The death of gravel racing

July 17, 2022 Comments Off on The death of gravel racing

No, pro gravel racing’s not dead.

Yet.

But it’s dying, make no mistake about it. The biggest events on the calendar have stagnant or declining participation in their “hardperson” categories. What’s more telling, a tiny handful of the same riders from event to event are the only ones seriously in contention. That’s not a bad thing nor is it abnormal: the real contenders each year at Paris-Roubaix or the Tour tend to be few in number.

What’s bad is that after those few real contenders, in gravel racing, there’s no one. Unlike the pro peloton, or even your local racing hierarchy, once you leave those top ten or so competitors in a gravel race (fewer than that in the women’s field), the caliber of the racing falls off a cliff. So every event you’re simply watching the same handful of people slug it out, assuming you’re watching, and in reality, hardly anyone is. To say that the fields lack depth is an understatement.

By way of comparison, today the gap between 1st and 50th at the Tour is 1h 22′ 23″. For 2022 Unbound, the gap between 1st and 50th was 1h 25’35”. Sounds close until you add in this detail: Unbound’s gap between 1st and 50th was after 200 miles of racing. The 2022 Tour had a similar gap after more than 1,400 miles, or seven times the distance. The difference between professional road racing and fake professional gravel racing is more clear when you go farther down the placings: last-place Caleb Ewan, in 157th place, is 3h 46′ down on the yellow jersey. Last place at Unbound 2022? 6h 39′ down. At the 2022 BWR, the results are even more ridiculous: a 1h 25′ gap between first and 50th over a mere 137 miles, a 2h 20′ gap between 1st and 157th, and an absurd 12h 23′ gap between first and last.

Gravel promoters claim that this is no different from marathons, where hackers and elite runners start together but finish in vastly different times. This, of course, is false.

First, the apples-to-apples comparison of gravel and Pro Tour races, both of which are done on bicycles, shows conclusively that the gravel fields are pitifully thin in terms of quality. When you actually compare a European classic like the Tour of Flanders with the gravel “monument” of the BWR, the difference is embarrassing: after 163 miles of racing, the difference in Flanders between 1st and 50th is 5’13”. BWR? Over 1h 25′. At Flanders, first and last are separate by 10’16”. That, to repeat, is after 163 miles. At the BWR, first and last over about 137 miles are separated by, uh, 12 HOURS.

Second, the “mass start gravel is like mass start marathons” is false. In the sport of marathoning, there is no separate race held for elite runners. Competitive cycling, which has its own teams and events separated on the basis of rider classification, purposely separates racing between the lower and higher ranks. Marathons, on the other hand, lump everyone together in every marathon. But unlike professional gravel racing, the sharp end of the spear at a race like the Berlin Marathon has incredible depth. The first twenty finishers alone completed the 2021 course in under 2h 19′, and the top ten were all the equivalent of top riders in the Tour. The top finishers of the biggest gravel races belong to a category known as either “retired” or “never heard of ’em” or both.

Third, the winners of the major marathons go on to compete for what is truly all the marbles in marathoning, that is, the Olympics. Not a single gravel winner has ever even been in the Olympics, much less been a contender. Top gravel “professionals” like Peter Stetina, Ian Boswell, and Ted King were, during their pro careers, domestiques. To suggest that a long-retired domestique is somehow the equivalent of an on-form Eliud Kipchoge, Wilson Kipsang, or Meb Keflezighi is stupid and insulting.

In short, marathons have nothing, zero, zip, nada in common with mass-start gravel racing in terms of field depth, field quality, or the elements that are key to any fair competition such as governing bodies, drug testing, professional contracts, and other indicia of professionalism.

The structural weakness of gravel fields makes ridiculous claims that any of the premier gravel events are similar to the European monuments. Of course you cannot sign up for the Tour of Flanders or any other monument unless you are a member of a selected team and possess a UCI professional license. Claiming that an event with two or three long-retired professionals, none of whom ever won a pro race, resembles a European classic is absurd. And after accounting for the ex-professionals, when the remaining five or ten contenders are nothing more than talented amateurs, and the rest of the 800-rider field is filled out with people who have never actually entered a sanctioned race of any kind, you are talking about some serious delusions with regard to the nature of gravel racing.

A major race with several hundred participants where less than ten riders are contending for the win, and those contenders are the same ones in every race, is boring from the standpoint of the spectator and, crucial to the promoter, boring to the participant. That’s key because the big events depend on repeat business to grow. When you’ve done Gravel Unbound once and finished in the middle of the group, you might be tempted to do it twice, or even thrice. But slogging your way along the same old course for the same old participation t-shirt is a hard sell for most people once they’ve got their trinket and their hangover. “Been there, done that,” is real.

How noncompetitive are these fields? The women’s winner of last year’s “Tripel Crown of Gravel” won by virtue of being the only woman who registered for and finished all three rides. The men’s winner came out of the tiny handful of riders who finished all three. When simply finishing a race series puts you into contention for the overall, it’s a safe bet that the event is not competitive. Hard? Yep; long bicycle rides are like that. Competitive? Nope.

How desperate are promoters to attract riders at the marquee events? For 2022, they’re giving away a fourth entry to the BWR “Quadrupel Crown of Gravel” if you purchase entries to the other three. What’s next, a Quintuple Crown? Sextuple? The idea that anything more than a tiny number of people have the time, interest, money, or fitness to travel around the country riding gravel races is a poor one upon which to found a business, and no amount of hoopla can change it. Nor does it help that the “prize list” for this amazing series, or the rules, or the current standings, are unpublished on the promoter’s web site.

Not to be outdone in silliness, the Lifetime Gravel and MTB Series offers racers a total purse of $250,000, which sounds hefty but is a farce. Why? The overall winner gets $25,000 for doing the best in five out of six races that go from CA to UT to ARK to KS to CO to WI. Still sound like a lot of money? Uh, okay. I guess your time is worth virtually nothing. And if you’re not the overall winner? Prize money only goes ten deep for each gender and is probably going to be in the range of $6,000 if you’re not an overall winner. Wow, a real fortune: $6,000 or less to travel to five or six races across the entire U.S. over the course of an entire year. I never thought that any cycling discipline would make professional women’s road racing look lucrative, but gravel actually does.

Nor is the Lifetime competition open to just anyone: to even have a shot at one of the 40 “racing” slots (20 for men, 20 for women), you have to apply. See? It’s just like being in the Pro Tour minus the prize list, the team support, the subsidized equipment, the subsidized travel, the salary, the health insurance, and the contract.

The reality is that no professional sport worthy of the name pays its competitors in prize money. Nor does it pay them through one-off sponsorships from Red Bull, Floyd’s of Leadville, or Tubby’s Lawnmower and Plumbing Supplies. True professionals are paid with something called a salary via a document known as a contract. Good race results provide what are known as contract bonuses, as well as that amazing thing in pro sports known as a contract extension.

If your business model is living off prize money you are not a professional. You are a gambler. And you’re clearly not the kind who knows how to walk away or to run.

Show me the money

Gravel racing has none of these minimal professional standards, and with good reason. There’s no money in it for anyone except the bike manufacturers, the equipment manufacturers, and those oddball hangers-on known as participants in the “bike industry.” The entire bike industry, including sales, equipment, and e-bikes, is less than $7 billion, and it’s split between a plethora of tiny players who already have way too many advertising venues to fund. By way of contrast, legal and professional services are a $1.2 trillion industry.

The same way that gravel races lack structure, depth, quality, or true professionalism, the financial structure for the handful of people who “make a living” at it is likewise smoke and mirrors. Remember that the bike industry is tiny and that marketing budgets are tinier. Also remember that if you want exposure in bike racing and you have any budget at all, you invest in the Pro Tour and specifically in the Tour de France. Everything else will receive crumbs.

This means that gravel will never have professional teams. Not only do the bigger players already have them in various capacities on the Pro Tour, but there is zero interest from the general public in gravel racing. If you think amateur road racing is a niche, wait til you start asking people what they think about “gravel.” They’ll tell you that it looks good in rock gardens and certain kinds of driveways, or that they hate the way it chips their windshields on the highway.

Yet gravel is a vector for bike brands to sell more bikes, so they sponsor it in a manner commensurate with its significance. Like Red Bull and Yeti, they add individual racers, or “privateers” to their roster of “brand ambassadors.” Or, like Wahoo, they hire an individual racer to do real work and let him race on the side, and race well, like Ian Boswell. As Boswell himself admits, though, there’s zero pressure to perform in gravel races. Why? Because he’s not a paid racer.

What other sport that claims to be a sport has its top competitors admit that they aren’t really racers?

The real marketing benefit for all these companies is in the social media networks of the gravel “stars.” People like Colin Strickland have in excess of 40k Instagram followers. Once he hits the witness stand in the murder of Mo Wilson, he’ll probably have lots more.

Although gravel is a lousy investment for Specialized from the standpoint of funding a team and team infrastructure, they get quite a bang for their buck by having the top gravel racers as brand ambassadors. This nickel-and-dime sponsorship that keeps riders on tenterhooks from race to race and season to season, with no guaranteed income, no stability, no insurance, and no promise of anything around which to build a life or career, is proof positive that pro gravel racing is a no-dollar, no-interest, seat-of-the-pants craze that has nothing built into it to guarantee longevity.

Staying false to your roots

Another huge problem with competitive gravel has little to do with gravel races or their promoters and everything to do with the false premise of commercialized cycling, which is that in order to cycle properly you need proper equipment. This mindset, developed in road racing, tells people that in order to race properly you need thousands of dollars of equipment and clothing, no matter that hardly anyone who ever races a bike will ever win a race or even get on a podium.

In conjunction with this financial barrier to entry and barrier to continued entry, bike racing is physically and mentally hard beyond belief. The greatest racer of all time barely won 30% of the races he entered. A modern pro can expect to never win a single race on the Pro Tour, and the typical amateur, provided he’s racing against his peers and not sandbagging like so many masters “champions,” can expect victories to be incredibly rare. Because bike racing is so hard and because you are guaranteed defeat virtually every time you race, cyclists have always cast about for an easy way to feel like a winner without actually winning a bike race.

The first misbegotten child of this “participation” mentality was the century ride. These were explicitly non-sanctioned non-races that people who can’t win in a real race often signed up for and tried to “win.” Everyone else was simply doing it “for fun,” a complete lie when you saw people’s reactions to mistakes in the “results.” The difference between 876 and 877 was everything, really.

The second child of the participation mentality was the gran fondo, an actual race that wasn’t a race. The gran fondo, like the century, was a place where unsuccessful bike racers could find success in a non-race that was actually a race. In essence the fondo was a century, often literally, on steroids. But the fondo boom busted, too. Where there were once fondos tucked into every nook and cranny weekend from January to December, only a handful remain. Levi’s Gran Fondo, which rumor has it once attracted 7,000+ riders, now caps entry at 2,500, allegedly to maintain safety and ride quality, but more likely due to the fondo craze having dried up and gone away, because craze.

Bleeding over between fondos and centuries, sometime around 2010 there was a cyclocross craze. This lasted an exceedingly short while. Although racing ‘cross allowed consumers to buy a whole new rig and clown costume, the unforgiving reality of cyclocross is forty-five minutes of absolutely unrelenting pain. Whereas the century and fondo had lots of room for the feeble and faint of heart, cyclocross tosses you into the wood chipper every single time. There is no “party grupetto” in cyclocross.

So that fad waned because it turned out to be the one thing that people don’t want, which is a real bike race. Sure, there were people in the early days who could show up to a Brad House event in PV, score a win, and “upgrade” to Cat 1, but even that level of sandbagging hurt, it took place in shitty weather, and it was often accompanied by that most-unwished-for thing, the bicycle-falling-off-incident and ensuing ouchies. The ultimate dagger in the heart of cyclocross, on top of its unimaginable pain, was that it required real skills. People who saw ‘cross as a way to race without racing were soon educated, and after a few seasons the fad faded.

Enter the gravel

And so it made perfect sense that some clever person would look at the key qualities of ‘cross and fondo/centuries most appealing to the average cyclist and identify those qualities as 1) new bike and 2) participation t-shirt. Gravel was thus born. It required a whole new rig, a whole new vocabulary, and it offered up the flabby ethos of “everyone’s a winner” in spades and a custom kit. This ethos is euphemistically called the amazing gravel community, but make no mistake about it, the allure of gravel racing is that it’s not a race for any but a tiny few. For everyone else it’s about the PR, the gnar, the sufferfest, trading turns at the front, the cray-cray mechanicals, the gumbo mud, and the camaraderie of the big drunkfest at the end of the ride-I-mean-race.

Gravel racing also thrived because of its refusal to drug test. There can be no doubt that many gravel racers dope, but as a form of racing that covers up its drug use by claiming to be “grass roots” and independent from organizing bodies, everyone can pretend that the winners are racing clean. I remember asking one promoter when he was going to start drug testing. “Next year,” he said … in 2017. His events, in 2022, are still pee-free.

Gravel racing is driven by the absence of drug testing. Even the Lifetime Series with its $250,000 prize list can’t manage a drug testing regimen in their series that is anything but absurd. Only three men and three women were tested at Unbound 2022, with no mandatory testing of the winners. This, despite research that shows doping increases as money increases.

Facts aside, gravel racing thrives precisely because it’s a doping free-for-all. Riders like Colin Strickland, a guy who ostensibly has nothing to do but race bikes, turned down a pro offer after winning Unbound in 2019 because he didn’t like the rigid format of pro road racing. That sounds like code for drug testing. It beggars belief that at least some of the top gravel racers aren’t using PEDs. They do in every other sport, but in gravel it’s cool because there’s no testing.

Instead, promoters who don’t want to pay for testing and racers who want to dope all come together under the rubric of “grass roots” and “camaraderie” and “sharing a beer after the race” to hide the fact that the sport is almost certainly rife with doping. This utter absence of meaningful drug testing guarantees that no sponsor will ever get too deep in the sport. Everyone knows that no drug testing means rampant doping, and privateers/brand ambassadors who do get caught, or who, like Colin Strickland, get embroiled in public affair disasters like the murder of a fellow athlete, can be immediately shitcanned with no significant financial or media fallout. Having to cancel your Pro Tour team is a multi-million dollar debacle. Cutting ties with a scuzzbag? It’s quick, easy, painless, and cheap.

Beware of good vibrations

Gravel racing always sounded too good to be true because it was. Camaraderie, grass roots, safe, people engaging in healthy competition … what’s not to like?

Well, everything.

There is indeed camaraderie in gravel racing, a kind of friendliness that you certainly don’t find in ‘cross or sanctioned road racing. Know why? Because nothing is at stake. Gravel racing is an empty bag for the top finishers, with tiny or non-existent prize money, and even when there is, it is never 20-deep, as you’ll find in any major stage race. Gravel racing is very much winner-take-almost-all, and it’s not very much. Purses in gravel are so insubstantial that the half-dozen or so “pros” who “make a living” as “gravel racers” do it through individual sponsorships–there is less team organization and finance at Rebecca’s Private Idaho than there is at a master’s crit in Dominguez Hills. When BWR bragged in 2022 that it was offering up a $45,000 purse to the top five men and top five women finishers, and $5,000 to the top three junior riders, it got a lot of press. But we never got the privilege of seeing a) whether that money was actually paid, and b) the breakdown of who got how much.

In any event, first place likely snagged no more than $5,000; a nice payday for six hours of bike racing, to be sure, but, as I mentioned before, not when you have to spend the year crisscrossing the country, and not when you don’t win EVERY SINGLE TIME. Sixth place spent just as much time and money as first, and his/her payout was zero. Not a problem for promoters; someone will always toe the line in the hopes of picking up a check. But it’s a huge problem if you want fields that have professional depth or quality, because athletes at the top of their sport won’t work for free.

And before you start thinking that $5,000 for the winner is a game-changer, remember that in 2021 it was already $2,500 … and enrollment in the Waffle appears to be waffling. Clearly, most people know that the five riders eligible for a payday will not be them.

This same press release tooting the big prize money also promised a “series payout to be published in February” but as of July and two BWR events already in the bag, there’s still nowhere on the Internet where I could find the specifics of this chimerical series prize list. Likewise, the promise that each event will have its separate prize list can’t be confirmed, at least by me, no matter how hard I Google. There’s nothing wrong with puffery; that’s what gravel is built on. But when you’re trying to establish something as an actual competitive event that has meaningful prizes, it’s worse than dishonest to hint at big prize lists that somehow never get publicized.

Where there’s nothing to fight over, i.e. compete over, camaraderie does ensue. But that camaraderie of having someone help you plug a tire isn’t enough to make you sign up for the Grinduro for a fifth time. So what about grass roots?

Well, I’d ask what that even means? Smoking a joint after the race? Not having to buy a license? Not having to pee in a cup? The idea that your event is simply made up by a couple of nice folks and their friends may take away some of the hostility and formality of referees and governing bodies, but it also takes away those things called rules, because in the main there are none, and in the main, there is no way to enforce them. Why would that be? As mentioned earlier, rules mean doping controls, and no one in gravel wants that. But doping aside, it’s because nothing is at stake. When you line up with 800 people, you’re going to be pack fodder and you know it.

Safety, though, that is a big deal. Real bike racing is real fucking dangerous. And compared to spinning your bike along a fire road in between doobies, the hazards of racing on the road are significant indeed. Gravel racing fields like the BWR may have several hundred entrants in a mass start, but they generally spread out very quickly. Slower speeds mean less serious injuries, and softer surfaces mean softer landings. Problem is, and I’ll get back to this, is that you don’t have to pay a $250 entry fee to enjoy the security of riding on dirt roads. People may enjoy the safety of doing gravel races-I-mean-rides, but they quickly learn that they can get all the benefits and none of the cost without signing up for these wildly expensive events and simply riding at home with a friend or two.

Of course the thing that people love to point out most of all is “healthy people engaged in healthy competition.” Okay, fine. I actually agree with that. But you’re not really bike racing when you’re finishing two, three, four, or twelve hours down on the winner. The remaining 775 riders are simply paying to fund a bike race between a handful of unexceptional ex-professional riders and amateurs who don’t want to drug test. The pack fill is competing for a PR or trying to improve on last year’s time or simply trying to finish. And guess what? You don’t need to spend $250 and fly to North Carolina to get that kind of competition on a bike. In fact, you can get it for free on something called “Strava” or for a modest fee on something called “Zwift.” Google it …

Go big or go home

Unfortunately for many of the marquee event promoters, gravel racers by the thousands are going home. Why? Because “home” offers a whole host of gravel races that are dirt cheap (heh, heh), nearby, and that offer all the supposed camaraderie and grass roots and blah blah blah of the big events. Also, you have a much better chance of placing in a small, local gravel race than you do against ex-Pro Tour riders, however long in the tooth they may be. I once met a trio of guys who had come down to San Diego to do the BWR from Anchorage. “How was it?” I asked.

“It was fun,” one guy said.

“It was really hard,” the other guy said.

“Coming back next year?” I asked.

They all laughed in unison. “No way,” said the third.

This doesn’t mean that the marquee events are going to dry up and blow away. It’s worse than that. They’re going to decline to about half their current registrations over the next few years, and become the niche events that fondos, centuries, and ‘cross all became. It’s hard to imagine that a promoter in a major urban area, after paying for permits, space, staff, advertising, marketing, and services like toilets and timing would net more than $30,000 or $40,000 in the most miraculous of times. That’s a terrible return for what is a year-round job, and a business where the income arrives in one big wham, after which you have to eke out an existence the rest of the year on whatever you earned from the prior one. Hope the wife has a good job with health insurance and a 401k. An inheritance wouldn’t be bad, either.

With prospects like these, it’s no wonder that gravel race promoters look so sad and haggard, and you can read it in their advertising hype. Where these events were once mythical and you were “lucky” to get a spot before registration filled up the day after opening, where racers once had their USAC licenses vetted carefully to make sure they were racing in the right “wave,” where the mantra was “you aren’t worthy,” well, the tune has changed considerably.

Now the events never fill up. Now there is a desperate begging tone, “Sign up for three, get the fourth free!” wheedles the Quadrupel-Doopel of Grovel. Now the emphasis is on personal fulfillment, on the life-changing nature of the event, a kinder and gentler hardest-thing-you-have-ever-done-or-will-do, unless of course you opt for the 25-mile cupcake version or, my favorite, the e-bike category.

When I did the first BWR in 2013 there was one category and it was called “Long, difficult, invitation-only, free.” Now you can choose from a Waffle, a Wafer, a Wanna, and previous editions even had e-bikes. If you think this hasn’t dumbed down gravel, you’re wrong, because now more people do the shorter, easier versions than the original beatdowns that gave the events such cachet.

The trend isn’t good if you’re pushing the idea of a hard day in the saddle. In 2019 there were about 959 wafflers and 661 everything-elsers. In 2021, 701 Wafflers and 774 no-thanks-ers, and in 2022, 905 wafflers and 863 uh-uh-ers. Same goes for Unbound, a far bigger and more prestigious event; in 2022 1,136 riders did the full 200-mile route, whereas 1,837 decided they’d have the baby enchilada. The message is clear: people want easier. Can you say “e-bike”?

At best, the watered-down version and the full version are nearing parity in terms of number of entrants in many of these events. But with each year, the easier version gets fuller and the harder version gets emptier. That’s a double smackdown because it shows that people really don’t want all that hardman-hardwoman-gumbo-mud-hardness, and it hurts the promoter because it’s the longer event that brings in the most revenue. As is always the case, being all things to all people leads to loss of identity and cannibalizes profits. Not that there were ever many to begin with.

I think you have an eating disorder called “bingeing”

Along with the begging and the attempt to be all things to all people, the marquee events have always made a big deal out of the special relationship between gravel racing and beer. They have beer tents, beer sponsors, even custom-labeled beer to commemorate your amazing participation in something that anyone can participate in. What American gathering has there ever been that doesn’t go well with beer? And in addition to the party atmosphere and explicit incitement to over-imbibe, there is the pre-ride breakfast and the post-ride lunch, both of which are rather amazing examples of terrible nutrition, unhealthy eating, and outright bingeing.

This, then, is the wink-wink that organizers send to participants. Real bike racers, particularly those who race long distances, succeed by essentially starving themselves. Big watts and big kilograms, unlike beef and red wine, do not pair well together. The participants, with no hope or talent or training regimen that will ever get them anywhere near the podium, understand that their real reward isn’t the t-shirt, it’s the alcohol and food binge. You might be thinking that with a formula of pig-out, get drunk, post on the Gram, there’s no way the promoters could lose.

You’d be wrong, because after the hangover wears off the participant sits down and totes up the incredible cost of this weekend of “racing.” Travel to the “race.” Hotel. Registration. New gear. Up-sells at the event, including an event clown suit, special event tires, and if you went with the S/O, the afternoon before the “race” shopping at the outlet mall. And after adding all those numbers up, the participant realizes that he can ride on dirt roads near home, hang out with his friends, and still get shitfaced at the bar for less than $50.

It’s this that is the worst sales proposition of all for the big events. What they offer works once, maybe twice, maybe-maybe-three times, and that’s it. The events that have more than a solid toehold and that will continue to do well are the smaller, highly localized events like the Rock Cobbler. Significantly, it explicitly tells you that it’s not a race. Hard, yes. Race, no. With participation capped at 500 and no pretensions to anything other than riding off-road, it’s a model that many have emulated. All the same, it’s not bike racing, the people who win it are not professionals, and the only rules it abides by are the ones that it makes up, such as, “give angry cattle the right of way.” Which is a really good rule, by the way.

Worst of all for those who’ve staked their claim on big, overblown drunkathons with too much food, too much hype, too much #socmed, and too little racing, there’s a new girl in town. She’s a cheap date, she’s hot af, and she will sleep with anyone and do it outdoors, to boot.

Her name? Miss Bikepacking.

END

Colin Strickland, murderer?

July 5, 2022 Comments Off on Colin Strickland, murderer?

Whoever thought that gravel racing’s international limelight debut would be in the form of a killing?

The story pitched by the media is simple: jealous lover kills rival.

Justice will presumably be done. The suspected killer, Kaitlin Armstrong, could spend her life behind bars, or perhaps even get the death penalty. Mo Wilson, a rising star in gravel racing, will be eulogized and mourned for a life cut short at the incomprehensibly young age of 25.

Most meaningfully, Colin Strickland, the boyfriend-deceiver, will likely resume his over the hill cycling “career” as a “gravel professional” after the appropriate period of therapy and mourning. In due time he should be able to get back up to the big paydays of a gravel pro, which I’d guess are at least $50 and a BWR water bottle, maybe even a pair of matching socks.

But he will resume this stellar career minus his current stable of sponsors, although, true to form, Red Bull has yet to terminate his contract. This is the same company run by right-wing Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschiz who has long supported reactionary politicians, racist athletes, and who has targeted the young and the poor as prime consumers of an “energy drink” outlawed in several European nations.

But I digress …

Why has anyone severed ties with Colin Strickland? He didn’t shoot anyone. He isn’t a suspect. He’s not part of a conspiracy or even an accomplice. In the words of an unnamed source quoted by the Sun, “He’s a douche and a player,” and nothing more.

If being a douche and a player were grounds for losing sponsorship, the sponsored ranks of professional athletics and celebrity-dom would be slim indeed. I mean, “Stray Cat Blues” by The Rolling Stones is a song that literally glorifies the rape of homeless teen girls. And if that’s so socially unacceptable, why are good tickets for their 2022 tour upwards of $600?

In my opinion, Colin Strickland lost his sponsorships because although he committed no crime, he clearly appears to be the person who set in motion the chain of events that led to the murder of one of the two girls he appeared to be stringing along, Mo Wilson. The fact pattern seems sociopathic and all too common: narcissist has relationship with woman which allows him to live the fantasy pro lifestyle that his meager sponsorships in a niche sport would never enable. Narcissist starts fucking woman ten years younger than his girlfriend. Girlfriend finds out and narcissist engages the tried and true “triangulation” of a narcissist, seemingly lying to both women, and appearing to use the new woman to destabilize the mental health of the other.

Narcissist keeps up relationship with younger woman while claiming to girlfriend he’s done with fling; that’s certainly how it appears. Girlfriend knows she’s being gaslighted but can’t prove it because THAT’S WHAT GASLIGHTING IS. Rather than take her rage out on the narcissist boyfriend, girlfriend focuses her anger on the younger woman, who also appears to be hoodwinked by the narcissist into thinking that she’s perhaps still in the running to be the real girlfriend … unless she isn’t … and could he please clarify? It’s all so confusing, which is the destabilized mental state of insecurity and doubt where narcissists do their very finest work.

Narcissist keeps triangulating, sneaks out to date younger woman, lies to girlfriend claiming “dead cell phone” and going to “drop off some flowers for Alison” as cover for swim date and destination burger with younger woman. Girlfriend finds out about it and is now the only suspect in the murder of the younger woman.

The person who’s most likely going to prison or to the gurney? The girlfriend.

The literature on narcissist men is so overwhelming that you couldn’t read it all if you tried, and I’m not just talking about the scientific research. The runaway success of general consumption books like “Psychopath Free,” “Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare,” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go? (Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist)” testifies to the number of women, and some men, whose lives have been destroyed by this especial pathology. And the pathology is always the same: love bomb, withdraw affection, triangulate, then discard. The only aberration from the pattern is that Armstrong killed Wilson before Strickland could dump her.

The signs are all there in the Austin Police Department affidavit used as the basis for Armstrong’s arrest warrant and in news reports, so it’s easy to put together a map of the pathological abuse with which he targeted Armstrong.

  1. Lying about the relationship. Strickland said it was “platonic and professional” and he considered Wilson a “close friend” despite a previous romantic relationship with her. But an anonymous tipster to APD confirmed that the two had an “on again, off again” relationship, and Wilson’s texts to Strickland showed that she herself was unclear whether they were in a romantic relationship or “just friends.” Pro tip: a woman doesn’t usually wonder about whether she’s in a romantic relationship unless there is sex.
  2. Secretive behavior. Strickland lied to Armstrong about the swim + burger date, and took a circuitous route to Wilson’s lodgings in Austin, using an alley to get there and using an alley to go all the way to the main road of MLK East even though uncongested neighborhood surface streets were available. Strickland was probably doing everything he could to avoid private surveillance cameras or to avoid being seen by Armstrong in case she was in the neighborhood, which, surprise, she was.
  3. Secretly carrying on with Wilson while lying about it to Armstrong. Strickland admitted he had changed Wilson’s name on his phone to deceive Armstrong, who clearly suspected that Strickland wasn’t done with Wilson.
  4. Gaslighting Armstrong. Strickland admitted to a romantic relationship with Wilson in October 2021, but denied anything after that. Yet an anonymous tipster confirmed that as recently as January 2022, Armstrong suspected new infidelities. Wilson herself was questioning Strickland about their status long after the supposed one-week affair.
  5. Continuing to triangulate even after Wilson’s murder. Strickland continued to deny that the relationship with Wilson was ongoing when talking to police, even though anonymous sources, Armstrong’s behavior, Wilson’s text, and Strickland’s secret date showed that the relationship was more than platonic. The triangulation had already gotten so severe that Armstrong now owned a gun and was talking about killing Wilson.
  6. Distorting his own statements to police. Strickland, panicked by the arrest affidavit that correctly portrayed him as the manipulative cheater, issued a statement in which he claimed that he and Wilson had only seen each other in “public” settings since the October 2021 romance, even though he admitted in the affidavit that he lied to Armstrong to conduct a private swim and burger date with Wilson. The setting may have been public but the date was an arranged infidelity.
  7. Appealing to his fan base for his narcissistic discard of Armstrong. Even after Wilson’s death, Strickland was appealing to the public for exoneration. He said in a statement that “it was not my intention to pursue along an auxiliary romantic relationship that would mislead anyone.” This was contradicted by the text message to him from Wilson, by his lying about the swim date, and by third party tipsters. It was also contradicted by his statement to police that he was secretly texting Wilson using a fake name on his phone so she couldn’t be identified by Armstrong.
  8. More gaslighting that drives Armstrong insane. Armstrong was so tortured by the triangulation that she blocked Wilson’s number on Strickland’s phone, began cyber stalking her, got a gun, and made phone calls threatening Wilson to stay away from Strickland.
  9. Withdrawing affection/demeaning Armstrong. Strickland dismissed Armstrong as a mere “participant” in gravel, whereas he was a legitimate “racer.” Strickland admitted that when he rode with Armstrong and he dropped her, he got “grumpy” when he had to wait as she wasn’t at the level of a professional racer.
  10. Blaming the victim. Strickland, with the help of willing news media, characterized himself as blameless, allowing the news trajectory to focus on the trope that Armstrong was a crazy, jealous woman.
  11. Makes himself out to be the victim. After admitting his douchebaggery to police, Strickland issued a pious press statement saying “Moriah and I were both leaders in this lonely, niche sport of cycling, and I admired her greatly and considered her a close friend. I am deeply grieving her loss.” The real person who’s been hurt? Poor old Colin. Let’s give him some space to grieve, okay?

What’s so horrible is the way that Strickland’s behavior has been glossed over by the media. Everyone points out that he’s not a suspect in the case, but no one is taking him to task for pouring oil on this conflagration that he himself is responsible for. And that’s partly because the pathology of narcissism is not well understood by the public outside of the word’s use as an epithet.

In fact, sociopathy, a/k/a antisocial personality disorder, narcissism, and psychopathy belong to a cluster of personality disorders that are well studied and well understood by medical science, known as the B Cluster of personality disorders. Although a person can have a variety of symptoms that make it difficult to label the disorder, i.e. narcissists share many traits with sociopaths, the salient fact is that certain combinations of certain traits lead to very predictable abusive relationship patterns. With the sociopath-narcissist-psychopath, the fundamental trait is a lack of empathy. The narcissist simply cannot put himself in the other person’s shoes, therefore he cannot understand why his behavior is wrong. Such people, not coincidentally, have an almost zero rate of “cure” and there is no known therapy or medication that can heal them.

It is this absence of empathy that is the cornerstone around which the narcissist’s main strategy is built. This is always the strategy of lying. The narcissist, in his pursuit of adulation as he hops from woman to woman, must constantly lie to everyone involved. Strickland certainly displays some faux empathy, another characteristic of narcissists, when he talks about how tortured he is to be so close to this tragic crime. But he never takes blame or responsibility for any of it, and never acknowledges that he has lost his sponsors because everyone can see how horribly he has behaved. His suffering is simply his proximity to the crime, not guilt at what he’s done. This is key because without empathy, you cannot experience guilt. He appears to be suffering when he looks at how this will affect his career, not at how the woman he presumably loved is a potential candidate for death row. As sponsors flee and people in the gravel world turn up their noses in disgust, everyone can see how badly he’s behaved. Everyone except him, because NO EMPATHY.

Strickland’s lies are so badly wrought and patent that it seems pointless to identify them. However, narcissists aren’t necessarily good liars, but they are always effective ones. By changing names, arranging clandestine dates, lying about whereabouts, manufacturing dead battery excuses, and always having a plausible explanation for the lie, the narcissist gaslights his victim. Armstrong was clearly so distraught by the dishonesty–is he cheating or isn’t he?–that she was willing to kill the other woman to resolve the uncertainty: you can’t have an affair with a corpse.

We don’t have the facts to confirm that Strickland love bombed Armstrong, the first step in a narcissist’s relationship, but she clearly felt a lot more for him than he did for her, and it’s not hard to imagine that she was lovestruck by his awesomeness on the bike, his reputation as a winner, and his 40,000+ #socmed fans. To underscore the disparity, Strickland says almost nothing post-murder about her. Nothing positive, nothing loving, nothing supportive. In fact, he runs as far as he can from the crime scene, doing everything in his power to wash his hands of Armstrong. He even “goes into hiding” out of fear. This too supports the narcissist’s relationship pattern. First he secures the victim’s love, then he withdraws affection. If they were together for three years and he can’t even bring himself to say she was a beautiful, wonderful person with whom he shared so much and he can’t understand how this happened … then there was something really, really wrong.

Contempt, the next phase of withdrawing affection, is evident in the affidavit when he disparages Armstrong’s cycling ability. Any woman who’s ridden with a stronger boyfriend or husband knows that it’s easy to have your self esteem attacked simply by getting dropped and having the stronger rider wait impatiently, which is precisely what Strickland admits doing. Moreover, his excuse, that she wasn’t a professional, is crazymaking. When had she pretended to be? When had that become a prerequisite for the relationship? He wasn’t a real estate agent with a job, either, and she didn’t lord that over him. When love bombing in the early phase of the relationship gives rise to contempt, disregard, and cheating, you can be pretty sure you’re dealing with a narcissist.

As far as Strickland is concerned, he clearly thinks he’s amazing, humble bragging about being called one of the greatest cyclists in the world (but somehow never having been good enough to ride the Pro Tour), and creating a #socmed image filled with self-love and self-adulation. His Red Bull videos are nauseating, so filled with pride at his ability to suffer, his “all body cramps,” his search to find his “breaking point,” and the fact that he’s such a “marked man” in the peloton.

In conjunction with the withdrawal phase of the narcissist’s relationship comes what’s known as triangulation. The love triangle is of course anything but. It’s a triangle of rage, hatred, and abuse, and it’s created by the narcissist in order to tear down the victim and prepare her for the final act in the tragedy, technically known as the “discard.” Triangulation always brings in a third person with whom the narcissist has had a romantic interest, with whom he may have an interest in later, or who is simply someone who can “objectively” testify to the victim’s unreasonableness/craziness and thereby further undermine her identity in preparation for the discard.

Mo Wilson was the perfect third side of the triangle. She was young. She was pretty. She was far more accomplished athletically. She was the darling of the sport. She was innocent. She had an engineering degree from Dartmouth. And she could be injected into the relationship sexually, via text messaging, via meetings at races, and via private dates so that Armstrong’s already crumbling self-esteem would be ground into dust. For her part, Wilson was likely receiving subterfuge from Strickland along the lines of “My girlfriend is crazy jealous,” and similar distortions of why Armstrong was so frantic. Armstrong seemingly confirmed this by calls to Wilson telling her to lay off. To Wilson, Armstrong might have seemed unhinged, but to Armstrong, caught between the triangulation, the withdrawal of affection, and the constant lying, things must have been falling apart through no fault of her own. This is how the narcissist works: inflict the damage and let the victim conclude that she’s to blame (not a good a enough bike rider) for the narcissist’s sudden interest in the younger, more athletic woman.

This process is called grooming, where the narcissist cultivates a relationship to land on as he prepares to discard the victim. Wilson, of course, is not privy to the gaslighting and triangulation, although she’s already experiencing some of its effects as Strickland keeps her guessing, sets up secret dates, is vague about their status, and likely disparages Armstrong to her. Strickland’s grooming of Wilson is obvious to anyone who knows what’s going on; he describes his relationship as simply “helping” her to get sponsorships and learn the ropes as a neo-pro. What a guy! Generous older man, wildly successful in his niche, kindly looking out for the eager, talented, bright-eyed up-and-comer.

The problem with his supposed kindly, disinterested generosity? The definition of betrayal is putting another person ahead of the person who’s supposed to be first. Whether it’s secret texting, secret dates, inside jokes, or sex, Strickland repeatedly betrays Armstrong without remorse, admission of wrongdoing, or intent to change.

That’s because the discard is coming. The only person who didn’t see it all along was Armstrong. The traditional narcissist’s discard is a horrible, identity-obliterating piece of cruelty. After all the love bombing, all the talk of soul mates, the joint business ventures, the promises of foreverafter and forevermore, the narcissist callously dumps the victim and gloriously sets forth on a beautiful and perfect life with the new victim in a whirlwind of publicity. #Socmed status is changed, loving date photos are posted, and the old victim sees her narcissist waltz off with a seemingly perfect, happy mate who gets all of the love and attention that she was supposed to end up with.

The discard is the most crushing moment in the trajectory of the narcissist’s relationship. The discarded victim is left with nothing emotionally, and often left financially destitute as well.

But in Strickland’s case, things got out of hand no thanks to the fake Second Amendment right of anyone to buy any weapon anywhere at anytime for any reason. Armstrong armored up and she didn’t wait for the discard. Instead, she discarded the innocent Wilson with a few well-placed rounds from a 9mm. Strickland may have lost a few sponsorships, but he literally dodged a bullet. Armstrong wasn’t the beaten down, destroyed woman that he’d hoped she’d become before he shifted gears full time to Wilson. She was abused, she was shaken, and her self-esteem had taken almost unbearable body blows, but she wasn’t going to let herself be discarded by Strickland. Had she known more about narcissism she might have been able to change the focus of her anger from Wilson, the next victim of Strickland’s, to Strickland himself.

By focusing on the jealous lover trope, the love triangle gone awry trope, the media neatly deflects a discussion of cause and focuses solely on effect. The dramatic escape of the suspect who absconds to Central America, her cosmetic surgery, the international dragnet that resulted in her arrest, and now, of course, the upcoming trial in which we’ll get to peer more deeply into the sadness and despair of a woman driven to murder another over some two-bit, over-the-hill, never-was-a-contender bike bum who wins races no one’s ever heard about.

What we won’t hear about is the cause, or at least, we haven’t heard about it yet. Strickland has done a great job of standing as far from the bomb blast as possible and most of the attention has been focused on the women, you know, the cat fight. If you could sum up Strickland’s media strategy it would be “Fuckin’ chicks,” with a sad shake of the head.

However, he’s not unscathed. It’s my opinion that his sponsors in particular and the broader public in general recognize him as a Class A scumbag, even though the news story has focused on the trope of the jilted lover. If he weren’t such a cretin, why would Specialized et al. have yanked his sponsorship? His behavior and his lies are so deplorable, made more despicable by his quotes about the “torture” he’s experiencing at his “proximity to the crime”–a tragedy that, in my opinion, he fucking caused. The general public may not know what a textbook narcissist is or how one operates, but they know a creep when they see one.

And since I’m a lawyer, I have a different take on this mess. In fact, here’s another Cycling in the South Bay opinion you can take to the bank: when Kaitlin Armstrong (what is it about that name?) seeks to prove she committed the much milder, second degree crime of passion rather than a first degree felony such as premeditated murder, her lawyers will marshal an incredible array of evidence showing what a manipulative, deceitful, sociopathic piece of shit that Colin Strickland is. His triangulation, his lies, his undermining of Armstrong’s identity even as he side-hustles Wilson … all these things are going to come out and they’re going to leave the jury wondering what too many women already know: how could anyone not lose her mind when subjected to this kind of sick, misogynistic gaslighting and sociopathy?

Colin Strickland is hopefully sweating bullets as he awaits the subpoena that will put him on the witness stand and reveal him as the sick, rotten misogynist that he sure appears to be. It won’t bring Mo Wilson back to life, but hopefully it will keep Kaitlin Armstrong off death row.

Thankfully, the neo-fascists at Red Bull may still be willing to sponsor him, since “misogynistic narcissist” is probably italicized in Red Bull’s corporate charter, and also thankfully, Strickland will receive the dollars commensurate to a great gravel racer, an amount which, in Austin’s housing market, should enable him to live in one of the city’s very finest shelters for the homeless.

And who knows? His personality disorder may even qualify him for a job at the bike shop partly owned by Austin’s other legendary cycling psychopath. What was that guy’s last name again?

END

Bike law basics: STFU

May 28, 2020 § 17 Comments

Cyclists are pretty good at a collision scene when it comes to refraining from admitting fault. This is in no small part because the vast majority of the time it’s the driver that was negligent, not the person on the bicycle.

However, what do you do post-collision? What do you do in the hospital when the cop calls or comes by to take your statement? What do you do when you get a friendly call from the friendly insurance adjuster just friendlily checking on your “condition” and asking a few friendly questions about what happened? What do you tell friends and family who want to know what happened?

With regard to law enforcement, it’s crucial that you tell them everything as thoroughly as you can for the purposes of the traffic collision report they’re going to write. It’s also important that you not make things up. If you don’t recall, it’s important to say so, because gaps can often be filled in with evidence or with deposition testimony from witnesses, from the defendant, or from crash reconstruction. Inserting what you thought happened rather than what you saw and recall, though, creates a whole bunch of problems later on if the facts contradict your story or if you change your story.

But what about the friendly adjuster who is calling with a few friendly questions? In this case it’s important to remember the following lovely Russian proverb:

The first thing you do, is you shut up. And after you get through shutting up, you shut up some more.

Russian Granny

Why?

First, the driver’s insurance company is not your friend. They are your mortal enemy when its comes to getting paid for the injuries and damages caused by the motorist who hit you. Nothing you say will be used to your benefit, and everything you say that can be used against you, will be.

Second, you have no obligation to talk to them. Adjusters love to make it sound like you should, or you’re supposed to, or sometimes the creepy ones will insinuate that you must give them your version of events. Fact: You don’t have to tell them shit and you shouldn’t. The only thing you should do when the driver’s insurance company calls is get a) The name and number of the adjuster b) The name of the insurance company 3) The claim number. That’s it.

Don’t be faked by them sympathetically calling to find out “how you’re doing.” This is their first attempt of many to show conclusively that you weren’t hurt at all or that you weren’t hurt as bad as you claim later. Never, ever tell an insurance adjuster anything about your injuries when they first reach out to you.

Third, as tempting as it is to tell your side of the story to a sympathetic listener, especially when the common scenario has arisen that some jerk hit you and then didn’t apologize, didn’t call EMS, didn’t ask how you were, and immediately began lying to the cops about what happened, you can be pretty angry and feel badly wronged. It’s natural to want the other side to hear what really happened, and for the adjuster to know you’re pissed about the shoddy behavior of their insured.

But you know what? That’s what they want you to do and it’s why they speak as friendly, sympathetic folks who just want to “get your side of the story.” Even if you handle the claim on your own, you should never, ever recount your side of the story to the adjuster until you’ve had plenty of time to reconstruct it with a copy of the traffic collision report, with witness statements, with review of the damage to your bike/clothing/equipment, and with your own recollections.

Fourth, speed is your enemy and it’s the ally of the bad guys. The more quickly the insurance company can lock in a confused narrative, an ambiguous statement, or anything that even remotely suggests fault on the part of the cyclist, the more easy their battle later on. By the same token, you only benefit by moving slowly. You just got hit by a 5,000-lb. car, remember? You’ve been traumatized, hospitalized, and are simply trying to resume some semblance of normality, and sorry, the “needs” of the enemy insurer are not on your priority list. You’ll have plenty of time at a later date to set forth your side of the story, and it must be on your timetable, not theirs.

Keep in mind that their “rush” is wholly fake, because in California there is a 2-year statute of limitations for bodily injury claims. What possible reason could there be for their “rush” to get information?

So what do you say when they call? Nothing at all. Get the info I mentioned above, then hang up. You don’t have to be polite, nice, apologetic, nothing. If you have to say something, tell them not to call you again as you intend to hire a lawyer.

The last and perhaps most difficult place to STFU has to do with friends and family. Everyone wants to know what happened, and if you hire a lawyer, the nosier among them will want to know the status of your case. The Perry Mason wannabes, or worse, your actual lawyer friends, will want to know the guts and details of the case.

This is another great place to practice shutting up some more. The only person with whom your communications are confidential is your lawyer. Friends and family, with the exception of your spouse (not your girlfriend/boyfriend), share no confidentiality for purposes of your case. This means that in deposition you will be asked whom you’ve spoken with the case about, and you’re required to name those people.

Woe to you if they are anyone other than your spouse or lawyer, because those people can then in turn be deposed and there’s zero guarantee they will help your case. In fact, they will often greatly harm it because they’ve misremembered what you said, or they didn’t understand it in the first place. Don’t expose your claim to the potentially damaging testimony of friends and family who suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of experienced defense counsel.

So what’s the best way to handle these inquiries? Simple. “My lawyer instructed me to discuss this with no one. I can’t talk about it.”

I’ve yet to hear of a client using this line and have anyone take a second stab at prying. It really works.

Silence is well-known to be golden. Now you know why.

END


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Bike law basics: STFU

May 28, 2020 § 17 Comments

Cyclists are pretty good at a collision scene when it comes to refraining from admitting fault. This is in no small part because the vast majority of the time it’s the driver that was negligent, not the person on the bicycle.

However, what do you do post-collision? What do you do in the hospital when the cop calls or comes by to take your statement? What do you do when you get a friendly call from the friendly insurance adjuster just friendlily checking on your “condition” and asking a few friendly questions about what happened? What do you tell friends and family who want to know what happened?

With regard to law enforcement, it’s crucial that you tell them everything as thoroughly as you can for the purposes of the traffic collision report they’re going to write. It’s also important that you not make things up. If you don’t recall, it’s important to say so, because gaps can often be filled in with evidence or with deposition testimony from witnesses, from the defendant, or from crash reconstruction. Inserting what you thought happened rather than what you saw and recall, though, creates a whole bunch of problems later on if the facts contradict your story or if you change your story.

But what about the friendly adjuster who is calling with a few friendly questions? In this case it’s important to remember the following lovely Russian proverb:

The first thing you do, is you shut up. And after you get through shutting up, you shut up some more.

Russian Granny

Why?

First, the driver’s insurance company is not your friend. They are your mortal enemy when its comes to getting paid for the injuries and damages caused by the motorist who hit you. Nothing you say will be used to your benefit, and everything you say that can be used against you, will be.

Second, you have no obligation to talk to them. Adjusters love to make it sound like you should, or you’re supposed to, or sometimes the creepy ones will insinuate that you must give them your version of events. Fact: You don’t have to tell them shit and you shouldn’t. The only thing you should do when the driver’s insurance company calls is get a) The name and number of the adjuster b) The name of the insurance company 3) The claim number. That’s it.

Don’t be faked by them sympathetically calling to find out “how you’re doing.” This is their first attempt of many to show conclusively that you weren’t hurt at all or that you weren’t hurt as bad as you claim later. Never, ever tell an insurance adjuster anything about your injuries when they first reach out to you.

Third, as tempting as it is to tell your side of the story to a sympathetic listener, especially when the common scenario has arisen that some jerk hit you and then didn’t apologize, didn’t call EMS, didn’t ask how you were, and immediately began lying to the cops about what happened, you can be pretty angry and feel badly wronged. It’s natural to want the other side to hear what really happened, and for the adjuster to know you’re pissed about the shoddy behavior of their insured.

But you know what? That’s what they want you to do and it’s why they speak as friendly, sympathetic folks who just want to “get your side of the story.” Even if you handle the claim on your own, you should never, ever recount your side of the story to the adjuster until you’ve had plenty of time to reconstruct it with a copy of the traffic collision report, with witness statements, with review of the damage to your bike/clothing/equipment, and with your own recollections.

Fourth, speed is your enemy and it’s the ally of the bad guys. The more quickly the insurance company can lock in a confused narrative, an ambiguous statement, or anything that even remotely suggests fault on the part of the cyclist, the more easy their battle later on. By the same token, you only benefit by moving slowly. You just got hit by a 5,000-lb. car, remember? You’ve been traumatized, hospitalized, and are simply trying to resume some semblance of normality, and sorry, the “needs” of the enemy insurer are not on your priority list. You’ll have plenty of time at a later date to set forth your side of the story, and it must be on your timetable, not theirs.

Keep in mind that their “rush” is wholly fake, because in California there is a 2-year statute of limitations for bodily injury claims. What possible reason could there be for their “rush” to get information?

So what do you say when they call? Nothing at all. Get the info I mentioned above, then hang up. You don’t have to be polite, nice, apologetic, nothing. If you have to say something, tell them not to call you again as you intend to hire a lawyer.

The last and perhaps most difficult place to STFU has to do with friends and family. Everyone wants to know what happened, and if you hire a lawyer, the nosier among them will want to know the status of your case. The Perry Mason wannabes, or worse, your actual lawyer friends, will want to know the guts and details of the case.

This is another great place to practice shutting up some more. The only person with whom your communications are confidential is your lawyer. Friends and family, with the exception of your spouse (not your girlfriend/boyfriend), share no confidentiality for purposes of your case. This means that in deposition you will be asked whom you’ve spoken with the case about, and you’re required to name those people.

Woe to you if they are anyone other than your spouse or lawyer, because those people can then in turn be deposed and there’s zero guarantee they will help your case. In fact, they will often greatly harm it because they’ve misremembered what you said, or they didn’t understand it in the first place. Don’t expose your claim to the potentially damaging testimony of friends and family who suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of experienced defense counsel.

So what’s the best way to handle these inquiries? Simple. “My lawyer instructed me to discuss this with no one. I can’t talk about it.”

I’ve yet to hear of a client using this line and have anyone take a second stab at prying. It really works.

Silence is well-known to be golden. Now you know why.

END


How to get yourself sued

May 12, 2020 § 32 Comments

Last year there was a great controversy about bike infrastructure planned by the city of Encinitas, CA. A cycling advocate had been catastrophically injured, bike-car collisions up and down the coast highway were occurring, near-misses were a fact of life, and cyclist use of this roadway was massive and growing.

Instead of doing what made sense, i.e. lowering and aggressively enforcing speed limits to 30 or less, and aggressively educating/signing cyclists that they should occupy the full lane, the city chose to do what non-cyclists love best: Build a better bike lane.

Unlike many such bad plans, this one was vociferously opposed by a wide range of riders. One of the lead opponents was Serge Issakov, an engineer and a bicycle rider and somebody I completely disagree with about a lot of things, most especially his annoying tendency to put two spaces after a period. It’s 2020, Serge. You’re not using a typewriter anymore. Oh, wait …

So I may disagree with him about a lot of things, BUT NOT THIS. Serge addressed the city’s plan last year in an email to his club and publicly opposed the council’s plan.

In the latest newsletter from Encinitas Mayor Blakespear she devotes the most space to  describing, and seeking support for, the proposed Cardiff bikeway project, which is attached below. I’m leaving out  information about who forwarded it to me. You know who you are: thank you. What follows before the forwarded newsletter excerpt are my personal comments which do not necessarily reflect the position of any other persons or organizations with which I’m affiliated. If you have not yet already, please let me know where you stand on the proposed project, especially after reading what follows. If you write to the council, in support or opposition, please Cc or Bcc me. Feel free to forward this to anyone you think might care. As the debate over the proposed $400k project to reconfigure Highway 101 south of Chesterfield Drive continues, the mayor keeps learning and refining her words accordingly and very carefully. I think her summary description of the proposal below, and why she believes it should go forward and be supported, is fairly presented, genuine, and not misleading. If only all politicians I disagreed with on some issues with were this good. The hardest part about opposing this project for me is having to publicly disagree with the mayor and council members who I admire and respect. But here we are. As I’ve said before I believe this is a well-intentioned but misguided project. The mayor  acknowledges the opposition she is concerned with, but seems to dismiss us as being 0.5% of the population that commutes by bike rather than 99% of those who ride through Cardiff, ride a lot, and therefore have the experience to know this is not a good idea in this particular location. Not just for “us”, but not a good idea for anyone. 
To be fair, there is opposition to this project among some cyclists. For 0.5% of the population, the current road striping – paint with no physical separation – works for them to feel comfortable biking to work. There is also a sizable active sport cycling community and a number of dedicated bicycle road commuters who thoroughly enjoy this section of road. Some of those in opposition live elsewhere and travel through Encinitas on weekends. Many consider this open section of roadway through Cardiff to be one of the nicest in the county. I also think this statement reveals the real motive:

And the typical road infrastructure of painted bike lanes next to speeding traffic doesn’t make us feel safe enough to choose to ride a bike, especially with a child on board. 

Okay. I get that. But I disagree the only way to get more people biking for utility is to reconfigure all major roadways to have “protected” bikeways, especially if that means discouraging road cycling like this project does. Such bikeways might be a measurable factor in increasing bike usage in some urban contexts, but they’re not a necessary nor sufficient condition in most. Certainly not feeling safe is a factor, but why people choose personal motoring over biking, despite what they may say in surveys, has much more to do with economics, geography, terrain, average trip distances, available inexpensive or free parking, etc. After all, most of us who do ride on the roads got over the innate and natural fears by gaining certain skills and knowledge which are attainable to anyone who has basic bicycling and driving skills. It’s also quite possible that over-emphasizing the supposed necessity of physical separation for safety, which such projects arguably do, exacerbates the very fears that inhibit cycling, and makes them even harder to overcome. Imagine what we could accomplish by emphasizing the joys, safety and benefits of cycling rather than fomenting the fears!

But the main point is that all up and down the coast, wherever people have the choice to ride on the roads or on an adjacent physically separated bikeway, including those riding for utility/transportation  rather than for sport or recreation, the road is chosen by the vast majority of people on bikes. This is true in Solana Beach, where a rail trail is available next to the 101 the entire length on the east side, portions of Encinitas including the new rail trail north of Chesterfield, further north in Carlsbad, etc. We can all speculate on the exact reasons people have these preferences for road riding, and I certainly have my theories, not the least of which is that on roads there is plenty of space to avoid obstacles, pass slower cyclists, etc., but there is no denying that they do, and great folly to ignore it. And by removing an extremely popular traditional class 2 bikeway to make room for a separated class 4 bikeway, thus leaving most people two far less appealing alternatives — sharing a  traffic lane with 50 mph cars or sharing a narrow bikeway with pedestrians, obstacles, and slower cyclists, from which there is no escape — is doing exactly that. Studies of the effects of  Class 4 bikeways in an urban setting with an adjacent sidewalk, and often with an adjacent roadway with typical urban street speeds, much slower than the 50 mph speeds on 101 in Cardiff, are not applicable to this popular beach location with no sidewalks.

The self-interested response to this project from me is fine, since I’m personally fine with using the full lane.  Thinking about my club I’m good with the sharrows, because that’s how our board voted, and it’s probably acceptable to most of our members.

But it’s thinking of the vast majority not comfortable with riding in a traffic lane with 50 mph traffic that causes me to remain opposed.  Relegating them to this narrow space from which there is no escape to avoid obstacles, surf boards, coolers, strollers, joggers, pedestrians, slower cyclists, etc, is just not right.

Those are my thoughts.  What are yours?  Will you let the council know?
To borrow (modified in caps) from the mayor:

If you DON’T like the proposed idea, please consider writing AN EMAIL IN OPPOSITION  to the City Council at council@encinitasca.gov AND/or speaking IN OPPOSITION at the City Council meeting where it will be discussed on September 25 at 6 p.m. Every voice matters!

Again, please forward as you see fit. 
Thanks,Serge 

Public email, Sep. 15, 2019

I ride in North County San Diego several times a year, and the coast highway can be awesome very early or harrowing very late. So I took Serge up on his invitation and sent out the following email to the city council.

Dear City Council,

I ride in Encinitas/Cardiff several times a year and represent injured clients in North County as well as other San Diego jurisdictions. I have over 40 years’ experience as a cyclist, and close to that as a bike racer. My legal practice represents injured cyclists almost exclusively.

I concur with Serge’s email wholeheartedly and urge you to forego the separated bikeway project for Cardiff. The project will result in more injured cyclists, pedestrians, and more collisions. We have a similar project in Hermosa Beach and it has been a complete failure in terms of enhancing cyclist safety.

Sincerely,

Seth Davidson

Email to City Council of Encinitas, Sep. 18, 2019

When Encinitas got around to implementing its project, it did so by first installing the barriers and not bothering to mark them. The result? At least seven cyclists in an incredibly short period of time were taken off by ambulance. Many more were injured or had bikes/equipment damaged, but managed to limp home.

How crazy was it? Check these photos out. The photo on the right is what the project looked like for days before the final striping was completed. The carnage was incredible, with several riders suffering catastrophic injuries.

So now the city of Encinitas is going to be sued, and a lot of people have asked me how that process works. Like any bad relationship, it’s complicated.

When you sue someone you have a statute of limitations that varies depending on the claim. The California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 335.1 sets forth that time limit at 2 years for bodily injury claims. So you’d think you have two years to gather evidence, depose witnesses and experts, and get treatment.

You’d be wrong.

Wrong because any time you sue a city, county, state, or any other governmental entity, before filing suit you have to file a “claim.” Each governmental entity often has its own claim form, which is a pain, but here’s the kicker: You only have six months to file that claim pursuant to the CA Government Code, Section 911.2. If you miss that filing deadline and the city, if it’s a city you want to sue, rejects your claim, then you cannot file suit.

This is a huge trap for the unwary and it’s not accidental. The last thing that cities want is to be held responsible for their bad acts according to the same rules as people. What is so absurd about the government claims filing process is that it does NOT exist to give cities a chance to fairly resolve claims. In the numerous governmental entity cases I’ve successfully brought to conclusion, in only one case did the city respond to the claim with an offer, and that was for property damage only because the client sustained no injuries.

The rest of the time the city/county/state simply denies the claim, so don’t think that once you file your claim you’re going to get an offer for settlement. All you’ll get if you don’t know the rules is a permanent bar to filing suit, however meritorious your claim.

But it’s far from over, because the way that the city denies the claim is crucial to your case. According to Gov. Code 912.4, the entity has 45 days to deny your claim. Yet in many cases they never deny it. The 45 days come and go, and you’re none the wiser. In this case, which is by far the most common, your statute of limitations for filing suit reverts to two years from the date of injury according to Section 946(a)(2) of the Government Code. The entity simply ignored your claim and denied it “by operation of law.”

If the city does however send you a denial letter, you only have six months from the date of that denial to file suit under sections 912.4 and 912.6 of the Government Code. This is an incredibly short timeline especially since governmental claims often involve construction, multiple defendants, and a host of other issues that are inimical to hurry-up litigation, which is the point. Moreover, whether the city denies your claim in writing within the 45 days or after the 45 days, if they deny it you only have six months from the date of the denial to file suit. The city/entity is playing with a stacked deck; and obviously, if you think you have such a claim, get legal help asap because it’s much more detailed than I’m explaining here.

Even if you get far enough to file the claim and file suit, governmental entities have a host of defenses to protect them from paying the people whose lives they’ve ruined. By far the biggest hurdle is the concept of notice. Simply put, the city had to know of the problem. There are numerous ways to show notice, but by far the best is when similar mishaps have occurred at the same place. Additionally, when cities are sued for injuries at construction sites, they typically have indemnification and defense clauses with their contractors that can require the contractor to assume litigation costs if the city gets sued. What’s incredible about the claims percolating now in Encinitas, and I’m handling one of them, is that the city didn’t immediately shut down the project when it became aware of the injuries. And of course the existence of the extensive public commentary and criticism of the project make it difficult for the city to claim that weren’t on notice that the plans were going to hurt people.

Of course apart from the litigation aspect, the project is ridiculous beyond belief because the lanes themselves are still marked with sharrows, indicating that bikes are rightly in the travel lane. What then was the purpose of the “protected” bike lanes that injured so many people? Might it have been the $400,000 price tag wagging the dog? Maybe.

More likely, though, it was the typical mentality of people who hate Occam’s Razor. Rather than do what’s simplest, i.e. slow traffic and educate, people prefer to do what’s complicated-er.

With horrific results.

END

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How to get yourself sued

May 12, 2020 § 32 Comments

Last year there was a great controversy about bike infrastructure planned by the city of Encinitas, CA. A cycling advocate had been catastrophically injured, bike-car collisions up and down the coast highway were occurring, near-misses were a fact of life, and cyclist use of this roadway was massive and growing.

Instead of doing what made sense, i.e. lowering and aggressively enforcing speed limits to 30 or less, and aggressively educating/signing cyclists that they should occupy the full lane, the city chose to do what non-cyclists love best: Build a better bike lane.

Unlike many such bad plans, this one was vociferously opposed by a wide range of riders. One of the lead opponents was Serge Issakov, an engineer and a bicycle rider and somebody I completely disagree with about a lot of things, most especially his annoying tendency to put two spaces after a period. It’s 2020, Serge. You’re not using a typewriter anymore. Oh, wait …

So I may disagree with him about a lot of things, BUT NOT THIS. Serge addressed the city’s plan last year in an email to his club and publicly opposed the council’s plan.

In the latest newsletter from Encinitas Mayor Blakespear she devotes the most space to  describing, and seeking support for, the proposed Cardiff bikeway project, which is attached below. I’m leaving out  information about who forwarded it to me. You know who you are: thank you. What follows before the forwarded newsletter excerpt are my personal comments which do not necessarily reflect the position of any other persons or organizations with which I’m affiliated. If you have not yet already, please let me know where you stand on the proposed project, especially after reading what follows. If you write to the council, in support or opposition, please Cc or Bcc me. Feel free to forward this to anyone you think might care. As the debate over the proposed $400k project to reconfigure Highway 101 south of Chesterfield Drive continues, the mayor keeps learning and refining her words accordingly and very carefully. I think her summary description of the proposal below, and why she believes it should go forward and be supported, is fairly presented, genuine, and not misleading. If only all politicians I disagreed with on some issues with were this good. The hardest part about opposing this project for me is having to publicly disagree with the mayor and council members who I admire and respect. But here we are. As I’ve said before I believe this is a well-intentioned but misguided project. The mayor  acknowledges the opposition she is concerned with, but seems to dismiss us as being 0.5% of the population that commutes by bike rather than 99% of those who ride through Cardiff, ride a lot, and therefore have the experience to know this is not a good idea in this particular location. Not just for “us”, but not a good idea for anyone. 
To be fair, there is opposition to this project among some cyclists. For 0.5% of the population, the current road striping – paint with no physical separation – works for them to feel comfortable biking to work. There is also a sizable active sport cycling community and a number of dedicated bicycle road commuters who thoroughly enjoy this section of road. Some of those in opposition live elsewhere and travel through Encinitas on weekends. Many consider this open section of roadway through Cardiff to be one of the nicest in the county. I also think this statement reveals the real motive:

And the typical road infrastructure of painted bike lanes next to speeding traffic doesn’t make us feel safe enough to choose to ride a bike, especially with a child on board. 

Okay. I get that. But I disagree the only way to get more people biking for utility is to reconfigure all major roadways to have “protected” bikeways, especially if that means discouraging road cycling like this project does. Such bikeways might be a measurable factor in increasing bike usage in some urban contexts, but they’re not a necessary nor sufficient condition in most. Certainly not feeling safe is a factor, but why people choose personal motoring over biking, despite what they may say in surveys, has much more to do with economics, geography, terrain, average trip distances, available inexpensive or free parking, etc. After all, most of us who do ride on the roads got over the innate and natural fears by gaining certain skills and knowledge which are attainable to anyone who has basic bicycling and driving skills. It’s also quite possible that over-emphasizing the supposed necessity of physical separation for safety, which such projects arguably do, exacerbates the very fears that inhibit cycling, and makes them even harder to overcome. Imagine what we could accomplish by emphasizing the joys, safety and benefits of cycling rather than fomenting the fears!

But the main point is that all up and down the coast, wherever people have the choice to ride on the roads or on an adjacent physically separated bikeway, including those riding for utility/transportation  rather than for sport or recreation, the road is chosen by the vast majority of people on bikes. This is true in Solana Beach, where a rail trail is available next to the 101 the entire length on the east side, portions of Encinitas including the new rail trail north of Chesterfield, further north in Carlsbad, etc. We can all speculate on the exact reasons people have these preferences for road riding, and I certainly have my theories, not the least of which is that on roads there is plenty of space to avoid obstacles, pass slower cyclists, etc., but there is no denying that they do, and great folly to ignore it. And by removing an extremely popular traditional class 2 bikeway to make room for a separated class 4 bikeway, thus leaving most people two far less appealing alternatives — sharing a  traffic lane with 50 mph cars or sharing a narrow bikeway with pedestrians, obstacles, and slower cyclists, from which there is no escape — is doing exactly that. Studies of the effects of  Class 4 bikeways in an urban setting with an adjacent sidewalk, and often with an adjacent roadway with typical urban street speeds, much slower than the 50 mph speeds on 101 in Cardiff, are not applicable to this popular beach location with no sidewalks.

The self-interested response to this project from me is fine, since I’m personally fine with using the full lane.  Thinking about my club I’m good with the sharrows, because that’s how our board voted, and it’s probably acceptable to most of our members.

But it’s thinking of the vast majority not comfortable with riding in a traffic lane with 50 mph traffic that causes me to remain opposed.  Relegating them to this narrow space from which there is no escape to avoid obstacles, surf boards, coolers, strollers, joggers, pedestrians, slower cyclists, etc, is just not right.

Those are my thoughts.  What are yours?  Will you let the council know?
To borrow (modified in caps) from the mayor:

If you DON’T like the proposed idea, please consider writing AN EMAIL IN OPPOSITION  to the City Council at council@encinitasca.gov AND/or speaking IN OPPOSITION at the City Council meeting where it will be discussed on September 25 at 6 p.m. Every voice matters!

Again, please forward as you see fit. 
Thanks,Serge 

Public email, Sep. 15, 2019

I ride in North County San Diego several times a year, and the coast highway can be awesome very early or harrowing very late. So I took Serge up on his invitation and sent out the following email to the city council.

Dear City Council,

I ride in Encinitas/Cardiff several times a year and represent injured clients in North County as well as other San Diego jurisdictions. I have over 40 years’ experience as a cyclist, and close to that as a bike racer. My legal practice represents injured cyclists almost exclusively.

I concur with Serge’s email wholeheartedly and urge you to forego the separated bikeway project for Cardiff. The project will result in more injured cyclists, pedestrians, and more collisions. We have a similar project in Hermosa Beach and it has been a complete failure in terms of enhancing cyclist safety.

Sincerely,

Seth Davidson

Email to City Council of Encinitas, Sep. 18, 2019

When Encinitas got around to implementing its project, it did so by first installing the barriers and not bothering to mark them. The result? At least seven cyclists in an incredibly short period of time were taken off by ambulance. Many more were injured or had bikes/equipment damaged, but managed to limp home.

How crazy was it? Check these photos out. The photo on the right is what the project looked like for days before the final striping was completed. The carnage was incredible, with several riders suffering catastrophic injuries.

So now the city of Encinitas is going to be sued, and a lot of people have asked me how that process works. Like any bad relationship, it’s complicated.

When you sue someone you have a statute of limitations that varies depending on the claim. The California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 335.1 sets forth that time limit at 2 years for bodily injury claims. So you’d think you have two years to gather evidence, depose witnesses and experts, and get treatment.

You’d be wrong.

Wrong because any time you sue a city, county, state, or any other governmental entity, before filing suit you have to file a “claim.” Each governmental entity often has its own claim form, which is a pain, but here’s the kicker: You only have six months to file that claim pursuant to the CA Government Code, Section 911.2. If you miss that filing deadline and the city, if it’s a city you want to sue, rejects your claim, then you cannot file suit.

This is a huge trap for the unwary and it’s not accidental. The last thing that cities want is to be held responsible for their bad acts according to the same rules as people. What is so absurd about the government claims filing process is that it does NOT exist to give cities a chance to fairly resolve claims. In the numerous governmental entity cases I’ve successfully brought to conclusion, in only one case did the city respond to the claim with an offer, and that was for property damage only because the client sustained no injuries.

The rest of the time the city/county/state simply denies the claim, so don’t think that once you file your claim you’re going to get an offer for settlement. All you’ll get if you don’t know the rules is a permanent bar to filing suit, however meritorious your claim.

But it’s far from over, because the way that the city denies the claim is crucial to your case. According to Gov. Code 912.4, the entity has 45 days to deny your claim. Yet in many cases they never deny it. The 45 days come and go, and you’re none the wiser. In this case, which is by far the most common, your statute of limitations for filing suit reverts to two years from the date of injury according to Section 946(a)(2) of the Government Code. The entity simply ignored your claim and denied it “by operation of law.”

If the city does however send you a denial letter, you only have six months from the date of that denial to file suit under sections 912.4 and 912.6 of the Government Code. This is an incredibly short timeline especially since governmental claims often involve construction, multiple defendants, and a host of other issues that are inimical to hurry-up litigation, which is the point. Moreover, whether the city denies your claim in writing within the 45 days or after the 45 days, if they deny it you only have six months from the date of the denial to file suit. The city/entity is playing with a stacked deck; and obviously, if you think you have such a claim, get legal help asap because it’s much more detailed than I’m explaining here.

Even if you get far enough to file the claim and file suit, governmental entities have a host of defenses to protect them from paying the people whose lives they’ve ruined. By far the biggest hurdle is the concept of notice. Simply put, the city had to know of the problem. There are numerous ways to show notice, but by far the best is when similar mishaps have occurred at the same place. Additionally, when cities are sued for injuries at construction sites, they typically have indemnification and defense clauses with their contractors that can require the contractor to assume litigation costs if the city gets sued. What’s incredible about the claims percolating now in Encinitas, and I’m handling one of them, is that the city didn’t immediately shut down the project when it became aware of the injuries. And of course the existence of the extensive public commentary and criticism of the project make it difficult for the city to claim that weren’t on notice that the plans were going to hurt people.

Of course apart from the litigation aspect, the project is ridiculous beyond belief because the lanes themselves are still marked with sharrows, indicating that bikes are rightly in the travel lane. What then was the purpose of the “protected” bike lanes that injured so many people? Might it have been the $400,000 price tag wagging the dog? Maybe.

More likely, though, it was the typical mentality of people who hate Occam’s Razor. Rather than do what’s simplest, i.e. slow traffic and educate, people prefer to do what’s complicated-er.

With horrific results.

END

Bad fall

April 30, 2020 § 8 Comments

The one thing you can’t do is tell people how to ride their bikes. I see and hear discussions all the time where one person is complaining about how somebody else rides. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

“He’s erratic.”

“He’s careless.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

“He’s dangerous.”

“She doesn’t pay attention.”

Rides too close. Rides too far away. Rides too much in the gutter. Rides too far out in the lane. Takes too many risks. Goes waaaaay too fast downhill. Throws back the rear wheel when climbing. Throws back the rear wheel when sitting back down. Wobbles. Weaves. Rides the brakes. Doesn’t shift into an easy gear before stopping. Doesn’t call shit out. Screams too loudly. Runs stop signs. Runs red lights. Too fast on the bike path. Overly cautious. No helmet. No lights. No gloves. Underdressed. Overdressed. Saddle too high. Gear too big. Saddle too low. Gear too small. Poor aimer of snot rockets.

In short? As many things as there are about a bicycle, that’s as many ways as there are to do it wrong according to someone else. Never mind that you’re enjoying the hell out of it, you’re for sure doing it wrong.

What everyone can agree on, though, is that when you fall off your bike someone did something wrong. What the wrong was and who did it, people are going to argue about, but when you’re pedaling along and suddenly you’re in the hospital, it’s unanimous that something was done that shouldn’t have been.

Steve Susman, 79, is one of the top trial lawyers in the nation. I don’t know if you know what the psychological profile is of a top trial lawyer, but let’s just say that they are aggressive, ego driven competitors for whom winning is the only thing … and multiply that times millions … of dollars. As Mike Tigar used to say in his criminal law classes at UT back in the 80’s, “A great trial lawyer is a quivering mountain of supreme self- confidence perpetually trembling on the edge of a bottomless chasm of insecurity and fear.”

I’ve not run into a really top-notch trial lawyer who doesn’t fit that description, so though I’ve never met Susman, I can tell through his cycling career that yep, that’s pretty much him. He is, by the way, in a coma.

Susman got into cycling in Houston, where he’s lived all his life, at the age of 70. He was overweight and in terrible shape. He had the typical gunslinger’s lifestyle: Big cases, big money, a palatial second home in New York, and a palatial spread around his waist.

Some of the attorneys in his office were doing the MS-150 about ten years ago and began needling Susman about how there was no way he could do it. A Feb. 2019 press release summed up Susman’s cycling career like this:

“When Susman, then 70 years old, said he intended to join Susman Godfrey’s team, Swift Justice, his colleagues said he was too old and too fat to complete the ride, particularly since he had never ridden a road bike, didn’t own one and was spending the winter in New York where it was too cold to train,” according to the release. “That encouraged Susman to buy a road bike in New York City, hire a trainer to teach him how to ride (in ski clothes around Central Park), go on a diet, and show up in April to attempt the 150-mile ride. He finished, with a lot of encouragement from his teammates, who waited for him at the top of every big hill.”

Law360.com

Another web site describes Susman as an “avid cyclist” who has “run” in numerous charity rides. In addition to leading spin classes at his firm, he’s raised hundreds of thousands for MS by participating in the “grueling” ride, and he recently quit skiing so that he could, of all things, avoid injuries that might interfere with his ability to pedal.

Susman’s story is ancient. Old guy at the end of his rope discovers cycling, goes all in, discovers he’s athletic at an age when most people are fine-tuning their wills, learns that he can explore the world in new ways, physically and metaphysically, watches his body and mind become youthful and healthy in a way he never imagined, and is transformed forever.

The story is so common and it fits so many people who become cyclists that it’s wholly unremarkable to anyone who’s been around for any length of time. This is the magic of the bicycle, the transformation.

Yet each personal story of change can often also be sub-categorized, and the trial lawyer fits one very distinct grouping. This is the person who engages in cycling as an outlet for achievement and competition against others. I’ll call it the Strava cyclist, and it’s most pronounced in older white men who have made a lot of money. For these cyclists, riding is transformational but it is also a validation of the life they’ve lived up until that point.

“See? I got that $500M verdict and I also beat everyone up that hill.”

You get a sense for Steve’s overweening trial lawyer personality when you learn that several times he was the number one fundraiser for the MS-150, allowing him to pin on the Number 1. How about that? Getting to do a bike ride where everyone knows you’re the money guy? Where you’re distinct not because you are fast and good, but because you are rich?

It’s kind of perfect for trial lawyers who have made millions.

You also get a sense for Steve’s personality when you learn that he ran spin classes at his firm and was the core around which the firm’s riding group was organized. I can well imagine it because I know the type. They’re not worth a fuck on the bike but they have a ton of money and power and they use it to make people ride with them, and more importantly, to make people ride the way they want them to.

The most revealing thing about Steve as a cyclist is in the last line of the paragraph I quoted above, written to show the non-cyclist what a competitor and tough guy Steve was, and written to show how cohesive his team was because they “waited for him at the top of the hill.”

What the fuck is that? No self-respecting cyclist ever waited for anyone ever, least of all some slowpoke Fred on a $15k rig who was doing his first century. The whole point of taking Fred out on his first century is to drop his ass and let him suffer for 90 miles alone in the frying Texas heat, starving at the empty feed stations, out of water, broken in spirit, humbled into a spreading pile of punctured ego, straggling in just before dark. Maybe after he got shelled he hooked up with a fellow Fred in the lifeboat and they became lifelong friends as they dragged, cajoled, and breastfed each other into the finish.

By the time they got there, their “friends” were all drunk, full, showered, bikes stowed, and waiting with every manner of joke at Fred’s expense while the supposed badass choked down the few remaining cold mouthfuls of humble pie. Best of all Fred got to ride home in the club van caked in sweat and humiliation, and hear about how awesome everyone else was … except him.

If you’re a tough guy, go-getter, ass kicker in the real world and you want to bring that into cycling, you don’t do it by making your junior employees wait for you at the top of the hill to cheer you on. You do it by accepting your place at the back of the bus, taking your weekly beatings on the group ride, and gradually realizing the only real life lesson that cycling has ever taught or ever will teach: You suck.

But back to Steve. Whatever his qualities as a cyclist, and trust me I’ve run across more cycling Steves in this world than you have, he is also a philanthropist, a supporter of worthy causes, and a guy who has dedicated his life to using some of his fortune to make life better for others. He’s larger than life, a giant.

Which adds to the terrible news that he’s not only in the hospital, he’s not only in a coma, but he got there by falling off his bike.

What went wrong? One of the riders in the group, another plaintiff lawyer and partner of Steve’s, witnessed the fall.

“In a freak accident, his front tire went into one of those seams [in the road] and locked. His momentum threw him over the bike. He had a good helmet on, but the way he landed, he hit his head very hard,” Manne said Wednesday.

Law.com

This raises so many questions, for example, why is a trial lawyer calling a bike fall an “accident”? Either there was a dangerous condition in the roadway that the city was on notice of and for which the city is potentially liable, or Susman wasn’t paying attention, or Susman was paying attention and didn’t know how to hop a crack, or Susman was going so slow and his ebike was so heavy that he couldn’t lift it and it got stuck in the crack, or Susman was going too fast and was startled by the seam, or Susman’s setup was wrong, with tires that were too narrow for his skill level.

It’s hard to parse “his momentum threw him over the bike.” Was he going too fast for his skill or for the conditions? Or is this just a statement of physics, because every time your bike comes to a sudden stop you’re going over the handlebars?

Moreover, what in the world is “freak” about this fall? It’s about as garden variety a fall as they come when you are on 23 or 25mm tires in an urban environment. For example railroad crossings, of which there are a billion in Texas, are one of the most common and most hazardous road conditions that exist. If you ride a bunch in Texas, you are going to fall on a railroad crossing, period, no exceptions. Same for chugholes, uneven pavement, seams … and Susman was riding in the Braeswood area, whose streets are horrific even for a car.

Why did the other lawyer think it was a “freak” fall? Because of the head injury? Head injuries have been part of cycling since bikes were invented. The first sport helmets of any kind on earth were invented for cyclists, riders of the high-wheel penny farthing, for whom head injuries were such a part of the sport that they were called “headers” and were considered part of what made the sport, and you, tough.

Death and severe injury from head injuries are what drove the development of the safety cycle, i.e. the bike with two equally sized wheels that we ride today. The helmet industry, mandatory helmet laws in Australia, and war over bike lanes v. lane control are all functions of the non-freak nature of head injuries.

I suppose that the freakiness of the fall was the fact that it happened to Steve, the boss, the guy whose life had been transformed by cycling, the guy who was a poster child for all of the good that can happen when you pedal. Of all the people who might have seemed to have an invisible coat of armor surrounding them when they rode, it was likely Steve, pedaling his e-bike safely ensconced in a protective cocoon of his cycling subordinates, duty bound to wait for him and cheer him as he lagged up the hills.

The problem of course is that cycling doesn’t work like that. In cycling, although there are a world of variables that can knock you on your ass, many of which are worthy targets for being sued, in another sense you’re always on your own. Sure, drivers can be negligent and paving contractors can wrongfully put your life in danger, but none of that is going to help you get out of a jam, however much the lawsuit will help pay for the medical bills.

When you ride your bike, your assumption of the risk is total, and I don’t mean that in its legal sense, I mean it practically. No third person can keep you upright, although they can certainly knock you down, and it’s this total responsibility that makes cycling so empowering and so terrifying. Every second of every ride it’s all on you, and you either develop the skills to handle the road’s treachery, or the road handles you.

In fact, no matter how good you are, you’re going to fall, and over time I’ve seen lots of things that correlate with falling off your bike. One of them is speed. The faster you go, the more you’re going to fall. Another is late-entry, especially when combined with speed. The older you are and the less experience you have riding fast, entering cycling late is correlated with falling hard.

Returning to the aggro trial lawyer psyche, the competitor who likes to win, it’s natural to push yourself on the bike, which simply means going faster and working harder. Local trial lawyer Gerry Agnew found himself in a similar predicament several years ago. A complete beginner but aggro competitor, he started racing road time trials in his 60’s and in one of his first competitions he lost control at the finish on his twitchy, high-end TT bike, fell, broke his neck, and spent the next several months in a halo.

I have no reason to think that Susman was going too fast or that he was riding aggressively. What I do have reason to think is that Susman may not have had the skills to navigate bad pavement. Perhaps he thought that being surrounded by friends would keep him safe. Perhaps the fall was 100% caused by the city’s failure to maintain its roads. It’s easy to speculate about what Susman was doing wrong, because as I pointed out at the beginning, chances are good that everyone who doesn’t ride exactly the way you do is doing it wrong.

You = Right Way.

Them = Wrong Way.

Something like that.

It’s horrible beyond words that Susman is in what appears to be a life threatening or life altering medical situation, but cycling in general doesn’t prematurely end your life, it extends it. Everyone falls, but not many fall badly, and of those who do, a surprising number heal up and continue to ride.

I hope Steve Susman is one of those. And I hope the City of Houston fixes its lousy streets.

END


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Bad fall

April 30, 2020 § 8 Comments

The one thing you can’t do is tell people how to ride their bikes. I see and hear discussions all the time where one person is complaining about how somebody else rides. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

“He’s erratic.”

“He’s careless.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

“He’s dangerous.”

“She doesn’t pay attention.”

Rides too close. Rides too far away. Rides too much in the gutter. Rides too far out in the lane. Takes too many risks. Goes waaaaay too fast downhill. Throws back the rear wheel when climbing. Throws back the rear wheel when sitting back down. Wobbles. Weaves. Rides the brakes. Doesn’t shift into an easy gear before stopping. Doesn’t call shit out. Screams too loudly. Runs stop signs. Runs red lights. Too fast on the bike path. Overly cautious. No helmet. No lights. No gloves. Underdressed. Overdressed. Saddle too high. Gear too big. Saddle too low. Gear too small. Poor aimer of snot rockets.

In short? As many things as there are about a bicycle, that’s as many ways as there are to do it wrong according to someone else. Never mind that you’re enjoying the hell out of it, you’re for sure doing it wrong.

What everyone can agree on, though, is that when you fall off your bike someone did something wrong. What the wrong was and who did it, people are going to argue about, but when you’re pedaling along and suddenly you’re in the hospital, it’s unanimous that something was done that shouldn’t have been.

Steve Susman, 79, is one of the top trial lawyers in the nation. I don’t know if you know what the psychological profile is of a top trial lawyer, but let’s just say that they are aggressive, ego driven competitors for whom winning is the only thing … and multiply that times millions … of dollars. As Mike Tigar used to say in his criminal law classes at UT back in the 80’s, “A great trial lawyer is a quivering mountain of supreme self- confidence perpetually trembling on the edge of a bottomless chasm of insecurity and fear.”

I’ve not run into a really top-notch trial lawyer who doesn’t fit that description, so though I’ve never met Susman, I can tell through his cycling career that yep, that’s pretty much him. He is, by the way, in a coma.

Susman got into cycling in Houston, where he’s lived all his life, at the age of 70. He was overweight and in terrible shape. He had the typical gunslinger’s lifestyle: Big cases, big money, a palatial second home in New York, and a palatial spread around his waist.

Some of the attorneys in his office were doing the MS-150 about ten years ago and began needling Susman about how there was no way he could do it. A Feb. 2019 press release summed up Susman’s cycling career like this:

“When Susman, then 70 years old, said he intended to join Susman Godfrey’s team, Swift Justice, his colleagues said he was too old and too fat to complete the ride, particularly since he had never ridden a road bike, didn’t own one and was spending the winter in New York where it was too cold to train,” according to the release. “That encouraged Susman to buy a road bike in New York City, hire a trainer to teach him how to ride (in ski clothes around Central Park), go on a diet, and show up in April to attempt the 150-mile ride. He finished, with a lot of encouragement from his teammates, who waited for him at the top of every big hill.”

Law360.com

Another web site describes Susman as an “avid cyclist” who has “run” in numerous charity rides. In addition to leading spin classes at his firm, he’s raised hundreds of thousands for MS by participating in the “grueling” ride, and he recently quit skiing so that he could, of all things, avoid injuries that might interfere with his ability to pedal.

Susman’s story is ancient. Old guy at the end of his rope discovers cycling, goes all in, discovers he’s athletic at an age when most people are fine-tuning their wills, learns that he can explore the world in new ways, physically and metaphysically, watches his body and mind become youthful and healthy in a way he never imagined, and is transformed forever.

The story is so common and it fits so many people who become cyclists that it’s wholly unremarkable to anyone who’s been around for any length of time. This is the magic of the bicycle, the transformation.

Yet each personal story of change can often also be sub-categorized, and the trial lawyer fits one very distinct grouping. This is the person who engages in cycling as an outlet for achievement and competition against others. I’ll call it the Strava cyclist, and it’s most pronounced in older white men who have made a lot of money. For these cyclists, riding is transformational but it is also a validation of the life they’ve lived up until that point.

“See? I got that $500M verdict and I also beat everyone up that hill.”

You get a sense for Steve’s overweening trial lawyer personality when you learn that several times he was the number one fundraiser for the MS-150, allowing him to pin on the Number 1. How about that? Getting to do a bike ride where everyone knows you’re the money guy? Where you’re distinct not because you are fast and good, but because you are rich?

It’s kind of perfect for trial lawyers who have made millions.

You also get a sense for Steve’s personality when you learn that he ran spin classes at his firm and was the core around which the firm’s riding group was organized. I can well imagine it because I know the type. They’re not worth a fuck on the bike but they have a ton of money and power and they use it to make people ride with them, and more importantly, to make people ride the way they want them to.

The most revealing thing about Steve as a cyclist is in the last line of the paragraph I quoted above, written to show the non-cyclist what a competitor and tough guy Steve was, and written to show how cohesive his team was because they “waited for him at the top of the hill.”

What the fuck is that? No self-respecting cyclist ever waited for anyone ever, least of all some slowpoke Fred on a $15k rig who was doing his first century. The whole point of taking Fred out on his first century is to drop his ass and let him suffer for 90 miles alone in the frying Texas heat, starving at the empty feed stations, out of water, broken in spirit, humbled into a spreading pile of punctured ego, straggling in just before dark. Maybe after he got shelled he hooked up with a fellow Fred in the lifeboat and they became lifelong friends as they dragged, cajoled, and breastfed each other into the finish.

By the time they got there, their “friends” were all drunk, full, showered, bikes stowed, and waiting with every manner of joke at Fred’s expense while the supposed badass choked down the few remaining cold mouthfuls of humble pie. Best of all Fred got to ride home in the club van caked in sweat and humiliation, and hear about how awesome everyone else was … except him.

If you’re a tough guy, go-getter, ass kicker in the real world and you want to bring that into cycling, you don’t do it by making your junior employees wait for you at the top of the hill to cheer you on. You do it by accepting your place at the back of the bus, taking your weekly beatings on the group ride, and gradually realizing the only real life lesson that cycling has ever taught or ever will teach: You suck.

But back to Steve. Whatever his qualities as a cyclist, and trust me I’ve run across more cycling Steves in this world than you have, he is also a philanthropist, a supporter of worthy causes, and a guy who has dedicated his life to using some of his fortune to make life better for others. He’s larger than life, a giant.

Which adds to the terrible news that he’s not only in the hospital, he’s not only in a coma, but he got there by falling off his bike.

What went wrong? One of the riders in the group, another plaintiff lawyer and partner of Steve’s, witnessed the fall.

“In a freak accident, his front tire went into one of those seams [in the road] and locked. His momentum threw him over the bike. He had a good helmet on, but the way he landed, he hit his head very hard,” Manne said Wednesday.

Law.com

This raises so many questions, for example, why is a trial lawyer calling a bike fall an “accident”? Either there was a dangerous condition in the roadway that the city was on notice of and for which the city is potentially liable, or Susman wasn’t paying attention, or Susman was paying attention and didn’t know how to hop a crack, or Susman was going so slow and his ebike was so heavy that he couldn’t lift it and it got stuck in the crack, or Susman was going too fast and was startled by the seam, or Susman’s setup was wrong, with tires that were too narrow for his skill level.

It’s hard to parse “his momentum threw him over the bike.” Was he going too fast for his skill or for the conditions? Or is this just a statement of physics, because every time your bike comes to a sudden stop you’re going over the handlebars?

Moreover, what in the world is “freak” about this fall? It’s about as garden variety a fall as they come when you are on 23 or 25mm tires in an urban environment. For example railroad crossings, of which there are a billion in Texas, are one of the most common and most hazardous road conditions that exist. If you ride a bunch in Texas, you are going to fall on a railroad crossing, period, no exceptions. Same for chugholes, uneven pavement, seams … and Susman was riding in the Braeswood area, whose streets are horrific even for a car.

Why did the other lawyer think it was a “freak” fall? Because of the head injury? Head injuries have been part of cycling since bikes were invented. The first sport helmets of any kind on earth were invented for cyclists, riders of the high-wheel penny farthing, for whom head injuries were such a part of the sport that they were called “headers” and were considered part of what made the sport, and you, tough.

Death and severe injury from head injuries are what drove the development of the safety cycle, i.e. the bike with two equally sized wheels that we ride today. The helmet industry, mandatory helmet laws in Australia, and war over bike lanes v. lane control are all functions of the non-freak nature of head injuries.

I suppose that the freakiness of the fall was the fact that it happened to Steve, the boss, the guy whose life had been transformed by cycling, the guy who was a poster child for all of the good that can happen when you pedal. Of all the people who might have seemed to have an invisible coat of armor surrounding them when they rode, it was likely Steve, pedaling his e-bike safely ensconced in a protective cocoon of his cycling subordinates, duty bound to wait for him and cheer him as he lagged up the hills.

The problem of course is that cycling doesn’t work like that. In cycling, although there are a world of variables that can knock you on your ass, many of which are worthy targets for being sued, in another sense you’re always on your own. Sure, drivers can be negligent and paving contractors can wrongfully put your life in danger, but none of that is going to help you get out of a jam, however much the lawsuit will help pay for the medical bills.

When you ride your bike, your assumption of the risk is total, and I don’t mean that in its legal sense, I mean it practically. No third person can keep you upright, although they can certainly knock you down, and it’s this total responsibility that makes cycling so empowering and so terrifying. Every second of every ride it’s all on you, and you either develop the skills to handle the road’s treachery, or the road handles you.

In fact, no matter how good you are, you’re going to fall, and over time I’ve seen lots of things that correlate with falling off your bike. One of them is speed. The faster you go, the more you’re going to fall. Another is late-entry, especially when combined with speed. The older you are and the less experience you have riding fast, entering cycling late is correlated with falling hard.

Returning to the aggro trial lawyer psyche, the competitor who likes to win, it’s natural to push yourself on the bike, which simply means going faster and working harder. Local trial lawyer Gerry Agnew found himself in a similar predicament several years ago. A complete beginner but aggro competitor, he started racing road time trials in his 60’s and in one of his first competitions he lost control at the finish on his twitchy, high-end TT bike, fell, broke his neck, and spent the next several months in a halo.

I have no reason to think that Susman was going too fast or that he was riding aggressively. What I do have reason to think is that Susman may not have had the skills to navigate bad pavement. Perhaps he thought that being surrounded by friends would keep him safe. Perhaps the fall was 100% caused by the city’s failure to maintain its roads. It’s easy to speculate about what Susman was doing wrong, because as I pointed out at the beginning, chances are good that everyone who doesn’t ride exactly the way you do is doing it wrong.

You = Right Way.

Them = Wrong Way.

Something like that.

It’s horrible beyond words that Susman is in what appears to be a life threatening or life altering medical situation, but cycling in general doesn’t prematurely end your life, it extends it. Everyone falls, but not many fall badly, and of those who do, a surprising number heal up and continue to ride.

I hope Steve Susman is one of those. And I hope the City of Houston fixes its lousy streets.

END


Fear of not flying

November 24, 2019 § 7 Comments

The closer you get to living without a car the scarier it gets.

It’s true that I haven’t driven since August 17, 2019. But the car, well, it is still there, a giant 5,000-lb. security blanket all plugged in and ready to go.

I’ve used the Kelly Blue Book online quote service and have found that a 2017 Chevy Volt with leather seats, 48,000 miles, and nary a scratch will fetch real money. And worry not, the dealer will come to you.

I don’t miss driving, and I’m daily astonished at the mass stupidity of it all.

Car washes? Are you kidding me?

Gas stations? Are you kidding me?

Car shopping? Are you kidding me?

Stopping in a line of 30 cars to go through a light? Are you kidding me?

Status based on your brand of steel cage? Are you kidding me?

Pulling over for a fire truck? Are you kidding me?

Sitting on the freeway? Are you kidding me?

Drive-thrus? Are you kidding me?

Oil changes and maintenance? Are you kidding me?

Road rage? Are you kidding me?

Flipping through radio stations hoping to find Tom Petty? Are you kidding me?

Paying tolls? Are you kidding me?

Going 3 mph through parking garages? Are you kidding me?

Rental car packages with airfare? Are you kidding me?

Parking? Are you kidding me?

Valet? Are you kidding me?

Speeding tickets and traffic cops? Are you kidding me?

Finding a charging station? Are you kidding me?

Exhaustion from doing nothing? Are you kidding me?

The 110/405/10/101? Are you kidding me?

18-wheelers? Are you kidding me?

Depreciation depression? Are you kidding me?

Insurance? YOU ARE NOT KIDDING ME.

Because as a bike lawyer, cyclist, and 4:00 AM blogger I know that having underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage is the third leg of the stool for savvy cyclists: Use a light, Take the lane, Insure thyself.

And once you get rid of your car you lose your UM/UIM coverage. Or at least that’s what I thought. But then I recalled Francis X.’s famous quote: “Wouldn’t it be great if all the computers in the world were connected with some kind of electronic network that would allow them to instantaneously share information on demand so that you could get answers to questions right away?”

A google later I discovered “Non-owner Liability Insurance.” This is liability insurance for anyone with a driving license who doesn’t own a car, and it comes with UM/UIM coverage. There are a couple of catches.

  1. The insurance is not offered by all carriers.
  2. You can’t have any motor vehicle registered in your name.
  3. The UM/UIM coverage generally maxes out at $250,000, rather than the $500k or even $1M policies offered by some carriers.

Since we haven’t sold our Volt yet I’m not eligible for a policy, but once it’s gone I’ll be reaching out to State Farm agent, cyclist, and friend Stephan Buckley and buying coverage. It’s almost $900 cheaper than my current $500k/$500k policy, which only means one thing: More carbon.

END


Work together!

December 2, 2018 § 1 Comment

Cyclists often have a conflicted relationship with law enforcement. This is because law enforcement often does not give so much as one-tenth of a broken fuck about cyclists. They often don’t know the law, don’t care about the law, and have even been known to willfully ignore it to the detriment of the cyclist.

My best worst memory was having a Hayes County sheriff’s deputy outside of Buda pull his service revolver and point it at my head as I tried to escape by riding off in a bar ditch. I fell over so he didn’t have to kill me for failing to pull over.

But it’s not always that way. There are cops out there who know the law, and even more unicorn-ish, cops who actually cycle.

One of those cops is officer Fran Sur. And he’s the classic example of why it matters to have law enforcement on your side.

Last week on the NPR an apparently crazed and/or insane and/or drug-addled and/or drunken driver came close to mowing down the group. He then flipped a u-turn and had a second go, which thankfully came to naught.

Officer Sur, who works for the LAX PD, was immediately on the scene and helped apprehend the suspect. It’s not the first time he has gone above and beyond to make sure that cyclists are respected on Westchester Parkway. An avid and dedicated triathlete (forgiven, dude), and member of Big Orange, he’s an example of what happens when cops and cyclists are one and the same.

Nor is he the only one. Many cops ride, a few of them race, and they are dedicated to making sure that the laws are fairly enforced, not just against cyclists, but against drivers, too.

END

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