one e-bike executive claims that “This is the beginning of a multi-year shift away from regular pedal to electric bikes. When people first jump on an ebike, their face lights up. It’s exciting and joyful in a way that you don’t get from a regular bike.”

What he means is “You get to whizz around and look like a cyclist and go faster than a cyclist, but without having to sweat or strain or show up for work looking like you’ve run a half-marathon in a plastic suit.”

In this vein of boosterism, the article goes on to quote another e-bike CEO who also happens to have a snarling dog in the fight, saying “There’s tremendous opportunity to get a generation of people for whom suffering isn’t their thing. E-bike riders get the enjoyable part of cycling without the massive suffering of climbing huge hills.”

Translation: “Get everything, do nothing.” Everything, I’d add, except the feeling of accomplishment.

These guys are blunt, but the numbers are blunter. Sales of e-bikes in Holland and Germany are up by 8-9%, sales of dinosaurs are down 5%. E-bikes are 30% of the market in the Netherlands, a country similar to Holland in many ways. China of course leads the way in use, sales, and production, as it is the global leader in everything these days. And you will notice if you have eyes anywhere in your head that there are now e-bike stores peppering Santa Monica, not to mention the local bike shops that stock a big inventory of e-bikes alongside their dinosaurs. Guess which models are saving their bottom line?

How can you get fit doing nothing?

I’ve never ridden an e-bike, and I never will, until I do. While waiting for that to happen, I have to rely on the statements of others. Here are some of my faves:

“You don’t feel like you’re pedaling at all.”

“It’s incredibly easy.”

“When you hit a hill you don’t have to pedal any harder.”

“It’s effortless.”

This goes against everything I know, which is that if you desire the benefits that come from physical fitness you have to dedicate your life, monk-like, to the enslavement of interval workouts, of grueling, all-day slug-fests in the mountains, of horrible rides in the freezing rain (slush if you can afford it), and more than anything else you have to punish yourself like a Spartan. Physical fitness is misery and isn’t it beautiful?

This assumption, that fitness only comes through great unhappiness, dedication to a silly sport, and wanton purchases of instantantly depreciating assets, has never been seriously challenged, by which I mean I’ve never taken the time to research it. However, in my hatred of e-bikes, I scoured around and found that other, more objective people have in fact asked the question “Do all those idiots who look like idiots riding those idiot bikes actually get any health benefit from it?”

And the heretical answer is yes, they do. People for Bikes links to a study on its web site that examines this question, albeit in slightly more academic terms than mine. It notes that the most recent study of this question looked at cycling and e-bike riding in Norway and found that e-bike riders, while spending less time and effort than on dino bikes, still get moderate physical activity from it. The researchers define and quantify the phrase “moderate physical activity,” if you’re into such things as facts (I’m not); this phrase is kind of a holy grail in the world of public health because people who get sufficient moderate physical activity 150 minutes a week obtain significant, life-altering health benefits.

The study also notes that many researchers have explored and concluded that “the impacts of active transportation modes,” i.e. getting off your fat ass, have a big effect on physical health. Active transportation modes such as walking, cycling, and, gulp, e-biking, are associated with reduced obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Using active transportation modes for even part of a commute is associated with engaging in other physical activities for exercise and recreation (shocking).

Furthermore, the study notes that involvement in active commuting reduces the risk of all-cause mortality and increases the number of years lived without cardiovascular disease. Even smokers benefit, as higher levels of activity result in more years of life expectancy as well as more years of life without disability. The study reports that among a prospective cohort study of adults in living near Copenhagen, active transportation to work via cycling was associated with a 40% decreased risk of mortality, even after controlling for other sources of aerobic physical activity.

To all of this I would say, and I think you would agree, that death, disease, and crippling disability are a small price to pay for not having to ride a heavy motorized bike, happily, helmetless, in flip-flops, with a pair of equally floppy and comfortable dickhider cotton shorts. However, the news gets worse.

The study showed that compared to a real bicycle, although e-bikes average 28% to 32% less energy expenditure, the amount of energy expended easily qualifies as moderate physical activity, ushering in the short and long-term health benefits that all developed countries so desperately need, especially Texas. About 56% of the study guinea pigs rated the e-bike as “very enjoyable,” compared to only 31% of the conventional bicycle trials. Most ominous for the future of the carbon-underwear crowd, only 6% of respondents rated the e-bike trip unenjoyable or very unenjoyable, in contrast with 19% for conventional bicycling.

Another study shows similar results. E-bikes make sedentary people fitter, and speeds aren’t especially high, averaging 12 mph.

In sum, and I hate sums, plotzing around in your comfy dickhiders on a fat-tire, motorized #fakebike will make you fitter, healthier, and, if you believe in quality of life (I don’t), happier.

Mobility and social justice

As you might expect, rich white guys hate e-bikes, not because e-bikes are bad, but because a subversive element of society uses them to do things like survive. Ground zero for rich white guys is Rich White Guyville, a/k/a the West End of Manhattan, where a horrible person clearly modeled after Palos Verdes Estates’s own Robert Lewis Chapman, has begun a campaign to stamp out the crime of speeding e-bikes. With his bald head and background in finance, he even looks like Chapman.

A very well written article in The Outline by Aaron Gordon points out that in the urban setting, e-bikes are a means of survival for predominantly poor, predominantly first generation Latinos and Asians (from the countries of Latin and Asia, I suppose) who use them to get through grueling 16-hour days as food delivery couriers. It makes sense that the people who are rich enough to order take-out would want to eliminate the means of transportation used by the working poor who bring them their Chinese food.

This brings up a very telling point, made by Gordon, which is that the horror of e-bikes is a white rich person’s problem: The Chapmans of the world scream that e-bikes are unsafe, but refuse to implement safety regulations or infrastructure, CERTAINLY NOT HERE. And when you think about it, that’s how the rich, spoiled, and entitled assholes of the world stop regular bikes, too, by protesting against the bike lanes, multimodal funding, road diets, and anything else that infringes on their right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want in their cars.

The foamy flecks of racism and oppression that drip from the lips of Mayor King in PVE are the same flavor of vitriol spewed in both Manhattans–Beach and NY. The corollary to PVE-Robert Chapman nimbyism is, of course scapegoating like they do in China, where, according to the New York Times, the boundless spawn of e-bikes and their clash with cars is a function of the explosion of the purchase of online goods and services. I’m sure you may have noticed, what with your Amazon Prime account and all, that once that shit is ordered it then has to be delivered. And by “delivered” I mean “Right fucking now, please.”

As in China, you may also have noticed that it’s not the Silicon Valley overlords who do the delivering. That’s left to the impoverished, here and in China, where the poorest of the poor migrate to the city, buy an e-bike, and drive it all day long to do do slave-wage fulfillment for Alibaba. And in an unsurprising non-twist of the predictable, it turns out that the real reason people in China have problems with e-bikes is because the e-bikes clog the sidewalks as a result of the cars that have clogged all the bike lanes.

In China, like LA and NYC, there is way too much of something for traffic and therefore society to function well. And It’s not bikes.

The Times quotes an e-bike courier in China as saying “We’re just scapegoats. They always say that electric bikes are the road killers, but the cars are the real killers.” And with that the courier makes the most powerful point of all: Cars in Los Angeles are associated with unspeakably greater numbers of deaths, injuries, illnesses, and social problems like traffic and poverty than all the e-bikes in the world put together.

Scapegoating, nimbyism, and villifying a viable, cheap, and safe mode of transportation as a destroyer of society. Where have I heard that before? I know! At the last Palos Verdes Estates city council meeting I attended where they shot down a few safety signs for bicycles, that’s where. From East to West, the tactics are the same and propagated by the same horrible people.

And what it really points out is that the conflict with e-bikes is a rich-poor conflict on another level as well: The collision of the transportationists and the recreationists. An e-bike is heaven for one, and hell for a small but vocal subset of the other, like me.

Move over, cars

For recreationists, the nub is simple: E-bikes give you free momentum, and cheating is cheating. With an e-bike you’re not as tired as you would be on a bicycle, just as with a bicycle you’re not as tired as you would be walking, and just as with walking you’re not as tired as you would be slithering on your belly. I bet there were hate blogs from a rich vocal subset of the gastropods when slugs evolved limbs. “Those damned slugs don’t have to work nearly as hard to get to the rotting pile of flesh as I did when I was a kid!”

For transportationists, though, it’s simpler. To sum up an article in Outside Magazine about e-MTB’s, e-bikes are new technology, they’re not going anywhere, so get used to it. People who use e-bikes to get from point A to point B, rather than those who cycle to make a social statement, show their superiority, improve their standing on Strava leaderboards, or to collect carbon, have bought into the e-bike not as an alternative to dinosaur bicycles, but as an alternative to cars.

This is breathtaking when you think about it. Every commuter and deliveryperson on an e-bike is a replacement for a car. If Robert Chapman drove to work instead of hunkering down all day in front of his computer trolling the Daily Breeze, he’d get down on his knees and blow kisses to every e-bike on the road simply because even he would be smart enough to understand that fewer cars means less traffic means faster commute time for HIM.

In Germany and the Netherlands, of course, they’re already there. Can you say double-digit growth in sales? E-bikes are not viewed as MAMIL ego killers, but as the entry point into electric mobility, and that includes electric cars. E-bikes are simply a practical transportation option in countries where traffic, costs, and pollution from cars have consequences. With electric-assist bicycles, the Times piece notes, “If you run out of power in an electric car, you have a problem. With a bike, you can still pedal.”

None of this even begins to touch on the very real issue of mobility for the elderly. I noted on my bike trip across Germany several years ago that a huge number of riders on the Rhine bike path between Cologne and Koblenz were old people, many of whom could never have gotten out and ridden on a dino bike.

E-bikes solve another awful problem for transportationists, especially in Europe. Riders sweat less. If you’ve ever been on a Berlin or Paris subway in the summertime, you know what this means. E-bikes are single-handedly taking a stand against stinky European B.O. Can someone give those e-bike folks a Nobel Prize, please?

Another social good is that in some industries, such as the German post office, it saves an aging workforce as older employees can work for longer, no small benefit in a country where the birth rate continues to decline and far-right Nazi parties further restrict the entry of young immigrants.

And the high margins on e-bikes have saved more than one bike shop, as inventories suggest. But is this a Pyrrhic victory, like saving the local bakery so it can sell Wonder Bread? I don’t know. But I do know that there is a cultural conflict that the e-bikers are going to win. Make that, “have already won.”

You probably cheat on your dino bike, too

What is the difference between an e-bike and a dino bike? Most people in my crowd of snobby carbonites would say, “An electric motor, dummy.”

To which I’d ask them to explain the workings of their drivetrain, because if they are running Di2 or eTap, guess what? They’ve already motorized the dino. And for those who don’t think that motorized drivetrains make a difference, all I can say, the e-bike advocates, is that you’ve obviously never used one. So yes, you’re already cheating if you have Di2 or eTap, and there’s a real solid argument out there that you’re also probably cheating if you have a power meter, Garmin, Strava, GPS, or a heart rate monitor, simply because all of those items invoke electrical power to improve performance, efficiency, and speed.

Just like, you know, the e-bike that we all hate.

But there’s more. Every single e-bike increases the total number of bikes on the road, and study after study shows that the single most important factor in traffic safety for bikes is just that, having more bikes on the road, which is why they have that little thang called “Critical Mass.”

And apart from the transportational logic behind e-bikes, their riders have an emotional ace in the hole that trumps dino bikes easily.

It’s the ace of looking like you’re riding a bike without doing a fucking thing. As Gordon puts it in the Outline article, “The most obvious benefit to the e-bike is the way it handles hills. I traced my old commute which begins with a fairly sizable slope. Usually I am a little winded when I get to the top on my single speed, but I maintained 14 miles per hour pedaling on the e-bike without having to exert any additional effort. I e-biked more than 50 miles that day without breaking a sweat. Except for the one close call, it was 50 miles of pure urban transportation bliss.”

To which I’d respond: Did you puke? Did you moan? Did you have to sleep four hours in the middle of the day and eat a pizza? No? Then maybe you didn’t bike after all. You did something, maybe, but you sure AF didn’t bike.

Henry Grabar, in this fluff piece on Slate, accidentally nails it: “But it’s not the top speed that really differentiates the experience; it’s the speed with which you get there and the ease of maintaining it. It feels like you have superhuman strength, and that’s how people look at you, too (with a mixture of envy and anxiety).” Even the transportationists can relate to the free momentum buzz they get from an e-bike. It’s one of the rare places where the work of getting somewhere is actually fun.

Grabar goes on to poetically note that “Bicycles are the sharks of transportation, virtually unevolved through a century of technological upheaval in automobiles and airplanes.” I love that because it’s true. We are the sharks, simple and elegant, fierce and feared. But we are quickly being replaced by the more efficient and specialized bony fishes, and the e-bike happens to be the piranha.

For now the ungainly, ugly, stupid hubs, the nausea-inducing, hideously ugly down tubes, and the rat’s nest of wires stuck on like a blind drunk person set loose with a can of Silly String scream “FREDDIE!” every time I see an e-bike. But in ten years, tiny internal down tube motors with internal aero wiring will deliver huge watts, slim beauty, and a stake through the heart of traditional cyclist egos. Fortunately, I’ll be 64 and in the market for my first such bike. Hopefully they will also be made of carbon.

And if you believe the Internet, which I unquestioningly do, the future is already here: For less than $800 you can pop an electrical wheel into the front fork of your killer carbon machine and climb like the TdF pro you never were.

And the best part? Strava will never, ever know.



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37 years

February 18, 2018 § 1 Comment

My wife’s grandmother was born in 1916, during World War I, and she is a few weeks shy of her 102nd birthday. She came down with the flu about ten days ago and was very sick. The doctor came over to the house and told Yasuko’s family to start making arrangements. The flu, he advised, was absolutely unforgiving amongst centenarians, and there was exactly zero chance that she would have the physical reserves to fight it off.

Her name is Harue, which means “spring,” because that’s when she was born. A few days went by and Harue didn’t die, so the doctor came by to see what was up. “She seems to be fine,” the family said.

The doctor was perplexed. “Never seen anything like it,” he said. “She is tough.”

So the family went back to their routine of taking care of Harue, shuttling her to the senior citizens’ day-out facility, and to the doctor and whatnot. Harue’s demise has been predicted many times, and it could come tomorrow, but so far she has outlived all of her contemporaries, and a whole bunch of her juniors. One hundred and two years is so long a time to live that it doesn’t even make any sense.

Harue is not in very good health if you mean cognizant of what’s going on around her, but she’s in very good health if you mean “alive and kicking.” She has had a very hard life and has lived through things that killed hundreds of millions of people. World wars, plural, famine, pestilence, and of course the meatgrinder of time. And no matter how much longer she lives, her ability to interact with the world around her is greatly, greatly circumscribed, to put it mildly.

What’s left?

All of this got my wife and I to talking about longevity. I’ve never looked up my death date, but I have heard that the longer your relatives live, the longer you will live. So we snuggled up in bed and did some death research. What we found wasn’t very cuddly, at least for me. Yasuko is going to peg out somewhere between 96 and 101. My expiration date is much, much sooner: The longest I can expect to get out of this meatbag is another thirty-seven years. Ninety-one is my max. A more realistic number is in the low 80’s.


Thirty-seven years. That’s like, nothing. And if it turns out to be more like twenty-seven, then double wow. That’s like, tomorrow.

Of all the death calculators online, the best one is done by the Aussies, because their premise for the calculator isn’t how much time you have left, but what in the hell are you going to do with what remains? The death calculator, as they see it, should be used as a life calculator. Your hand is on the throttle. Are you going to gently turn it to get as much mileage as you can, or twist the dogdamned thing off?

With the covers pulled up around my chin I thought about all the dead people I know, the great majority of whom are nominally alive. They’ve already scented the stench of the grave and they don’t like it, so all of their daily choices are designed to prolong the number of days that they get to spend figuring out how to prolong the number of days.


That, to me, seems to be the question.

Maybe a good cup of coffee would help

All of this happened on the heels of two books, one I just finished and one I just dove into. The first is a biography called “Stalin: Paradoxes of Power.” More about that in a later post, but let’s say that great histories should make you act. The other book, a birthmas gift from my son and daughter-in-law, is called “Das Wiener Kaffeehaus,” and it’s a series of vignettes by various great Austrian writers, selections about the deceased institution of the Viennese coffee house. Some of it is hilarious, much of it moving, all of it points to the things that have gone by and raises the question yet again.

I imagined myself on a drizzly February day, seated at the Cafe Hawelka, where I have sat many times, poring over a newspaper, making stupid notes in a notebook, sipping coffee to warm my brain enough to think but not enough to relax. I imagined shuttling between the bakery and the hostel, eating a big loaf of black bread smeared with butter, soaking in those things you can only absorb outside your daily ambit. I imagined the minutes, hours, days, blasting away like Speed Racer, the old one, time is Speed’s Mach 5, waiting for someone perhaps, but certainly not for me.

You know, it is a very thin line between imagining something and doing it. A good cup of coffee is worth traveling for, especially when it’s not really a cup of coffee you’re after. A familiar seat in an old cafe is worth seeking out, isn’t it?

Or is the real value in existence the actuarial calculation of death, toting up years to retirement, mulling over funds you’ll need in your dotage, researching the percentage chance of dying from whatever malady you fear most, obediently listening to the voice of reason that puts off the things that decay and turn to dust the longer you push them aside? Are any of those things really more valuable than a good book, cold rain on the cobbles, a warm cafe, and a hot cup of coffee?




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February 17, 2018 § 10 Comments

I hate it when decent, intelligent people fighting for the right things go skidding off the runway, smash into a dumpster filled with rotten eggs, and degenerate into harmful blibber-blabber. Sadly, John Schubert of Cycling Savvy has done just that.

Take a minute to read his silly rant against daytime lights. It’s important to understand what he gets wrong, which is mostly everything, but also important to understand what he gets right. The right is easily explicated, and so simple that no one could or, to my knowledge ever has, disputed it.

  1. Safety equipment will help some times, but not others. [No shit.]
  2. Daytime lights can be useful when riding in fog, heavy rain, the sun low on the horizon, confusing lighting, and short sight distances on curvy roads.
  3. Lane position affects how soon you’re seen, often more than any light can.
  4. Daytime lights need to be bright enough to be conspicuous in daylight. [Duh, as they used to say.]
  5. Daytime lights make you more visible, certainly.

If Schubert had stopped here, or better yet, provided insight into types of lights, mounting, number of lights, and ways to use lighting to enhance the conspicuousness of good lane positioning when it’s possible and when it isn’t, he would have done a real service to cyclists. Instead, he uses these common sense starting points as a way to savage a very real and very helpful addition to ride safety, and follows it up with a legal argument that is specious, incompetent, and wrong.

Schubert misunderstands the value of daytime lights

Schubert doubts that lights add much in terms of conspicuousness to lane positioning, but his failure to address the most important areas where lights are key shows that he is either fighting a straw man or is truly ignorant of the hazards of urban riding. Daytime lights are crucial and lifesaving in urban traffic for at least four key reasons, none of which Schubert seems aware of.

  1. Right hooks. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a brilliant strobe from your headlight hits the driver’s rear-view and side-view mirrors. This grabs the driver’s attention and stops her from making the right hook. If you’re occupying the center of the lane, it will also stop the guy in the adjacent lane from moving over on you. Using bright strobe headlights utilizes the multiple mirrors in cars to make drivers aware you exist and enhances your visibility greatly when you happen to be badly positioned or if you’re one of those cyclists who never rides in the center of the lane. Anyone who has ridden with bright headlights in urban traffic has seen the effect that bright lights have on stopped or slow traffic in front of you … over and over and over. It’s shameful that Schubert doesn’t actively point this out as a very big benefit to riding with daytime lights; more about that later.
  2. Left hooks. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a flashing headlamp square in the face of an oncoming driver will almost invariably catch his attention and cause him to yield the right of way. A recent case in San Diego, where a group of cyclists were left-hooked by a driver on a sunny day and clear road, would have been avoided if any of the riders had been running strobes. Schubert wants you to believe that lane position a-la CyclingSavvy is a “save all,” but that’s false. Lane positioning works most of the time. Most isn’t “all.”
  3. Driveways. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a bright strobe gets the exiting driver’s attention and gives her a way to more accurately measure your speed. Time and again, exiting drivers say that they “didn’t see the cyclist” or that they “didn’t know how fast she was going.” Every single ride I’m on here in Los Angeles involves at least one driver seeing my headlight as they’re about to race out into traffic from a driveway, then waiting. Bright front strobes are a 100% bonus safety add-on that you are foolish to eschew, especially in cities or residential areas. Often times, even with good lane positioning, an exiting driver will see you but fail to yield. Bright lights in their face can provide the split second of hesitation that causes them not to race out in front.
  4. Parallel parking exits. Dooring is an urban fact of life, and most of it could be prevented with proper lane positioning. However, and it should come as no shock to Schubert, there are many cyclists who ride in the door zone and do so legally, no thanks to badly designed bike lanes. Bright strobes hit the side-view mirrors and cause drivers to hesitate before opening the door or pulling out into traffic, even when they weren’t initially checking the mirror. Bright strobes again utilize the car’s mirrors to force awareness and conspicuousness that otherwise simply wouldn’t exist. A key problem with Schubert’s analysis is that he doesn’t seem to know very much, or care, about riding in high-traffic areas.

Legal fraud

Schubert’s coda comes with the bizarre and misleading statement that the failure to ride with daytime lights can be used against a victim in court. Schubert claims that he is an expert witness for bike cases, but if he is, based on his cluelessness with regard to the rules of evidence I would never ever consider hiring this guy.

Here is what Schubert tries to scare you with:

Imagine yourself, the victim of a motorist-at-fault car/bike collision. You were plainly visible. But the defense counsel brings out a stack of articles telling you what a jerk you were for not using daytime running lights. He asks you to read them aloud on the witness stand. Your emotions go south and your blood pressure skyrockets. After the first dozen articles, he calls for a break, and out in the hall, offers you $100 to settle the case then and there.

My blood pressure certainly skyrocketed, but only from anger at such misinformation. First, Schubert actually thinks that defense counsel can make plaintiffs read “a stack of articles.” If this were how courts operated, then attorneys would simply load up plaintiffs and witnesses with “a stack of articles” and it would be a “battle of the stacks of articles.”

This is silly and false, and either Schubert knows it and should be ashamed, or he’s an incompetent who knows nothing about expert witnessing and the rules of evidence. In fact I challenge him to post a transcript of any case in which he’s been an expert witness in which any defense counsel EVER made a plaintiff read “a dozen articles” “telling you what a jerk you were” or for that matter any article at all. You can’t make a witness read “stacks of articles” in court unless the witness has stated under oath something that the “stack of articles” impeaches. In other words, if an expert witness–not a plaintiff–testifies that based on his reconstruction of the collision that lights wouldn’t have prevented it, and there is a specific article that meets the evidentiary criteria for admissibility (think Daubert challenge and foundation, among others), and that article impeaches the expert’s methodology or conclusion, the expert can be required to acknowledge that such conflicting evidence exists. Depending on the article, he can be impeached, just as he can be impeached with prior inconsistent testimony that he has used in previous trials.

Of course long before the expert witness gets on the stand, she will have been deposed and both sides will know exactly what research the expert relied on, her methodology, what research is out there to contradict her, and that research and the expert will have to survive motions in limine and Daubert motions prior to being allowed to testify (or for the evidence to be admitted) at trial. In fact, the impeaching research will often be brought up in deposition and the witness will be confronted with it then. And of course judges will never allow “stacks of articles” to be read by anyone because it wastes the court’s time and is redundant.

This, by the way, relates to expert witnesses. None of this implicates a plaintiff, as Schubert ignorantly suggests it would, because plaintiffs don’t testify as to whether or not lights would have prevented a collision. That is an expert opinion and not within the purview of a lay witness. And even if a plaintiff did say that lights wouldn’t have prevented his collision, something that would never be admissible, a “stack of articles” wouldn’t make it into court because the articles would lack foundation and because they wouldn’t have any bearing on the case at hand. These involve basic concepts such as relevance and prejudicial effect, and Schubert’s ignorance of them is monstrous. You can’t simply force plaintiffs to read “stacks of articles” about things that “tell you what a jerk you were.” It’s nonsensical and Schubert hopefully knows it. This is also a key reason that you can’t, in general, introduce past collisions to prove that a plaintiff or defendant was at fault for the collision at trial.

So Schubert makes a most unmelodious argument about how using daytime lights could result in victim blaming, failing to understand or deliberately misconstruing even the most basic rules of evidence, and this from someone who claims to be an expert witness, a job that is all about evidence and the admissibility thereof.

But Schubert’s legal incompetence does even worse damage because it ignores the fact that in California you are legally required to have lights on your bicycle after sunset and before sunrise. By not encouraging cyclists to ride with lights at all times, Schubert increases the likelihood that riders will get stuck out after dark and before dawn without lights. This is exactly why lights aren’t optional on cars and motorcycles; they’re with you all the time because you never know when you’ll be driving after dark. And unlike Schubert’s #fakenews example about the plaintiff settling for $100 after being forced to read a “stack of articles,” plaintiffs regularly see their cases go up in smoke at the claims adjusting stage because their collision occurred during a time when they were required to ride with lights and they were unlit, and the traffic collision report cites them as the at-fault party because of that.

In short, what possible reason could Schubert have for discouraging daytime lights on bicycles, and hyping them as an invaluable addition, and sometimes even a replacement for, lane positioning? Why wouldn’t he see them as a useful and helpful tool in the arsenal of conspicuousness, especially with so many lights on the market now that are bright, cheap, and that have 6-12 hour run times?

Answer: He has a good old-fashioned conflict of interest.

There’s no tread on Schubert’s tire

I have relentlessly advocated for CyclingSavvy and for its fundamentally sound approach to safe cycling, most of which is based on the work done by gadfly and Very Smart Dude John Forester. I’ve subsidized CyclingSavvy classes in my own club and have worked hard to make sure that as many people as possible understand that the first step to safety involves the conspicuousness that comes from properly positioning yourself in traffic. I’ve personally gone through the evolution from gutter bunny to lane control dude.

However, I also recognize that the need for sound bicycling education is far too great and the masses are far too set in their ways to expect that everyone will go out and get CyclingSavvy instruction in time to prevent the next fatal collision. There aren’t enough teachers, the online curriculum is poorly marketed, and many of the riders who need it most DGAF because they don’t think they need education. “I know how to ride!” they exclaim.

This is where lights come in. Beginning about five years ago I began running daytime lights, front and rear, and began relentlessly encouraging people to light up at all times. I rarely if ever have close calls with drivers anymore, and part of that has to do with my increased visibility thanks to lights. And it’s not just me. Riders who couldn’t be dragged to a CyclingSavvy course at gunpoint are now riding conspicuously, with lots of lighting. This is another point to which Schubert is tone deaf: A gaggle of riders with tons of lights are much more conspicuous than without, regardless of where they are positioned. The other fact that keeps Schubert off key is that it’s easy to scold riders for not having lights a few times until they eventually start using them, whereas scolding them to “take a CyclingSavvy class” is an infinitely harder sell.

It’s nuts that Schubert doesn’t see daytime lights for the great thing they are. Riders attend CyclingSavvy, get the lane positioning thing, and start riding with lights as well because they know that a bit more visibility is going to help, just as hi-viz clothing will, and while it’s not a substitute for lane positioning, it is a great add-on. I suspect that this is really what has gotten under Schubert’s skin, and I get it. It sucks to know that despite your best efforts, people think you are a goofball smartypants with nothing of value to offer simply because you ride like a wanker. Lots of people don’t get, and never will get, that it’s the nerds of the world who sign the paychecks. Oh, well.

Welcome to the inbred, snooty, fashion-conscious world of road racing and “serious” road cycling. Most people who consider themselves “racer-ish” already think they know everything and they are never going to listen to some bike safety guru in floppy pants with a helmet mirror. In fact, my good pal Manslaughter has point-blank said that “I think it’s stupid. I know how to ride my bike and am not afraid of gutters, trash cans, grates, roots, drunks, land mines, hand grenades, and smashed-in pavement. In fact, THAT’S WHAT I LIKE!”

But even Manslaughter can be browbeaten into riding with a light, and he does ride with one because even cyclists who think that CyclingSavvy is dumb will clip on a bright light. That’s one more point of light for a driver to see and avoid.

And perhaps that’s what makes Schubert’s song so atonal: The thought that ordinary people who purchase lights, which are cheap, easily accessible to people of all income and educational levels, and which provide lots of conspicuousness, don’t require an East Coast smartypants mansplaining “expert” to tell them how to ride. And frankly, if the legal “expert” knows as little about the rules of evidence as this one, I can’t say I blame them.



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Speed multiplier

February 13, 2018 § 15 Comments

Do people get hurt worse now than they used to?

My memory was faulty even when it was perfect, but I don’t remember people falling off their bikes and getting hurt as much as they do now. There was a guy one time who I didn’t know back in ’85 who was getting chased by a dog up around Georgetown, and he fell off and hit his head and died. That was considered a pretty legit injury back then, dying.

People talked about it a lot and about how when your number was up, well, better go ahead and make arrangements at the funeral parlor. There was a lot of fatalism. There was also a lot of helmet bashing, because the guy had been wearing a Bell Biker. Remember those? They were the size of a small motor home, and weighed like one, too. Everyone nodded grimly about how helmets were worthless and whatnot.

But people still didn’t seem to get hurt like they do now, and no one wore a helmet. Broken hips weren’t simply a rarity; I’d never heard of it happening. People had bicycle falling off incidents all the time in races, in fact bike racing was a euphemism for that, and they almost always hopped back on and finished the race. Road rash was pretty much the worst thing you could get, that and a badly busted ego.

And training rides were mostly injury free, even though a lot of the guys I rode with were always stoned. Or maybe it’s because they were stoned, I don’t know. Some wanker would fall off his bike and take down another couple of idiots, there would be some cussing and finger pointing, and we would continue on.

Nowadays it isn’t that way. I couldn’t list all the people who have suffered serious injuries if I tried, and those are the people I personally know. Broken humerus, broken hip, broken neck, broken spine, closed head injury, broken hand, severed digit, broken knee, facial fracture, death, catastrophic brain injury, paralysis … the list is endless, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m a lot older and have therefore ridden a lot more miles and seen a lot more falls, or just because my job is “bike injury lawyer,” although those are surely factors.

I think the reason people get hurt more, and get hurt more badly, is because they go faster than they used to. And I think the main reason they go faster than they used to is because of equipment.

The biggest speed multiplier is of course wheels. Used to be, the only fast wheels were aluminum-rim tubulars, and the only people who had them were racers. Even those wheels weren’t that fast; thirty-six spoke, box rim, metal wheels were standard “race wheels,” with “blazing fast” wheels having 32 or 28 spokes. Those wheels were slow. Heavy and slow and soft.

The bikes were heavy and mushy and there weren’t a whole lot of gears, and what also slowed you down was the fact that you couldn’t magically change gears with the flick of an index shifter. In sum, bikes go a lot faster today than they used to; 2-3 miles per hour, easy, probably closer to 5-6. I remember when, if you averaged 18 mph on a training ride you pretty much had to be scraped off the saddle with a spatula. People average 20 now without even batting an eye, to say nothing of 23, 24, and up.

Just look at what aero has done to triathlon, and how many tri-dorks get hurt in training and racing. You may think that riding by yourself is as safe as it gets, but I know one idiot who bought a fancy TT bike, went down to Fiesta Island, and broke his neck because he lost control in the start/finish area. The bikes go crazy fast, and the combination of fast wheels, low profile, narrow bars, twitchy front end, and basement-level IQ means that the risk for falling is higher than it used to be.

And the speeds may not sound like much, but when your average speed is around 16 or 17, and it goes up to 23 (or 27-28 if you’re on a TT bike), the potential for crashing jumps exponentially. The decrease in reaction time isn’t linear, and the same goes for the impact when your meatbag comes off the bicycle and slams onto the asphalt. Falling at 17 is nothing like falling at 28; just ask Fiesta Island Brokeneck. And of course top ends are higher because those light bikes with fast wheels can easily hit the low 30’s. Throw in a tailwind and a light downhill grade and you’re in the mid-high 30’s as a Cat 5.

The low 30’s … remember those? Those used to be the finishing speeds of people who won real bike races. Now it just means you were mid-pack. And some middle-aged dude on a crazy light, crazy fast bike pedaling like mad on the weekend ride can hit those speeds almost as easily as he can hit the pavement, with catastrophic results.

There are probably other force multipliers, such as the false sense of security people get from helmets, the number of people who get into cycling with no previous riding background, older and frailer riders, more cars on the roads, and the omnipresent quotient of dumbfuckery among the general human population, but it seems to me that the faster you go, the harder you’re gonna fall.



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Why do you study Slovak?

January 27, 2018 § 3 Comments

There is no reason on earth to study Slovak. I know this because when I mention that I am studying it, people ask, reasonably, “Why?”

“Because it’s next to Austria, where my eldest son lives,” I say.

Blank look.

“And I plan on visiting there.”

Blank look.

“And it’s always fun to learn a little bit before you go, you know?”

Blank look, followed by new topic.

Today my wife and I were in the car driving to Sacramento for the second annual Deb Banks Throw a Leg Over Recovery Ride. Deb was hit and catastrophically injured by a drunk driver a few years ago. She has made a 98.287% recovery and it’s important to mark the milestones.

Last year we marked it by freezing our butts off and riding to Winters. This year we will also freeze our butts off but will do something called Round the Mountain, which supposedly has a mountain and 63 miles and 3,600 feet of climbing. This year Yasuko wanted to do the ride with me. Her longest ride ever is 35 miles and I didn’t want to scare her so I told her that it would be about 40 miles and flattish. I didn’t tell her the name of the route.

Six-plus hours is a long time to sit in the car and make conversation, but we tried. “How are your Slovak lessons going?” she asked.


“Who is that one teacher who always sounds like she’s making you read from the textbook?”

“Oh, that’s Marika.” I have three teachers.

“Why does it always sound like you are reading from the textbook?”

“Because she makes me read from the textbook.”

“Is that a good lesson?”


“What about your other teachers?”

“They are fantastic.”

“Why do you keep using Marika?”

“Because she is really nice and super cheap and because sitting and reading the textbook is useful. I’d never do it on my own. It’s like an hour of forced study.”

“But isn’t it boring?”

“Life is boring.”

“You are spending so much time on Slovak. Is it really useful?”


“Then why do you do it?”

“Because it is not useful.”

“You do a lot of that.”

“I know.”

We rode along for a while and played “spot a hawk.” After many hours and a ton of hawks, not to mention crows, white pelicans, turkey vultures, shorebirds, gulls, and egrets, we got to Sacramento. She was hungry and I was hungry, and she had found a cafe on the Internet called Selland’s Market-Cafe.

As we drove down J Street she shouted, “Look!” and pointed at a sign.

I looked. “What?”

“That sign! It says Cafe Marika!”


“Isn’t that the name of your teacher?”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, it is.”

“I wonder what kind of restaurant it is?”

We were in a line of stopped traffic and peered at the window glass. “It says ‘European Cuisine,'” I said. “Pretty big footprint.”

“I bet they are Slovak!”

“I doubt it. Not here in Sacramento.”

“Let’s go in! It might be good!”

“What about the Market-Cafe?”

“Let’s go in!”

I rounded the corner and parked. We walked up to the cafe. It was really tiny. I peered through the window. There were only two customers. I shrugged. “Let’s try it.”

I pushed the door open and the two customers looked up at us. The owner was leaning against the tiny counter and his wife was behind it. I can only read about ten words in Slovak, but two of them were written large and in chalk on a menu board: “Dobre chut!” it said, which means “Bon appetit!”

“Ahojte!” I said, which means “Hello politely!”

Their faces froze. I have seen surprised and shocked faces in my life but never has a room fallen as completely silent as that cafe when I let loose with one of my ten words of Slovak.

“Ahojte!” said the owner, finding his tongue.

Now I was in that familiar bog of having said something in a language I only know fragments of. I desperately searched my Slovak memory bank which was pretty easy since it was a rather barren cupboard. “Volam sa Seth,” I said, idiotically introducing myself. “Ucim sa po slovensky,” I added, even more idiotically, as if anyone cared that I was learning Slovak.

Out came a torrent, not of Slovak, but of Czech. I stared blankly and everyone relaxed. I was obviously not a spy, or if I was, I was a horribly inept one.

Still, the effect of having someone waltz in and greet them in Slovak remained. We began to talk and soon the two customers chimed in; they had been dining there for decades. “Why do you study Slovak?” the owner asked.

“It’s next to Austria,” I said. They waited, unlike my American interlocutors, not at all surprised to be told the basic geography of a continent they had grown up in. “My son lives in Vienna and we’re going to visit next summer and I want to visit Slovakia so my policy is to always study a little bit before you go.”

“I’m from Vienna,” one of the guests piped up in German. “Do you also speak German?”

I said I did and we were off to the races. His partner was from Munich; they had emigrated 35 years ago and been together ever since. To make it even friendlier, the German’s name was the same as my son’s, Hans. The food came, delicious chicken curry for me and Hungarian ghoulash for Yasuko accompanied with rice, thick slabs of bread, and spaetzle.

Before long we got to arguing about immigration in Europe and in the U.S., a genuine argument between strangers about things they felt strongly about but were able to discuss without getting upset or namecalling or storming out, or unfriending on Facebook. They had good points and so did I, and it struck me how good it felt to disagree and discuss things with people who know how to talk, who have traveled, who speak other languages, and who have lived on both sides of the immigration fence.

At one point a couple walked in and the Austrian went silent out of respect for the owner, obviously not wanting to scare away new business with our animated volleys. But the owner was having none of it. “Keep talking!” he commanded. “This is good!”

After a while his wife brought out coffee, and unlike the dark dishwater that  most American cafes serve up, this was strong and pungent, fresh and rich. “Would you like some strudel?” she asked.

“Prosim,” I said, thereby exhausting my complete Slovak vocabulary.

She laughed and brought out two pieces of homemade strudel that were better than any pastry I have ever eaten in my life, effectively pausing my two-month abstention from tasty sugary foods.

When it came time to pay the bill we were all great friends until I reached for my credit card and the owner pointed sadly to a sign: “No credit cards.”

I hadn’t brought any cash, but Yasuko had. As we left, the Austrian said, “If you like Austrian pastries you must go to Konditorei in Davis. They have the very best, and they are from Vienna.”

We left, stuffed. I turned to Yasuko. “I suppose that’s why I study Slovak,” I said.



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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

Does bicycle education work?

January 18, 2018 Comments Off on Does bicycle education work?

I cannot believe I am sitting here writing a blog post about bicycle education. If there is anything more boring, I don’t know what that might be. Oh, wait, yes I do: Uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance and how it can protect you on your bike. That’s way more boring.

But like the Santa Ana wind dryness of insurance blather, bicycle education blather is a matter of life and death. It is dorky and requires you to slow down and pay the fuck attention, spend some time doing something other than shopping for bike porn. Like taking the time to buy and charge and put on front-and-rear lights, it’s well-spent time.

I sat down with Gary Cziko, bible-thumping evangelist for Cycling Savvy, but the testament wasn’t written by a bunch of goat herders out in the desert, it was written by people who have a lot of bicycling and traffic engineering experience when it comes to staying off the grills of Rage Rovers. Cycling Savvy uses various instructional paradigms to allow riders to ride anywhere. Streets, sidewalks (where it’s lega), you name it. Although lane control is the default technique, the idea behind bicycle education is that people ride bikes all kinds of places for all kinds of reasons, and there should be a way to address their riding with sensible, practical, safe techniques.

Increasing bicycle education

Gary is now in his fifth year of teaching as a Cycling Savvy instructor. The number of actual courses and actual people who have been through his courses is shockingly low; more about that later and why it’s less important than you might think. After about 13 courses and upwards of 130 participants, I asked Gary what he thought the biggest obstacles were to increasing bicycle education in Southern California.

He didn’t miss a beat. “Two main problems, those who think they don’t need the education because they don’t ride on streets, and those who think they don’t need it because they have a lot of experience.”

Gary knows about that last part. “I was an edge rider for years but Cycling Savvy makes it easy and safe and it decreases the risks.”

“How are you going to expand that?” I asked.

“Cycling Savvy wants to exapnd. We have two online courses but need additional funding to market the curriculum. We’ve hired our first full time administrative employee, an associate executive director. We’re looking into partnerships with charity rides, SCNCA, USAC, and affiliation with clubs, much as we’ve done with Big Orange. We’ve worked with Sean Wilson at SCNCA to develop a complete skills system, from racing to training and riding on the road.”

Still, with only a few courses having been taught, along with a few hundred people who’ve taken the online courses, I wondered if Gary was optimistic. Dumb question. It’s Gary, folks.

“I’m encouraged by getting cyclists in the full on-bike training, not just the classroom, where we work with riders of all skill levels to teach them how to surmount challenging situations. What’s encouraging is that people are changed and enthusiastic and they want to share with others. The Cycling Savvy curriculum started in 2011 and reached 18 states in 3 years. But we need increased funding for courses that reach families and kids, courses for fondo riders, and of course for e-bikes.”

With  5-10 courses planned for 2018, the need vastly outnumbers available resources.

Or does it?

The ripple effect

Gary agreed that more instructors, more classes, more online marketing are crucial. He also pointed out that by educating a few cyclists you can education hundreds more.

“There’s a ripple effect,” he said. “When we started the training in Big Orange, people were unfamiliar with it. Now, even though most Big Orange riders haven’t taken the course, every club ride has at least one rider who has, and those riders take the reins and make sure that the group is using Cycling Savvy principles. By changing even one or two people, you can affect everyone who sees this kind of effective riding and who then tries it out. Of course we need training for planners and transportation engineers, too.”

When I asked him about the dreaded PCH, Gary was emphatic that bicycle education has educated drivers, too. “There’s less honking. Motorists are used to seeing large groups of riders out in the lane. Cyclists are less hesitant to use the full lane when it makes sense. One study found that there is more honking the farther you are to the right, which makes sense because they see you from a long way back and can adjust when you’re in the lane. But with edge/gutter riding they don’t see you until the last second.”

Getting your club educated

If you belong to a bike club and you don’t have a club-wide bicycle education plan, now is the time to get one. Cycling Savvy offers online courses and in-person instruction depending on the area. The courses are cheap and can save your life. Importantly, in our own neck of the woods, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, there anecdotally seems to be a lot less hostility than a couple of years ago; I chalk part of that up to the effect of people being more assertive and educated about where and how they cycle.

No matter how much you know or how experienced you are, these classes will open your eyes.



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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Safety

December 14, 2017 Comments Off on Talkin’ ‘Bout Safety

When I’m writing about dopey dopers who dope or about kids on bikes or about the latest greatest bestest industrial parking lot bicycle race, it’s easy for my two readers to forget that in my day job I’m a lawyer who lawyers, primarily (as in almost all of my caseload) on behalf of bicyclists who’ve been hit by cars.

For me, it’s impossible to forget because I deal with it every day, “it” being broken bikes, broken bodies, and oftentimes broken lives.

There is always a lot of discussion in far-off Internet places about bike infrastructure and bike paths, lots of people who have huge philosophical arguments about which riding approach is safest and best for the greatest number of people. But while those arguments are raging, I still have to work with people who have been hit.

And believe it or not, there are some extremely effective ways to keep from getting hit, ways that have nothing to do with where or how you ride your bike, and there are equally important steps that you should take to minimize your financial exposure, and to maximize the chance that an insurer will side with you on the key question of “Who’s at fault?”

This coming Sunday, December 17 at 6:00 PM, I’ll be at Performance Bicycle in Pasadena to talk about these very things. It’s free, and regardless of whether you get anything from my presentation, you’ll at least get to spend some time in an awesome bike shop.

Here’s a link to the flyer put together by my friends at performance_bicycle, which is also reproduced below:




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