Life in the not-very-fast lane

June 26, 2014 § 39 Comments

We were riding along, not very fast, in the middle of the lane on PCH just past Pepperdine. A big new Ford SUV pulled up alongside us, slowly, with the window rolled down. The guy in the passenger seat stuck his head out the window. He had a joint in one hand and his eyes were redder than a Bloody Mary.

“Dude,” he said. “You need to get out of the road.”

“I need a lot of things,” Jay said to him. “But I’m pretty sure that’s not one of them.”

“Cool, man,” said the stoner, taking another hit on the joint. “Whatever.”

We rode on for a while. Then, a couple of miles before we got to the long downhill at Zuma Beach, we heard a different kind of honk, the braaaat of a cop car followed by a siren burst.

“Oh, boy,” said Kenny. “Here we go.”

We pulled out of the lane and onto the shoulder. The deputy sheriff got out, cherries and berries flashing away.

“Hi, officer,” I said.

“Hi, there,” he answered. He wasn’t angry or rude or aggro, just professional and polite. “Would you guys all come over here so I can talk to you together?” We gathered around — Kenny, Jay, Peyton, David, and I. “So can you tell me why you guys are riding out in the middle of the lane?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “It’s kind of a long story, but we met with Captain Patrick Devoren back in January, him and the sergeant, and we discussed the issue of bicycling on PCH and enforcement of CVC 21202 and its requirement that we ride as far to the right as practicable.”

“Okay,” said the deputy.

“And we discussed the fact that 21202 has a couple of exceptions that, when certain conditions exist, no longer require us to right as far to the right as practicable.”

“Which exceptions are those? I don’t think I’m familiar with them.”

“One is when a bike and car can’t safely share the lane. Another is when the lane is of substandard width. When those conditions exist, we can occupy the full lane.”

“Why can’t you safely share the lane with a car?” he asked.

“Well, we need about 5 to 6 feet total, taking into account the width of the bike and the natural lateral movement of the bike for those of us who can’t ride in a perfectly straight line. These lanes on PCH are all about 11 to 12 feet, so that puts the total amount of space needed very close to the center of the lane. A car, pickup, van, or truck can’t fit into the remaining 6 or 7 feet of lane space safely next to a bike without running it over.”

From that point on we talked about the safety of riding in the lane versus hugging the fog line; the unsafe nature of the shoulder with its debris and pavement irregularities; hostile drivers; the unlikelihood that there would ever be a bike lane on PCH; the right of bikes to use the roadways; the risk of road rage induced by bikes in the lane; the necessity of patrol officers to interpret the law as required to provide for the public safety; the rules of the road as they relate to backed up traffic and when those rules apply.

I also explained that although there was certainly some risk of getting hit by an enraged driver, in all of the bike-car accident cases I’ve handled, only one was caused by something close to road rage. The rest were the result of the driver not seeing the cyclist and hitting him when he was either on the shoulder or over on the edge of the road.

It was a great conversation that ended with the officer enjoining us to ride with care and agreeing that we could ride in the lane. The deputy was a credit to the L.A. Sheriff’s Department and treated us with respect.

We continued on to Decker Lane, climbed it, descended Encinal, and rode in the lane all the way from Encinal back to Temescal Canyon. We got honked at less than half a dozen times on the way back and got shouted at once or twice. By the time we got back on the bike bath we’d begun waving at every person who honked or shouted, and had stopped taking umbrage at the honking. We saw it instead as a cager saying “I see you. Fuck you, but I see you.”

A copy of the letter that I sent to Captain Devoren is printed below:


Hi, Captain Devoren

Just a note to let you know that I and four other cyclists were pulled over yesterday by Deputy Mulay near Zuma Beach while riding north on PCH. He very professionally and respectfully initiated a discussion with us regarding why we were riding in the lane. It was not hostile or confrontational in any way. We talked about the hazards of riding on the shoulder and talked about the exceptions to CVC 21202 – substandard lane width, or when bike and car can’t safely travel together in the same lane – as reasons that we were not required to ride as far to the right as practicable and were legally entitled to make full use of the right-hand lane.

He shared concerns about safety, about shared use of the roadway, and about his work as it involves ensuring safe use for cyclists and motorists. It was a great discussion and reflected well on your department and the respectful way they interact with us cyclists. After we finished talking, we continued on our way, utilizing the full lane without incident all the way to Decker Lane and then back again to Temescal Canyon. I really appreciate the time you and your staff spent with me, Eric Bruins, and Gary Cziko back in January to discuss proper enforcement of CVC 21202 on PCH as well as motorist/cyclist issues on this beautiful but sometimes congested road.

Thanks again!

Seth Davidson



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§ 39 Responses to Life in the not-very-fast lane

  • Tom Paterson says:

    So much better than “Up yours, Pig!”. Bravo!

  • spinner says:

    Great reading!

  • Brian in VA says:

    Now that puts a smile on my face and gives me hope. Maybe we can even get there in VA, someday!

    • fsethd says:

      Depending on the state law, take the lane!

    • sibex9591 says:

      Problem with VA is they haven’t a clue what a shoulder is on more roads than I can recall. Granted there are roads to avoid, however, in some areas there just isn’t any choice left other than cutting across private property. My observations of VA are some very beautiful places to ride, but no Transportation budget at any level spends a nickel to make a road wider than about an inch beyond the White line. Perhaps a little different in Nova, but as far as Shenandoah Valley goes, Crikey!!

      • wheelinshirt says:

        Please don’t ride your bike in the shoulder. You are inviting a disaster. Ride in the lane as far to the left as legal. The left tire track ensures maximum visibility and provides maximum maneuvering space in case of a too-close pass or obstruction.

  • Sandy Hackney says:

    I have thought a lot about your brave – some might say a little foolhardy – effort, both to secure your rights on the road, and also (perhaps) educate car drivers. I have also thought about the old zen story of the student who got so mad at the thunderstorm that he threw rocks into the sky…But, then there is the butterfly wing stroke that swept eventually into a hurricane…

    Thank you for your courage and watch the f%$k out!

  • Good positive follow-up lays solid groundwork for the next time you have to deal with folks, and everybody likes a little stroking every now and then. People appreciate it when you acknowledge a job well done.

  • channel_zero says:

    This post needs to be the cookie-cutter approach to handling law enforcement from start to finish. Yes, the letter matters.
    1. get lawyer riding bike.
    2. get lawyer in discussions with law enforcement management.
    3. Work with law enforcement management to make change.
    4. Treat in-field LEO’s with respect and meet them at their level. (regulatory knowledge) Even though it might not go well.
    5. Let law enforcement management know things went well in the field.

    We all know #5 is the exception, not the rule.

    Excellent work.

  • Peter says:

    You done great work, thank you.

  • Serge Issakov says:

    This is the template for how to do it right. How to ride, how to interact with bully motorists, how to interact with law enforcement. THANK YOU!

    • fsethd says:

      Um, thanks to CABO, Dan, you, Bob, John, Willie, and all the others who spend so much time articulating the way that this is supposed to work.

      Some super videos have been posted on FB by Big Orange and their use of the lane on PCH.

  • Greg Kline says:

    Kenny, Jay, Peyton, David and Seth, thanks for fighting the good fight.

    But this ain’t going to work as good as it should unless we all (or at least lots of us) do it too. One law enforcement officer at a time, one motorist at a time, they’ll figure it out. It isn’t that hard – just change lanes to pass.

    If you’ve read Seth’s accounts of riding like a grownup on PCH but haven’t tried it yet, what are you waiting for? The benefits (eliminating close passes and getting out of the debris zone) far outweigh the risk of an occasional honk.

    Eventually it’ll become normal and the noobs cringing in the gutter will be the oddballs…

  • Very positive on all fronts. I wish I could say that I’d react the same way. Good karma to you.

  • El Rosito says:

    Seth! You almost sound as if you are becoming a pillar of the community, I mean the community outside the cycling one! Well done. What about the new Calif. law which I believe is in effect or will be soon, requiring vehicles to pass no closer than 3 or maybe 5 feet adjacent to a cyclist when overtaking a cyclist? This would bolster your case and make most lanes too narrow for a cager to legally pass a cyclist; thereby expanding the opportunities to “seize the lane” exponentially! There was no mention of this law in your piece. Why?

    • fsethd says:

      Becuz I fergot about it.

    • The new “only 3 feet pretty please” law is nearly irrelevant, because it’s very unusual to find a lane that’s wide enough to safely share side-by-side. The 3-foot law matters only to cyclists who prefer to ride at the edge or in the gutter, offering to share their lane that’s too narrow.

      A cyclist controlling the lane gets far more than 3 feet passing clearance because all the passing traffic moves to the other lane – waay more than 3 feet away.

  • Tamar T. says:

    Very well written letter with no profanity. Me thinketh beer wasn’t involved.

  • Tamar T. says:

    “I also explained that although there was certainly some risk of getting hit by an enraged driver, in all of the bike-car accident cases I’ve handled, only one was caused by something close to road rage. The rest were the result of the driver not seeing the cyclist and hitting him when he was either on the shoulder or over on the edge of the road.” What a powerful argument. I don’t know anybody who was run over by an enraged driver, but several who got fucked up by cars who lost control.

    • fsethd says:

      They hit you because you’re over in the gutter or on the shoulder. Mostly.

      • sibex9591 says:

        And why would anyone care about shit that is in the gutter? Outta sight, outta mind.

        We have examples of intentionally being harassed by vehicles who feel it is within their right to teach us a “lesson” by driving as close to us as possible, or to bully us off our line. However all of the actual accidents that result in injury do appear to be of the variety “I didn’t see you”, “I didn’t see them”, “I didn’t think they were moving that fast! They are just bicycles!”, “Where did you come from?”, “I looked and the way was clear”.

        Personally I have only known one road rage incident (I am not sure where the tossed rootbeer float on a highway near the Iowa State fair, nor the tossed watermelon from a truck in Indiana during harvest fits in to this), and actually I would venture to say it was just plain “being assholes” as this pickup drove by us a couple of times (After the 3rd time it was “Hey I think this pickup has been doubling back on us”) and was throwing tacks or nails or something at us.

        Even my buddy in DC says that almost all encounters are “didn’t see you”, though they had a definite RR incident on the GW parkway Sunday morning hammerfest when a vehicle passed them safely in the other lane and then pulled in and slammed on the brakes thus causing utter mayhem which resulted in some damaged bikes, and a broken hip. The driver sped off.

  • Gary Cziko says:

    Seth, the way you ‘splained it to the deputy makes it pretty darn clear why cyclists should control the slow (right) lane on PCH and their legal right to do so. Looks like we are moving toward getting cyclists expected and respected as a normal part of traffic through Malibu.


  • Matt McPhail says:

    Seth has become much wiser and laid back in his old age because back in the day he was well, let’s just say militantly argumentative.

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