Little does it

There is a saying about beer, coffee, and whiskey: If you want it to be any good, make it in small batches.

Biking is kind of the same. On the one hand there are huge, mass-produced group rides, like the one on New Year’s Day that attracts hundreds of riders and takes a mostly flat, 100-mile, tailwind gallop down the coast. People ask me every year if I’m doing it, and they would get the same response if they were to ask me whether or not I’m planning to perform my own dental implant surgery.

The New Year’s Ride goes very fast, according to reports. You can apparently be sucked along at 30 mph for huge segments of the ride, and the massive turnout means that there are a lot of riders who enjoy four hours of getting sucked. I’m sure there is a fitness component in there somewhere, because the people at the front are flogging it and there are probably a bunch of people absolutely pinned just sitting in. But for most of the riders, I doubt this is so much a workout as it is a chance to go really fast without having to do much work while surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists.

Oh, and when the group hits a light changing from green to yellow to red, they all roll through at full speed.

And of course there are at least some riders doing the ride in FDM, Full Delusion Mode. I saw one wanker on Facebag post that you should do the ride if you’ve “ever wanted to know what it’s like to ride a stage in the Tour.” It says a lot about your level of ignorance if you think a 4-hour pedal with a tailwind on a flat highway with 400 idiots of vastly varying ability has anything remotely in common with the Tour, or even with a local SoCal Pro/1/2 crit.

So everything was going fine as the mob rushed through red stop lights and poured through miles and miles of areas where there are pedestrian crosswalks, an unbroken torrent of fast moving bikes with riders pinned at their physical and mental and bike skill limits, each rider carrying a whopping mass + velocity that, if it hit you while you were walking, was going to hurt you badly.

Up to now this whole thing is a poster child for every person who has ever said that cyclists are lawbreakers who endanger other road users. This isn’t about running a stop sign at 6:00 AM when there is no one else on the road. This isn’t about running a red light on the NPR where there are no pedestrians anywhere.

This is about a mob of riders turning the streets into a shooting gallery for anyone unfortunate enough to be on foot. When the crazies in Palos Verdes Estates rail and complain about the Donut Ride, this is the bogeyman they’re trying to pin us all with: Big ride takes over the street, breaks the law, and really hurts someone.

And it doesn’t do any good to point to all the motorists who do exactly that to cyclists day in and day out and get away with it, because it’s just like your mom told you: Two wrongs don’t make a right. Moreover, when you’re making a Bikes May Use Full Lane argument based on safety for vulnerable road users, and your mob is using the full lane in a way that endangers other vulnerable road users, you look like a real piece of shit.

[This section has been updated] But back to the story: Before the huge ride came through, a cyclist on a different ride, in front of the New Year’s Ride, hit a pedestrian, went down, and both were hurt. While the emergency vehicles were trying to reach the rider and the pedestrian, the main New Year’s Day mob was coming through, but many cyclists chose to run the light and jump in front of the fire trucks and ambulance, thereby blocking them from attending to the emergency. Re-read that. Not one cyclist or two cyclists. MANY CYCLISTS. A few riders, i.e. decent, normal people, had stopped and were trying to hold back the bike traffic so the paramedics could reach the two casualties.

Is this even real? People jumping in front of an ambulance to stay with a fast peloton? A person’s life mattering less than not getting dropped by a mob ride? Are you fucking kidding me?

The answer of course is “No.” This is completely believable behavior because I’ve been racing and riding for decades and have seen countless bad falls where the group simply keeps riding. “Sucks to be you” is often the motto, and although there are times I’ve kept riding when I’ve seen a crash and other people are stopping to help, I can’t begin to fathom what’s going on when riders actually interfere with rescue operations, or heighten risk to the rescuers by sprinting in front of them and blocking their ingress.

Okay, just kidding. I can completely fathom it. Mobs, whether they’re on bikes, on foot, in motorcycle gangs, or at Trump rallies, behave the same. People use large numbers as cover for their own bad acts for the same reason that people are Internet trolls and stalkers: Anonymity. Bicyclists don’t have some Good Samaritan gene that makes them nobler than the carholes who harass and kill them in PV Estates and elsewhere. In fact, pedestrians on the beach paths will tell you that large groups of cyclists behave with exactly the same arrogance and disregard for the safety of vulnerable road users that cyclists complain about vis-a-vis cagers.

The nicest people in the world will behave like complete bastards when they think no one knows it’s them. Anonymity is the ultimate empowerment for cowardice and bad acts, and this is a classic example.

In any event, score one for the anti-cyclist crowd. If this kind of mob behavior is what we can expect when huge numbers of cyclists get together, then retributive, unfair, and illegal responses from cagers is what we’re going to get. More accurately, people who already hate cyclists and who have no intention of respecting our safety will use incidents like these to justify their own bad acts. You may not like it and you may think it’s unfair when a motorist tries to kill you, but ask yourself how much sympathy you’re going to get from the family of the poor guy who went out for a New Year’s Day walk along the beach and wound up in the ICU, and his treatment was delayed by a bunch of cyclists who “didn’t want to get dropped.”

Which brings me back to my point, which is that the bigger things get, the worse they get. Several hundred riders going pell-mell through stop lights and pedestrian crosswalks in heavily congested areas, or big groups of cyclists barreling full bore down beach paths also used by pedestrians is dangerous and it’s wrong.

Small groups where there’s a ride leader, an understanding about how the ride is going to be conducted, attention to the safety of others, and responsibility for taking charge when things go wrong are the only way that cyclists can rationally advocate for better behavior by motorists and for better protection by law enforcement. To cry about those who’ve been victimized and then turn around and obstruct aid to an injured pedestrian because you were “trying to keep up” is the worst kind of hypocrisy. Worse, it gives drivers a rationale to pay no attention to cyclists, even when the cyclist is obeying the law, riding in a small group and endangering no one, and it gives law enforcement a reason to continue to unfairly enforce traffic laws against cyclists while ignoring the more frequent and deadly transgressions of drivers.

Do I think you can ride fast and safely and legally in groups on public roads? Yes. Do I think you can do it in an unsanctioned, unpermitted, break-all-the-rules, devil-take-the-hindmost mob that prevents injured vulnerable road users from getting emergency assistance?

No.

No, I don’t.

END

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49 thoughts on “Little does it”

  1. Dan Eitman (yep, not afraid of putting myself out there)

    Well written…as usual.

    The cyclist involved in the collision was not part of the group. He was one of the many that had the good sense to (try to) avoid the annual New Year’s Day cluster*&^!, but had the misfortune of meeting up with a pedestrian-cause and condition of each unknown.

    HBPD SUV was on scene as the mob arrived at the red light at Main and the HB Pier. Fire Engine approaches from the left, and the front half of the mob takes off in front of said Fire Engine…against the red light. Then there’s a couple of winners looking for upgrade points that decide to shoot the gap between the Fire Engine and the Paramedic unit behind it, because, you know, if you’re going to make it all the way to Dana Point, or perish the thought of not being a part of the wedge driving locals off of the San Juan Creek Trail, you can’t do it unless you’re sucking the wheel of the 15-20 truly fast riders.

    I always do part of this ride to remind myself why the general public has such antipathy towards cyclists…and to understand how much negative (good?) will is generated on the first day of every year by this ride.

    I guess the positive was seeing all the other group rides on New Year’s Day that decided it was better to be part of a group, and not hide in the anonymity of the mob.

    1. I agree with your firsthand account of it except from my vantage point, there were more than a couple riders shooting that gap in front of the ambulance. I had riders behind me going around me to cross in front of sirens (I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t see the body laying on the ground 10 feet to the right of me). In any case, some of us were screaming at the riders who hesitated but still shot across the intersection to catch the faster guys. That was the end of the ride for me! And thank you Seth — this is what people criticize most about cyclists — rule breaking and hypocrisy. This encapsulated the sentiment well.

    1. Mr Stone, do a ride with Mr Davidson and he will rip your legs to shreds. Plus he is one of the most knowledgeable and respected riders in So Cal.

        1. I think he was referring to our Cuisinart. I’m pretty good with a 10-lb. block of cheddar.

  2. I just started reading “Blood Meridian” and am comforted by the fact that people were just as assholish back in the good old days as they are now. We’ve just come up with funner ways to clobber each other than all that messy scalping business. Yay humans

  3. Thanks Seth for all you do. Your perspective is thoughtful and on point. Happy New Year it’s unfortunate we are only a few hours in to 2017.And already a story of irresponsible cycling in one minute, is taking away from the hours of advocacy and hard work that so many responsible cyclists put the time and hard work into. Change will come people need to lead by example. I only hope someday the human experience will become less dysfuntional more loving and compassionate.

    1. You’re welcome! It’s a reminder that cars aren’t the only ones who endanger and harm vulnerable road users.

  4. My wife and I rode for a while with an Orange County group with riders who regularly ran stop signs and even red lights. Once, although we were well ahead of the group, we almost caused a train wreck when we stopped for a second before turning right on a red light at a busy intersection.

    We both feel strongly about bicycle advocacy, and we donate to bike advocacy groups. We both feel that an important part of getting respect from car drivers is to obey the rules of the road.

    Due to our beliefs, we no longer ride with that Orange County group.

    1. Thanks for supporting advocacy. There are multiple fronts, and improving cyclists’ riding is a huge one.

  5. I believe a good chunk of the mentality is testosterone induced. People do a lot of stupid, douchebag behaviors in order to hit a PR on a Strava segment, etc.

    1. Personally, I’d like to see the cops start busting cyclists for “Street Racing.” If common decency won’t inspire them, perhaps a nice $1000 fine would.

  6. About pedestrians on the beach paths, the beach path I’ve been on has signage very clearly stating “BIKES ONLY”. The Bikes Only path is usually full of pedestrians. To be walking on a Bikes Only path and then complain about the bikes is the height of chutzpah. And a nose-snub to everyone’s safety.

    For a cyclist or a pedestrian endanger others by careless behavior under any circumstance is inexcusable.

    Everybody’s wrong.

    1. True, but if you go by the vulnerable road user theory, the guiding principle is watch out for the weaker party, no matter how stupid or errant or in violation of the law they may be. And the path up past Santa Monica is mixed use. Wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen someone on a TT rig blasting along that thing, not to mention the huge groups that swarm it. Another great reason to stay on the roads, lit up, in the lane.

  7. Here’s my summary of your post in two sentences:

    1) Treat pedestrians as you want car drivers to treat you.
    2) Treat first responders as if they are on the way to treat one of your loved ones.

    Oh… a third one:
    3) Don’t be a dick!

  8. I’ve always been curious if the phenomena described is a SoCal thing or does it occur pretty much everywhere?
    The coastal “bike path” (often a total misnomer) TT dudes are profoundly dumb and I would guess that it originates with someone even dumber making a strava segment out of said bike path. I see more than a few of these type strava segments on the campus where I work. I cannot think of a better way to get bikes banned from campus than because of the antics of a select few strava hardmen.
    So far the inside downhill at Torrey Pines (not on campus) is the biggest loss I’ve seen locally; total bummer as that was one of the most scenic spots for a workout you’ll find anywhere

  9. Great post as usual, Seth. But may I pick one tiny nit? I hate to, but may I? Please note that until we really have self-driving vehicles out there, “cars” do not do anything “to cyclists day in and day out and get away with it. . . .” *Drivers* do. I was going to let this go by, but then you did it again in your response to John at 10:55 a.m.

  10. Yeah, good rant. Much less egregious, but I saw a few instances on large rides this past weekend where there were 1-2 cars at a red waiting to turn right, and the fast guys swarmed those couple of cars to make the same right turn, not wanting to have to stop. Meaning those couple of cars had to wait for a swarm of 50 cyclists to stream around them (both sides, of course). Proper thing to do is just let those couple of cars clear.

    In small groups it’s much more acceptable to jump the line and get in front of cars. Though still sometimes questionable. With large groups it quickly turns into a shit show.

  11. I’ll admit that I did the ride last year despite my better (or worse) judgment after abstaining from it for more than a decade. I didn’t do the full ride last year or any other year in which I rode. I was surprised that the group stopped at some stop lights last year as my previous experiences were that stopping wasn’t an option.

    This year I intended to ride at the back for while to get a few “free” miles behind the pack before I diverted to do a more solitary New Year’s Day ride. Instead, I was a minute late and I ended up riding through packs of riders who got jettisoned pretty quickly from the ride. I was near the front of one of those packs when I saw the emergency vehicles at the HB Pier. I slowed hoping that no one would rear end me and as we slowly rode around the vehicles I saw that the rider on the ground was a friend and teammate. I waved and shouted frantically that I was moving (slowly) to the right and stopping. Some moron passed me on the right.

    When I got to the scene the paramedics were getting ready to cart my friend away and another teammate, who had been there for a while, said that everything was under control. So after just a couple of minutes I left. Shortly after riding away I was behind another large group and the ambulance carrying my friend was approaching from behind, sirens blaring. To my amazement, this group kept riding in the traffic lane on PCH (there is no shoulder in this area) as the ambulance approached. I yelled for people to stop. I stopped but the group only slowed and barely moved closer to the side of the right-hand lane as the ambulance passed. Your words mimicked my thoughts at the time:

    “Is this even real? People jumping in front of an ambulance to stay with a fast peloton? A person’s life mattering less than not getting dropped by a mob ride? Are you fucking kidding me?”

    I never saw the pedestrian in my few minutes at the accident scene. I hope the individual is okay. My teammate needs surgery on his broken kneecap.

    Not sure what kind of surgery SoCal cyclists need to fix their lack of thinking.

    Minor point-of-fact, my teammate started with a couple of other members from our club well ahead of the big NYD ride but at the time of the accident, he was riding solo. Also, he and we stop at stop signs and red lights. Don’t know the circumstances of the accident as I wasn’t there so I won’t speculate.

    Thanks for the write-up about this insanity.

    Postscript: As I was heading back north later in the day, the big ride caught up to me and I rode at the back for a few miles until they ran a stoplight. I stopped. (Note: The group did stop at a couple of lights before they ran one.) Several miles later, there was a car stopped on the shoulder of PCH. As I gingerly rode past, there was a rider sitting up on the ground and several other riders with him. I guess the long wind up for the finishing sprint caught him out. Did you see in the papers who won?

    1. Wow. Yes, the winner was on the front page of the NY Times. He won $10 million and got a 5-year contract with Trek. So, worth it.

  12. I too have seen this behavior way too much. Your indignation expresses well the very thing that attracted me to Big Orange. our justified rant could be summed up by their motto, “Don’t be a dick.” But, then, you know that. Too bad more aren’t listening.

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