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.


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.


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.


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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Paradigm shift

April 26, 2013 § 21 Comments

When I rolled up with my daughter and son in-law to the Ruby’s Diner in Redondo Beach, I was out of my comfort zone. I’d taken up Jim Hannon of Beach Cities Cycling Club on his invitation to join his ride up to LA’s Ciclavia. We would intersect Ciclavia in Venice and then take part in the daylong cycling festivities.

What is Ciclavia? It is proof that Los Angeles is one of the great cities in the world. More importantly, it’s the most subversive and revolutionary activity I’ve ever been part of.

The city shuts down a major road or series of roads to car traffic and makes the streets the province of people and bicycles rather than automobiles. When we merged with the event, which had already been going on for a couple of hours, I thought I would be prepared to see one of LA’s most iconic roadways, Venice Boulevard, clogged with 200,000 people riding bicycles.

I wasn’t.

State-sponsored subversion is the best subversion

And until you do the Ciclavia, you won’t be ready for it either, because it completely upends our notions of what this city is, what the streets are for, and who the people are who really make up our larger community. For example, did you know there’s a guy who rides a fourteen-foot high bicycle with no brakes that is so tall he has to mount it from the second floor of an office building? I suppose he’s doing his part to convince skeptics that bicycle riders aren’t batshit crazy.

Did you know there’s a group called Compton South Side Riders for World Peace who have the most beautiful hand-crafted chrome easy-riders that you’ve ever seen?

Did you know that the fat lady lying flat on her back with the paramedics trying to get her heart going again shouldn’t have eaten so many gutbusting lardburgers before throwing a leg over and riding 35 miles from downtown to the sea and back?

Did you know that LA is a brown city?

Did you know that tens of thousands of children have bicycles and love to ride them in the street?

Did you know that most people don’t ride bicycles with stretchy lycra panty thingies?

Did you know that cars are the enemy, and that they are not vital to our existence?

Did you know that with planning and cooperation, huge swaths of a city like LA, famed for traffic snarls and the supposed “automobile love affair,” can be turned into one giant playground for kids, families, and people who just want to enjoy being outdoors?

Did you know that if you open the streets to people on bicycles, small businesses have an actual competitive advantage over the giant chain stores?

Did you know that tens of thousands of people ride fixed-gear bicycles and virtually none of them are hipsters?

Did you know that the police are smiling and in a good mood when they’re policing bike traffic instead of chasing cars on the freeways, in fear for their lives and ready to shoot on sight?

Did you know that bicycles bring people together because bicycles are a metaphor for freedom, and a tool to make people free?

That’s “Mr. Fred” to you, pal

I would discover these and a thousand more things, but at the start of the ride I had my hands full grappling with my stereotypes. The Beach Cities Cycling Club people were the kind of people I never ride with, and their behavior was so bizarre that after we’d gone a half-mile I wondered whether I could make the ride. Of all the weird things they did, the weirdest was talking. Yep, they talked to each other, and I don’t mean the conversation you and I have on the bike, you know, this one:

“Hey. How’s it going?”

“Good. You?”


Followed, of course, by a flurry of attacks and panting and gasping and a relentless 2-hour hammerfest.

No, the BCCC folks had these weird conversations that were slow paced, that exchanged information, that were filled with laughter, and in which the people actually got to know each other. And no one screamed at anyone else or shouted, “Pull through, wanker!”

Like I said, I was freaking out.

The weirdness of this crowd intensified as we rode. They stopped at every single red light. The first time I almost crashed out. “Don’t they know that those lights are suggestions?” I wondered.

They stopped at stop signs, too. “Wow,” I thought. “So that’s what those are for.”

They pointed out obstacles in the road instead of swerving at the last minute and dragging the rest of the group over the open manhole cover.

Then, the thing that blew my mind was the sweeper. That’s right. They had a dude who was one of the stronger riders sit at the back and make sure no one came unhitched or got lost. “WTF?” I wondered. “As long as they’ve got a sweeper, how are they going to bury and abandon somebody 50 miles from home? How are they going to shred their friends in a paceline and leave them for dead? How are they going to attack, out-sprint, drop, and humiliate the people they like? Don’t they know that cycling is supposed to be an extended index of misery and pain?”

Clearly they didn’t, and then an even weirder thing happened. I started talking to the person next to me. Like, it was a real conversation, the kind I’m told people have with their spouses. By the time we reached Venice I was relaxed and had gotten to make friends with several different people, learning more about them in a few short miles than I’d learned about the countless cyclists I regularly meet up with on the Donut Ride or NPR. For the first time since I was a kid I was on my bike and the purpose of the activity wasn’t riding the bike.

“It’s not about the bike,” I told myself. “Hey, that’s a good name for a book.”

The ride was fun, but the fun didn’t involve a beatdown. I can’t really describe it. It was fun without being painful and awful and ending with a crushing defeat. I know, you can’t understand it, either. But it was. Why? Because this pain-free fun stuff, well, it’s pretty cool.

And on June 23, the date of the next Ciclavia, I’m doing it again.

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