After experimenting with riding in the lane on the fastest, most heavily trafficked section of Pacific Coast Highway between Temescal Canyon and Trancas, I reached the following conclusions.
- A large group of 10 or more riders can do it easily and safely with little or no cager hostility.
- A small group of 2-4 riders will get a small amount of harassment in the form of honking and yelling, with an occasional chop.
- Riding in the lane and obeying the traffic laws while politely defending my right to be there is safer and more enjoyable riding on the edge of the lane or in the gutter.
Last Sunday I rode by myself, further testing the practice, curious to see what the difference in cager reaction would be towards a small group versus a solo rider. Exiting onto PCH at Temescal Canyon at about 8:00 AM, I elicited six quick angry honks, but not much else all the way to Cross Creek and back. My confidence soared.
Then yesterday morning I took the plunge, getting out solo on PCH at about 7:00 AM on a Friday morning. It was the worst cycling experience of my life. As dedicated as I am to lane control on this stretch of PCH, I simply cannot recommend that a solo rider tackle this stretch of road riding in the lane on a weekday morning.
I stopped counting the honks at fifty, and that was only until Cross Creek. One driver after Pepperdine got on my rear and laid on his horn for almost a full minute. I was buzzed several times, and although this has never really bothered me in the past because buzzers usually pass with plenty of room, one cager missed me by less than a foot. I was flipped off and yelled at continually.
The hatred and anger fed on itself; as one motorist began honking, others would lay on their horns as well. I noticed that by far and away the most common harassing vehicle type was a pickup, usually with a toolbox in the back or a modified tool rack in the bed. Young surfer types in cheap cars were also more likely to honk, but I was blasted by everyone.
Going up Pepperdine I thought I would be killed. Drivers were screaming and tailgating, and a line of cars was backed up behind me in my lane. A succession of about ten cars in a row honked as they passed. I even got screamed at by a jogger who was running against traffic on the shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” she yelled. I have pretty thick skin and am pretty good at holding my ground, but I was shaken. I’ve never been abused like this before on a bike, and the cute chick in pink running tights added insult to injury.
However, none of this was anything compared to what happened after climbing the hill past Latigo. Firmly in my lane, traffic backing up behind me, I heard the squeal of tires. My heart leapt into my mouth. “I’m going to get hit,” I thought. I looked back and a Toyota minivan packed with construction workers had avoided rear-ending me by a couple of feet.
They were laughing, doubtless from the look of abject fear on my face.
I wasn’t just terrified, I doubted the principle that you’re safer in the lane — at least riding solo on this stretch of PCH during a workday. One of the criticisms that gutter bunnies make about lane control is that riding in the lane makes you more liable to getting hit from behind. Despite thousands of miles in the lane, I’ve never had a cager rear-end me or even come close, but it almost happened yesterday.
The minivan changed lanes and raced by, and a pickup got on my tail and started honking and gesturing. I was still shaking from the minivan, so I flipped him off. He raced past and pulled over, jumping out of his truck and motioning me to stop.
We had a heated exchange. He told me to ride “in my lane,” pointing to the shoulder where he was parked.
“That’s not a lane, it’s a shoulder, and the law doesn’t require me to ride there.”
“Yeah? Well you’re a fucking idiot because you almost got killed. And you could have killed someone else!”
“By making someone hit the person in the car who hit you, asshole!”
“So it’s my fault when a driver runs me over illegally and then someone who’s tailgating him has an accident?”
“You’re fucking right it is! Get out of the road! You were in the middle of the fucking lane! You have the whole goddamned shoulder! What’s wrong with you? You’re a complete fucking idiot!”
I thought he was going to punch me out. I tried to stick to the law and my right to be there, but I was still shaking from fear, and the conversation got crazier. “I don’t give a shit about the law!” he said. “Your Nigerian president spies on me with his fucking IRS and lets all these fucking Mexicans into the country. What about those laws? People break laws all the time!”
The only thing that might have fanned the flames was to mention the 2nd Amendment or maybe Benghazi, or to tell him that it was Kenya not Nigeria. “You don’t seem real happy about laws being broken,” I said.
“Damn right I’m not!”
“So why are you making the case that it’s okay to break the traffic laws? I have a right to be here.”
“Fuck you! This isn’t a goddamned debate it’s a fucking freeway! You are gonna be in the right all the way to the fucking morgue and you’re gonna kill someone else. Hope you and your fucking legal rights are happy! And I’ll tell you something else. You are the biggest idiot I have ever met in my whole fucking life. Goody-bye, Big Fucking Idiot!”
With that he got back in the cab and drove off, but not before I started again, got out in the lane, and made him pass me in the other lane.
Still, I was shaken, and worse, my ride was worse than an 8-hour trip to the dentist. When PCH turned into two lanes past Yerba Buena, I moved over onto the shoulder. My stress level plunged. I was happier dodging shit and running over glass and nails than getting continually harassed.
On the return trip I stayed in the shoulder except for sections — particularly past Cross Creek — where the parked cars are right against the fog line and there’s nothing to do but get in the lane. Moreover, when I did get in the lane I never ventured more than two or three feet from the edge, even though this encouraged cagers to squeeze by in my lane, passing me uncomfortably closely.
When I got back to the bike path at Temescal, I was relieved beyond belief.
So although I still think that group riding in the lane is the way to go for this roadway, it’ll be a while before I tackle it again solo on a workday morning.
In order to make this stretch safe, and more importantly, enjoyable for bicyclists riding solo, much work needs to be done. More groups need to take the lane so that cagers expect us there. Shared lane markings need to be put in the lane, along with plentiful “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage. The people who are advocates for lane control need to get their asses out on PCH on a workday morning, solo, and ride this stretch of roadway. And don’t be surprised at the brown stripe in your chamois after you get home.
Now is a great time to subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay,” before I get killed on PCH! It’s only $2.99 per month, which is kind of a bargain. Sort of. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!