Two wheels cut both ways

September 9, 2016 § 50 Comments

Something that bothers me about cyclists also bothers a lot of cagers, but it bothers us for different reasons. Because this is a family blog, and in addition to false dichotomies, vulgarity is also eschewed here, I will politely refer to this problems as “biker dicks.”

What is a biker dick? To certain cagers, a biker dick is someone on a bicycle. Simply riding makes you a candidate for punishment. To these folks, a biker dick is someone who takes the lane, slows them down, wears colorful underwear, imagines that each pedal stroke saves a baby whale, and of course threatens our American Way of Life and Making Donald Drumpf Again by running stop signs.

I’m not concerned about those biker dicks, because they’re not dicks. They’re moms, dads, prison releasees, kids, hipsters, bums, employed people, and other ordinary humans going about their business, just going about it on a bike. Carry on, you angels of awesomeness.

The biker dicks that bother me don’t really happen much in traffic, although plenty of cyclists get irate and do things that you won’t find approved of here, and use language and gestures that you won’t find approved of here. They also salmon, don’t wear helmets, and blah blah blah. Hey, if you’re dumb enough to seek death like that, seek away.

The biker dicks that bother me are much worse than those who go off on cagers or who scofflaw through traffic control devices at 6:00 AM with no one present.

I’m talking about the biker dicks who are abusive, threatening, and, yes, even injurious to vulnerable road users. When bikes are the vulnerable road user, the cagers who have the ability to crush them get zero slack in my book. Your car is bigger, heavier, deadlier, and your risk is close to zero. So slow the fuck down and show some respect for human life. If you can’t chuckle when some tweezly wanker shows you the middle finger and calls you something you normally giggle at when Bill Maher says it, take a breath or a bong hit or whatever.

But what about when the shoe’s on the other foot or, more aptly, when the wheels are on the bike path? I’ll tell you what. There is a whole slew of assholes on bikes who treats vulnerable road users, and by that I mean pedestrian meatbags, moms with strollers, old people taking a walk, kids on skateboards, and small people learning to ride tiny bikes with training wheels, with the same contempt and disregard for safety that many cagers treat us with when we’re cycling in the roadway.

How many walkers, hugging the right side of the bike path, going in a straight line, not bothering one single human being, have been accosted at the last second by some screaming, snot-blowing, wannabe jerk on a bike with the immortal shriek, “On your left!”

I wish I had a nickel for every skidmark that’s been created by these biker dick war hollers.

What’s worse, some nasty, aggressive, and potentially violent cyclists seem to have an affinity for being especially abusive to women. A friend who is a cyclist and a runner (we forgive you your jogging transgressions, DP), was on the bike path a few days ago with a cop friend. Cop had big quads and looked coppish as they jogged. Bikes gave them room and said squat even though they were two abreast. This reminds me exactly of how cagers behave when there’s a pack of cyclists. STFU and keep moving.

As soon as the cop jogged off, though, my friend, an Asian woman now jogging alone, became the target of endless last minute “On your left!” screams and even of a vile racist insult by one passing biker dick.

What is wrong with you assholes? When you are on the bike path it isn’t the autobahn, and every fool with tri-bars or a TT rig who’s trying to set the land speed record on a multi-use path with pedestrian meatbags is by definition an asshole. The same thing that cars have to do when there’s nothing but your underwear between you and two tons of steel is the same thing you have to do when you’ve got 200 lbs. of mass going 23 mph hurtling towards a 120 lb., slow moving meatbag: SLOW THE FUCK DOWN.

And don’t tell me that the meatbags don’t belong on the bike path or that they’re unpredictable or kicking a ball or walking a dog. Who cares? They’re there and you know they’re there and if you hit them you’re going to do horrible damage. SLOW THE FUCK DOWN. And once you’ve gotten off your Strava pace you won’t have to shriek at the last second, scaring the crap out of the walker and possibly causing them to veer into you.

At bottom, the irrational hate and disrespectful treatment shown by cagers to bikers on the streets is the same narcissistic, selfish nastiness that lurks at the bottom of the cycling psychopathletes who terrorize helpless bike path meatbags. Meatbags are people too, so SLOW THE FUCK DOWN, and don’t get me started on “Why are you even on the bike path to begin with, especially on the weekend or at other high-use times?” The bike path is sandy (bad for carbon), packed with erratic meatbags (causes carbon to break when slammed into), slow (takes away the millisecond benefits of carbon), badly paved (makes carbon ride uncomfy), and no more safe than the surface streets.

Empathy doesn’t grow in a vacuum or, apparently, when you’re racing along the bike path to get to work, make a group ride, or set some stupid PR on some stupid Strava segment. Put yourself in the meatbag’s shoes, even though they’re jogging shoes and even though your colorful underwear is way sexier. Get out of your rush mode, quit yelling like a jerk, and treat the vulnerable meatbags the same way that you want to be treated when they finish their jog, hop into their SUV, and, boiling with rage at your bad manners and dangerous habits, see you again when you’re off the path and pedaling down the street.

Because the victim you abused a few minutes ago is now a cager with a grudge and you’re the biker dick in the crosshairs. Is that really what you want?

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We are concerned about cyclist safety

September 1, 2016 § 24 Comments

This was the claim of the entitled NIMBYs in Rancho Palos Verdes last month who advocated banning cyclists from public roads. They are a splinter, ALT-Trump group of ultra-socialists, i.e. people who believe the means of production should be subjugated to the wants of the lazy class, and they have their counterpart further down the hill in the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch.

They are concerned about cyclist safety, they say, as they focus on regulating every behavior but their own to achieve their life’s motoring goal, which is to have as much empty pavement in front of them as possible, paid for with other people’s tax money. They are the people who scream incessantly about cyclists who run stop signs but who don’t even know that the 3-foot passing law exists.

My response when they insincerely claim to be concerned about safety? No, you aren’t.

You don’t give a rat’s ass about cyclists, cyclist safety, or anything other than squelching the cognitive dissonance you feel at seeing strangers pedaling happiness machines on “your” roads because inside you are a miserable, envious, unfit, unhappy sack of tax dodges.

You don’t care if people get hit, killed, injured, maimed, terrorized, or traumatized, and you don’t care if the collateral wreckage includes kids who grow up without parents, spouses who spend years or decades caring for the shattered mind and body of a loved one, or individuals who get, in an instant, reduced from active, healthy, productive lives into badly broken, dependent shells.

Fortunately, in a couple of weeks you will have the opportunity to prove me wrong. The same stamping, champing, foaming, finger-pointing lardasses and potbellies who railed against Big Orange at the last Rancho Palos Verdes City Council meeting will have their second of six chances to actually do something about cyclist safety thanks, of course, to Big Orange, the group they so hate for insisting on doing something for cyclist safety that actually includes cyclist input.

On October 8, a Saturday that conflicts with football, pre-football, post-football, and, worst of all for the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch, a 2:30 PM start time, which gives them only twelve minutes to put on sandals, roll off the couch, eat some dry Cheerios, and drive to the El Segundo Public Library, a place filled with books, (after filling up with mom’s gas card), yes, on October 8 Big Orange will sponsor its second Cycling Savvy course, taught by none other than Gary Cziko, Dude Who Used To Ride The NPR With A Giant Sign On The Back Of His Bike Saying “Bikes May Use Full Lane.”

That dude.

The Cycling Savvy course teaches bikers how to safely ride their bikes in traffic. But it does something else. It teaches cyclists, who also happen to be cagers most of the time, how to safely drive their 4,000-pound inflammable steel cages in the vicinity of underwear-clad people pedaling happiness machines.

In other words, every worthless Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch, and every dishrag-for-a-brain, bike hating NIMBY atop Crest has the opportunity to come and see what real cyclist safety measures look like. What they’ll find is that bike riders are ordinary people who just want to keep pedaling their happiness machines, and what they’ll also get is a sense for is how easy it is to accommodate the underwear-clad class without even being late to check out the shitty surf at the bluffs and key someone’s car who hasn’t yet heard that Lunada Bay doesn’t like you.

Oh, and it’s free, just be sure to get there at 2:00 PM (course begins at 2:30) because seating is limited and the venue will fill on a first-come, first-served basis. Courtesy of Big Orange.

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10 Steps to a Revolution

August 6, 2016 § 40 Comments

None of this happened overnight. John Forester got it all started in the 1970s when he laid out the theory behind riding a bike utilizing traffic laws applicable to other vehicles. Communities from Long Beach to Kalamazoo have shared their plans and their experiences with what it takes to change community attitudes towards bikes.

Advocates in LA like Don Ward, Dan Gutierrez, Eric Bruins, and Jim Hannon, and advocates in Michigan like Paul Selden are just a few of the people who have shown the way to cooperating with local government to make roads safer for bikes. The daily drumbeat of advocacy and activism in our local CABO forum relentlessly highlights the solutions to the problems we face.

Most importantly, the people who think the wages of cycling should be death, as enunciated by a local PV realtor recently, and the people who believe that cyclists should be banned and public roads should be privatized, are on the defensive. More to the point, they’re being routed as they stand on an isolated little spit of meanness and greed, heaping hatred on people for pedaling bicycles even as the waves of change gradually eat away at their last sandy redoubt.

The final piece of the puzzle, i.e. acceptance of safe cycling by every community, awaits. It’s not that far off, and the real progenitors for this final change are bike clubs. They are organized, they are community based, they are composed of long-time residents, they are mostly too tired from cycling to scream and yell, and their ass-conditioning means they can outlast any opponent in a city council sitting contest.

Here’s what you and your club have to do to make the revolution complete.

  1. Take a bike education course like Cycling Savvy that teaches you how to ride a bike in traffic.
  2. Get your club leaders to take a class.
  3. Make completion of a cycling in traffic class a condition for leading any club ride or being a board member.
  4. Ultimately make a cycling in traffic class a requirement for membership in your club.
  5. Establish a permanent community liaison in your club whose job it is to attend every city council meeting and/or traffic safety committee meeting that deals with anything bike-related. If your club encompasses multiple jurisdictions, establish multiple liaisons.
  6. Recruit other club members to join your liaisons on an ad hoc basis for various meetings so that there’s always a cycling contingent of 4-5 people to counterbalance the crazies.
  7. Start using cycling in traffic techniques on all your club rides; don’t back down because a few refuseniks prefer the gutter.
  8. Begin using cycling in traffic techniques on non-club group rides by discussing with the chain gang bosses beforehand. Cooperation is generally frowned upon in cycling, I know, but this actually matters, almost as much as who’s going to win the imaginary sprunt.
  9. Sponsor 3-4 cycling in traffic safety classes per year and make them available to the community, which includes law enforcement, local government, and local schools. Think of how much your club members spent on beer in 2016. For a few hundred bucks you could actually save a life or two.
  10. Make cycling traffic techniques at least as high a priority in every club meeting as the annual club bibs/jersey order. Ridiculous? Perhaps, but possible. Maybe you could lead off with, “We’re going to discuss a new jersey design for ride leaders who’ve taken the education course … “

The prophets are in from the wilderness and the unwashed and somewhat-washed cycling herds are ready to receive the message. Go forth and spread the seed, but spread it as traffic, controlling the lane.

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The existential crisis of bicycle clubs

August 2, 2016 § 33 Comments

I always thought bike clubs were dumb. Why does anyone need an organization to ride a stupid bicycle, drink beer, and pedal around outdoors in your underwear? These things can all be done unaffiliated.

That’s why even though I’ve belonged to many clubs over the years, they’ve been racing clubs that got me a $5 discount on a pair of socks, a couple of free bottles, and the Always Promised But Never Delivered Race Reimbursements At The End Of The Year.

Your club is probably a lot better than the ones I’ve always belonged to, but it’s still dumb. I mean, think how goofy you would look if you went to dinner with your family and everyone was wearing identical clothes. Now multiply it times a hundred, and make it matching underwear worn outside. Really.

Also, you don’t need matching undies to make friends, although I certainly understand that there are situations in which it helps.

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My outlook has changed, though. Over the years I’ve noticed that bike clubs really can have a purpose other than underwear coordination. One of those should be education. As I’ve noted before, the Old Ways Have Changed. Cycling is no longer a lunatic fringe activity where a few newbies join each year and are carefully disciplined by grizzled old-timers like Jack and Phil and Jeff who teach you the rules with sharp words.

The newbies are everywhere. They’re in your club. They are swirling around in traffic, mostly oblivious to how badly they can be hurt. Some of them may have even joined a club–your club–under the illusion that they’ll get some friendly instruction. (Note: Screaming “Hold your line!” followed by a wheel chop isn’t instruction.) Often, they assume that the skills they had at age 9, plus SRAM Rred and a bunch of carbon, are all they need to stay alive.

This is of course not true. The full carbon actually makes you go faster, and we all know what happens when you put lots of speed and money and carbon at the fingertips of not much skill and even fewer brains.

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Since we can’t scream riding lessons anymore (I’m too old and tired, and the newbies mostly look like they know how to throw a right hook), what’s left is education.

It’s time for your club to assume the position and start teaching, and to do so formally. Why can riders join a club without mandatory training? Why can they join a club without classroom education? Why are we enticing people to be members of a fun activity that really isn’t any fun when you’re experiencing it through a breathing tube?

Our club held its first ever Cycling Savvy class for our members. It was my third time to take the class and I was absolutely electrified by it.

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Over forty people showed up on a Saturday afternoon to, yes, learn how to ride a bike. Much pride was swallowed and surprise, much was learned. Following the lead of clubs like BCCC and the Long Beach Freddies, Big Orange has not simply made education available to its members, but it’s started down a path where education will be a requirement for membership. “Life over underwear coordination!” or something like that.

In addition, the club has taken the radical step of offering group ride training on its Sunday rides. This means rides with actual leaders who provide actual instruction based on many of the techniques taught in Cycling Savvy. My personal favorite technique is called “Control from the rear.” Pretty awesome, huh?

Whether you’re a race club, a riding club, or a baby seal club, if you’re pedaling a bike you need skills to survive. Implementing club-wide education doesn’t make you any more of a bike dork (or any less, I should add), but it makes cycling just a tiny bit safer. As Fireman pointed out, “Even if 90% of those dorks don’t get it, all you have to save is one life and suddenly it was all worthwhile.”

Cycling Savvy is offering a free course courtesy of the Orange County Wheelmen on August 4th. In typical cycling planning fashion, I got notice yesterday, but if you can make time for it, and if you belong to a club, and if you think making it home from the ride alive is a good thing, take a couple of hours out of your Thursday and invest it in the future. You can even wear your favorite garish underwear to the meeting if you need chamois time.

It’s something every underwear club in America could benefit from.

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You can change the world, even if it’s only yours

June 14, 2016 § 24 Comments

We’ve all had post-ride arguments about the “safe” way to handle a particular intersection or stretch of road when riding with our group, and perhaps the finest aspect of Facebag is its ability to get various dissonant voices all screaming at each other simultaneously while plodding through the morning email.

These discussions typically degenerate, or lead to nothing because different cyclists have such vastly different perspectives on what constitutes safety. They have different views because for most riders there is no shared platform of ideas about how to ride other than each cyclist’s personal experience.

“I’ve been riding this way since ’84,” “Don’t pull that crap on my ride,” “I never do that,” and “That’s daaaaangerous!” all represent a rejection of shared riding theories and the primacy of personal experience. In other words, people have little to no chance of ever agreeing.

In most fields there are a series of shared practices that form the basis for operating on the road, or in the air, or on the water. The same is true for people who file lawsuits, conduct medical research, build houses, or cook for a living. Only in cycling does each rider make it up as she goes along, blown by the vagaries of the particular group she happens to fall in with.

I’ve been fortunate enough to fall in with a group of cycling instructors who teach bike-in-traffic principles by borrowing from the same practices and ideas used when you teach people how to drive a car. Whether you agree or disagree, sitting through a bicycling class can have a profound effect on the way you cycle. There are different curricula for bicycle riding instruction, but all share a few core elements.

There are lots of reasons that bike instruction hasn’t taken off in SoCal. One is that it’s not mandatory. Another is that people think that because they can ride, they can ride safely in traffic. Another is because people ride for freedom, and what’s more antithetical to freedom than being told how to do something? (Hint: Getting killed or maimed.)

A bike group that operates in what is arguably America’s most challenging group ride environment, the Long Beach Freddies, spurred by the recent deaths and catastrophic injuries of cyclists in the South Bay, paid for and took a course offered by Cycling Savvy, a curriculum that teaches cyclists how to drive in traffic. Spearheaded by Scott Stryker, Bill Holford, Scott Raymond, Bill Harris, and Gil Dodson, the Freddies have begun grappling with the considerable issue of safety that is posed on every one of their M-F group rides.

This is because their route always travels for several miles along extremely congested stretches of Pacific Coast Highway where there is no bike lane, where the shoulder/gutter are filled with debris, pavement irregularities, and where for long sections riders are exposed to the door zone of parked cars. “It’s only a matter of time” was the sentiment that led this performance-oriented Lycra crowd to do the unthinkable: Take bike riding lessons from hairy-legged dorks on cargo bikes.

Cycling Savvy instructor Gary Cziko gave a tremendous presentation filled with facts, laws, video clips, strategies, and advice for how to conquer the fear of cagers and how to turn the roadway into a safe operating space. None of it involved tossing water bottles at offending cagers or the phrase “Fuck you!” The entire gang of speedsters was awestruck by the opening video clip showing Keri Caffrey, a yellow-shirted commuter on flat pedals, totally owning a fast, congested roadway in Orlando by completely controlling the traffic around her.

We all thought the same thing: “If she can do it, why can’t we?”

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Freddies are on the cutting edge of change. One person can’t change the world, but each person can change her world, and in the words of instructor Pete Van Nuys, “When you see things differently, you change the things you see.”

There are multiple levels of change required if cyclists are going to take their rightful place in the transportation network. Some of those changes are legal, some will require cager education, and in some few cases they will require infrastructure. But the one place that change must also occur is among the cyclists themselves. As Brad House loved to say, “I’m not in traffic, I am traffic.”

Taking the time to take a class, think about it, and apply it to your own regular rides will bootstrap safety discussions from “I think therefore it is,” to “This principle suggests that the best choice is [x].” And once you’re educated it’s a tiny step to asking others to take the time to get educated, too.

Shared principles among cyclists for riding in traffic that don’t include flipping off cars? Well, yes.

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Rare bird

April 15, 2016 § 27 Comments

After many a ride Filds and I would recap the myriad stupidities of the day, and he’d always conclude, “Yeah, common sense. It just ain’t that common.”

As much as it pains me to say nice things about my friends, Gary Cziko and Pete van Nuys put on a seminar last night for our club, Big Orange. They are instructors for Cycling Savvy, a bike educational program for dorks.

In this case, however, the dorks aren’t the usual objects of contempt. They aren’t the people with panniers, recumbents, floppy dickhider shorts, helmet mirrors, sandals, and fourteen daytime lights. The dorks targeted by Cycling Savvy include everyone who doesn’t understand proper lane positioning. This means you.

Most of what Cycling Savvy refers politely to as “the lycra crowd” and I impolitely refer to as “delusional underwear pedalers,” considers itself expert at cycling safety. The reasoning goes like this:

  1. I wear my underwear on my bike and pedal fast.
  2. I enter one crit a year to get free crap from my team so I can call myself a bike racer.
  3. I have twelve top-10’s on the Strava leaderboard for 45+ men over 250 lbs.
  4. My bike is expensive.
  5. I ride in big groups.
  6. I’ve never been killed.

Of course if you ride with the lycra crowd long enough you realize that in addition to being delusional, many of them are wholly incompetent at bicycle riding, even many riders who climb well, sprunt well, and time trail well. What’s worse than their incompetence is that their insistence on bad positioning is built on an amazing resistance to criticism, let alone change.

After all, they’re wearing their underwear and have never been killed plus they got 10 kudos yesterday so they know what they’re doing, right?

Cycling Savvy’s curriculum politely but firmly begins with the premise that no, just because you ride a bicycle you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing. In fact, given the ignorance of law enforcement, the prejudice of cagers, and the lack of formalized cycling instruction, the chance that you know what you’re doing is quite small, because all savvy cycling begins with lane positioning, and a casual glance at any cyclist on any road reveals that most cyclists hug the gutter or the door zone.

It was fascinating to watch the Big Orange board get educated, a board that is comprised of people who have 12 zillion miles under their belt, who are already pretty expert at lane positioning, and who have extraordinary experience navigating large groups of idiots through the congested streets of L.A. It reinforced how badly we of the Underwear Tribe are in desperate need of education.

Unfortunately, the course is three hours long, which means your ass will be bleeding by the time it wraps up, and that doesn’t include the parking lot and on-the-road components of the class. The curriculum also contains too much information for the typical bonehead who has been roped into the session hoping to get a tip or two about how not to get killed.

Yet Cziko and van Nuys did a phenomenal job of introducing us to the law, the science, the logic, and the practice of controlling the fuggin’ lane, in addition to re-emphasizing the fact that if you put twelve boxes of Cheez-its in front of five cyclists they will devour everything down to the crumbs even when they’re no longer hungry.

I just wish they’d call the course “Control the Fuggin’ Lane, Dumbass!” and I wish more people would get educated. The rear-and-fore-facing videos showing how traffic responds to proper lane control are viscerally demonstrative of Cycling Savvy’s other premise: The life you save will be YOURS. Learning all this from people who themselves have been cycling longer than most of us have been alive, and who are professional, educated, and smart, was an added bonus.

Ultimately, if you think you know how to ride on the road, the chances are good you don’t. Because common sense just ain’t that common.

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Let ’em eat licenses

March 14, 2016 § 69 Comments

The recent death of Jonathan Tansavatdi, a local South Bay cyclist and member of my club, Big Orange, has again brutally emphasized the vulnerability of cyclists. Although the cause and mechanics of the collision that took his life remain unknown at this point, it got me to thinking about our collective responsibility as a cycling club.

In other words, what is the obligation of every cycling club with regard to teaching bike safety?

This seems like it has an easy answer. Clubs encourage people to ride. They encourage people to join. And at least our club really encourages people to race their bikes. In addition to that encouragement, any club worthy of the name provides structure to make all those things happen.

Our club provides group ride activities throughout the week, and we have the best grass roots club racing program in America, a program that focuses on getting members to sign up as Cat 5 men and Cat 4 women and race their bikes.

So the question remains. What are we as racing clubs doing with regard to teaching bike safety? As with most cycling clubs, only a minority of our members actually race. Even big profamateur masters squads like Surf City and Monster Media have more actual riders than they do members who show up and race every weekend.

With the exception of on-the-job safety training, where ride leaders and allegedly experienced riders give out tips to the newcomers, I’ve yet to hear of a club that has formalized program to teach rider safety in conjunction with a requirement that all riders complete a safety course before they are allowed to join.

This is weird because:

  1. Most cyclists suck at safety.
  2. Although cycling is safe, when shit goes sideways you can die or be catastrophically injured.
  3. There is already a fantastic educational course called Cycling Savvy that every single bike club in America can afford to have conduct classes.

The reticence to teaching cycling safety, at least among racing clubs, is that the Cycling Savvy teachers are complete dorks. They are the guys with helmet mirrors, flappy arm sleeves, uncool bikes, hairy legs and teeth, and of course none of them race. So there is a huge bias on the part of the cool kids (think junior high insecurity and vanity without the excuse of youth) against sitting down and getting schooled by people whose business it is to stay alive in traffic. It’s crazy to think that one group of dorks riding around in their underwear look down at another group of dorks riding around in their underwear, but Ah, Bartleby, ah humanity!

The benefits to instituting a club licensing program are massive. First, it tells every single person thinking about joining that nothing matters to us more than your life. Second, it tells every single person thinking about joining that we don’t care how many races you’ve won, how many watts you put out, or how many imaginary trinkets you have stored on your imaginary Strava cupboard, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU KNOW HOW TO RIDE SAFELY IN TRAFFIC. Think velodrome certification: They don’t care how good you think you are. Until you’ve proven you can ride on a banked track without gears or brakes, you’re not allowed to play in the sandbox.

Finally, of course, certification and licensing would begin to disseminate the life preserving skills we all need as vulnerable riders in traffic. It makes us advocates for smart riding and maybe, just maybe, decreases the number of memorial rides even by one.

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