Cut off — and flipped off — in DTLA

September 18, 2013

Last night took me to a meeting of the LACBC’s Civic Engagement Committee in Downtown LA.

And nearly into the rear end of a delivery driver who cut me off by swerving from the left lane to the curb with no warning.

Then he flipped me off before driving away.

But rude and dangerous bicyclists are the problem, right?

The keys to getting even

January 12, 2009

You don’t have to ride a bike very long — here in L.A. or anywhere else — to experience an unpleasant interaction with the driver or occupants of a car. And most of us have harbored more than a few fantasies of getting even somehow.

Some of us have even gone beyond the realm of fantasy.

I was reminded of that the other day, when Will followed up his story of an ill-advised, water-logged ride by recounting his efforts to even the score with a deflating tale of a Valley double-dunking.

To paraphrase a song from my blissfully misspent youth, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. And you don’t mess around with Will.

In fact, I’d say it’s probably the second-best story I’ve heard about bikers getting even.

The best came a few decades back, when I met one of the first competitors in the Race Across America — an ultramarathon cycling event in which the competitors ride from coast to coast in a little over a week. (I’m leaving his name out because it’s not my story to tell. And because the statute of limitations may not have run out yet.)

This particular rider lived in a small mountain town in the Colorado high country, and trained by commuting by bike to his job in Denver — a round trip of over 100 miles every day, rain, shine or snow.

Usually, he didn’t have any problems with drivers. In those days, at least, Colorado was home to the Red Zinger/Coors Classic bike race, and drivers were used to seeing cyclists on the roads. And since the winding mountain roads didn’t allow vehicles to go very fast, he seldom had a problem with impatient drivers, particularly on downhill portion, where he could easily ride at or above the speed of traffic.

This particular morning, though, he had to deal with a truck driver who seemed to be in a hurry. And was being a total jerk about it, repeatedly honking his horn and driving in an unsafe manner.

They traded the lead a few times, as the driver would pass on a straight section, then he would catch up and pass on the right when the truck had to slow down for a tight turn.

That continued through the entire length of the canyon.

Once they got to the bottom, the driver was in no mood to share the road. In fact, what he wanted was a fight. So as soon as the road widened, the driver gunned his engine and zoomed past, then screeched to a stop on the side of the road. And got out of the cab with his fists balled — leaving the door open, with the engine running.

So the cyclist came to a stop just behind the truck — but stayed on his bike, balancing with his feet in the clips, as they traded angry words. When the driver charged him, he would ride back and stop again to maintain the distance between them.

This continued for several minutes, until finally, they were around 3 0 or 40 yards from the truck. At which point the cyclist simply stood on his pedals and rode past the sputtering driver — then stopped at the open door to the truck.

Realizing his mistake, the driver sprinted back to the cab as fast as his chubby legs could carrying him. But not fast enough, as the rider calmly reached in and grabbed the keys, slipped them in his jersey pocket and rode until he was safely out of reach.

Then he stopped and turned around to make sure the driver was watching. And threw the keys into an empty field, as hard and far as he could, before continuing to ride calmly on to work.

And when he rode back home that night, the truck was still there, abandoned on the side of the road.


Streetsblog LA counts down to the upcoming Los Angeles Bike Summit. I’m marking my calendar, though I have no idea where the L.A. Trade-Tech College is. Green L.A. Girl suggests uglifying your bike to deter theft. And in case you missed it, the despised — and probably unenforceable — L.A. bike licensing program is semi-officially dead, despite the best efforts of many riders to comply with it.

Yesterday’s ride, in which I make a movie in my mind

November 20, 2008



A man approaches, looking out of place in spandex bike clothes. He reaches for the door, then hesitates, as if expecting lightening to strike.

Nothing happens.

He opens the door and enters.


The man approaches the confessional, walking awkwardly in his cycling cleats. He enters the dark, narrow booth, kneels and crosses himself.

Kindly FATHER O’MALLEY slides open the confessional window.


Forgive me father, for I have sinned.


How long has it been since your last confession?


I’m not sure…I think it was during the Bush administration.


Well, that’s not too b…


The other Bush.




But since then, I’ve been good. Really. Almost a saint. I hardly ever take the Lord’s name in vain. And like St. Francis, I try to be kind to dumb animals, especially government officials and bicycle traffic planners.

But…I kinda lost it today…


And what was it you did, my son?


I made an obscene gesture, father…a bad one. Three times.


Ah, now that’s bad. Very bad. And is there a reason why you did it, now…something the boys down at the 57th Precinct might call “mitigating circumstances?”


Well, see, I was riding down the hill on Montana Ave., doing about 25 on my way to the coast. Then without warning, this woman makes a right turn directly in front of me. And instead of going into the traffic lane, she just drives right down the bike lane, and jerks to a stop when she sees a parking place. So I had to jam on my brakes and swing out into traffic to avoid hitting her.


Tsk. Tsk.


A few blocks later, a car pulls out from the curb right in front of me, and sure enough, he drives down the bike lane before stopping to make a right turn and blocks the lane, even though he could have easily moved out of the way — and shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Then there was the woman in the minivan… 


Oh my.


But at least she honked to let me know she was going to run the red light — after I was already in the intersection.


Well, it sound like you might’ve had some justification there. So for your penance, say three Hail Mary’s, and attend the City Council Transportation Committee meeting this Friday.


Thank you, father.

BIKINGINLA gets up to leave, then pauses.


Oh, and I voted for Obama, too…


Ah well, you know the bishop says I have to condemn you to eternal damnation for that one…‘cause of the baby killing and such.




But…promise you’ll pray for Notre Dame to beat USC next week, and maybe we can knock a few years off that.


Oh. Okay, thanks.


Though I’m not sure all the saints and angels in paradise could pull that miracle off…



L.A.’s Streetsblog cites a report that says cyclists need safer streets, while Damien continues his series of biking issues on the agenda for Friday’s Transportation Committee meeting. And speaking of Streetsblog, they also had a link to a great N.Y. Times article about Britain’s attempt to bail out its own auto industry. A biking blog in my old home town — with one of the best taglines on the interwebs — reports on the sentencing of a drunk driver who killed one cyclist and injured another, and offers a breathtaking photo from a group of fat tire fans who hit the trails at 4:50 am (one look at that photo, and you’ll know why I miss it). And MIT announces a pilot study of a new technology that will allow cyclists to track their rides and automatically exchange information with other riders.

The nail that stands out

August 11, 2008

I used to work with this one guy, a third-generation Japanese American.

Nice guy. And one day when we were talking, he mentioned a traditional Japanese expression that says it’s the nail that stands out that gets pounded down.

I’ve often thought about that saying, because it so often seems to be true, even in a this country like this that supposedly prizes individuality. It’s the exceptions, the ones who stand out from all the rest, who often draw the harshest response, whether you’re talking about the campus geek in junior high, the neighborhood eccentric or leaders like Dr. King or Bobby Kennedy.

You can even see it now, when a politician can criticized, not for his policies, but for his eloquence and ability to inspire others.

And then there’s the other side of that same coin, where someone tries to demonize some group, in order to justify their own negatives attitudes.

Like cyclists, for instance.

Because some people look at those exceptions — such as cyclists who regularly ignore the law and flaunt both safety and common sense — and somehow assume that all riders are like that. And decide that since that one nail is loose, we all need to be pounded down.

It’s not true, of course. Any more than it’s true that all (insert racist, sexist, ethnic and/or religious slur of your choice here) are alike.

It’s also demonstrably false. Just stand next to a busy street intersection along any popular bike route. You won’t have to watch very long to see that many, if not most of us, stop for red lights and try to stay out of the way of the way of traffic as much as possible.

But these people only seem to see the ones who don’t stop, or take a lane for reasons they can’t, or perhaps don’t want to, comprehend. So they automatically reach for their hammers to pound down every nail, rather than the few that stand out.

Take this recent letter from Graham A. Rowe in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, for instance, in response to their earlier article about the cycling the mean streets of L.A. (I also notice they didn’t print Will Campbell’s response to the article.):

“Bicycle riders believe that they should enjoy all the benefits of both car drivers and pedestrians. They choose to ride both with and against traffic. They obey no traffic signs, never stop at red lights or stop signs. At a red light they decide to become a pedestrian and simply ride across the crossing. They ride on the sidewalk at danger to pedestrians. Bicycles should be required to have a fee-paid license plate and be ticketed for infractions. Maybe then they would be more careful and get more respect.”

Yes, that’s exactly what we all believe, posts like this from Gary Rides Bikes and yours truly notwithstanding. Never mind that most cyclists don’t do those things, or that riding on the sidewalk is legal in Los Angeles.

You’ll note that he ends by saying that we’ll get more respect when we’re more careful. Despite the fact that drivers are required by law to grant us that respect, just as they would any other vehicle. And despite the fact that the consequences of failing to grant that respect are far greater for us than they are for the driver.

In other words, he’s saying that we’re responsible for the fact that some people refuse to drive safely, and legally, around us. Of course, not everyone who fails to share the road does so out of spite. Some are just unaware of the law, or refuse to believe it when they’re told. And some are just jerks, not unlike some cyclists.

I’ve written about it before, notably here and here, in response to some letters that were recently published in the L.A. Times. And I’m going to keep writing about it.

Because frankly, I’m tired of people trying to pound me down for something I didn’t do.


Great article from the U.K. about whether helmets are fashionable for Parisians and Prime Ministers. It also discusses a Dutch idea that assumes the driver is automatically responsible in any collision between a car and a bike. One lesson experienced cyclists learn is to make eye contact with opposing drivers. Cyclists protest unfair tickets in Santa Monica by crossing the street — repeatedly. The Times’ Bottleneck Blog considers what L.A. could be like with a little more foresight from out elected leaders. And finally, both Seattle and supposedly bike-unfriendly New York test the radical concept of turning a few streets over to cyclists and pedestrians.


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