27 January 2017

Call Me Paranoid, But....

You get pulled over, whether you're cycling or driving, even though you're within the speed limit and aren't violating any other laws.  Or a sales clerk follows you around a department store when you don't have any of the store's merchandise on you.  Or you don't get a promotion or raise given to someone who is, or seems, no better or worse an employee than you.  Or, worse, you're summoned into the HR office at your workplace to defend yourself against questionable or simply false allegations.

After such experiences, you might wonder, "Why me?"  If you are a member of a group of people who lives under suspicion--say, you are a young black male or someone who is, or merely "looks", Muslim or Middle Eastern--or merely someone who looks like you're "not from around here", you can't help but to think that your appearance or identity might have something to do with it.  And, in the workplace situations I've described, you can't help but to believe--too often, with justification (Trust me, I've been in such situations!) that someone in your organization "has it in for you" just because of who you are.

It's easy to feel the things I've described in the previous paragraph if you are cycling, particularly in some place where there aren't many adult cyclists or where people are, for whatever reasons, hostile to cyclists.  Or, worse, if you encounter some traffic cop on a motorcycle who has nothing better to do and, being on a bike, you are an easier target in his quest to make his ticket quota for that month.

Lately, other cyclists and I have felt a similar kind of unease--some might call it paranoia.  Within the past week or so, a number of localities have passed, or merely discussed, ordinances that have no other purpose than to harass, or simply discourage, cyclists.  And it's hard not to wonder whether the inauguration of Trump has something to do with it:  Could velophobic legislators and law enforcement officials feel empowered by the Bike Hater-in-Chief in much the same way xenophobes and bigots have felt emboldened to carry out acts of hate?

I want to thank dear reader Coline--who lives in Scotland, no less!--for pointing out two of the latest pieces of legislative lunacy.

The first comes from the state of Montana, where there is a draft bill that, if passed, would ban cyclists from riding on two-lane country roads that lack shoulders. Now, I have never been to Montana, but the article Coline sent me corroborates what I've heard from people who've been to The Treasure State:  most of the state's roads--and, basically, all of the roads outside of the towns (aside from the Interstates)--fit that description.  What that means, of course, is that cycling would be off-limits in much of the state.

What sort of message does that send to some fourteen- or fifteen-year-old in a state that is already automobile-centric?  If that kid can't get from one town or another--let alone ride for fun--he or she is likely to say, "To hell with it; I'll have my license soon!"  And, of course, such a ban would deter folks who might have considered a vacation there.  Personally, I wouldn't want to take a trip somewhere if I couldn't ride--unless I were going, say, to climb a mountain or hike a glacier.

Roads like this could soon be off-limits to cyclists in Montana.

The bill also contains another stipulation that would discourage riding:  Cyclists always have to ride single-file, no matter how large their group or how wide the road.  Hmm...Isn't discouraging social interaction among people of a group, or in a particular situation (such a workplace), the easiest way to "divide and conquer"?  That, of course, is what tyrants have always done to exert power over people they want to subjugate.  (Why do you think the slave-merchants brought people from different African clans and tribes aboard their ships?  Those captives didn't speak each other's languages and therefore were kept in a captivity even more pernicious than the chains that bound them.)

Will Montana's new motto be "Where Cycling Died"? 

The second authoritarian absurdity to which Coline alerted me comes from California.  Actually, it falls best into the category of nanny-state nonsense.  While Montana's bill is not yet up for a vote, the ridiculous regulation I'm about to describe became law in the Golden State on the first day of this year.  

Section 27400 of the California Vehicle Code prohibits a person from wearing "a headset covering, earplugs in or earphones covering , resting on or inserted in both ears" while cycling.  It calls for a fine of $178 for a violation.

Now, I want to say that I never ride with any sort of listening device in my ears.  When I'm riding in traffic, I want to be as alert as I can be to traffic and other parts of my surroundings.  When I'm riding in a more bucolic area, I prefer to listen to ambient sounds such as tides and wind or, if there are no such sounds, to simply enjoy the silence.  If I am riding with other cyclists, I cannot interact with them if my ears are plugged and Metallica or whatever is blaring in them.

That said, I can think of no reason to outlaw ear peices or headphones for cyclists.  As the article I've linked explains, if the practice poses any danger, it's only to the cyclists themselves.  Also, as the article points out, there are clusters of cyclists who wear devices while riding. They include urban areas where people are riding to work, doing errands or taking their kids to the park.  They also include college campuses.  Such places are easy targets for police officers who are over-zealous or simply see an easy target.  I don't think it's a stretch to say that the law, like those against loitering (which can be interpreted in all sorts of ways) targets people who have little wealth and power.  In other words, it's a law after Trump's own heart!


  1. Greetings from Montana! The bill draft (the sponsor owns a Harley Davidson dealership and is a real Tea Bagger, perhaps douche bagger is a more apt description) has been withdrawn amid swift and forceful opposition from the cycling community. He has promised to re-draft the bill with input from cyclists. We'll be watching.

    1. MT, Good luck with that! Make sure he gets PLENTY of input from cyclists who will remind him that they vote.

    2. Dumbassery seems to be everywhere these days. Aren't the Harley guys always whining about their freedoms.

  2. These are signs of a deep sickness in a society when public freedoms can so cavalierly be snatched away! Looks like the next four years will be a constant struggle against forces of evil. Wish you luck...

  3. California- the land of Friendly Fascism.

  4. MT--Thanks for the update. At least we know that cycling is still alive, for now, in Montana.

    Phillip, Mike and Coline: "Sickness". "Dumbassery". "Friendly Facism". I'm collecting descriptors of the current state of affairs. Thank you for your contributions!

    1. I have had clerks (or obvious store detectives) follow me around in a store. Several times I have put some small article in my pocket knowing I was being observered. Then at some point I would get rid of the thing when I knew the house dick was NOT watching. The expressions on their faces when they grab you, search you and find nothing is delicious.

      I have never been dishonest enough to sue them.


  5. Good points. Besides the benefits of sociability, it's worth remembering that a group of cyclists riding two-up is easier and safer to overtake appropriately e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9pmw2ckQSU

    It is an irony that a car obliges its driver to occupy the two-up position, even when they're alone in the vehicle. At least when you see cyclists riding two-up, you can be sure that there are two people using that roadspace.

  6. Douglass--Your point reminds me that most regulations made ostensibly for the "safety" of cyclists are made by folks who don't ride bikes or, at least, have completely misguided notions about bike safety.

    Thank you for stopping by!