Big City, Bright Lights

October 21, 2017 § 18 Comments

Where you sit in the roadway or the shoulder while pedaling your bike is up to you. I simply hope you’re doing it with a lot of lights.

After the recent smashback here in L.A. from cager trolls and the pitchfork peasants who were enraged that a safer, cleaner, cheaper, sexier, healthier, happier mode of transportation might slow them down fifteen seconds on their one-hour commute, it has become even more evident that cyclists themselves are riven. Lane control advocates shrug at the loss of bike infrastructure; they never wanted it to begin with, beyond sharrows and BMUFL signage. Infrastructure lovers are heartbroken and trying to rally themselves for the next big beating, like kids shuffling into dad’s bedroom knowing he already has the belt off.

I’m happy to report that there’s a solution. We lane control advocates should stop poking a thumb in the eye of the infrastructure lovers. We should stop sharpening our rhetorical sticks, hardening them with fire, and jabbing them into the tender fallacies of those who want more things built in roads to protect bicycles. We should let them go about their business.

In fact, I’m happy to give infrastructure advocates all the rope they want. They can take it out to Playa del Rey, Manhattan Beach and Palso Verdes, do their advocacy, show up at meetings and present factual data, but when they do, here’s a pro tip: Don’t do it near any trees with sturdy, low hanging, horizontal limbs. Because when the pitchfork peasants see your bike infrastructure rope, and understand that it’s a threat to the hegemony of their cages, they will know what to do with it.

Rather than poking holes in the infrastructure lovers’ arguments, we should make common cause with them in this way: Tell them, without judging, that while we’re waiting for the amazing infrastructure that will protect us from cagers (for example, the Santa Monica bike path where no one ever gets hurt by other bicycles and where no bicycle has ever run over and seriously injured a pedestrian), we will all take the fuggin’ lane while lit up like Christmas trees. This includes the infrastructure lovers.

bmufl_car

And then, after my cremated ashes have been dispersed by the winds of time, been blown to Jupiter and are circling its outer moon, eventually, I say, when the great infrastructure project is completed such that it has constructed those supremely segregated, superbly striped, sexily signed, perfectly protected, and beautifully barrier-ized bike path/lane/road/highways to cover every alley, every back road, every country lane, every cul-de-sac, every county road, every byway, every dirt road, every highway, every city street, every parking area, and every other possible place where cars and bikes might possibly be at the same place at the same time, then we will be able to have another discussion about whether bike infrastructure is better, safer, preferable, cheaper, more efficient, cheaper to maintain, more popular, and more conducive to expanding cycling than following existing traffic laws and exercising lane control in a lawful manner.

‘Til that happy day when The Infrastructure Saints Go Marchin’ In, however, let’s all take a deep a breath, swallow our ideologies, and take the fuggin’ lane. Lit up like Christmas trees, of course. Mirrors optional.

END

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Science won’t save ya

October 20, 2017 § 45 Comments

For a brief blip I saw salvation in the offing when I contemplated autonomous cars. “What,” I wondered “could be dumber than a human behind the wheel of a two-ton, speeding steel box?”

“Nothing,” was the obvious answer. “Certainly not a computer.”

Next, I read an online article in Consumer Reports about crash avoidance systems in cars and felt even better. In addition to replacing the dummy behind the wheel, sciency things were going to turn the driving over to an inanimate thing that didn’t text or drink lattes or scream “Faggot!” or live on Via Horcata. Bicyclists would only benefit.

Plus, a friend of mine who flies giant commercial airplanes seemed to think that airplane crash avoidance systems were a predictor of how cars might eventually operate. Airplanes don’t run into each other (much), and that’s because they have some sciency stuff that keeps big, fast-moving objects from hitting other fast-moving objects, such as the ground. “Why don’t they just stick airplane sciency stuff into cars and be done with it?” I wondered.

The frightening answer is that airplanes don’t use sciency stuff at all to avoid collisions. They use acronyms. Big, long, complicated, similar-sounding, confusion inducing, memorization-defying acronyms that scramble up the English language into a foul sounding soup of letters that do nothing but bring on a migraine when you try to commit them to memory. TCAS, PCAS, FLARM, GPWS, TAWS, SV, and OCAS are the acronyms that work in airplanes, along with the actual spelled-out word of “radar.”

More about that later, but about the time I started worrying about the acronymization of car driving, I ran across this gem on the Tweeter: “Semi-autonomous BMW Will ‘Fight Driver’ to Deliver Close Passes to Cyclists.”

“Huh?” I thought, so I clicked on the link and learned that my pilot friend was right. Airplane crash avoidance systems will indeed be the template for semi-autonomous cars, with the overwhelming problem being the word “semi.” In other words, the technology that will make cars safer will ironically require much better driving skills. In a society where there is a race to the bottom in every conceivable metric for driving skills–physical fitness, situational awareness, mental response time, physical response time, behind-the-wheel training, alertness, familiarity with the vehicle and its handling characteristics, patience, a safety mindset, heightened concern for vulnerable road users–we are suddenly going to be presented with vehicles that require all of those parameters to increase, and increase drastically.

Should work well in a rapidly aging society filling up with crotchedy old blind farts.

Heightened user skill makes sense, because crash avoidance systems in commercial airplanes operate in an environment of highly trained pilots who are continually tested, re-tested, and required to pass regular physical exams. No multiple DUI pilots at United, folks, and you gotta have that 5th Grade reading level, at least. As the article above emphasizes, “The key to autonomous vehicles is training, training, training. The skill of driving must be robotic before the software can be developed. The skill of driving is being eroded and this can be seen every day.”

Training? For U.S. cagers? For the idiots who throw shit at cyclists, drive while severely impaired, blame the victim, recall elected officials who support road safety, troll pedestrian/cycling advocates, and who are routinely given a pass for carelessly killing bicyclists? Those assholes? Train them how, exactly? With a rolled-up newspaper and a cattle prod to the testicles? If you think adding bike lanes brings out the rage, wait ’til you tell Joe Q. Driver that he has to actually possess driving skills before he can go rampaging down the freeway. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Every piece of technology that relies on a smarter, better, more experienced and well-trained U.S. driver is operating on a massively flawed assumption, because U.S. drivers aren’t simply horrible, I’ve always contended that they aren’t drivers at all. They are pointers. They start the car and point it, unable to do even the most basic emergency maneuvers such as brake or turn without skidding. The minute that operating the vehicle transitions from point to maneuvering, 99% of drivers are f-u-c-k-e-d, or rather the bicyclist/pedestrian in front of them is.

As a cyclist who almost got clocked yesterday by a fully autonomous idiot who decided that the No. 1 Lane was inconvenient, and he’d rather whip into No. 2 without checking any mirrors, I can tell you that in Los Angeles drivers are older, meaner, angrier, more stressed, stupider, less skilled, more impulsive, and nastier than they were even ten years ago. Thanks, Obama.

And it’s not just my anecdotal experiences. The dumbphone has crazily accelerated the trend, making the “semi” half of the semi-autonomous car nothing more than an airbag dummy for all the crash avoidance systems that have to rely on drivers who can perform at least some minimal dum-dum maneuvers, such as, say, not switching off the autonomous systems.

Fortunately, virtually all of the problems with distracted cagers, and with systems that require cager responsiveness as it concerns cyclists, can be minimized or eliminated entirely by taking the fuggin’ lane. Even the most rudimentary systems will significantly brake if not completely halt when the object (we’re “objects,” folks) is directly in front of them. Close passes and clipping will happen to gutter bunnies, but not to Christmas Tree riders smack in the middle of the lane.

So there it is. The dumbphone dummies are taking over. You’ve been warned. Science won’t save ya. But takin’ the fuggin’ lane WILL.

END

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The sting of defeat

October 19, 2017 § 35 Comments

I winced when I saw a couple of recent tweets by Peter Flax and Ted Rogers acknowledging that their support for the road diets in Playa del Rey and other parts of Los Angeles have been beaten back by the entitled cager class. Peter has written a great article about the fake democracy, fake news, and relentless trolling that has played an outsized role in perverting government on the local level into what it mostly is on the national level: Everything for me, nothing for you, with “me” being the wealthy and “you” being everyone else.

Flax, Rogers, and a whole host of advocates are feeling the pain that South Bay cyclists felt last year when the PV Estates City Council, fueled by the trolling of Garrett Unno and his horrible wife Zoe, the unprincipled rage of bad people like Cynthia Zaragoza, and the anonymous, pseudonymous trolling by Robert Lewis Chapman, Jr., voted to shelve any proactive steps that would make PV safer for vulnerable road users. Flax and Rogers have come to grips with two nasty realities:

  1. The trolls oppose policies that can prevent killing or maiming vulnerable road users.
  2. The trolls see such bloodshed as a reasonable price for their convenience.
  3. The trolling powerfully affects the levers of governmental power.

When the realization hits, it’s devastating. Voting, canvassing, public debate, even modest funding by advocacy groups … all of these things lose to the power of the trolls. The power of a few moderately wealthy, angry trolls who have lots of time on their hands and limitless spleen to vent can galvanize entire voting blocs and can steamroll the needs of the many for the selfish wants of the few. Facts, data, logic, and republican ideals of protecting the weakest in society are laughable concepts that mean nothing when it comes to making transportation decisions regarding bicyclists and pedestrians.

With regard to making LA’s streets safer for vulnerable road users, though, the defeat is largely a function of advocates’ failure use existing law. Road diets, road striping, segregated cycle tracks, and bike lanes are the byproduct of a cyclist-inferiority pathology that has been vigorously promoted by cagers and motordom. Thanks to relentless fearmongering, many cyclists now believe that the only way they can safely use the roadways is by being segregated from it, and their overwhelming fear is of being hit from the rear, even though statistics show that such collisions are a minority of all car-bike collisions.

The bitter truth is this: Whether or not cyclists think that lane control works, road diets and bike infrastructure won’t work in Los Angeles’s angry, white urban areas. White and affluent cagers have shown that they are more than happy to subsidize the perception of speed and efficiency with more pedestrian/cycling deaths. It’s no different from the blase attitude towards the Las Vegas Massacre and Terrorist Attack. Such deaths are the well known, well accepted, and perfectly irrational price that America is more than happy to pay for the unrestricted right to have and use guns. Why should additional dead and maimed vulnerable road users be any different?

Hint: They aren’t.

Unlike the road diets that are never going to happen and the citywide carving out of bike lanes from normal traffic lanes that will never come to pass, lane control uses existing law to empower cyclists and make their activities safer. But empowerment isn’t something that comes and knocks at your door. You have to take it.

This means knowing the circumstances under which you are entitled to take up the full travel lane, when you have to ride as far to the right as practicable, and when you have to pull over to let faster traffic through. Learning these things and pounding them into the heads of cyclists is a task that few advocacy groups want to do because they are so committed to the infrastructure policies that angry cager Angelenos have proven they will never accept. I challenge anyone in LA County Bike Coalition to come to PV Estates or Rancho PV, two of the best cycling destinations in America, and make any headway at all against the evil mayor and her callus henchwankers. To add to the impossibility of positive policies, monstrous and slothful bike hater Zoe Unno now sits on the traffic safety committee. It’s like putting the wolf in charge of the henhouse and giving her a carving knife and gas range to boot.

If bike advocates haven’t gotten the message, they need to listen again: Los Angeles isn’t going to cede an inch of roadway for your exclusive use. So admit defeat and take up arms using existing law: Teach your friends and fellow cyclists, and most importantly teach yourself how to ride safely and legally in the traffic lane. After my years of experience with this technique, I’m confident you’ll find that the water is fine.

Another harsh reality has gradually become clear. As unfair as it may be, and as much of a double standard as it is, we are at a point in cager-bike relations when you have to take care of yourself first. This means lights. If you’re running anything less than two powerful headlamps and anything less than 3-4 powerful lights from the rear at all times, day and night, you are heaping additional risk onto yourself, especially if you are still riding in the gutter or in the door zone. As much as the PV cagers may hate cyclists, the chances are slim that they will kill you intentionally–with the exception, of course, of John Bacon, who appears to have died precisely because of an intentional hit.

In short, the people have spoken: They hate you and don’t care if you die. But at the same time, they don’t want to get your blood on their hood or, even worse, see an increase in their insurance premium. So take the lane. Ride like a Christmas tree. It still beats living on Mom’s couch.

END

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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.

END

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Malibu’s middle finger to cyclists on PCH

May 4, 2015 § 41 Comments

When the Rolling Stones released “Some Girls” in 1978 I was in junior high school. Like most rock lyrics, the title track sounded like “Some girls blahblahblahblah some girls blahblahblah everything I own!” The ratio of blah-to-intelligible-words was about 27-to-one, which meant that I, like most kids, had to hum a lot.

Many years went by and thankfully rock music went with it. However, after moving to California and getting initiated to riding on Pacific Coast Highway I was able to encode one of the mystery lyrics of “Some Girls,” and it was the “blah” after “Let’s go back to blah beach, I’ll give you half, of everything I own.”

There it was, in living color: Zuma Beach. And the reason Mick was going to take the girl back there was to ply her with drugs and then, in the paternity suit/divorce settlement that followed, give her half of everything he owned because California is a community property state.

Even 1/10,000th of everything that Mick Jagger owns in Zuma Beach would be awesome because Zuma is stunningly beautiful. It has great surf. It has eye-popping scenery. The first thongs of spring usually alight here, and the section of PCH that runs through Zuma deposits cyclists onto the doorway of famed canyon climbs like Decker, Encinal, Yerba Buena, and the Beast of the Coast, a/k/a Deer Creek.

PCH also winds its way up to The Rock at Point Mugu, another stunning vista that also happens to mark the turnaround point for most 100-mile PCH sojourns from the South Bay. The stretch of PCH that goes through Zuma Beach is like the rest of PCH after you bust out from Santa Monica. It’s easy and safe and pretty much hassle-free as long as you have the presence of mind to take the lane. The flip side is that being a gutter bunny on PCH is nerve wracking and deadly.

What PCH isn’t, is susceptible to “bicycling infrastructure,” i.e. bike lanes that collect trash that you’re required by law to ride through and that make you fair game for motorists and buses who are only staring straight ahead. PCH is thankfully not susceptible to bike lanes because in most places along PCH to Zuma Beach the highway abuts cliff on the left and streetside parking on the right. There is no place for the misguided to build bike lanes into which cyclists must be corralled.

This is great because the absence of a bike lane really encourages you to take the lane and learn how to ride in it.

The City of Malibu, however, driven by bike-haters, non-cyclist city planners, foolish CALTRANS highway engineers, and I suppose a coterie of cycling “advocates” who are worse than ignorant when it comes to the reality of cycling on PCH, has put in a two-mile bike lane on the southbound section of PCH that goes through Zuma Beach.

For 25 miles in either direction there are no bike lanes and then suddenly, bam, a bike lane. To make things worse the bike lane is jammed up against a two-mile stretch of Zuma Beach streetside parking. All of the Some Girls and all of the Kelly Slaters park here. You don’t know fun until you whiz by a parked van at 22 mph only to have the door thrown open and some stoned dude tumbles out with a 7-foot surfboard. Then he yells at you and tells you to fuck off assuming you aren’t now on the pavement and awaiting a life flight.

After two miles the bike lane ends and you’re back where you started — hopefully in the lane, but more likely crammed over onto the shoulder because the bike lane has primed you to cower and huddle and avoid the passing traffic. This is an easy fear psychosis to fall into because the traffic is passing you at 60 when you’re in the bike lane, unlike when you’re in the travel lane and the approaching traffic slows, changes lanes, and passes you in the No. 1 lane with space and speed to spare.

Even if you’re a bike lane advocate (and I hope you aren’t) this one is complete rubbish unless you live in Zuma Beach. For anyone just passing through, and trust me, like Mick the residents really want you to keep on trucking, the bike lanes are the ultimate in confusion and stupidly incomplete infrastructure.

On May 9 I’ll be protesting the illegal harassment of cyclists by LA Sheriff’s Department at Malibu City Hall on Saturday, 9:00 AM and also complaining about these awful deathtrap bike lanes. I’m leaving the parking lot at Temescal Canyon and PCH at Will Rogers State Park at 8:00 AM-ish and will be riding slowly, safely, and legally — in the lane! I’m leaving the South Bay from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:30

END

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We’re halfway there

July 28, 2014 § 51 Comments

As part of the “Cyclists Belong in the Lane on PCH” project, on Sunday the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department met us at 8:00 AM in the parking lot of Will Rogers State Park. They were in an unmarked Ford Explorer. Greg Seyranian and Dave Kramer had rallied the Big Orange troops, along with other riders from the West Side and the South Bay. There were about fifty cyclists total.

This was the second phase of our law enforcement-cyclist cooperative. The first phase involved getting ticketed for riding in the lane, and then throwing a shit-fit about it followed by meetings with Captain Pat Devoren and his team of deputies. Much of the heavy lifting was done by Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition wunderkind Eric Bruins. Give them some money if you’re feeling so disposed.

As a result of the meetings, Captain Devoren suggested a ride-along where deputies would follow behind a Sunday group ride. This was going to be our opportunity to educate them about the realities of riding a bike on PCH, and about how much safer it is to ride in the lane than in the gutter.

The Big Orange peloton had prepared an excellent ride plan. From Temescal to Las Flores they would ride in the gutter, switching to the lane at those points where the shoulder vanishes, or where there are cars parked on the shoulder, or where other space considerations make continued progress in the gutter impossible. This would give the following deputies an opportunity to see how dangerous it is to continually switch from gutter to lane.

After Las Flores, the peloton would ride single file “as far to the right as practicable” per CVC 21202. This would show the deputies two things: first, that a line of 50 riders going single file on PCH is significantly more of an obstacle to motorists than a single, compact peloton riding 2×2. Second, it would demonstrate with utter clarity that even when riding “FTR” there is not enough space for a bike and a car to share the lane — and that’s without the 3-foot passing law that kicks in this September.

At Cross Creek the peloton would flip it and ride back to Temescal utilizing the full lane. This would let the deputies compare traffic flow, safety, and predictability of the cyclists versus the other two methods.

The peloton rolled out and we hung back in the unmarked vehicle for about a minute. Then, we got a little surprise: because it looked like we were tailgating the cyclists, a park ranger put on his flashers and pulled us over. It’s pretty awesome getting stopped by law enforcement when you’re in an unmarked vehicle with two dudes carrying LASD badges. Suffice it to say, no one got a ticket!

The deputies were immediately impressed with the difficulty and inherent danger of doing gutter-and-lane back-and-forth maneuvers. Although motorists didn’t harass anyone or honk, the constant motion from gutter to lane was plainly fraught with potential conflict, especially since the traffic at 8:00 AM on Sunday is incredibly light compared to what happens on this stretch of PCH during a weekday, or later in the day on a nice weekend.

When the Big Orange group shifted to single file, it was also clear that there was no possible way that a car could safely share the lane with the cyclists. The deputies immediately saw that putting fifty riders in a long single file created an extremely long line of riders. When I told them that as of September the weekly Big O contingent would be double that in size, they understood the importance of keeping the group as compact as possible.

On the final leg from Cross Creek back to Temescal, the chief concern of the deputies was how traffic would be obstructed. It wasn’t, not even a little. One deputy commented that it was no different from a motorist who has to go around a slow moving vehicle like a bus or a dump truck. They also noted the incredible number of obstacles for any rider who might choose to ride in the gutter. Cars parked up against the fog line, people opening doors, surfers magically appearing with surfboards, and bad surface conditions in the gutter were all things that became easy to understand when pointed out while following the peloton at a slow speed of 20/21 mph.

The deputies were fully on board with the idea that the best place for a group is in the lane. This is a huge change and represents a watershed in the way that law enforcement views bicyclists on PCH. The only concern they still had was how this type of lane control would affect traffic when it was only one or two riders and when it was done during rush hour.

I volunteered to do another drive along, this time with only one or two riders so they could see that although the obstruction of traffic was minimal, the motorist harassment is extreme and terrifying. We’re going to set up a date for that experiment, perhaps this coming week.

The take home for cyclists who want to ride in the lane on PCH is this: the deputies will report back to Captain Devoren and based on their report we will follow up with LASD to confirm that for now, at least as regards groups of riders, cyclists can expect not to be cited for CVC 21202 violations simply for riding in the lane. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that confirmation in writing or as a directive that is sent out to deputies working traffic enforcement on PCH.

I want to stress that this is a work in progress. We’ve gotten key deputies to examine this stretch of PCH from a cyclist’s perspective, and in their words, “We’ve been educated about what cyclists face on PCH.” It doesn’t mean that the issue is fully resolved, especially with regard to solo riders or cyclists in groups of two or three.

Although it’s tempting to describe this as a “victory,” it’s much more a significant step in the right direction. The sheriff’s department has been professional and not even the slightest big adversarial with regard to these discussions. With the continued support and open-minded approach of LASD — not to mention the riders who are willing to come out and help with the process of educating law enforcement — we may not be too far from the day when all cyclists will be able to exercise their right to ride in the lane all the way from Santa Monica to County Line and beyond.

Huge thanks to all of the people who have given time, lent encouragement, and donated money to keep this project moving ahead. Thanks as well to Captain Devoren and LASD for being open to change. If you want to get involved as a volunteer, send me your contact info to fsethd@gmail.com. You can also:

  1. Subscribe to this blog: Your $2.99 monthly donation helps me advocate for cyclists.
  2. Join California Association of Bicycling Organizations. $10, cheap.
  3. Join LA County Bicycle Coalition.
  4.  Talk with your club and discuss riding in the lane on PCH the next time you’re out that way.

It’s been less than a year since Greg Seyranian and Big Orange began using lane control on their group rides on PCH. Thanks again to all who have helped.

Geeks v. Dorks

September 17, 2013 § 54 Comments

I’ve been puzzled by the split of opinions about where to ride on PCH. In the lane, or in the gutter? That’s the question, and it has evoked strong reactions.

On one side are the racers/ex-racers/soon-to-be-racer geeks who “know” how to ride safely. On the other side are the bike dorks — the dudes with mirrors, crusty machines, and weird signs hanging off their saddles. This is a simplification, since many “racer geeks” have also signaled their agreement with take-the-lane positioning on PCH by, well, taking the lane.

Still, it got me thinking about the cleavage. An FB page I frequent, “Cyclists Are Drivers,” and a web forum I belong to, the CABO forum, are both filled with bike dorks. The key feature of the dorks is that they are focused on facts, numbers, and hypotheses that can be tested with regard to cycling safety in traffic. They are often in sharp, even vitriolic disagreement.

The key feature of the racer geeks is that they are focused on riding their bikes fast, or at least pretending that what they’re doing will allow them to ride faster later. Racer geeks, unlike bike dorks, keep their disagreements on the down-low for the simple reason that they spend much of their time riding in groups with one another. They’re fundamentally group animals, whereas the bike dork tends to be more of a loner, at least to the extent that bike dorks seem to commute a lot by themselves, which makes their concern with traffic safety obvious.

The dislike of public arguments between race geeks makes sense when you see some of the online disagreements between the bike dorks. It would be hard to go have a fun group ride with a bunch of people you’ve just excoriated as misguided imbeciles.

How I joined the dorks

I became a bike dork by accident, or rather, I’ve always been a dork and the bike dorks won me over with, well, logic and debate. I won’t reiterate their reasoning, since it’s available by the ream to anyone who can do a Google search, other than to say that after trying out their lane control tactics on Del Amo and then Hawthorne, I found my traffic rides much less stressful. Lane control rides on PCH reconfirmed that taking the lane is superior to being a gutter bunny, at least for me.

What surprised me is how poorly the dorks’ ideas were received by many of my racer geek brethren. One of the bike dorks I respect the most had this to say with regard to racer geeks and the authority with which they speak regarding traffic skills:

Bike racers are to traffic skills instruction as auto-racers are to driving school instruction; not qualified unless they go though certification training. I know highly trained and traffic skilled racers, … and others who are terrified of traffic and ride like children, by hugging the curb in fear, and a spectrum in-between the two extremes. Just because someone is a racer, or has good paceline skills does not mean they also have bicycle driving skills. I’ve seen too many national and world class racers operate very hazardously in traffic to buy that common misbelief.

This, more than anything else, puzzled me. Are the people I’ve ridden with for years, people whose wheels I trust, people who have performed magic on two wheels, are they unqualified to speak about traffic skills on PCH because they haven’t taken some sort of course?

Sticking to PCH

The more I thought about it, the odder it seemed. One of our recent ride additions, a bike dork par excellence, had aroused the ire of the racer geek group with his riding. What was interesting was that his same behavior had annoyed me on our lane control ride, even though his antics were simply riding closer to the lane divider stripes than I thought reasonable.

Why would this behavior elicit such condemnation?

Then it hit me. The bike dork is primarily concerned with not getting hit by cars. The racer geek, although he’ll tell you that is his primary concern as well, is mostly concerned with not getting taken out by other riders. I don’t think I’ve ever actually witnessed a car hitting a bicyclist, but I’ve witnessed countless accidents  on group rides caused by bad bike handling.

Now it was starting to make sense, sort of. The bike dorks are talking about where to ride safely in the lane. The racer geeks are trying to keep conformity within the peloton because that’s where the danger is greatest. Erratic, unpredictable moves cause crashes, scare the shit out of people, and act as a total buzzkill for what is supposed to be a fun social event. It may be true that the conformity would be even more easily handled, and bad bike handling would be more easily accommodated in the lane rather than in the gutter, but for purposes of the debate that doesn’t really matter.

The bike dork is viewed as a living, breathing threat to the racer geek’s bunch ride.

Traffic skills versus bunch riding skills

No one likes to be told, “Your biking skills suck.” Except me, because mine do, and I’m reminded of it every time I ride. I was amazed at how ignorant I was of basic traffic skills the couple of times I rode with Jim Hannon’s BCCC group. My default mode of “blow the stops,” and “consider red lights as advisements only” was the tip of the iceberg.

Lane control riding also required a new set of skills. Yet while I noticed — and notice — my traffic skills deficiencies, I also notice that there’s not one bike dork I’ve met yet whose wheel I’d take if the pace ever got over 21 mph, much less if it happened in a group. The bike dork, for all his traffic skill, is a hopeless threat when the pace picks up and the group gets congested.

This is where the auto-racing analogy breaks down. You will never simulate race car conditions on normal streets, i.e. tightly packed, one-way, high speed roadways with vehicles going well over 100 mph. But you will always, if you’re a racer geek, find yourself in tight bunches going at race speeds even on “easy” days. The useless car racing skills that are not relevant to traffic skills in a car become highly relevant if you’re a recreational rider who does “the Saturday ride.”

As a racer geek, I view the bike dork with great skepticism when he or she starts telling me what’s safe or where I should ride. “What the fuck do you know?” I think. “I’d drop you like a heavy turd from a tall horse without even trying.” Even more to the point, I do what every racer geek does when a new wheel appears in the group, regardless of how they’re dressed or what they’re riding or how fit they look. I give them a wide berth and pay scrupulous attention to how they handle their bike. Doing otherwise wil put you on the pavement, quickly.

It’s a two-way street

Just like racer geeks hate being told that their lifetime skills of bunch riding don’t count for squat when it comes to traffic safety skills, bike dorks hate having it pointed out that they’re slow, weak, can’t sprint, can’t climb, can’t hold a straight line, and that they terrify the shit out of everyone behind them. Bike dorks find that all the knowledge and expertise in the world won’t keep them in the group if they lack the lungs and the legs.

The racer geeks wrongly see this as proof that the bike dorks don’t know anything worth knowing. The bike dorks wrongly see it as evidence that racing skills are inapplicable to traffic, particularly when accompanied by running stop signs, blowing through yellow lights with fifty people on your wheel, etc.

Both groups are right up to a point. Bike dorks are correct that lane control works. People who do it find it less stressful than life in the gutter. Race geeks are right up to a point, as well. An authority on traffic safety who drops his head when he’s tired or who can’t hold a straight line is a much greater threat to the group than cars.

But both groups are also wrong. Bike racing skills do lend themselves easily and seamlessly to traffic skills as compared to new riders who are still unable to clip in without the risk of tipping over. It’s easier to train someone who rides 10,000 miles a year than someone who still can’t shift properly. And bike dorks are right in that lane control can make the whole bunch safer, and can more easily accommodate unskilled group riders.

One final note from the dorks

Of all the factoids and anecdotes I’ve run across, one of the most instructive was the bike dork observation that you, the racer geek, may not owe your survival to your great bike handling skills as much as you think. Cycling is statistically one of the safest recreational activities you can do, with a rate of .26 deaths per million cycling activities. Compared to skydiving, with a rate of 128 per million, cycling seems to be quite a bargain.

Better put, the chance that you’ll be killed on your bike is tiny, whether you ride in the gutter or in the lane. Whether you’re a wobbling Willy or a stoplight-flaunting Eddy Wannabe, the numbers are on your side. So it would seem that those who vociferously oppose lane control on PCH should be willing to try it out for a month or two, ’cause it ain’t gonna kill ya. Then get back to me and see if maybe you don’t have a bit of the bike dork in you, after all.

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