Bicyclists are conservative and don’t like change, with good reason. People are always advising you about training, racing, equipment, technique, you name it. Bikers quickly learn that skepticism is their friend. Easy reliance on the suggestions of others is folly.
So when I suggested that we all ride our bicycles out in the middle of the lane on PCH today, the 80+ riders were skeptical, to put it politely. To put it impolitely, they gave me the “You’re outta your fucking mind” look, especially when I explained the plan in detail.
The plan was to take control of the right-hand lane by riding in it. We would not cross the fog line and venture into the guttery shoulder in which the PCH rides always take place. By riding in the lane we would avoid the trash, the holes, the parked cars, the concrete barriers, and the door zone. It would be a steady but totally doable pace of 18-19 mph.
Even though less than 2% of all bike-car collisions are rear-enders, we were all still afraid, particularly since only a handful of the eighty-strong contingent chose to ride in our group. “We support you, dude,” one friend said as he rolled off.
“I’m a gutter bunny, sorry,” said Junkyard.
One after another people defected until we had only seventeen riders. We all felt fearful, but we were also committed to putting theory into practice: By controlling the lane we’d be safer, cars would pass us with wide margins, and the worst we’d have to deal with were honks and curses.
Off they go
We picked a great morning to implement. It was the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, and by the time we hit PCH at about 8:15 there weren’t many cars, and none of them were furious yet at having had to spend the day in sweltering in bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic. The weather was perfect.
We started in the lane and it felt deliciously bad, like I was cheating on my wife — it felt so bad, but it felt so good! Of course, what we were doing was perfectly legal, but we’d all been so brainwashed into thinking that the lane was for cars only that the simple act of being there felt wrong, even as the liberation from the slavery of the gutter felt so empowering.
In the first couple of miles we kept waiting for something bad to happen, but the only thing that happened was that cars passed us on the left with tons of room. We could see onesy-twosy riders ahead of us in the gutter getting passed by those same cars with inches to spare.
Then, as we kept going, we began seeing gutter bunnies with flats, a certainty on PCH if you ride the guttery shoulder. We noticed that our bike lane — the “car” lane — was smooth, devoid of detritus, and not pockmarked with holes and cracks. The frantic waving and pointing and shouting, “Hole! Rock! Barrier! Door!” was gone.
Next we saw a moto cop whiz by in the opposite direction. He kept on going. Our first angry beep, and it was a pathetic one, came from … a motorcyclist. We laughed. By the time we got to Cross Creek, seven miles later, we’d been transformed.
PCH was no longer the terrifying alley of death it had been before. It was now our road, too, and we had plenty of room to negotiate it and, most importantly, to enjoy our ride. When have you ever ridden from Temescal to Cross Creek and back while chatting easily the entire way?
Never, I’m guessing, but that’s exactly what we did. The cars passed us, with only a couple of irate honks, and for the entirety of the out-and-back, including stretches of PCH that normally pucker your sphincter tight enough to crap diamonds, we chatted. Not only did we chat, but for the first time ever we enjoyed what is one of the most beautiful views in California, one you never see in the gutter because you’re lasered in the door zone, the bumps, the garbage, and the cars pulling out of garages and highway parking spots, not mention the traffic that’s often buzzing your handlebars with inches to spare.
Note to users: If you try this technique you will notice that off to the right of PCH on the way back into Los Angeles, there is a giant and beautiful blue, shimmering ocean. You’ve never seen it before, but you will once you’re in the lane and not playing Survivor in the Gutter.
Our end game
We got back to the Center of the Known Universe unscathed, with a total of four irate honks and one catcall, from a guy in a convertible going the other direction who yelled at us, “Hey you motherfucking assholes! Get out of the fucking lane!”
We smiled and waved.
But just one group ride isn’t enough. In the name of those who have needlessly died on PCH and other death traps in SoCal, we’re going to be repeating this exercise throughout the winter. We hope that the skeptics and the inveterate gutter bunnies will take a chance and experience the liberation of riding in the real bike lane — not the one filled with crap and potholes and into which texting drivers drift at 60 mph, but the one that is perfectly maintained, that provides a safety buffer from exiting cars and pedestrians, that provides an unparalleled view of the ocean and the hills, and most importantly, that forces cagers to notice us, slow down, and pass us on the left with plenty of room to spare.
It’s an exercise that, if repeated often enough by enough people, will train the PCH cagers, educate them one at a time, to understand that bicycles don’t simply belong in the lane, they are an expected part of the traffic flow and are guaranteed to be there.
To the riders who were brave enough to do something that turned out to be completely uneventful, yet profoundly cathartic precisely because nothing happened, thank you! To those who are unconvinced, I hope that in a few weeks or months you’ll join us for a test run.
It will be the best ride in the finest bike lane you’ve ever had.