The Chainlink

Things That Make You Go WTF

By Brett Ratner

As a general rule, I tend to shy away from the political side of the cycling world. But there have been some real head-scratching moments over the last couple of weeks, so I figured I'd weigh in a bit.

For a little context, I'm an average white dude with a stable, full-time desk job that offers health insurance. It's never been lost on me that white dudes like me undeservedly get a free pass on a lot of things in life. Still, I've developed a nasty tendency to float through my days somewhat oblivious to the unrelenting crap that people who aren't average white dudes have to put up with on a daily basis. That's certainly something I need to change about myself.

But, when those "aha" moments do come, and it truly hits me that people are being treated unfairly, initially I'm shocked, and then I'm angry. And there's been plenty of those moments recently.

Women Cyclists Treated Like It's 1899
For starters, it seems like no matter if we're talking about international pros or members of the local Chicago cycling scene, female cyclists have to routinely put up with misogynistic behavior straight out of a Mad Men episode.

Issues abound on the global scale, but the latest in a long line of snubs recently came in the form of the world's premiere cycling body, the UCI, hosting its annual awards gala at a time and location very convenient to the dude pros (it coincided with a men's-only race in Abu Dhabi), but decidedly not convenient to the ladies. As a result, only one woman was able to attend to accept her award.

This tweet from multi-time British cyclocross champion Helen Wyman summed up the frustration on the part of many female racers:

"Hey girls maybe if we try a little harder next year we might get an invite too!!

A little closer to home, there was an incident at a Chicago Cyclocross Cup race where (in the words of race organizers) "...a man by himself in plain clothes was up on the last hill making lewd comments to the ladies racing the Cat 4/5’s and slapping them on the bum as they rode by."

A few days prior to that, the local racing scene witnessed a full-on Facebook meltdown in which an accomplished rider/racer dug himself a pretty deep hole with some misogynistic comments. And, it so happens, the topic of unwelcome bum slapping (this time during group rides) also factored into the conversation.

Naturally, the vast majority of local riders and racers (male and female) formed a unified front, expressing a shared contempt for any situation where female cyclists and racers are not treated as equals in every way, shape and form. But, it was certainly surprising that in 2015 this is still a thing that even needs discussion.

The Chainlink is in the process of rounding up some content to discuss this important issue in greater detail. It will be written by people directly affected by it, and therefore much more qualified to talk about it than I.

But for now...at least let me say this: If you don't believe female riders and racers shred every bit as hard as the guys, I think you're a fool. And, I invite you to watch a clip of Rachel Atherton bombing a world cup downhill run, or Katie Compton plowing through a muddy 'cross course...or heck, showing up to some local races and catching the action. Prepare to have your perspective changed and (hopefully) a new-found respect for a group of people who should have had your respect in the first place.

Biker Getting Arrested For Banging on a Car
By now, we've all heard about the local cyclist who (allegedly) banged on the side of a car with his hand as the car (allegedly) veered into the bike lane. The driver turned out to be an off-duty cop and the cyclist wound up in handcuffs.

The details are still fuzzy at this time, and the cyclist's lawyer has instructed him to keep quiet on social media as they build as case.

Regardless, I know this cyclist personally, I've ridden with him on a couple of occasions (I know him to be a safe, predictable and competent rider), and I've also spent countless hours navigating city traffic. As such, there are a couple of assumptions/statements I feel I can safely make.

  1. You don't bang on the side of a car unless it cuts you off or otherwise veers so close that you can reach out and touch it. I've never seen anyone ride their bike with the intention to bang on the sides of cars for no reason.
  2. A person riding to his attorney job downtown is not interested in starting altercations with drivers. I strongly believe this altercation found him.
  3. If a car is cutting off a cyclist and that cyclist feels he or she is in danger, that cyclist should have every right to get the attention of that motorist in any reasonable way possible. It shouldn't matter who is driving the car.
  4. Banging on the side of a car because you feel you're in danger is no reason to wind up in jail.

Again, details are fuzzy and I don't know what specific laws come into play when a cop is off the clock.

But based on stories I've read thus far, I can't help but get the following impression: This off-duty officer (insert Elmer Fudd voice) "gawt his widdle feewings huwt" when this cyclist got mad at the officer for driving his personal vehicle like he owns the goddamn road.

Therefore, the officer felt the need to throw some weight around to prove a point to a cyclist. Again, I'm speculating here, but 10 years of riding in city traffic makes me think I'm on the right track.

It may also be relevant to mention that the rider is of non-Caucasian decent. I have no idea if this factored into anything, but it seems worth noting. 

If this officer felt the need to stop the cyclist and have an intelligent discussion about the events that transpired and then constructively find ways to diffuse the situation, I think that's reasonable. But should it have resulted in an arrest? I REALLY have a hard time believing that.

One of my biggest fears here is that this incident could put stress on the relationship between local cyclists and local police officers. Countless cops have escorted our protest rides, come to our aid when we've gotten doored, and turned many a blind eye when we rolled through stop signs when there are no cars around.

I've personally never had an incident with a police officer when riding a bike. Maybe it's that whole white dude thing and I'm just naive. But I'm hoping that it's because people are generally good and reasonable. I certainly feel like most police officers respect cyclists, or at the very least not see us as a threat.

Maybe in this case, there was a better way for the cyclist to get the attention of this particular driver. But I think it goes without saying the police officer needed to handle himself in a manner more in keeping with his oath to "serve and protect." All he seemed to serve was his fragile ego and bad temper.  

Red Bull Rampage Contestant Injures Himself, Needs Crowdfunding to Pay Hospital Bills 
I love Red Bull Rampage. The things these guys can do on a bike impresses me way more than just about anything in sports.

I mean, Peter Sagan is a brilliant bike handler and brave descender, but I doubt you'll ever see him doing a backflip while jumping over a 70-foot-wide canyon.

But, needless to say, riding your bike off of cliffs has some risk involved. And when they do crash, it's pretty serious.

One such rider is Paul Basagoitia. He was in the process of riding what looked to be the event's winning run, tackling the tallest, steepest and most dangerous section of the course. It was all going beautifully until he overshot a landing after dropping off a ledge you'd normally need a parachute for. He almost rode it out, but finally lost control and crashed heavily.

He immediately received a helivac to the hospital, where he underwent nine hours of surgery for a broken spine. The family is not releasing specific details on his conditions, but it sounds like he may be at least partially paralyzed.

What surprised me about the story was the crowdfunding campaign to help pay his medical bills. Wait? Wut?

This guy was competing in the finals of the biggest event put on by one of the richest and most recognizable companies in the world, and he needs a crowdfunding campaign to pay his medical bills?

As this article suggests, the only people making money at Red Bull Rampage are those who work at Red Bull.

Well, for better or for worse, the mangled nerve in Paul Bas' back has touched a nerve with the riders. A couple of top contenders skipped out on their final runs, and there's been talk of boycotting future events.

It's hard to feel too bad for a group of carefree guys who get to spend most of the year shredding at Whistler and willingly hurl themselves over deep chasms on TV. But if one of them gets hurt in the process of making a ton of money for an energy drink company, the least said energy drink company should do is take care of them.

In Conclusion
What else is there to say here, other than some people really suck? Whether they suck because of greed, because they're a chauvinist, or because they're just an angry jerk on a power trip, it's not acceptable. We as a community need to do what we can to make them see a different perspective. And the first part of that is calling out these things when we see them.

 

About the Author

Brett Ratner (brett@thechainlink.org) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.

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Comment by Ivo Iliev on October 26, 2015 at 11:33am

I don't mean to discount the suffering of minority groups in this country, but we should probably have a #cyclistlivesmatter hashtag out there...

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