July 7, 2014 § 104 Comments
Bicyclists of California, unite!
The Los Angeles Sheriffs Department has embarked on a methodical campaign of illegal ticketing, threats, and intimidation against law-abiding cyclists who dare to exercise their right to ride in the lane on Pacific Coast Highway.
Despite personal assurances given by Captain Patrick Devoren, assurances made in the presence of me, Gary Cziko, and Eric Bruins of the LA County Bicycle Coalition, the department has stepped up its illegal ticketing and harassment campaign against cyclists. Even worse, the captain and his deputies have targeted the Big Orange cycling club in a brazen attempt to use force, threats, and fines to frighten cyclists out of the roadway.
Bicyclists who believe that they are inferior, who support the right of motorists to abuse and intimidate them, and who think that legally using PCH on a bicycle is counterproductive because it will “anger the motorists of Malibu” will be thrilled to know that they are firmly on the side of the sheriffs department.
Cyclists who do not consider themselves second class citizens will be outraged.
After being promised by Captain Devoren at a meeting in January that we would no longer be cited by deputies for obeying the law, the same abusive deputy — Deputy Duvall — pulled over David Kramer on June 29, 2014 while he was legally riding two abreast in the far right lane on PCH.
David was part of a 20-person contingent, and Deputy Duvall cited him for violating VC 21202, which requires a cyclist to stay as far to the right of the lane as practicable unless the lane is of substandard width or unless the lane cannot safely be shared by both motorist and bicycle. If these either of these conditions apply — and both did — cyclists are not required to ride “FTR” (as far to the right as practicable), and they are allowed to use the full lane pursuant to the section of the Vehicle Code that gives bicycles the same travel rights on roadways as motor vehicles.
Check out these two videos, both of which show that Deputy Duvall has no idea what the law is and is simply harassing the riders because he can:
While Deputy Duvall was citing Kramer, I phoned the watch commander who, after patient discussion, agreed with our interpretation of the law: That the cyclists were allowed to ride in the lane 2-by-2 on that section of PCH. Duvall cited Kramer anyway.
The following day I spoke with Captain Devoren, who proposed a meeting — I never heard back from him after that — at which we could explore, possibly with judicial input, the legality of our interpretation of the law, a law which needs no interpretation because it is explicit regarding when and where cyclists are not obligated to ride FTR.
Yesterday, July 6, a motorcycle deputy pulled over a group of Big Orange riders again and cited cyclist Scott Golper for “riding in the lane,” allegedly in violation of CV21202. Scott at the time was at the back of the group and hugging the fog line. The deputy took Duvall’s absurd mis-interpretation of the law even further and told the cyclists that they were not allowed to ride in the road at all. When asked to put the rider’s road position on the citation, he threatened Scott with arrest. He then added that bicyclists on PCH were an endangerment to cars, and if cyclists didn’t want to ride in the gutter they should STAY OFF PCH.
Deputy Young then called the watch commander and told him he was citing “the same group as last week.” It was clear from his tone of voice that the department had decided to target Big Orange, and that they were using this intimidation tactic to get the word out to all cyclists on PCH: Ride on the shoulder or don’t ride PCH at all.
Most incredibly, the deputy admitted to Scott that he probably wouldn’t even appear as a witness to prosecute the case, which means that the case will be dismissed. This is exactly what Deputy Duvall did in a previous case against Greg Leibert, a matter which required multiple court appearances, expert witnesses, and legal representation just so the department could harass cyclists, force them into court, and then not show up to prosecute their bogus case. This is harassment of the worst sort. The ticketed cyclist has to defend himself or hire a lawyer and the deputy just writes the ticket, harasses the group, and goes about his business.
Below is a video of Deputy Young in action, adding his truckload of cluelessness to the body of law enforcement ignorance that already makes riding PCH extremely unpleasant as well as hazardous for law abiding cyclists. That this unpleasantness and danger is exacerbated by the very people who are supposed to make PCH safe is outrageous beyond words.
Keep in mind that there is no law in California that requires a cyclist to ride on the shoulder, and that Deputy Young is telling Scott that he can’t do what’s legal, and that he must do what isn’t required.
What I believed was a professional and honest attempt on the part of Captain Devoren and his deputies to reach an understanding with cyclists about proper enforcement of the law was apparently a ruse that the department has been using to keep us from collective action to defend our right to use the road.
I have taken David’s and Scott’s cases pro bono in an attempt to get a fair decision from the Santa Monica court in which the court will rule in our favor on these tickets and every other one like them. The motorists who pull the strings at LASD have obviously elected to make this the battleground, and it will have repercussions throughout the state of California.
If cyclists can be legally harassed, threatened with incarceration, fined for riding in the road on PCH, and illegally ordered to ride on the shoulder, then you can be absolutely certain that law enforcement will take this very significant victory and use it to illegally prosecute cyclists throughout the state.
Riding in the lane is a matter of safety, and more importantly it is a matter of legality. We are entitled to use the roads only to the extent that we are willing to stand up and fight for that right. Motordom and the police state would prefer that we either ride on bike paths or not ride at all. Imagine every group ride you do for the rest of your life being subject to this new and illegal prosecution of law-abiding bicyclists.
So, how can you help?
- Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Your monthly $2.99 donation will be used to defray the legal expenses of defending David and Scott and to promote activities that oppose harassment by the LA Sheriffs Department.
- Email me at email@example.com if you are willing to actively oppose this illegal harassment of law abiding cyclists. Activities will include letter-writing, phone calls, organized full-lane rides on PCH, and mass meetings of cyclists with the sheriffs department to demand that they stop their illegal harassment.
- Notify me if you or someone you know has been cited for a VC 21202 violation so that I can try to arrange pro bono representation in defending their citation.
June 14, 2014 § 17 Comments
Derek the Destroyer looked at me and began speaking. His speech was slow and syrupy, disembodied almost from the movement of his mouth. Through his sunglasses I could see his listless, dying eyes.
“Wanky,” he said as we coasted down the Latigo bump on PCH towards the filling station. “I wonder if they have any ham sandwiches there?”
We were 130 miles in. We’d climbed Yerba Buena, Decker, the endless undulations of PCH, and the backdoor bonus climb at Zuma Beach. Derek had gone from bonk to the far-away stare of death, and his brain had regressed to its most infantile state, the state where, as you ponder hunger and starvation and the slowly decelerating circles of your legs, the part of your brain responsible for mental pictures of food (the subcutaneous trochanter) begins flashing images that contain the food requirements necessary to keep you alive.
For Derek, it was a ham sandwich.
“Dude,” I answered. “The only thing that gas station has are candy bars and diseases on the toilet seats. There ain’t no ham sandwiches there. There ain’t no ham sandwiches for another ten miles. Maybe the ‘Bucks at Malibu.”
He nodded dumbly. He’d known the answer before I gave it. “But don’t worry,” I encouraged him. “We only have thirty miles left to ride today.”
Surfer Dan and Manslaughter churned away on the front until we reached Malibu. We stopped at the coffee shop. Derek bought a ham sandwich and a single chocolate-covered graham cracker. He chewed slowly, his eyes staring emptily at the bricks on the sidewalk. “1, 2, 3 … ” he counted to himself.
“What’s he doing?” asked Surfer.
“He’s counting the bricks,” I said.
“I, 2, 3 … ” Derek repeated.
“He can’t seem to get past three,” Surfer noted.
“He’ll feel better soon,” I said. “Tomorrow.”
If you Facebook it, they will come
I had innocently invited the general public to join me on a mid-week jaunt up PCH after tackling the morning New Pier Ride hammerfest. This nasty 160-mile, 8,000-feet, all-day butchering attracted a solid contingent of about fifteen riders, all of whom thought that “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
At the top of Yerba Buena, a godforsaken, crack-filled, pothole-scarred, 8-mile climb, we were only at the 85-mile mark. One by one we stragglers reached the summit that the Wily Greek, Surfer, and Derek had arrived at several hours before, and we were all thinking the same thing: “There’s no fuggin’ way I’m going up Decker after this.”
Decker is a beast in its own right, a 4-mile, 8% climb with a couple of super steep sections coming at the very beginning of the climb. In our case, it came at the 97-mile mark, and no wanted to climb it. The easy choice was simply to continue home along PCH. Decker would have been easy to avoid. All we had to do was pedal by it and say nothing. No one would have complained or jeered until we had gotten back to Manhattan Beach, after we were tucked safely into our bar stools.
Sadly, as we sat atop Yerba Buena and tried to collect our wits, Derek broke The Rule and voiced our fears. “Uh, dude,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants to do Decker.”
“Well, fugg those fuggers,” I said. “‘Cause I’m fuggin’ doin’ Decker.”
“Looks like you’ll be doing it alone,” he said.
“No,” said Manslaughter. “He won’t.”
The taste of one’s own words, chewed slowly
As we approached the left turn onto Decker, the Wily Greek slinked to the back and denied that he was really a Cat 1. Sammy claimed that today was a “rest day.” SB Baby Seal, who had manfully ridden me off his wheel on Yerba Buena, stared at his Garmin and tried not to look embarrassed. Toronto shook his head like a whipped mule that wasn’t going to walk one more step. Tumbleweed dug out and flashed his AARP card, and even the ever-resilient Frenchy made it clear that she had to get home in time to watch the paint dry. Boozy and Wheezy shook their heads.
Hoof Fixerman was blunt and unapologetic. “Time you wankers get home I’ll be on my fifth Racer 5.”
So Surfer, Manslaughter, Derek, and I pedaled off to our doom up Decker, which was a thousand times worse than we thought it would be. Like a bad kidney stone, however, it too passed, and once Derek had overcome his ham sandwich attack we pointed our noses home and flew down PCH with a whipping tailwind.
Back at the bar, Surfer ordered four plates of nachos, three pizzas, and a meat pie. The rest of us had a triple-beef bacon burger with bacon sauce and bacon dressing, topped off with bacon-flavored french fries with bacon bits. Manslaughter and I selected our favorite IPA in handy 32-oz mugs, and Derek ordered an 8-oz Michelob Weenielite, which doesn’t taste great and isn’t particularly filling, either.
The ride, which was only 155 miles but had swelled to 180 by the time Mrs. Wankmeister came to pick me up, had already become a legend in our own minds, a legend that could only be confirmed with another large mug and a visit to the ice cream shop next door. Everyone agreed that although it had been an epic unforgettable day, and although it had been worth it to see Derek exhibit for the first time the human trait of frailty, it was a complete waste of time, it had ruined whatever race fitness any of us pretended to have, and it was certainly the stupidest thing we’d ever done with the exception (perhaps) of getting into cycling in the first place.
So of course we’re doing it again next Thursday. See you there.
June 12, 2014 § 132 Comments
I belong to a listserv called “CABO,” the California Association of Bicycling Organizations. It is an amazing place, where traffic engineers argue with one another about whether bikes should be in the road or shunted off to the side in bike lanes, cycle tracks, hamster wheels, etc.
It was from CABO that I first learned about riding in the middle of the lane. I tried it out on Del Amo eastbound between Prospect and Hawthorne one day and it scared the crap out of me. However, it scared the crap out of me less than being shoved up against the nonexistent shoulder and having close-passing pickups shave me by inches.
The thing I learned is that no matter how pissed off my presence made the cagers who had to slow down behind me, they always changed lanes and passed. I’ve never been hit from behind or even had brakes squeal from a rear-approaching vehicle.
Eventually I tried it on Hawthorne. Same thing. The occasional honk or middle finger, lots of (presumably) pissed off people slowing down, changing lanes and then passing, but that’s pretty much it. Riding my bike and hogging the lane was better than scrunching up against the edge and having people pass me within a few feet or a few inches.
Taking it to the next level
After getting comfortable with riding in the lane on local streets I took this method to PCH. I did it with a group of 8 or 10 riders, and I have done it several times since then. The results were unsurprising (to me). We got a few honks but people slowed, passed in the other lane, and left us alone.
I have used these experiences as the basis for encouraging people to get out in the lane on PCH.
Then yesterday I found myself in a new situation. I was on PCH with just one other person, Jay. I suggested we ride in the lane and he looked at me like I was crazy. “Okay,” he said. “But I’m fine in the gutter.”
And he is. As one of the most skilled off-road and on-road bike handlers I know, he’s not the least bit fazed by rocks, glass, chugholes, car doors, trash cans, the ends of surfboards, Cher, etc.
What I found during this little experiment was amazing, and a lot of it was bad. Whereas a medium-to-large sized group attracts little motorist hostility, two riders taking up the lane evokes the Wrath of the Cagers. We rode from Temescal Canyon to Decker Lane, averaging 15 or 16 mph, and we were met with an endless stream of honks, shouts, middle fingers, and plain old-fashioned road rage.
I was tenser after the first five minutes than I’ve ever been in any bike race. This was as to nothing when we hit Pepperdine Hill after Cross Creek. Still taking the lane, we climbed at a very slow speed, perhaps 10 mph or less. With 30 or 40 drivers backed up behind us, I fully expected to be run over.
Cars came raging by us in the next lane after having had to slow to a crawl on the hill, and they revved their engines, honked, flipped us off, screamed, and were livid. Of course the point is that they all slowed and passed, but the other point is this: how much fun is a bike ride when you feel like everyone wants to kill you?
Answer: no fun at all.
When the weird turn pro
On the return ride it was pretty much the same until we reached Cross Creek. I told Jay that I was done, I couldn’t take any more of the honking and screaming, so we rode for about two miles in the gutter up against the long line of cars parked at Malibu. What’s weird is that as awful as the lane had been, the gutter was now worse by orders of magnitude.
Despite the cager rage, I have become so accustomed to the smooth, wonderful riding surface of the lane, where you have better visibility, no obstacles, and lots of room to maneuver, that getting back in the gutter is intensely stressful. The other amazing thing about riding in the lane is that you ride side by side and get to talk. So we got back in the lane and started to take advantage of a good tailwind and flat road. Averaging 22 or 23, with sustained segments of 25-27 mph seemed to result in much less cager rage and not a single honk.
And here is where the CABO advocates have their work cut out for them: if it’s this hairball for a pair of riders who can carry a steady speed over the course of a 100-mile ride, what would the experience be like for an elderly traffic engineer pedaling up Pepperdine Hill at 4 or 5 mph? I’m not easily cowed or intimidated, but the unending torrent of honks and curses was unnerving, to put it mildly, and it didn’t seem like the rage abated until we were cruising in the mid-20’s and up.
In other words, it’s really easy to advocate lane control and vehicular cycling on PCH, but after my experience there’s no way I’d recommend that the average cyclist take the lane on PCH solo. Unless of course you want to!
How educational was it?
For the drivers, I’m convinced it was very educational, although also rage-inducing. One woman roared by us honking and flipping us off, then pulled over about 1/4 mile ahead to talk on the phone. We passed her, and after she finished talking she came by again.
This second time she didn’t honk or rev her engine. She expected us to be there and acted accordingly. I think she was educated by our behavior.
Another educational encounter was less prosaic. At the light past Latigo a sow in an SUV put down her window. “Why don’t you get out of the road?” she asked.
“Because we have the legal right to be here,” I answered.
“Yeah, but it’s really dangerous.”
“Only if you don’t know how to use your brakes and change lanes,” I said.
“It’s DANGEROUS!!!” she screamed, roaring off at the green light. There were several cars backed up behind us and behind her. Several of them honked and gave the middle finger salute.
Still, the implication is that only by getting more and more people in the lane will PCH drivers come to expect us to be there and make accommodations, maybe even to the sluggard dragging ass up Pepperdine Hill at 4 mph. There’s no way to know for sure, but I think a lot of the anger was because people simply didn’t expect us to be there.
What this means in practical terms is that if vehicular cycling advocates really want to make a difference, at least on PCH, they need to get off their keyboards and out in the traffic, preferably in ones or twos. It is hairy and will scare the crapcakes out of you but there’s no other way to acclimate cagers to the presence of single riders in the lane on PCH.
We’ll be out there again this morning, although with a larger group. My sphincter’s already clenched.
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May 29, 2014 § 63 Comments
Last fall a movement began. A handful of riders in the South Bay stopped playing gutter bunny on Pacific Coast Highway and took their rightful place in the lane.
It was like the Prague Spring of 1968, and repressed cyclists, long confined to the detritus of the roadside and the terrorization of buzzing motorists, rode smack in the lane, forcing drivers to slow down and pass them, safely, in the left-hand lane. It caught on.
The justification for selecting the dominant position in the lane was legal and practical. Under California Vehicle Code Sec. 21202, bicycle riders are required to ride as far to the right as practicable unless the width of the lane is such that a bike and car cannot safely share the lane. As everyone who rides PCH knows, the narrow lanes (often less than 11 feet wide) make it lethal to coexist in the same lane with trucks and their tow mirrors, trailers, boats, buses, big-ass SUV’s, and even ordinary passenger cars.
Before long, the South Bay’s biggest, most visible, and most activist racing club, Big Orange, was leading all of its Sunday rides on PCH in the lane. Riders who were initially doubtful about the safety and benefits of riding in the lane rather than cringing in the gutters as they dodged nails, glass, rocks, cracks, garbage cans, and the rear-ends of parked cars, became believers.
At its height Big Orange was towing 70 to 80 riders in an orderly 2×2 formation down the best bike lane in America: the right-hand lane of PCH.
Trouble in paradise
That all came crashing down one Sunday last October when the ride, being led by Greg Leibert, was pulled over by a pair of sheriff’s deputies in a squad car. G$ was cited for violating CVC 21202 — failure to ride as far to the right as practicable.
Discussion was fruitless. When G$ whipped out his handy-dandy copy of the vehicle code, one deputy advised him that “I been writing these tickets for 20 years, I know the law, and you’ll never beat it.”
For this law enforcement duo, the sight of so many riders behaving like cars was too much. Despite the clear language of the law they slapped G$ with a citation.
In one fell swoop this single ticket turned the victorious PCH Sunday riders back into gutter bunnies. All the talk about how it was legal to control the lane was overcome with one traffic ticket. Who wants to go out for a Sunday ride and come home with a fine that runs into the hundreds of dollars?
With the same force of Leonid Brezhnev’s tanks rolling into Prague, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had crushed the cyclist uprising.
LA County Bicycle Coalition to the rescue
But G$ wasn’t going down without a fight, and he had an ally in Eric Bruins, policy director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Eric had been working for months to arrange a meeting with the captain of the Agoura Hills Substation, which has jurisdiction of PCH all the way from Santa Monica to the county line.
When Captain Pat Devoren met with Eric, me, and Dr. Gary Cziko earlier this year, I laid out our chief complaint with riding on PCH: the lane was the only safe place to ride, it was legal for us to be there, and the sheriff’s department was illegally writing citations. After a few minutes, Captain Devoren raised his hand and smiled. “Guys,” he said, “I get it. I’m a bicyclist.”
We all looked at each other in amazement. A bicyclist in charge of law enforcement on PCH? The dogs must be crazy.
We continued the discussion for a while with Captain Devoren –an incredibly polite and professional man — and the sergeants who were also in the meeting. Some skepticism was expressed that riding in the lane was safe, but when we detailed the dangers of riding in the gutter, they agreed. “Anyway,” one of them said, “it’s the law.”
At the end of the meeting Captain Devoren told us that he would inform his deputies regarding the proper interpretation of CVC 21202 and that henceforth cyclists would no longer be cited for failure to ride to the right on those sections of PCH where doing so was unsafe, hazardous, or where the lane could not safely be shared with a car. The three of us walked out of the meeting in a daze. We felt like we hadn’t so much won a battle as gained an ally.
It was too good to be true but … there was still that matter of the ticket.
G$ and I showed up in Santa Monica traffic court on Tuesday morning. He had pled “not guilty” and we were going to try his case in front of the judge. Rather than descending into a he-said, she-said confrontation with the officer who wrote the ticket, we came armed to the teeth with two of the finest expert witnesses in the business.
It was the largest display of legal firepower to fight a traffic infraction that the court had seen in a while. Dr. Gary Cziko was going to be our first weapon, beating back the state’s assault on our right to ride in the lane with his unpronounceable last name. The strategy was that by the time the court had figured out how to spell it, then say it properly (Psycho? Seeko? Cheeseko?), they’d be so tired of the case that they’d acquit just to move things along.
If the slavic name stratagem failed, Gary had brought three gigantic exhibits showing the amount of space in lanes of varying width when the lane was shared by a bike and a vehicle. These exhibits would clearly demonstrate how deadly it is when a bike has to be in the lane on PCH with a fast-moving vehicle.
We planned to lay a foundation as to Gary’s expertise in cycling safety by pointing to his three decades as a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, his certification as a cycling instructor by the League of American Wheelemen and Cycling Savvy, and the scruffy patch of unshaved facial hair he’d missed in his morning shave.
We would further cement his qualifications as a cyclist to opine on the safety of the lane where G$ was ticketed by pointing out the bike helmet he brought into the courtroom, his giant commuter backpack, the strap around his ankle to keep his slacks out of the chain, and if necessary we’d take the judge out to the front of the courthouse where he could see Gary’s commuter rig chained to the flagpole, a misdemeanor. (Kidding. Gary would never chain his bike to a flagpole.)
After putting on the killer testimony of our hired gun Dr. Cziko, we planned to storm the battlements with the erudite and nattily-dressed Eric Bruins. Eric would testify regarding safe lane widths, standard lane width determinations under a variety of federal design regulations, and would further opine that the point at which G$ was ticketed could not have been safely occupied by a bike and a vehicle, and therefore G$’s decision to control the center of the lane was legal and defensible and the safest possible option.
After stabbing the twitching carcass of the police state with these sharpened harpoons, we planned to save the final bludgeoning to the head for last. We would put G$ himself on the stand.
In preparation for his testimony, our hero had shaved, brushed his teeth, bathed, put on deodorant, whacked the four inches of dust off his blazer with a carpet beater, and taken a 2-hour YouTube course on “How to Tie a Necktie without Strangling Yourself.” He was clean and buffed, his hair was combed, and he had even decided to wait until after the trial before re-dying his hair with his signature electric orange coiffe.
I had spent the previous six months preparing for this momentous trial, which I knew would be the defining moment of my career. I’d carefully analyzed every detail of the seminal CVC 21202 Supreme Court case, Pooky v. Festersore. In Pooky, cyclist Blood E. Festersore had been cited for “running” a red light. The arresting officer, Fluffer Pooky, had cited him for conspiracy to overthrow the government and Festersore received a life sentence.
In its landmark decision, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for a unanimous court said this: “Guns. Benghazi. Obamacare is for commies.”
Victory for the little people
As the court came to order, Judge Kahn looked up. “The following cases are dismissed due to the citing officer’s failure to appear for court today. Case No. 292811, Greg Leibert.”
We threw our hands up in the air and began hugging. G$ broke down into uncontrollable sobs, relieved at the thought that he wouldn’t have to pay the $221 fine, and would only have to pay $4,000 for my legal services and $15,000 in expert witness fees.
Camera crews from CBS, NBC, and Pornhub.com captured every moment of the victory celebration, and the other people in court, although they would have clapped, instead cursed and threw cigarette butts at us for being lucky enough not to have to go to trial. After interviews with major news media, we went over to a coffee shop to debrief.
Everyone was amazed at the withering cross examination I would have unleashed, and we thanked Eric and Gary for the devastating expert testimony that they would have used to crush the state’s case. The credibility and forcefulness of the testimony that G$ would have given was so brilliant that we clapped him on the back for how great he would have been and how amazing we would have felt listening to him.
Of course the true import of Greg’s case is that as a result of our discussion with Captain Devoren, the Sheriff’s Department appears to have accepted that controlling the lane on PCH is in fact legal, and CVC 21202 citations will not be issued for riders who safely and legally occupy the full lane. Let’s hope that riders will begin to take advantage of this new development, and get back to the joyful days of last fall, when we could, with nary a care in the world, cruise the best bike lane in America.
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May 5, 2014 § 27 Comments
I teed up at 9:20 AM. There were sixty other old people, all over the age of 50. The checkered flag fell and we clipped into various levels of anxiety. Me, I, mine was minimal because it was just another bicycle race and the worst that could happen was death.
Roger had smoothed out the course from its heyday in 2009. That was my first and only attempt, when we spit down the quick hill onto a hard right-hander. There is a channel across the street when you hit the turn, and back in the bad old days the disorganizers had only shut down half of PCH, which meant you went screaming, flying, then oh-shit-Mary-mother-of-dog gimme a fucking handful of the biggest brakes you got because you were following the numbnuts in front of you who was following the numbnuts in front of him who was following the numbnuts in front of him who was coming in way too hot, hot like honey-I’m-so-glad-to-be-home-after-three-months-on-the-road-hot, and by the time the bad, broken tune of the accordion effect had reached you, mid-pack, you were squealing brakes and coming too damned fast too damned close to the giant steel barricades that cordoned off the highway.
Chris Hahn’s brother had flipped his bike and broke his frame and his wheels and shattered his hip that day. The medic tent had been a MASH unit, and none of that bothered me nearly as much as this, the terrible nightmare I still have and see with the same Technicolor I saw it in 2009: the giant, wet, glistening red pool of blood in the turn, a pool augmented lap by lap, race by race until it was a bona fide puddle of gore.
Progress in the name of sport
Today there was none of that. The course took the full two lanes on PCH and the inconvenienced commuters, made minutes late for their afternoon drunken stupor, could either stew in their juices or pull over and hop into the beer garden. Many did.
We were off and running, forty minutes of sad testosterone, sagging skin, incipient melanoma, drippy urinary tracts, and memories of what we thought we used to be but in fact never really were. I sat at the back and cruised through the turns.
It is easy racing in a giant blob of old people on a short closed fast course. No matter how fast the fast riders go, the blob goes faster, reabsorbs them, belches, farts, picks its teeth, waits for the sprunt.
Three riders dashed away and their teams “blocked,” which is another way of saying none of the old people wanted to race their bikes, especially if it meant going as fast as the three people out there in the wind. But the blob has its own fears and desires, and before long it came to life and sucked them back.
I may have been part of that.
With old people, even sixty or seventy of them, there are several core principles that define their bicycle races. The first is that none of them wants to die. This differs wholesale from all of the 5’s, all of the 4’s, all of the 1’s and 2’s, most of the 3’s, and half of the 35+ racers.
Those people race their bikes truly, because if you are not willing to die now, today, this moment, then you are not racing, you are simply following other racers, or, in the case of the entire 50+ field, in which no one even wants to get paralyzed or to lose a limb or to come home covered head to toe in bandages, you’re simply pedaling fast. I should note that exactly forty-one of them pedaled faster than I did.
With six laps to go we were all back together. This was the point where that which we expected, predicted, and knew would happen did in fact come to pass. The great unwashed mass of riders acknowledged what math could have told them before they ever signed up: their chance of winning was zero percent. But cyclists are generally innumerate, and it takes the blunt trauma of reality to demonstrate what could have been learned with a calculator over a beer and a sandwich. The blunt trauma was this, the same thing it always was: in order to win the race you must now do three impossible things in succession.
- Move up fifty places so you are on Thurlow’s wheel.
- Stay there until the final 200 yards.
- Pass Thurlow and whomever is in front of him.
None of these things was possible. In order to move up, you would have had to go 35 miles per hour. As an old person, you could not do this. Even if you could, you would have found twenty other people just as hopeless as you fighting for that one magical wheel. None of them would have given it to you, so you would have been pedaling at 35 miles per hour, which you couldn’t do, by yourself, out in the wind, which, after the first turn, would have thrust you all the way back to sixtieth place, where you began.
Even if you had been able to get to the front and barge your way onto Thurlow’s wheel, then what would you have done? You would have had to come around him. How would you have done that? You’ve never passed him in your life, except for that one time before a race when he was standing on the sidewalk adjusting his brakes. And then, even if you had done all of these impossible things in succession that you had never done before singly, and in fact don’t even know how to do, there would still have been the issue of the one or two people like Craig Miller or Mark Noble who would still have been in front of you. How would you have passed them?
Answer: you wouldn’t have, and you didn’t.
This was all a best case scenario, of course. More likely, you would have gotten to the front gassed and done something stupid, crashed onto your chest or spine or neck and had forty people run over your head and teeth.
How to properly finish the race
As a result, with six laps to go the race separated itself. Everyone who knew that 1-2-3 above was impossible drifted to the back. That was most of the field. Twenty riders either surged to the fore or locked in their position. They were still not willing to die, so it wasn’t technically a bike race, but at this point they were certainly willing to kill someone else, which was extra incentive to stay at the back and mug for the cameras.
Having won neither a placing nor a prime, I came up to Roger after the race and congratulated him for having removed the blood puddle corner. He smiled and gave me a free giant bottle of beer, proving that you can often get better results in a bike race by knowing the right person than by showing any type of athletic talent or skill.
On the way back to my car I saw Peta. She waved me over to her table, where she was having a cup of coffee and a light breakfast with David Miller, a Cat 4 who had been willing to die that day and had earned 3rd place as a result. I was so excited to be invited to join her that I tripped, dropped my bottle of beer on the paving stones and shattered it into a million pieces. My shoes filled with cold beer. Peta didn’t seem as happy to see me anymore.
I went beerless back to the car, leaned my bike against it, and changed. I had signed up for the 35+ race later in the day but after losing my beer had lost my enthusiasm as well. I got into the car and drove off, forgetting about the bike, which landed with a loud crash in a pile of gravel and dirt.
Once home I read the newspaper and thought about signing up for the 805 Race Series next weekend. I took out my calculator and ran some numbers on a napkin. “Zero percent,” it said.
“Yes,” I nodded, well into my second bottle of beer. “But I wonder to how many decimal places?”
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September 23, 2013 § 12 Comments
Lots has happened.
Julie Cutts, who rides for La Grange, won two world masters championships this weekend, one in the time trial and the other in the road race. More about this at a later date, but suffice it to say that this is staggeringly, incredibly, amazingly fantastic news. Julie was joined in Trento, Italy by Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, and Tony Restuccia, who all raced in the men’s 35-39 world championship. Although everyone can appreciate Julie’s two victories, not everyone can appreciate the men’s results — 15th, 19th, and 60th. Let me be the first to say that these results are extraordinary. Out of 101 finishers, these three racers performed exceptionally on a global stage, on a brutal course that ended with a 20km climb, in the epicenter of world cycling. Simply being invited to the biggest stage for masters racers is a tremendous accomplishment. Finishing as strongly as these guys did is testament to their toughness, ability, and racing skill.
Cyclocross is here
The 2013-2014 cyclocross season kicks off in Southern California next Sunday, September 29, at the historical downtown LA state park. Dorothy Wong brings cyclocross back for another year, only it’s bigger, better, and promises even more participation and excitement. Even as road and track racing stagnate in the state and nationwide, ‘cross continues to grow. Why? Because it’s audience-friendly. Road and track focus on the athletes, and with the exception of blowout races like Tulsa Tough, it’s unheard of in SoCal to see a road race, circuit race, or crit that’s packed with spectators.
Cyclocross brings people in to watch. The courses are exciting and spectators can put their tents right next to the most thrilling parts of the course. The racers go slower and they come by much more often, and spectators are encouraged to cheer, heckle, and give questionable hand-ups. ‘Cross courses are “parky,” so kids can run around. After racing, the athletes are often found under the tents drinking beer, hanging out, and enjoying the rest of the day. What’s also interesting is that, as far as I know, there’s little or no prize money — and the racers could care less. They’re energized by screaming fans and a fun time, not the illusory professionalism that comes from getting a “paycheck” of $25 and a box of Clif bars.
More PCH tomfoolery
I did another couple of Sunday rides on PCH, taking the lane all the way out to Cross Creek and back. The criticism of this approach was initially massive by the local cycling community, or at least among the people with whom I ride. Then, thanks to a video captured by a biker on Sunday, I saw an entire crew of “gutter bunnies,” 50 riders strong, taking the lane. So that’s awesome. One disappointment has been the almost complete absence of “take the lane” advocates, folks who are quite vocal about taking the lane and who spout lots of facts and figures regarding the merits of this method, but who can’t be bothered to actually do it on PCH. Maybe you don’t believe in your method quite as much as you say?
My kingdom for a stem
On the way to the ride this morning I ran into Mike Barraclough, who was sidelined just past Malaga Cove with a flat tire, a short stem, and no stem extender. My wheels are box rim aluminum Open Pros and so they take any length stem, no matter how short, but when I went to the bike shop to get a new tube the only ones they had in stock were the 60mm. It turned out that this was just the right length, so we swapped his spare 52mm for my 60mm, and we got underway. Dave Kramer, also en route to the ride, had also stopped to help. Pressed for time, we took the most direct route from Redondo to Manhattan Beach, which is PCH, and we took it at full speed. Mike and Dave had breathing problems along the way, and we had to back it off a notch to stay together. Then, once we turned on Gould and dropped down to Valley, Dave and Mike blew a stop sign that had a police cruiser parked off to the side, waiting for speeders. This was our lucky morning, though — I put a foot down for the first time in recent memory, and the cop just watched us pedal away. When we got to the start of the ride, Mike and Dave looked like they were on the finishing leg of RAAM. Ron Peterson looked up and laughed. “You were supposed to exercise the horses, son, but instead you done broke ’em!”
Can’t say enough about these shoes
I’ve been riding Bont shoes for about six months now. My first shoes were Detto Pietro. My second shoes were Marresi. My third shoes were the Sidi Revolution, the first shoe with a velcro strap. My fourth shoes were Duegi white patent leather track shoes with wooden soles … I used them on the road and almost died in them atop a high mountain pass in Japan, but that’s another story. My next shoes were Sidi, and I wore their various iterations for twenty years until two years ago I bought the Specialized S-Works under pressure from a local dealer. My feet eventually adapted to them, but the dials constantly wore out and it was frustrating and expensive to replace them. It also felt like a bit of planned obsolescence, so that I could keep spending money on the shoe. It rubbed me the wrong way.
I was given the Bont shoes as part of my team’s sponsorship package. Basically, they give me a bunch of world-class gear so that I can go place 57th in the local crits and DNF the occasional road race. I was skeptical about the Bont shoes because you have to put them in the oven. They are also flexible like well-cured concrete. And the road shoe looks a little boxcar-ish. Once I had cooked them and used them for a week, my feet molded perfectly to the interior of the shoe. Everyone loves to talk about their “stiff frame” and “stiff BB” and “stiff soles” and “stiff” whatever, but it’s a word I’ll use with care for the rest of my life after wearing the Bont.
So, how stiff are the Bont shoes? They are “sailor on shore leave” stiff. They are stiffer than a fused spine. Stiff like glass. When you push down on the pedals, the shoes are so stiff that, if your bottom bracket is sufficiently robust, the earth will flex on its axis before you’ll flex the soles on these beasts. The ‘cross version of the Bont Vaypor is just as good, with several modifications for the rigors of cyclocross. If you’re unhappy with the flexiness of your current shoes, consider the Bont.
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.