Pedaling Diego: San Diego's Growing Bicycle Mania

Uh-oh. Beer Man looks up. He’s six-foot-five and garbed in his blue Superman tunic with a red cape, yellow briefs, a full mane of red hair and a beard. His expression says it all: Is it time?

Because someone’s honking a vuvuzela. People are yelling, “Yeah! Go baby!” at three guys performing wheelies, front wheels way up, ’round and ’round the fountain pond. It’s like waiting for Mount St. Helens to blow. You can feel the expectation. The shine in people’s eyes, the nervous glances, everything tells you we’re about to go.

This is the last Friday in October, around 8:00 p.m. Here at the big fountain in Balboa Park, maybe 1000 people and their bicycles — including me on my beach cruiser — have gathered for a ride, a night ride to, well, wherever the Halloween spirit leads. It’s called Critical Mass. No, not a fault-finding church service, but a political statement on wheels. Two wheels. This mass of bike riders wants to tell Car World: “Hey, we live here too!” And not just here. This leaderless, Internet-driven phenomenon happens once a month, from Seattle to Singapore, from London to Boston. Globally and locally, Critical Mass seems to be reaching critical mass.

“Whoo-hoo!” someone cries.

“This is it!”

It’s like Canadian geese girding their loins for migration with a chorus of squawks. Bugles, cowboy Yee-haws, rebel yells, even cop-car sirens join in with a quick series of whoop-whoops.

“Turn on your light, Abe,” says this gal to her partner. She looks up. “Yes! Yes! Yeah! We’re going!”

Gradually, everybody starts moving around to the west side of the fountain, jumping on their bikes and heading out. Now we’re getting our balance, gathering force, slowly at first, guys and gals, kids, old gents, everyone on bicycles, or tricycles, recumbents, mountain bikes, road-racers, fat-tire beach bikes, even BMXs, pouring down the slope of The Prado past the California Tower and on across the viaduct toward Sixth Avenue. It’s hard not to join the hooting at one poor, frustrated driver sitting in his Mazda, surrounded like a mouse attacked by hornets. The guy is our first scapegoat, standing in for all cars. He can’t move. But, sorry. It’s just so refreshing to be on the attack and not the defensive, timorous, vulnerable also-rans that bicyclists usually are on our roads. The fight-back has begun!

And maybe, just maybe, if recent stats can be believed, the time of the urban biker is nigh. According to Kiplinger’s magazine, Gen Y-ers, the biggest generation in U.S. history — 80 million strong — aren’t buying cars as they used to. Drivers aged 21–30 now account for only 14 percent of miles driven, compared with 21 percent back in 1995. They’re more willing to catch the bus or train. But are they riding bikes to work? Back in 2006, SANDAG (the San Diego Association of Governments) estimated that only .03 percent (point three of one percent) of San Diego county commuters were bike commuters. Compare that to Copenhagen, where nearly 40 percent bike to work. Then again, in ’06, Critical Mass attracted only about 35 riders…

So something’s happening, folks. We fly along University in full swarm. At places like the Alibi, and Ichiban in Uptown, drinkers and eaters come out to the sidewalk to cheer us on and wave their drinks. You feel like Lance Armstrong at the end of the Tour de France. Or like new-age Woody Guthries. This land is our land, these roads are our roads, from the giant fountain, to the Cuyamaca Forest…Whoo-hoo!

I’ve been on this biking toot for a few weeks now, and when I heard about Critical Mass I wanted to try it. I love these crowd things. But, honestly, I’ve never thought of San Diego as a bikey place, even though you couldn’t ask for a more pro-bike climate, and a new bike shop does seem to be opening everywhere you go. In the couple of weeks before this ride, I began to check out the scene, and wow. Either it’s been hiding in plain sight all along, or I haven’t been looking. Bike World San Diego is popping. Here are several biking scenes out of a zillion that I happened across.

The Trail Ride

“It’s 40 psi for beach cruiser tires,” said Tyler Rowden, when I asked. I had popped in to Holland’s Bicycles in Coronado to pump up the fat tires of my decade-old Electra Bike Company beach cruiser labeled the “Hawaii.”

Tyler owns Holland’s, which has been open for bike business since 1924. His two assistants, Mike Shepherd and Conrad Tapia, look straight out of classic Tour de France racing books. Conrad’s wearing one of those old-school racers’ caps, a red one with “Clif Bar” printed on the brim. He also has one-inch metal stretchers in his ear lobes. It seems to be a younger road-racer’s thing, though he says it’s just a personal choice. We get to talking about riding, and Conrad mentions “the donut run” that happens every Saturday morning in Coronado. It’s a ride down the Silver Strand to Imperial Beach and back. Maybe 13 miles. Starts at 7:00 a.m. sharp. Usually takes 40 minutes, he says.

“Then you have donuts and coffee at the Callaghans’ house on Margarita. Pat Callaghan and Tim Sullivan initiated the ride in 1980,” says Tyler. “You might have 30, 40 riders. Some of them are pretty competitive.”

“But it’s not that far,” says Conrad. “I live in I.B. I ride up here to work every day.”

Of course, Conrad is 21, five-six, and maybe 150 pounds max, all of it lean, rider’s muscle. Plus, he owns a mean racing bike.

“Do beach-cruiser, couch-potato types do it?” I ask.

“You wouldn’t want to on that beach bike of yours,” says Tyler. “With fat tires, an upright bike, that’s a lot of road resistance, and wind resistance. They like to stay in a pack. You wouldn’t keep up.”

Huh. Guess I more or less have to do this ride now. I end up renting a road bike and helmet from Tyler for around $30. And wow. The bike’s a $2300 black-and-red Specialized “Roubaix” with Cane Creek “Volos” wheels and Schwinn “Lugano” tires and FACT (“Functional Advanced Composite Technology”) E240 carbon triple monocoque frame “handmade in Taiwan.”

No excuses now.

The problem is, come that next Saturday morning, I wake up late, and so get there ten minutes after everybody has gone. Still, I wobble my way to the Silver Strand bike path, and set off south, the virgin road-racer rider. Truth is, I’ve never ridden a low-slung handlebar, 18-whatever multigear racing road bike in my life. With all the levers, it’s like someone tossing you the keys and saying, “Go fly my Cessna.”

Here’s what I discover. It’s incredibly tiring on the muscles just above the knees. And your butt gets real sore on the little butter dish they call a seat. Most of all, your hands, between thumbs and forefingers, where you’re leaning all the weight of your upper body, get weary. Of course, technically, you have plenty of time to admire the scenery. It’s great to have the water’s edge on your left, with the white herons staring down and fish leaping up. To the right, you have the Navy Seals’ training towers and the helicopter shells where they practice warfare. But the fact is, you’re head down, trying to keep a pace up, experimenting with those damned derailleur gears, and trying not to collide with oncoming hotshots, probably the team you’re supposed to be part of. After a while you ask, I’m riding all this way, busting a gut, because…?

But, eventually, I do get into a zone, where the rhythm of the pedaling becomes hypnotic, and in a twisted, enjoy-the-burn way, fun. The nods from passing racers, who take me to be a pro like them — yellow Specialized brand helmet and all — has to be worth some of the pain.

It seems an age, but finally I’m down heading east across the southern tip of San Diego Bay. The bike path along the Silver Strand has been extended around the shallow lagoons where the bay meets I.B. The path runs beside an ancient railroad track. At around 13th Street in I.B., I realize two things. I have come too far (I should have turned where 7th Street meets the bay), and if I want, I can continue east past the salt evaporation ponds to National City, and then all the way up into San Diego itself. But, nuh-uh. A man knows his limits. I turn around, take five, and head home.

By the time I get back to the donuts and coffee on leafy Margarita Avenue, there are still a couple of dozen riders standing ’round chatting, plus two donuts and a few slurps at the bottom of a coffee urn. I stagger in like an old man who’s just come from the pub. I count 95 minutes for the purported 40-minute ride. But I definitely feel like Ironman because, hey, I did it.

Then I meet Frank Ingram, bending the coffee urn to get its last drops. He’s a regular on these rides, a retired professor of Russian Literature from Michigan State. Has to be in his 70s. The guy has ridden his bike clear across the United States and around Australia. “I biked to work every day of my life,” he says.

Suddenly, my 15-odd miles don’t seem so spectacular.


“Alright!” Sean Burke’s voice echoes around the empty stadium. The acoustics are such that he doesn’t need a loudspeaker. “We’re going to do 20 laps. First ten on the blue line, moderate speed, all right?” Sean is the professional down here, at the open-air velodrome in Balboa Park. It’s around 7:00 on a Wednesday night. The velodrome is near the tennis courts and municipal pool in the park’s northeast corner, and the amazing thing is that anybody can come here and train, even absolute beginners. The city supplies Sean to train you (currently the cost is $120 for six weeks), and equipment, like “fixie” racing bikes, borrowed from the city’s collection for free. If I’d realized, I would’ve brought gear. The circuit is 333.3 meters long, and has these exciting 27-degree banks on the corners, which is where the strategy is played out. Wednesday is training night. It’s been a bit worrying for Sean and the riders: a fine rain has swept through and left the concrete track slippery. Nobody wants to crash at 30 mph, but counterintuitively, Sean says speed helps. A dozen riders stand with their fixies, waiting for starter’s orders. “There’s a little bit of dampness,” Burke shouts, “so don’t ride super slow. You might fall down.”

I have come here because of Conrad, from Holland’s Bikes. He was talking about the “fixies” they race on here, single-speed racing bikes with pedals directly linked to their back wheel. No gears, no brakes, no coasting. The pedals keep turning round. They’re identical to the bikes used to race the very first Tour de France, back in 1903. These are the retro bikes that have taken off in trendy urban bike areas like South Park and North Park, and the chic quarters of San Francisco, Boston, New York. For street riding: go figure. It seems people love the challenge, and even more, the return to simplicity. In the bike trade, they’re calling it the “fixie revolution.”

“So, do your one-lap pulls on the blue line,” Sean is saying. “The last lap is going to be a sprint lap. Do not, do not, do not pull up on the last lap! Or you’re gonna cause a crash.”

It’s quite a collection out there, from young, compact Conrad to Tom Kindberg, a big-shouldered, muscular hardbody of 51. “This is the beginner group, but Tom’s the fastest in the group,” says Sean. “He’s done plenty of racing.”

“What separates you here from other races is how much you’re willing to go into pain,” says Patricia Ortiz, a German girl who’s the only woman racing tonight.

But why fixies? “One, you’re actually faster,” Sean says. “Two, it’s safer. When nobody has brakes, nobody can slam on the brakes. You can always speed up or slow down, but very gradually.”

While we’re talking, Tom, Conrad, Patricia, and her American husband, Roger, and the others thrum past, doing their elliptical circle around us at 30 mph or more. A few more rounds and Roger’s hanging in there in the lead. Patricia can’t catch him, even though she’s in his “draft,” sheltering behind him.

Roger comes in. “You out-sprinted me,” she says, when she finally pulls up.

“I was turning myself inside-out, though,” he says.

“There was no reason for you to go that early,” Sean says to Patricia. He’s talking about the moment she chose to make her final sprint. “Right here, you were wasting a bunch of energy, coming along high. You rode farther, and you weren’t in the draft. If you had waited, and made a move back there [on the far side of the circle], you probably would have beaten him.”

He turns to yell to another group still racing. “Four [laps] to go! Push-push!”

Tom Kindberg has just come in on his BMC Swiss carbon-fiber machine. He’s won another race. Sean says the guy has endurance and the sprint.

Now Sean’s at the edge of the track, training each person for standing starts. He stands behind each bike in turn, holding it upright by the saddle so the rider can stick his cleated shoes in the pedal cages.

“Five, four, three, two, one, GO!”

A heavyset guy hauls up on his handlebars and down on his right pedal leg. “It’s harder for someone big like him than, say, Conrad,” Tom says. “Look at it this way: the heart is how big?” He makes a fist. Tom knows about heart health. He makes stents at Abbott Laboratories in Temecula. “He’s got all that big body to irrigate with blood. Because as you get bigger, your heart doesn’t always get bigger with you. Your heart is about the size of your hand. But somebody who’s a serious cyclist? His heart can develop to the size of two hands. It will actually grow bigger as you make it pump more. There’s something in the heart called ‘ejection fraction,’ meaning the percentage of returning blood your heart pumps from the venous atrium to the pulmonary atrium. So when grandma can’t make it across the room, her ejection fraction is only 10 percent. A normal person is about 40 to 50 percent. A cyclist is about 65 percent. The tops you’re ever going to get is, like, 76 percent.”

And, yes, he says, if you start cycling seriously now, in a year your heart will literally grow bigger. “And it will become more efficient. But don’t try too hard too fast. You should start out nice and easy.”

He takes a little display screen off his bike. He must have been wired to it while he was racing. “My average heart rate tonight has been 150, the whole time I’ve been riding. I’ve burned 550 calories in 34 minutes.”

“Five, four, three, two, one, GO!”

This is Sean, closing the evening with a pure drag race. “Four to go!” he yells a minute later, as the half dozen fly by. He means laps. Diminutive Conrad’s looking good, though he seems to have ceded the front. I’m just amazed he can keep up with these Goliaths. “Two to go! Two!” yells Sean. Does that mean Conrad’s out? “Not at all. Whoever’s in front is doing the most work. So usually you don’t want to be at the front for more than half a lap. You’re doing a third more work than if you’re behind, sheltering in the draft — One to GO!”

Tom’s at fourth position, Conrad’s in third.

“All the way to the line!” Sean yells across the velodrome to the other side. And then it’s over. The riders come blurring past. It seems amazing, but Conrad has pulled ahead. He comes in first.

With no brakes, it takes everyone a couple of circuits to slow down.

“That’s the thing,” Conrad says, when he catches his breath. “It’s any man’s sport.” I’ve asked him how he could beat this field of bigger guys. “It’s amazing,” he says, “The bicycle evens it out. Big, small, all ages. We all have a chance. That’s the beauty of it.”

People are walking around in pain from their last effort of the evening.

“Why do they do it?” I ask Sean.

“Why? Because it’s ideal biking. No cars, no dogs, no potholes, just pure speed,” he says. “It’s incredible fun.”

Ride Time

What do the top people ride? One Friday evening, I get a look by accident. I’ve wandered out from Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park feeling a little peckish. They have their own burger joint, but there’s a line, so I head for a modest, narrow storefront next door that I thought was labeled Pizza Place, or maybe Pasta Palace. Wrong, wrong. It was Pista Palace — “Pista,” as in “track,” in Italian. I walk in anyway and head on back to where this guy is assembling a bike on a clamp stand. It’s black and green and white, and the all-cap lettering on the frame reads “TIME.” The walls, glass counter, and shelves are covered in mysterious bike-part-looking products. But all clean, no oil, grease, rust. It’s like walking into a mini–Mercedes Benz specialist shop.

The slim guy is clipping brake cables. He doesn’t drop everything and rush to the counter. “How can I help you?” he asks, friendly, but it’s clear you’re in his territory. It’s only then that I notice another guy sitting on a nearby couch, sipping a beer. Well, it is Friday night.

“You sell…bikes?” I say.

“Yes,” he says. “High end.” It sounds like a warning he has to issue a hundred times a day. “We basically sell two brands. TIME, like this one I’m building, from France, and Colnago, the Italian brand.”

“What kind of money are we talking?” I ask.

“It depends on the equipment, but probably ten,” he says.

“As in ten...thousand?”

“Ten, easy,” says the guy on the couch. “Twenty, if you really want to be particular.”

The assembler is Mario Lanese. His friend is “John,” who has been in the biz a long time and doesn’t want his real name used. “I’m way too involved,” he says. “It’s a small industry.”

It turns out that TIME is one of the most expensive and prestigious bikes on the planet. French. Multiple Tour de France winner. Colnago is the Italian equivalent.

Justin Beope, the guy who created this business, isn’t here today, but he runs a pro race team out of this location, as well as the business. You have to wonder: How can a little store hidden away in South Park, selling only two very expensive bicycle brands, stay alive?

“When we opened,” says Mario, “people saw these bikes, and their first question was ‘How much does this one cost? Did you sell anything yet?’ It’s funny because we sell the shit out of this stuff. It’s not people from the neighborhood who typically come here. We sell bikes to people all over the world. And that’s how we want it to be. We want it to be a shop where people say, ‘They have the top. We want to seek them out.’ So we have customers from England, Asia, Australia, New Zealand. And locally, from L.A., from Santa Barbara. Like, that red bike hanging up there, that’s a custom build we’re doing for someone in Pasadena. So they’ll come down, and they’ll spend the weekend here just to go through the process of buying a bike with us, going through a fit…. We demo $10,000 road bikes, and no one else I know of does that in this area.”

He says they don’t sell anything Asian. “It’s not because the Asian products are bad. They can be very good quality. It’s just that you can get those things anywhere. Specialized, Giant, Trek. We want to be the niche that other people don’t have. [The parts] we sell here are typically Campagnolo, or handmade in Italy.”

What kind of person is willing to drop so much cash on a bike? “A lot of people,” Mario says. “You get the stereotypical dentist, has a ton of money, right? Wants to buy a bike. And then you get a lot of ordinary people like us. Like, I have a bike that is worth way more money than I should be spending on a bike. I like riding that much. A lot of our customers are guys who don’t really have a lot of money. They drive a $2000 car and ride a $10,000 bike.”

Then there are the “Freddies.”

“‘Freddies’ are the weekend warriors who wear bright yellow so cars can see them, or that bright orange vest that can land a plane because its colors are so bright. Instead of having regular water bottles, they have a Gatorade bottle that doesn’t even fit in the holder. They’ve bought whatever was on sale at the Trek store, the Trek bike, with the Trek shorts, the full Lance Armstrong Mellow Johnny’s kit. They’re dressed exactly like the pros, but are fat, old guys. But you’ve got to remember: Freddies feed the industry, so I have no problem selling a TIME to them. Freddies put me through college. A lot of times I’m trying to do the fit, get a tape around their gut. I tell every one of them, ‘Listen, you’re not really in shape yet. So, understand that you’re buying a racing bike, but we’re trying to make it a comfortable bike.’ That’s what we call ‘Fredding out’ a bike.”

Most of the guys who run this shop race, Mario says. “But you don’t have to be a racer to enjoy it. There’s nothing better. Any new cyclist, the first time you get on a nice performance road bike, and you go down Torrey Pines hill, that’s like one of the best feelings ever. I do that ride three or four times a week, just because I like to go fast. And the first time you go out Sunrise Highway, climbing hills, man…”

“Riding’s not just good for jocks,” says John, who has given up racing. “I have a friend I ride with. He’s an anesthesiologist. We were sitting down by Mission Bay one day, having a break from our ride. And we see a handful of people come riding by on their bikes. He said that these people, who were in their 40s, and just totally casual riders, were probably still in the top ten percent of the healthiest people in the nation, for their age bracket. Because they rode.”

He takes another drag on his beer. “Still, that customer is not this place’s customer. This place is for the high-end road guy who’s, like, a dentist, a type-A, very anal, shaves his legs, likes things perfect.”

The phone rings. John gets it, looks up. “Hey Mario, the guy wants to know how long before his bike’s ready.” Mario’s winding white tape around the TIME NXR Instinct’s handlebars, like a boxing coach wrapping his fighter’s knuckles before a fight. It’s a curiously primitive thing to do to this space-age machine.

“Ten minutes?”

“This is who you’re prepping the bike for?” I ask.

Mario nods.

“What does he do?”

“He’s a dentist.”

How Polo Can You Go?

Don’t bring your TIME bike to Park and Meade on Wednesday evenings. Bring the roughest old piece of junk you can find, because it’s going to get beat up.

It’s around 8:00 as I walk my bike onto the dankly lit court. Actually, it’s a church’s parking lot. The Fellowship of San Diego. But this time of night, nobody seems too worried. Hillbilly, Fraggle, and half a dozen of their buddies are waiting around, sitting on their bikes, chewing the fat, waiting for Mike Maverick to drop the mallets and start the game. Maverick walks to the middle of the space, jumbles six mallets around behind his back, then releases them in the air so they fall in two piles of three. The guys rush to see where their particular mallet has fallen. This is how teams are selected in this townie cousin of the oldest team game in the world: polo.

We’re talking bike polo here. Not quite the same ring to it as those charging horses. But it turns out that even this bike version goes back to 19th-century British Raj days, when soldiers stationed in India took new-fangled bone-rattler bikes and used them to practice their horse polo on. So this is a revival of sorts.

“Hard-court bike polo is taking off,” says Maverick, “because it’s more urban style, as opposed to grass. Europe, Asia, the Americas, it’s everywhere, because it’s cheap and easy to organize.”

Hillbilly (Chris Bamat) comes up with his girlfriend Jami. He’s wearing a gray “Play Bike Polo” helmet. Soon enough, Trevor (“Fraggle”) Fray, and Josh (“Jüsh”) Riccio follow. Fraggle’s wearing a horseshoe-shaped ring in his nose, through his septum, and a single earring, and blond dreads. He’s a bike messenger for Nationwide Legal, and his friend Josh Riccio rides for Cal Express. Gradually, a bunch of others turn up. Hillbilly’s the guy who brought this group together. He’d played the game in Washington DC, and when he arrived in San Diego last year, went online to find other potential bike-polo people. He’s a mechanical engineer. “I love the engineering of bikes,” he says. “And I like that anyone can play. It’s not so much that we like polo. It’s that we love bikes, and this is something to do on them.”

We’re standing around a load of backpacks and bags placed in front of the wagon. They’re lined up behind the goal posts — two road cones — to stop the ball flying off out into the night across Meade.

“Po-o-Lo!” yells Maverick. That’s the start signal. Three guys lined up side by side at this end, and three at the other end, in front of the church hall, leap onto their bikes and charge toward each other, heading for the ball in the middle. “Once they get on, they can’t touch the ground with their feet,” says Hillbilly. “If they do, they have to go to the wall and whack it with their mallet and come back. Or on the other side, that light pole. We adapt to where we’re playing.”

Clack-clack-clack! A tangle of clashing mallets, as all six fight for possession while remaining aboard their bikes. It takes a moment for the ball to clear. Fraggle whacks it toward the church goal, and four riders tear after it. “In New York, when the ball gets stuck in some corner and people are just fighting over it and the game loses momentum,” says Maverick, “they call ‘Boring!’ and everybody has to break it up and let the ball out.”

Each game lasts ten minutes. You can see why: After the first two games, these boys need the break.

Maverick says it’s not too hard to pick up. “If you’re really good on a bicycle, which means you can ride with one hand, and have the other hand free to wield the mallet, you can play this game. These guys are mostly bicycle messengers. Their bike skills are superior because that’s what they do all day.”

Maverick’s originally from New York. “I was out here in San Diego and didn’t even know of the sport. Then I saw an ad in the Reader. I brought my own bike. It was a nice GT, with shocks in the front, and the shock seat. And they were like, ‘No, no, that bike’s too good to play polo. You need to go to a garage sale and get yourself an old, stiff-framed bike, so the shocks don’t take up the energy that you put into pedaling.’ So I went to a garage sale and bought a bike that was inferior, but stiff-framed, and started playing. And I’ve never stopped loving it.”

After the first game, the guys let me in for a session with a borrowed mallet. Riding Hawaii one-handed with the mallet — a ski pole with a bit of PVC piping jammed on the end for a hitting head — held in my other hand, is in no way easy. Heading for the ball, you’ve got to intimidate others, but not collide, not swing overhead, not stick your mallet in their spokes, and start swinging long before you’re within range.

I soon discover that just staying aboard takes everything you’ve got, and that it’s basically hockey sans ice, all spurts and games of chicken. You and some other guy — in my case, usually Hillbilly — are racing for the ball, and something’s got to give. There’s a lot of sweaty close-quarter struggles, a lot of laughs, followed by sudden dashes for the wild blue yonder. They were kind to me, let me get the ball and try to dribble the thing by mallet toward those goalposts. Giddy feeling! Except they have a “goalie” on a bike with the spokes protected by cardboard, so the ball can’t get through. I can only say that I got pretty good at riding one-handed. And at clanging that lamppost.

Then, unfortunately, in the midst of the fray, I stick my mallet in my own front spokes and…aagh! Splat: there I am on my back, laid out on the tarmac. Players gather ’round. The game comes to a halt.

“Boring!” Fraggle yells.

Conversation Under a Tent

Here in City Heights, at this Saturday farmers’ market, in the middle of Somali sambusas and Salvadoran pupusas and French crêpe tents, a blue canopy shelters a bunch of people huddling out of the rain as a small team of people fixes bikes. Two, Ken and Ted, stand behind a makeshift counter loaded with boxes of nuts, bolts, spokes, and other biking paraphernalia. Another two, Kelly and Andrès, man the spanners and position a rear wheel onto a blue BMX clamped on a stand. An 11-year-old kid named Michael stands watching with his mom. It’s his bike. “This is a bike kitchen,” says Ted. “We’re a collective. We mostly don’t fix bikes, we show people how to do it themselves.”

“Se Habla Spanglish,” says one sign, but some of the talk here is like sign language. A couple of Somali mothers don’t speak English. “It’s free, but about half of the customers, or more usually their parents, give us something,” Ted says. “Bikes are important here. A lot of people in this area can’t afford bus fare. This is about getting to work. The least we can do is give them a safe bike.”

But they’re not the only bike people with a social conscience. There’s Sky Boyer of Velo Cult, who has started a program where, if you ride your bike to participating merchants instead of driving, you get 10–20 percent off your purchases. Jinna Albright and her husband Don, who own Thomas Bikes — by far the oldest bike business in the county (think 1903) — sell used bikes; their ancient garage in South Park has become a gathering spot for enthusiasts. They organize all sorts of biking events and riding-safety classes that encourage the habit.

Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe, farther up University, collects parts and makes and sells secondhand bikes cheap, and is a sort of social center if you just want to talk bikes and organize rides.

“The bike is the most perfect invention ever,” says Ted. “Why has it survived? Because it is appropriate technology.”

That doesn’t mean the rest of the world agrees, least of all our town planners, he says. “I live in Golden Hill. But to get across the craziness of the 15 freeway I have to make a three-mile detour that cars don’t have to make. That loses me 15 minutes right there.”

Is it worth the hassle?

Ted sighs. “We’re here, aren’t we?”

Road Rage

Adam Maxwell’s looking a little battered. He’s got scarring up his arm and burn marks on his leg. He’s just pulled up on his fixie outside Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe’s café at 69th and University, a hangout where they’ll even assemble bike parts into a machine and sell it to you for a reasonable price. Adam’s fixie isn’t cheap. It’s a $1000 machine.

“It’s so simple, and yet it’s the most difficult bike to ride. You have to focus,” he says.

It wasn’t fixed-pedaling mistakes that scarred up his arm and left burn marks on his leg. “I got hit by a car,” he says. “It wasn’t an accident. There were four guys in the car. They started throwing food at me as they pulled alongside. It was about 7:00 in the evening. This was near 42nd Street, on El Cajon Boulevard. I was heading down to work at Urban Solace in North Park. They followed me. They hit me, shunted my bike. I careened off to the side and crashed. They stopped and all four jumped out. If it hadn’t been for four Lacrosse guys who ran up, I don’t know what they would have done. You get a lot of aggression from cars. They don’t like us. They don’t think bike riders should be on the road.”

The Uneven Contest

Maxwell’s not the only victim of deliberate aggression by motorists. “The tragedy is that what might be a bump between two cars can become catastrophic, or even deadly, for bicyclists,” says David Casey, a San Diego personal injury attorney who is famous for his work with the 9-11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, and the Exxon Valdez litigation. “I had a case a few years ago where some kids were drinking, and they actually drove into a bike lane and opened a door to [deliberately] hit a bicyclist. Then I had a very tragic situation on Friar’s Road where a young man was driving a car, and he hit a law student who was on a bicycle. The impact was so hard it amputated the student’s leg. He carried him about 550 feet before he even stopped. [The driver] was on a cell phone. He was not even aware of the bicyclist. Even after impact, he didn’t begin to react for a period of time because his focus was on the cell phone [conversation]. And that makes it even more dangerous. The law student died on the scene. I think there are a lot of risks to bicyclists out there because people in cars, particularly if they’re on a cell phone, or the radio’s on, they’re not really focusing. The City has been trying to create safe bikeways and bike lanes. But what happens is they [the bike lanes] will go so far, and then they temporarily end. And these bicyclists are stranded suddenly in a position where they have to confront danger. We [as a society] need to make a decision that we’re going to create very safe areas for bicyclists to be, so they can enjoy themselves safely and cars [aren’t put] in direct proximity to bicyclists.”

Casey says that bike-injury cases are increasing. “The reason, I think, is that more and more people are starting to ride bikes. Which is wonderful, but with the current level of safe areas to bike in, bikers are at significant risk. There are very few places in the country that really have safe, delineated bike areas. If you could figure out a way to get people to ride bicycles safely from outlying areas into the city of San Diego and back again, you’ll find a lot of people who want to save the gas money, want to get the exercise, and should be able to do it without putting themselves at risk.”

Taking Your Life In Your Hands

So, time to try bike commuting myself. On this fresh Friday morning, the birds are tweeting in the trees near Pershing and Upas at the northeast corner of Balboa Park. Planes fly past seemingly at eye level, heading for Lindbergh Field. We’re a few hundred feet above downtown here, but, as they say, in a different world. Just beyond the crossroads, the land falls away, and somewhere down at the bottom, the pencil-tips of the tops of San Diego’s central business district highrises sprout up.

I’m waiting for Chris Kluth. He’s the bike guy at SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments. He commutes to work every day on his bike from North Park. Right on schedule at 20 minutes past 8:00, Chris rolls up, a tall rangy fellow of maybe 35 in gray shorts, white polo, and a blue bike helmet. His bike is a silver-gray stretch model Univega Alpina Pro, with extra handlebars behind the saddle and a kind of skateboard seat mounted behind. “My two kids, who are six and eight, fit on there,” he says, “or I can pack it up with six bags of groceries, or I can take my wife out on a date in North Park.” He says it only requires “about ten minutes” to be in his SANDAG office in the Wells Fargo Plaza HQ building at 4th and B.

Of course, my solid, stolid Hawaii is in no way up to Chris’s bike’s standard. Fortunately, it’s mostly downhill. We start out where the curvy pathway meets Sherman. “Bike Lane,” says a sign at the start of the big downhill run. That’s encouraging. A wide white line gives us bike riders about five feet to ride on. Chris heads out and down. Man, he’s swift. I follow, and pretty soon it’s too fast to pedal on my one-gear wonder. We curve down to the right, amid trees smelling of gum and olives.

I pull out a little digital recorder for my first ever bike-to-bike interview as we sweat up a shoulder by the park’s municipal golf course.

“This trip is about three miles,” Chris says. “It’s faster by bike than by car, by the time you find a parking spot in the SANDAG building. And more pleasant. Most people in the office say, ‘Gosh, I wish I could come to work this way.’”

Now we’re flying downhill with a scarily steep drop-off on our right. Florida Canyon. I’m asking him if he’s going to Critical Mass’s monthly ride tonight. “No,” he says. “I have before, and it’s pretty fun. But over the last year, they’ve started to do some things that just plain aren’t very smart. Like going onto the Coronado bridge, or the 5 freeway…”

Lordy. Suddenly Chris stops, because, guess what? The bike path just disappears. Evaporates. Our road has turned into an on-ramp for the freeway, the 5 North. Cars speed up.

“We have to cross through them?”

“Yup,” says Chris, and heads out between oncoming cars with his left arm stuck out like a train signal. I follow, and almost mistake a lady’s intentions — thought she was going to slow for me, but she didn’t. Zoom! Man. That was too close. The next car takes pity, and I skittle across, like a cockroach. What happened to the safety of the bike path? The City just gives up on us here? And now we have to brave the freeway entrance to the 5 South before the traffic-light-regulated haven of B Street?

“If this were Portland, Oregon, they would have made some sort of accommodation for bikes back there,” Chris says. “Colored bike lanes, a bridge, or something.” Then he says, almost casually, “There have been two bicyclists killed in that spot in the last few years, doing just what we did.”

Wow. That’s sobering, and straight after, angering. No car driver would put up with this. Why should bike riders? Lawsuit! We’re people, too.

The trouble for bike riders, Chris says, is they have no stats with which to build a case for reform. Amazingly, nobody knows how many bike riders there are in San Diego County. The good news is, that may change next year. In 2011, Chris says, SANDAG plans to initiate its first-ever cyclist count, putting people at street corners to count how many bicyclists pass by. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Returning to Critical Mass

So the very next night, I’m thinking of all this as I huff and puff to keep up with the hotshots on Critical Mass. It’s about 11:00 p.m.

We’re on Harbor Drive, a small remnant of the original group. According to someone who has a cell phone, the jocks are over the hills and far away, heading past Point Loma to Mission Beach. Too fast for us. I stop near where Kipling Mitchell and Alexi Glines have coasted to a halt. Kipling’s dressed in a kind of bloodied giraffe top, this being Halloween. “I’m Giraffrey Dahmer,” he explains. Alexi is dressed as a black cat with a tail, some climbing rope, and an eye mask. “Cat burglar,” she says.

“I used to be a lot more idealistic about Critical Mass,” Kipling says. “And I used to ride a lot more often. I tried to make a lifestyle of it, tried to get a job where I could ride to work. But San Diego is a difficult place to do that.”

Yet, says Alexi, in Portland, where her sister lives, you pretty much can do it. “My sister doesn’t own a car. She just has a bike. And the streets and traffic are much more bike-friendly than here.”

“Still,” says Kipling, brightening. “I mean, Critical Mass. When you’re with a thousand other people, and you ride right down the middle of the street, king of the road, it’s a great feeling, isn’t it?”

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It WAS fun on that glorious Friday night and we did a wonderfully stupid thing: From Washington street to downtown on the 163. My first trip on an interstate sans cage.

Critical Mass will be riding again on New Year's Eve. See y'all there!

Way to go riding on the 163 where cyclists are prohibited. I bet you were a part of the geniuses who rode across the Coronado Bridge and create havoc through and around the airport in past bike riots.

Being caught in one of your riots with idiots in the rides slamming their hands and handle bars into my car has given me less respect for your group.

Bicycling in the road is not nearly as dangerous as many people think. I highly recommend taking the "Traffic Skills 101" course from the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition for anyone who rides in the road. See their web site for details. The book "Bicycling Street Smarts" is available free online and teaches mostly the same things. Once you learn how to integrate with traffic properly, you will feel a lot safer riding in the road. Bicycle safety is not intuitive. You need to study it in order to learn it.

The California DMV has the California Vehicle Code online. Bicyclists mostly have to follow the same laws as motor vehicle operators but there are some differences which are mostly spelled out in C.V.C. Division 11, Chapter 1, Article 4.

I'm kind of disappointed that so much emphasis in this article is on Critical Mass. I don't consider CM to be representative of me or of most bicyclists. I particularly disagree with the freeway, Coronado bridge and inside mall routes. The people leading the groups onto those routes are trying to turn CM from a celebration into a confrontation. I know that many CM riders disagree with those routes too and there has been some effort by some within CM to block the group from going on freeway on ramps.

San Diego has a growing bicycle commuter community. San Diego bicycling not all racing bikes, fixies, mountain bikes and Critical Mass. It's not even close to that. Check out sdbikecommuter dot com, a forum where many avid San Diego bicycle commuters hang out.

Critical Mass reminds me of that Tool "Puck" from the MTV show "Real World" circa 94? I don't think wanting better bike lanes is a bad thing, but the whooping and hollering to people in cars only ends up angering the motorist more.

To the reader who got on the FREEWAY from Washington to downtown, you are a moron. If hit by a car going 55mph (conservatively) I am sure you would be first in line to sue them. @@@@<-----------------internet speak for rolling my eyes. It is illegal to ride on the freeway, sure it sounds fun, but so does jumping off the Ingraham st. bridge. Illegal none the same. I understand the appeal of biking, I really do, and I don't begrudge people who wish to make a change in San Diego with respect to bike lanes, but things like critical mass are "rebel" based and unfortunately do nothing to change the mind of the everyday car obsessed Southern Californian.

What's interesting to me are the references to Portland and Copenhagen as bike meccas. Neither of which has had a Critical Mass of any significance in years. Yet somehow these bike friendly improvements to the cities continue to come to fruition. Conversely, every month a reported 700-1200 riders flood the streets of San Diego with little to no impact on the city’s views on biking. Could it be that Critical Mass has no impact on a city’s decisions to make more bike friendly streets? That’s the way it seems. Long Beach is next to Portland claiming itself as one of the most bike friendly cities and they’re actively trying to do away with Critical Mass. NYC is up on the list of cities trying to become more bike-friendly and a federal judge ruled Critical Mass as an illegal event.

There are no bike lanes, no paved roads, no bike paths, no improved legislation, no better educated cyclists, motorists or police or any other change to the San Diego that can be attributed to Critical Mass. The same is true in nearly every city in the US. Critical Mass just doesn't change things like the riders want so badly to believe. In the cities which need bike improvements, the relatively few motivated folks waste time riding in Critical Mass rather than taking real action. NYC has made unbelievable progress in just a few short years due to advocacy groups and lobbying city officals. Why are San Diegans wasting their time riding on freeways and over the Coronado Bridge when they could be making a real difference. I’m with “Sportsbook”. I believe there’s a lot we can do to improve our city for bikes, but Critical Mass isn’t it.

While I agree with SCMDave that CM doesn't seem to have much to do with improvements for bicycling infrastructure, Portland actually has had a fairly significant CM for years.

Building better infrastructure requires direct work towards that goal and it started in Portland before they had a CM. For the story on the building of Portland bicycling infrastructure, read "Joyride" by Mia Birk.


CM doesn't directly accomplish anything. It's supposed to raise awareness. I'm not sure how well it even does that.

Copenhagen has had CM every day at rush hour for the last century or so because bicycling has always been extremely popular there and they have better education for both bicyclists and drivers. If I recall correctly, something near half of commuters within Copenhagen are bicyclists. They don't have any reason to have a special ride.

Long Beach is calling themselves one of the most bicycle friendly cities but I think that's a bit premature. They've made huge progress that is very impressive but they still have a way to go.

8.billdsd, I think you hit the nail on the head. All of these cities have progressed in making cycling a more accessible and safe activity without the need for Critical Mass. In 2007 the Portland Critical Mass was almost non-existent (http://goo.gl/RIFsk) yet they continue to be revered as one of the best US cities for bikes. I’m sure the CM in Portland has received a little resurgence, but as you point out, Mia Birk has had a much larger impact on Portland than CM could ever hope to.

Google "Critical Mass" and you'll have an easier time finding links describing altercations between cyclists and motorists, cyclists and police, or cyclists and pedestrians than you will any positive effect the event has had on this or any city. Even the author of this article refers to the ride as one in which he is “on the attack and not the defensive”. Do we really want to live in a city where revenge is not only dismissed but celebrated as a political statement?

It seems the riders who align with the author let their angst drive their actions rather than rationality and desire for productivity. If Mia Birk can change the landscape of Portland through hard work and persistence, imagine what the 1000 riders of Critical Mass in San Diego could accomplish if they chose to spend their time being proactive and productive rather than combative? San Diego would be a much different city indeed.

Speaking for the cars, you bikes need to play fair too. Bikers love to complain about the lack of road etiquette yet routinely abuse basic road rules and regulations.

You want road equality? Stop blowing through red lights and stop signs. Don't weave through slow or standing traffic. Don't cut on and off sidewalks and walkways because it's convenient for you. We're all supposed to learn the basics in driving school, but the road is a jungle, and like it or not, we are the lions.

And yes, while we cars have more than our share of nasty, loud, fuel-drunk environment-polluting murder machines, it's also pretty easy to recognize that the oft-rude, loud and aggressive mob mentality of Critical Mass reeks slightly of elitist d-baggery.

Maybe I'll just walk.

Bill, I'm sure you're a very nice guy, and a pretty good read as well. That said, most people on earth do not dislike bicycles. Moreover, unless you grew up in the tropical rain forest of the Amazon, you've probably had more than a few good spins on one or many.

Here's the deal as I see it. I have a bike, and I have a car. I use the bike as a recreational vehicle, and I use my car as a means of more practical travel.

What upsets the car people (not many of us don't have a car and use it in SoCal), are the bicyclists who refuse to follow the rules of the road itself. E.g., stop signs, stop lights, proper signaling, and common sense and common courtesy. The sad part is, that by not bicycling responsibly, everyone on bike and car is placed in dangerous situations.

Enjoy the ride, just abide, like the rest of us should.

framous, the bicycle is a very practical means of travel. It's used by thousands of people in San Diego every single day. It's used by millions of people around the world every single day. For short trips it makes a lot of sense.

I'm not defending bicyclists breaking the law. However, the notion that bicyclists break the law more than drivers is either a delusion or a lie. Most drivers speed most of the time that they can. Most drivers don't come to a complete stop at stop signs or right turn on red if there is no cross traffic. Most drivers don't signal most of the time. Indeed, signalling often results in another driver moving to block your signaled movement which discourages even drivers from signalling (BTW, I do signal on my bike). Most drivers will not yield right of way to a pedestrian at an uncontrolled intersection or even a cross walk if that cross walk does not also have a stop sign or red light to tell them to stop. I stopped in my car to let a pedestrian cross at a cross walk and was rewarded with some idiot leaning on his horn because I was complying with the law. I see tons of people driving with cell phones up to their ear every day. I see drivers running red lights every day. I see people tail gating every day. I often see drivers turn across multiple lanes. I see wrong way drivers at least a few times a month.

We'd all be better off if everyone would obey the rules of the road, including drivers. Actually especially drivers, since they are orders of magnitude more dangerous than bicyclists. I find claims that drivers are endangered by bicycles to be laughable. In a collision between a bicycle vs. car, the driver and passengers almost never get hurt.

People who complain about other people not having common sense often do not know what common sense is. This is especially true when it comes to bicycle safety which most people think they understand, but don't. The Traffic Skills 101 class from the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition will teach you things that surprise most people, even people that have ridden thousands of miles per year for decades.

youmustlearn: It sounds like your biggest complaint with bicyclists is that they pass you when you're stuck in traffic instead of staying stuck with you. That sounds very petty and childish to me. How does it affect you if they manage to get to go while you are stuck?

RE: Spandex Wearing Bike Riding Cry Babies! No you do not have the right to block freeways and streets with your shiney little expensive TOYS! HELLO! BIKES ARE TOYS! I am sick and tired of your nonsense, bikes run stop signs and red lights and cut off cars daily because they strap their little ballerina bikey shoes onto their pedals. If you can't stop your vehicle it is not street legal. If you can do 15mph in a 30 mph zone that is not legal. If you want to ride on the freeway on your little toys, that's not legal. We need some serious bike rider laws, like big license plate displays so you can pay for your traffic violations, go to traffic school to learn how to ride your bikey in the street and huge registration fees (oh yeah the free 'ride' is soon to be over)to pay for the 100's of miles of bike lanes that you people can't seem to use. Its shocking that the city allows a permit to allow bike riders to snarl traffic, 'a driver frustrated and surrounded like a mouse attacked by hornets' and 'It's refreshing to be on the attack..'. this is hateful that you are out to punish car drivers?!! Maybe I'll join you next time with a box of carpet tacks. What is the city thinking. Call your City Counsel person and tell them bikey riders are a very small minority and should be prosecuted for traffic violations, surrounding motor vehicles and scratching their paint. Play with your toys in your yard, stop whining and pay registration fees

MaryIce, you are the biggest crybaby of all.

First, bicycles are not toys. They are a means of transportation and have been so in the U.S. for the last 130 years. I commute around 6000-7000 miles per year by bicycle. Many people own cars but prefer to travel by bicycle. Many young people can't afford a car. Some people choose not to own a car. Some people are legally prevented from driving a motor vehicle in the road. They all have to have some way to get around. Public transportation in this city is pathetic and has been getting worse with recent budget cuts.

Second, I see lots of drivers roll stop signs and run red lights every single day (I work downtown). Most drivers speed most of the time that they can. Most drivers will not yield right of way to a pedestrian at an uncontrolled intersection or even a crosswalk unless that crosswalk also has a red light or stop sign to make them stop. I see drivers driving with a cell phone up to their ear every day. I see drivers turn across multiple lanes multiple times a week. Drivers have zero respect for the law.

Third, California law C.V.C. 21202(a) gives bicyclists the same right to the road as motor vehicles. There is no law against a bicycle going 15mph in a 30mph zone. If you think that there is, then you are delusional. Don't try me on C.V.C. 22400. I've got 5 different good legal reasons from a lawyer why a ticket for such would never hold up to the court process.

Fourth, bicyclists do have to follow the same laws as drivers with only a few exceptions. That's also stated in C.V.C. 21200(a). Maybe if you ever bothered to read the law, you would actually have an idea of what it says. Bicyclists can and do get tickets.

Fifth, most surface roads are paid for by general fund taxes. Ignorant people trying to rationalize their childish prejudice against bicyclists seem to all live under the delusion that their fuel taxes pay for all of the roads. The fact is that most of that money goes to state and federal highways and doesn't even completely fund those. The fact is that bicyclists pay as much for the regular surface roads where you find most of them most of the time as anyone else does. This is what happens when you just make stuff up instead of doing your research. You just show your ignorance.

Sixth, the city doesn't have a choice about allowing bicycles in the road. California state law prevents cities from modifying the rules of the road except for a very small number of specific things which they are allowed to regulate -- none of those includes denying bicyclists the right to use the road.

Just like everything, a fun, healthy activity has been reduced to bickering and derision. When I first got my road bike, I was PETRIFIED. I actually had a driver in La Jolla swerve at me intentionally. I learned how to ride my bike in traffic, and I obey all traffic laws. Not every bike rider is a jerk. Just like motorists, there are always going to be some bad apples. We are SHARING the road. No one owns it. Cycling is fun, and a great way to get exercise out in the fresh air. It's too bad it's being reduced to an "us against them" mentality in San Diego. I hope both motorists and cyclists try to understand each other's frustrations and work toward being courteous rather than confrontational.

As a long time cyclist in San Diego, I agree we need motorists and cyclists to get along. My complaint with this article is that, although the author touches upon some interesting things (the price of bikes, dangers, and more) there should've been no positive ink given to Critical Mass. They've done more harm for cyclists, by creating anger among motorists. I wish the author would have asked the CM crowd why they do the dangerous and extremely stupid things they do (blocking intersections, running red lights, flipping off cars, slapping cars, all things I've seen first hand). They wouldn't have a good answer, but their attempts to justify those actions might have been revealing. Ride courteously, ride smart, and keep the streets safe and full of less frustration for everyone.

Advice is one thing, Receiving anger is another!

Those on fragile bikes must ALWAYS fear weird drivers in massive vehicles!

That is why (to me {and I use both often}) bicycles are MUCH more dangerous than motorcycles which can accelerate and stop orders of magnitude better than bicycles...

Being right is no fun when you are being taken to the ER or worse...

Fear Road Rash & Drive Defensibly...

Fear is often a result of ignorance.

In 2009, seven times as many motorcyclists were killed as bicyclists. I'm pretty sure that there aren't seven times as many motorcyclists as bicyclists.

Your perception of safety is not accurate.

Furthermore, if you get the proper safety training you'll be surprised at how safe bicycling can be.

Ha Ha Guess Again!

I'm a r-e-a-l-l-y long time, high milage rider of motorcycles ---> Think multiple BMW 100,000 mile pins+ + I've built bicycles frames from self customized lugs upward, with Campy components and led bicycle trips averaging 100+ miles per day and still ride more often than most folks... So keep your "Studded Leather Motorcycle Jacket; Leather Pants" comments to yourself...

Because they are not factual...

Remember "Talk is Cheap" and "Going Fast, is Serious Business, just ask Sterling Moss"...

Read "All But My Life" by Sterling Moss and enjoy where the "Need For Speed" takes you...

Believe it or not, I just added the above to show that instead of just talking bicycling or motorcycling, I've been doing both for over 40 years and as drivers get more and more frustrated all cyclists (bicyclists and motorcyclists) will pay the price.

Cyclist that go out of their way to irritate vehicle drivers just make it harder for all the rest that are just trying to get from A to B and enjoy the ride...

And as far as the "Dave MOLTN frame" goes, I never met him but I'm referring to designing and building my own bicycle frame from the lugs up, back in the 70's when the state of the art was "only" a ten speed...

If your comment was about Founder instead of Finder, I'll say that my self built custom is hanging in the garage and it's frame needs to be re-chromed and I don't ride it as much as I do my second bicycle which is a beater with good components, that so far has been untouched when I park it all around North Park, where I do most of my riding these days.

Ride On...

I find that the majority of cyclists ignore the rules of the road to the point of being hazardous. It is my observation that it is rare to see a bicycle operated in a lawful manner.

I find that the majority of cyclists ignore the rules of the road to the point of being hazardous. It is my observation that it is rare to see a bicycle operated in a lawful manner.

==================== Most serious cyclists follow the rules of the road. And if they don't it is usually in the interest of safety.

As one who has cycled a lot in my life it was always the motor vehicle driver that was the danger. I was T-Boned by an unattentive driver and could have been killed by that crash-so if cyclists ignore the rules of road there is a good reason for it most of the time.

Until a local smacks you around for cutting in on his wave!

I love surfing. Long baording baby-best there is.....

Bicyclists don't ignore the rules of the road any more than drivers do. If you think that they do, then you are delusional. I see bicyclists stop at red lights and stop signs every day.

Do I really need to go through the laundry list of violations of the rules of the road I see from dozens of drivers every single day?

Cover quote: “I got hit by a car,” he says. “And it wasn’t by accident.” This is the first thing one reads after the banner headline. It is not a particularly encouraging thought for novice cyclists who may have limited experience sharing the roads with traffic. It’s not a good way of introducing the subject to someone who might be on the fence about using a bicycle for transportation.

p. 19, last ¶: “It’s just so refreshing to be on the attack…” “The fight-back has begun.” The tone here is confrontational and hostile, two unfortunate characteristics that give San Diego’s Critical Mass a bad reputation.

p. 20, ¶2: Obligatory Lance Armstrong reference, last refuge of the non-cyclist.

p. 20, ¶3: Writer admits to having been cycling for a few weeks. That’s not even adequate time to research a high school term paper.

p. 22, ¶1: I have never seen any photographic evidence from Tours de France of the past depicting participants with Ubangi-style earlobe or lip stretchers. The “old-school racers’ cap” is called a “casquette.”

p. 22, ¶7: “Lugano” tire is made by Schwalbe, not Schwinn.

p. 22, ¶9: Riding a road bike down the Silver Strand bike path doesn’t make one a road racer.

p. 23: If a rider’s quad muscles and butt get sore during a short, flat ride, the fault is not the shape or size of the saddle. It means the bike does not fit properly. Most likely the saddle height is too low. If the hands become fatigued that is another sign of poor fit. Something is definitely wrong if one is leaning all of one’s upper body weight on the hands.

p. 23: Herons are blue-grey. The white ones are egrets.

p. 24, ¶1: I never read anything about the writer joining a team. How could he possibly be on a team if this is his first ride on a road bike?

p. 24, ¶1: If the writer is “busting a gut” on a short, flat road ride and complaining about it being “all this way,” either the fit of the bike is all wrong, or he has been sitting on the couch for too long.

p. 24, ¶2: The writer claims to be riding on the Silver Strand bike path but talks about being passed by “racers.” I just looked at the SCNCA race calendar and can’t find any record of a race down the Silver Strand bike path. USA Cycling would never permit a race on such a course. He then claims that said racers take him to be a pro, like them. As far as I know, Chris Horner is the only Pro-Tour team member who lives in the area even part time. My observation has been that most experienced competitive racers avoid two way bike paths like the plague. In this case, serious road riders prefer to ride on the road on the Silver Strand to avoid just the kind of danger posed by novices such as the author. Pretending to be a rider on a Pro-Tour team is typical Fred behavior and is frowned upon.

p. 24, ¶7: “All right,” not “alright.” The Velodrome is not a “stadium.” Sean Burke is not a professional rider, he is Category 2. He is a level 3 coach.

Sean Burke is not “supplied by the City.” He is a private contractor and takes half of the coaching fee. The other half goes to the San Diego Velodrome Association general fund.

The track bikes used for coaching are not “borrowed from the City’s collection.” They are the property of the San Diego Velodrome Association. They are entry-level track bikes, not the typical “fixies” ridden by local hipsters. The frame geometry is different and they are geared much higher. Don’t try to do tricks, bar-spins, or skids on these bikes. They are not the same as the urban “fixies” the author refers to later in the piece, although he apparently doesn’t perceive the distinction.

The corners at the San Diego Velodrome are banked at a relaxed 27 degrees, not particularly exciting. If excitement is what one is after, check out the LA Velodrome in Carson with its 45 degree banking, or even 7-Eleven Velodrome in Colorado Springs with 33 degrees. On the San Diego track one can trackstand in the corners. In LA if one slows below about 15 mph the bike slides out from under one and both rider and bike make a quick trip to the apron below.

The San Diego Velodrome is covered with a resin impregnated fabric that is slick as snot with the slightest hint of dampness. It is dangerous and foolhardy to even try to walk across the wet track, much less ride a bike on it. The only part that is now concrete is the ill-advised and rapidly deteriorating sprinters lane.

p. 26, ¶7: Entry-level racers will never hear a countdown “Five, four, three, two, one, GO!” The starting instructions given by the starter at a non-championship race are as follows: “Timers ready, rider(s) ready, (gunshot or whistle).” National championships is probably the only time most track racers will have a countdown and it will be a series of electronic beeps starting at 30 seconds to go: (At 30 seconds) – BEEP (At 20 seconds) – BEEP (At 10 seconds) – BEEP (At 5 seconds) – BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BOOP! Riders starts on the BOOP!

At national level tracks such as LA the rider’s rear wheel will be released by the starting block on BOOP! to prevent a false start, otherwise if the rider starts early the starter will fire the pistol twice and the rider will have one more chance to start properly in most time trial events. It is more than likely that a rider competing at the national level will be trained by a level 1 coach who knows this.

p. 26, ¶13: If riders are in pain after their efforts, something is seriously wrong with the way the bike fits.

p. 30, ¶2: The SKLZ – Pista Palace team is neither a ProTour team nor a professional continental team. It is a local regional team that is eligible to compete in local level races. By the same token, Pro Tour and professional continental teams are not eligible to compete in local races. Many flyers for local races mistakenly offer a “Pro, 1, 2” field when what they really mean is “Elite, 1, 2.” “Elite” refers to the age group between 23 and 30, although qualified riders who are between 17 and 23 as well as qualified riders over age 30 may still compete in Elite fields.

p. 31, ¶2: The term is “Fred,” not “Freddie.”

p. 31, ¶4: “Torrey Pines Grade,” not “Torrey Pines hill.” The author has apparently never ridden up or down it.

He's pointing out that there were a lot of factual errors in the article indicating that the research was poorly done. Much of what he's pointing out is a bit on the pedantic side but he is correct.

The article says a lot of things that help perpetuate many of unfair negative stereotypes about bicyclists and bicycling. The author may not have intended it that way, but it came out that way just the same. Better research might have averted that problem.

Point by point correction of factual errors, cited by page no. (p.) and paragraph(¶) in the article.

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