Source: John Forester.com
1 1940s Personal
I arrived in Berkeley, California, from England, in March, 1940, at the age of ten. By then, I had been cycling to school in London for a year and a half. After we were evacuated out of London for fear of air raids, I had taken weekend tours to stay with my cousin Bridget, whom I dearly loved. That was 20 miles each way, and I later found that I could do the return trip in one day. In Berkeley, my mother rented a house 1,000 feet up in the Berkeley hills. Although I had cycled in England, I did not cycle in Berkeley until I was thought strong enough to make the climb from the city at sea level. By then, America had entered the war and new bicycles were unobtainable (reserved for war workers). My mother knew enough not to get me an American heavyweight. A rebuilt, middle-weight, single-speed, caliper-braked Schwinn was found for me. Later a similar bicycle was found for my younger brother.
I became the only one in my neighborhood who chose to cycle down to school and up again, although the bicycle racks at Berkeley HIgh were well filled with bicycles from other parts of town. When one caliper brake arm failed at the steepest part of the descent (I incorrectly thought from inferior wartime material), I found a pair of Schwinn drum brakes and built them into the wheels. On the descents from home, I was riding as fast as the cars. Doing so emphasized to me the virtue of behaving like all the other drivers.
In the summer of 1945, my brother and I took two long trips. First, we rode from Berkeley to Mendocino and back for part of our vacation, 175 miles each way. Other members of the party went up by car or bus (gasoline being rationed), but our cycling trip was both an adventure and enabled us to have our bikes with us during the stay. Later in the summer, we spent a month with our then divorced mother in Solvang, behind Santa Barbara. We took the train from Berkeley to Santa Barbara, and then cycled over San Marcos Pass to Solvang, returning the same way. This was short ride, only about 35 miles each way.
In September, 1946, my brother and I were sent to an East Coast preparatory school, me for my senior year, he for the age-appropriate grade. By that time English utility three-speed bikes had become available at American department stores, and both he and I were outfitted with Humbers (one of the better Raleigh brands). These had rod brakes, mudguards, chaincases, front Dynohubs, and Sturmey-Archer AW three-speeds. I rode mine for day rides around the island of Rhode Island, as far as my school would permit. Up to this time, I had not cycled with a cycling club.
Once I returned to Berkeley in 1947 to attend UC Berkeley, that Humber became my daily bike, to campus, around town, and day rides, although I had free use of one of my father’s cars for dates and such. My university friends were largely foreign students or graduate students or war veterans. Some of them cycled, and we went on day rides and a few overnight campouts (easy when it rains only in the winter). I also rode with a Berkeley club, maybe the forerunner of Berkeley Wheelmen. We had a standard meeting place and time, and a vaguely defined schedule.
The bikes were a mix, nearly all foreign. The best were the Raleigh Clubman with S-A 4-speeds, light alloy components, and Dunlop High-Pressure tires, and equivalent derailleur bikes from France. Lower grades of Raleigh products were available. I stripped the mudguards and chaincase from my Humber.
On one spring ride we got caught in a cold rain, and, not being properly prepared, shivered on the descent over the Berkeley Hills. We reached my father’s house and dashed under the hot showers, women upstairs, and men downstairs in my shower, until we ran out of hot water. Then, at least, we had a good tea.
In the spring vacation of 1949 my friend Ken MacCready (not the designer of pedal-powered airplanes) and I rode down the California coast. We ate at roadside restaurants and slept in the open. One rainy night we found a vacant carport up Palo Colorado Canyon. Another night we slept and ate at the highway maintenance station near the Bixby Creek Bridge, courtesy of those who remembered when MacCready’s father had been the site engineer for that bridge. We rode together as far as Cambria, just south of Hearst’s Castle, where I turned inland to ride to Fresno (distance to Fresno, 370 miles), where my other friends were spending vacation, while Ken returned up 101. I remember sitting in the sunshine on the pier at Cambria, looking at huge crates containing bits of European castles, addressed to Hearst.
Ken had a custom Drysdale, dropped bars, HP tires, toeclips and straps, Cyclo 3-speed derailleur with a long spring under the chainstay. I learned to appreciate the difference between my Humber and his bike. In time for my summer vacation, I ordered a frame from Drysdale in New York, and all the other components from Holdsworth in London. I was suspicious of the durability of S-A hubs, having twice broken teeth off pinion gears when sprinting in high gear. (Actually, I had not learned the proper cone adjustment to ensure that there was full-width engagement of the gear teeth.) Therefore, I ordered a Cyclo derailleur, 3-speed instead of 4, because that used the commonly available 1/8″ chain, geared 49, 72, 100. (I didn’t want to get caught needing 3/32″ chain where only 1/8″ was available.)
That summer of 1949, I had a summer job in Cambridge MA, living in a furnished room. The bike parts arrived there, and I borrowed bench space from The Bicycle Exchange in which to assemble my bike. While I was doing this, the Schwinn salesman called and watched me assembling my own custom bicycle. So he suggested that I try a real good Schwinn that he had in the trunk of his car. It was a Paramount track bike, sufficiently short in wheelbase that it fit in his trunk with both wheels on. Of course I was ready to try it, or, more to the point, I wasn’t about to admit my inexperience. For the first time I experienced dropped bars, clips and straps, brakeless, and fixed gear, all simultaneously. I mounted the Paramount and rode it around Harvard Square as if I had done this time and again, feeling as though my nose was rubbing on the front tire, being very careful not to have to stop and restart.
In those summer evenings after working hours there were cyclists riding up and down the Charles River roads and out to Frog Pond and Walden. We spent many Saturday nights at AYH hostels; good cycling, cheap and clean accommodations, good companionship. The favorite hostel was about fifty miles north, at Lanesville, on Cape Ann, north of Gloucester. The house father was a lobsterman, his wife a former chief of nurses at a big hospital, and they had five beautiful blonde daughters, one for each age of cyclist, so to speak. As hostellers, we had permission to swim at a nominally-private abandoned quarry, just across the road, owned by a famous sculptor. As you can guess, it became an honor to be first down the hostel’s driveway on Saturday morning, and I was first more than once.
Upon my return to Berkeley for the fall semester, somehow I became aware of the Bay Cities Bicycle Club’s San Francisco to Half Moon Bay Handicap Race. I signed up for my first race, and, naturally, was put into Class D. For the first time I saw real racing bicycles close-up. The course was 62 miles; started from Lake Merced, went down the coast, over a significant climb, returned to sea level, then climbed 2,000 feet to the spine of the SF Peninsula, then back along the crest to descend near Lake Merced, and around the lake to the start. I had been warned that the most prominent racers were Darius the one-eyed and Harold Kirkbride. The classes started five minutes apart, Ds first. At the top of the first climb I found myself alone, and went on alone. I made the climb to the spine, benefiting from my low gear. Just after turning north along the spine I was caught by a lone rider. Well, from what I knew, I had to stick on his wheel and try for the finish. So I tried to ride his wheel, and he held back. “Dammit, get going, I’m just an official!” he commanded me. So on I went, up and down the rollies of the spine and then the descent to sea level again. Today that area is all “ticky-tacky houses that all look the same,” but then it was just cabbage fields all gloomy in the fog. I was tired; on the flats around Lake Merced I probably didn’t do fifteen miles an hour, thinking every second that the bunch would overtake me. But they didn’t. I crossed the line alone, and waited around several minutes to see the A’s sprinting out of the fog for what they thought was first place.
Some thirty years later, riding in a group in Southern California, I told this story to the man riding beside me. He listened thoughtfully, then turned so I could see his full face. He was missing the eye on the far side of me, and his name was DeRass.
Well, with that start I should have taken up racing, but I didn’t. I had swum competitively in high school and for Cal (they let me race when there was nothing to lose), but had given that up to get more studying time. Bike racing looked like too much of a full-time job with expensive equipment. Besides, much of the racing was criterium racing, while I was, essentially, a fast tourist with no sprint.
On another spring vacation two of us cycled from Berkeley to Arcata, a trip of 365 miles, where several more of the group were staying with the parents of one. By day two we had reached Mendocino, but my companion was too tired to do much the third day. So I went on alone, and promptly broke my gear cable. Those Cyclo Oppys had a double cable in an endless loop that required soldering for repair, which I couldn’t do on the road. However, that design eliminated the return spring, so I could force the gear into middle gear and tie off the wires so it wouldn’t move. That gave me a 72 inch gear. I climbed several thousand feet over the Coast Range, and descended to Highway 101. There I read a signpost saying Eureka 100 miles. If it had said 99 miles, I would have said too much further for one day, but when it said 100 miles that was a challenge. So off I went. At one point I came across my companion, cycling along as if nothing had happened to separate us. But he was still slow, so I went on alone for 150 miles for the day. I reached Marvin Trump’s house just when they were finishing dinner, and fell asleep as they fed me. My companion? He later told others that he had had a bad flat and had been given a ride in a car. I suspect that had I much used my high gear of 100″, I would not have completed the ride that day.
After that, since my rear hub was double sided, derailleur one side and fixed the other, I set up 88″ fixed and rode all over the Berkeley Hills in that gear for the next year or so. Then I repaired the derailleur.
The road racing bikes of that time were almost all Campagnolo equipped, typically 8-speed, although there was still a choice in derailleurs. Campagnolo’s finest derailleur used the quick-release system, with the quick-release lever extending up the left seat stay while the shifting fork lever extended up the right seat stay. The rear dropout had gear teeth cut into the top side of the slot, with corresponding teeth in the axle cones, to keep the axle aligned as it rolled back and forth to keep the chain taut. To change gear, the cyclist reached down and released the hub, then pedalled backward while working the fork to move the chain to the correct sprocket, then relocked the hub again before resuming pedalling. That racer Harold Kirkbride had such a derailleur, and, decades later, I saw one in its original box, derailleur and geared dropouts, being delivered to a custom frame-maker for creation of a period bike. The next year, Campagnolo came out with the parallelogram system that has been practically universal ever since.
1.1 1940s Social
During my cycling in the 1940s, there was no question about the proper method of cycling. All the club cyclists practiced and preached what we now call vehicular cycling, although without quite the formality that is used today. We cyclists recognized that the typical American was ignorant of this style of cycling, did not ride in this manner, and was plain incompetent when on a bike. However, that went with the other absurdities, such as heavyweight bikes that tried to look like motorcycles. We knew better, and cared little that most people were ignorant. We did not analyze the situation to see why most people were ignorant.
I cycled with some people who had cycled in the 1930s. By and large, they were working class people, clerks, railroad switchmen, heavy equipment operators, with some leavening of the less-well-paid professionals, such as teachers, and, of course, students. A degreed person was unusual, implying, I suppose, that many students ceased cycling upon graduation and employment. Fred DeLong was respected as a degreed industrial engineer. Some of those who had cycled in the 1930s told of cycling trips and cycling fellowship of the time.
Later on, in the 1970s, I met more of these older cyclists who talked of the League of American Wheelmen in that time. The LAW had split into motoring and cycling factions in the teens of the century, and by 1920 the cycling faction was dead, remaining in the file cabinets of the last official. So it remained through the 1920s, unlike in Britain, where that decade saw the rebirth of the Cyclists’ Touring Club, because of two-day weekends and sufficient money for good bicycles but not for cars. The Great Depression saw a rebirth of cycling and the LAW, because cheap recreation became respectable. Cyclists were still rare; chances were that if you met another cyclist while touring, you either knew him or knew of him.
We in America were not limited to American sources of information. Both Fred DeLong and Dr. Clifford Graves had served in Europe during the war, and toured there afterwards. I came from a cycling family, was fourth generation in fact, although my parents had given up cycling before my earliest memories. Several of us subscribed to two British cycling publications, the monthly Gazette of the Cyclists’ Touring Club and the weekly Cycling, that covered both touring and racing. Very prominent in both publications were the writings of GHS, George Herbert Stancer, who from 1919 had transferred the membership of a moribund CTC from upper-class people who no longer cycled to working-class and technical-class cyclists who only then had received a two-day weekend and had money for fine bicycles but not enough for cars. GHS represented the CTC in its fight to preserve cyclists’ rights to operate as drivers of vehicles, and to preserve the favorable rates and conditions for carrying bicycles on railways, and similar items. Naturally, he also required that cyclists ride properly, but he had no need to spend much time or space on that subject, because everybody, from the top to the bottom of British society, believed that cyclists had to operate as drivers of vehicles.
We American cyclists thought the same, equally without question. While we observed the incompetence of typical Americans on bicycles, we attributed that to the ignorance of kids who had never been taught cycling. I cannot remember a single discussion about the source of the American incompetence in cycling. The question, for us, was a non-issue; we would teach whoever wanted to join us. Twenty years later, when American political conditions required a strategy similar to that of the CTC, I had the words and thoughts ready to mind from my memory of the writings of GHS.
In the American 1940s, there was racing, and the racers were, so I understand, typical of professional athletes: working class persons seeking a way up, and most of their racing was track racing. Fifty miles south, in San Jose, there was a racing track and local track racing was dominated by the Gatto brothers. From all that I heard, track racing was a close-contact activity with little sportsmanship. I do not know the history of those whom I first raced against in 1949; they struck me, when I knew them better much later, as typical middle-class persons.
2.1 1950s Personal
I graduated from UC Berkeley and got mixed up in the Korean War business. While stationed at the Anacostia Naval Station, adjacent to Washington DC, I had my bicycle sent to me. I had located a place out of the rain beneath an overhanging stairway in which to keep it, and I could then get around Washington during my liberties. I received the bicycle at mail call and stored it in that place until weekend liberty. On my first liberty afternoon, I rode it out, changed from my whites (required at that time) into cycling clothes, and went looking for ride schedules at the local bicycle shops. Upon my return, the gate guard refused to let me bring the bicycle back. “No bicycles allowed on this base.” What could I do? I had little liberty time remaining, and I knew nobody on the outside. I did have a thin cable, and the public sidewalk outside the fence had been planted with young trees. So I locked the bicycle to the tree nearest the gate, changed into my whites, and told the guard that it was his responsibility to see that nobody stole my bicycle — not that this carried any weight. Ever after, I exited the gate in my whites, changed into my cycling clothes on the sidewalk and went cycling. Upon my return, I changed clothes back again. If the Navy didn’t like the public spectacle, it was the Navy’s own fault and I no longer cared what the Navy thought; the War was over and my duty done.
After release, I got a job in Boston. There I resumed AYH touring weekends and did a little racing as well. One long weekend I rode down into Connecticut to see an old friend.
Then I returned to Berkeley and a new job, got married and started a family. I bought a house as high up in the Berkeley hills as that my mother had chosen in 1940 (my living room was a bit above the 1,000 foot line), and rode down the hill and then on the flats 7 miles to work at sea level, and climbed back up again each evening. Sometimes I chose to make a longer and higher climb on the homeward trip.
Then I was in a car-bike collision. I was riding to work on a wide, level arterial, when a car coming the other way turned left into a driveway that didn’t have an open gate. I instant-turned right up the driveway, but got caught just the same. The bike, my custom-made Drysdale, was totalled and my left lower leg suffered bad bruises right down to the bones. The motorist was an army man in charge of the reserve barracks, for which he would open the gate every morning. He lived nearby and his windshield still had the morning’s dew all over it.
I called a truck from my employer to pick me up, and that was also the day that my job was terminated. I got an immediate lift home and went looking for another job, until I ended up at Kaiser Hospital, where they thought I had a fractured leg. I wasn’t supposed to be fired, just transferred to a better job, but in the confusion it took two weeks to work things out. In the end, I was back at a job that led to my returning to university to become an industrial engineer, a senior research engineer, a professor, and, of all things, an expert in the science of bicycling. That was a long way off, and with full-time work, a family, and night school, I didn’t see that purchasing a replacement bicycle was justified.
Then, my right knee gave trouble, which it had once before when I was 19 and studying hard. Then, Cal’s orthopedic specialist taped my leg straight, telling me not to bend it. This time, Kaiser’s orthopedic specialist prescribed flexing under light load, like doing knee bends every morning. I can do better than that, I thought, and bought another bicycle, a Viking Tour of Britain which I still own. I went back to cycling up and down and around the Berkeley Hills.
We Berkeley cyclists, like others, admired the European racing that we read about, the climbs and descents, comparing these to the dullness of the usual local criteriums. All this time I kept saying that we had a perfect loop behind the Berkeley Hills, about 25 miles around with more than two thousand feet of climb per lap and tricky descents. Of course, I had been riding those roads for ten years and knew them intimately. After all these years of suggesting, Berkeley Wheelmen put on the first Berkeley Hills race, on the first course that I had been praising, not the one used now. We left Inspiration Point to descend en masse down a tricky, two-lane road, then turned right to ride, with some rollies that tested riders, to Saint Mary’s, then climbed up Pinehurst to Grizzly Peak, down a fast, largely straight descent through Tilden Park, back to a gentle climb to the start at Inspiration Point. One lap for the Cs, two laps for the As and Bs. I had to race the course that I had been suggesting for so long, as a C of course, since I had not raced for years.
Just before the start of the Pinehurst climb somebody up ahead went down and a bunch of us piled up. My Viking still has the small dent in the seat tube then incurred, but, more problem, the crash bent my derailleur. I managed to wrench it back by hand into a workable alignment, but by then I was all alone. I climbed Pinehurst and Grizzly Peak, descended wildly through Tilden Park, passing cars on the way, and completed my lap. I didn’t race again for fifteen years. That course was used once more, but then the initial twisting descent from the massed start was judged too dangerous and the modern course was adopted.
2.2 1950s Social
The 1950s were a bad decade for cyclists. As long as good cars were hard to get, cycling was respectable because there was no shame in not having a car readily available. That situation held on from the Great Depression through and after World War 2. After the war ended in 1945, car production resumed with prewar models, which went first to those with pull. 1949 was the first year in which one could walk into a car dealership and drive off in the kind of new car that everybody wanted. From then on, everyone knew that if you rode a bicycle you were one of those losers who could not pay for a car, not even on time.
During my time on the East Coast, I went to see Alvin Drysdale, the well-reputed builder of my first good frame. He lived and worked in lower Manhattan, near the women’s jail and Edison’s first electrical generating station. It was an old-fashioned brick industrial building with dirt floors, and Alvin slept in a cubbyhole in the back of his shop. He was obviously somewhat ill and very poor, living in squalor, with almost no business and not long to live. Symptomatic of the American bicycle business, he was.
I had several employers in the 1950s, as firms moved away from the older industrial areas to lower-cost areas; the miracle of Silicon Valley had not yet happened. On occasion, I cycled to work, either for fun or to make some social arrangement more convenient. I came to recognize that once I had done so, I was no longer considered fit for promotion. One is not told such things; the realization comes gradually through repeated experience.
I had step children as well as children. For the oldest boy I bought a Hercules, advertised in the American jargon of the day as an “English 3-speed racer.” Although my Viking was a typical club machine, we were not doing club cycling and he needed a utility bike to get around, something with parts easily available, with rubber-treaded pedals, raised bars, and multi-gear transmission. Using my employer’s equipment after working hours, I built a multi-bike rack for the back of the car, so we would have bikes available when out in the country.
I purchased the few parts I needed from the shop of a cycling friend, a neighborhood shop in lower Oakland that also carried club equipment because of its owner’s activity. If I remember rightly, by the end of the `50s there was in the area only one full-service shop selling first-class bicycles, way out at the west of San Francisco near the beach. In the same way, there was a full-service shop in Beverly Hills whose owner boasted that he supplied bicycles to film stars. Obviously, the racers, of whom there were only a few, had their own distribution channels, mail order importers such as Cyclopedia and personal importation as I did.
Bicycle shops were obviously a low-profit business, and the good ones were run by people who loved cycling. A very few served the racing cyclists, and much equipment was bought mail order, even personally imported from Europe. Quite a few more shops served the club cyclists. However, over the years I noticed that the number decreased.
Because the bike shops were doing badly, they did not import sufficiently frequently, so that quite often parts or supplies that you needed were not available. There was a lot of make-do, working out how to do it oneself, how to refurbish worn parts, and the like. English bicycles imported into the USA for general sale typically had auto-style Schrader tire valves. The home product used Woods valves, where the valve mechanism was a short piece of gum rubber tubing that mystified Americans when its replacement appeared in patch kits. We learned to cut the springs out of Schrader valves to make pumping easier and more reliable. I don’t recall when I learned this, or discovered this if I did discover this myself. Presta valves, the same outward shape as Woods valves, came only on racing tubulars at that time.
3.1 1960s Personal
Towards the end of the 1950s, I moved to Southern California because that was where the work was. My first project was part of building the ICBMs that protected America. We worked out how to design and build them so that they were so obviously immediately available and utterly reliable that they never had to be fired in anger. My second big project was designing and building part of the equipment that put men on the Moon and brought them back again. There were other minor projects also.
My wife and I bought a lot in the Sunny Hills area of Fullerton, in Orange County, and built a house there. We were one of the first buyers there. Those who bought later paid more and built much more expensive houses, so that we became socially outclassed, if one bothered about such things. Our house has now been replaced with a mansion; the only things remaining are the Italian cypresses that I planted along the driveway. My wife was bothered by the social inequality, so bothered that she became upset at my cycling, thinking that the neighbors would despise us because of it. This is an Englishwoman, a nurse who had cycled to work in England before coming to the USA. However, I always had the excuse that protecting my knee from further deterioration required cycling, and every time that knee started to hurt I cycled frequently to cure the pain, but of course this was solitary and unscheduled cycling.
About 1960, our son, Geoffrey, required his first bicycle, and I imported a Viking child’s bicycle from England. Viking made a reasonably lightweight child’s bicycle with a very wide range of adjustment for the growing child. Nothing like it was available in the USA. The only bicycles for children available in the USA were either heavyweight clunkers or the other extreme, a few genuine track-racing machines for the midget racers.
A few years later, when Geoffrey was taller, American bicycle shops had started importing child-sized, derailleur equipped, club machines, misnamed 10-speed racers, so that his second bike came off the rack from a local shop. By that time he had joined the Scouts, and I taught my first cycling class for his troop.
3.2 1960s Social
The easy availability of child-sized 10-speed bikes demonstrated the resurgence of American cycling in the 1960s after the dead 1950s. The causes were varied: demographic, economic, and political. My kids were post-war baby boomers. The American middle class had moved to new suburbs, with poor public transportation and greater distances. The Vietnam War persuaded young men to remain students. There was reaction to the 1950s concentration on prosperity, which in its turn had been the reaction to the long-continued deprivations of the Great Depression and World War 2.
The small community of cyclists that had always existed consisted largely of persons who could resist the social convention that despised cycling: those with no status to lose (working class, students) and those whose status was proof against derision (doctors, professors, and those who chose not to obey convention). The famous cardiologist Paul Dudley White made some news when he maintained that bicycle riding was the ideal way to maintain cardiac fitness and got involved in a bikeway project in the retirement suburb of Homestead, Florida (1962).
One of these unconventional cyclists was Dr. Clifford Graves, of San Diego, CA. As a young army surgeon stationed in Denver just after Pearl Harbor, Graves started cycling to work because of the gasoline rationing, and found that he enjoyed it. When he was transferred to England, he obtained, after a wait to overcome shortages, a derailleur-equipped club bicycle. While waiting for the invasion of Europe, he managed several bicycle tours in England. He smuggled the bicycle among the field hospital equipment to France, and escaped the German breakthrough at the Battle of the Bulge by riding away on it, after being so close to a German tank that the tank driver asked him the way. By 1964, Graves had started the International Bicycle Touring Society, holding rather luxurious tours, for riders from several nations, in many parts of the world. He also started the annual Great Western Bicycle Rally, and, in preparation for Paris-Brest-Paris, the first double century ridden in America in as long as anyone could remember, which I rode in 1969.
Schwinn was the only major American manufacturer with any pretense of quality and it sold only through its own dealers. Its products ranged from typical imitation motorcycles to Paramount racing bicycles, of which it made but a few, all with European components. Its middle line copied the English 3-speed “sports” bicycles such as Hercules and Phillips. Fred DeLong, a cyclist from the 1930s with an engineering degree, worked with Schwinn to enable it to introduce derailleur bikes to its dealers. These and the original imported European bikes became named Ten-Speeds.
The club cyclists, both racing and touring, had kept alive the cycling tradition with generous imports of both knowledge and equipment from Europe. As the 1960s developed, more adults who were already socially-confident motorists (they saw that everybody knew that they could afford good cars) saw the attraction of cycling recreation and more young people saw the attraction of bicycle transportation in the new suburbs before they could afford a car of their own. The result was a bicycle boom that peaked just after 1970.
When my son Geoffrey wanted to earn his Cycling Merit Badge, I organized the program for his Scout troop, starting out by reading the requirements in the Merit Badge booklet. For the first time I seriously considered what Americans had been taught about cycling, what made them so ignorant. We cyclists recognized that the presentations to school children by local police officers were silly; I had recognized that at age 11, when I listened to such a presentation from someone who knew less about cycling in traffic than I already did. We cyclists recognized that our activity was a minor one, such as minor sports like skiing or minor hobbies such as model railroading. People who chose to join the activity but had not grown up in it, as had many European cyclists, needed to learn how to do it. We supplied the teaching in an informal manner as they participated. The difference between we who knew and the public who didn’t was not of much concern to us.
I first noticed that the Scout requirements were based on a scout who lived in the country and rode on low-traffic roads; that most emphasis was on developing endurance, largely on solitary rides, culminating in a ride of 50 miles in 10 hours. The instruction in traffic cycling consisted of the usual silliness; stay out of the way of traffic rather than operating as traffic.
I made up my mind that I would not let any members of this group cycle out of my vision until I was satisfied that I knew that that boy had learned how to ride safely in traffic. The first rides were traffic-training rides. Well, not exactly. The first ride was the tire repair ride. Many bicycles were inherited from older brothers who now had driving licenses; their inner tubes had gone brittle in the Southern California smog and split, then split again after repair as they were being remounted into the casings. I demanded new tubes, new spares, and new patch kits on all bicycles before the next week’s ride, or parents would have to pick up those who punctured. I forget how many rides it took to certify all boys, but they all learned.
Then I was confident that each one of them could meet the remaining requirements in reasonable safety. For the half-century rides, I encouraged them to reach interesting places, such as the beach, or the yacht harbors, or certain museums, all of which were reached by cycling across the cities, instead of rides out into the country just to get the distance. They got their maps, worked out their routes, and made their rides without any trouble. I figured that I had taught them something very useful.
My marriage had been unhappy from the beginning, the causes of that stretching back as far as the personal disruptions of the Korean War. No need to go into those matters here; sufficient to say that we divorced in the later 1960s. Therefore, my account of the 1970s starts a bit before 1970.
4.1 1970s Personal
In the later 1960s I resumed the activities that I had formerly enjoyed, including club cycling. I rode with Los Angeles Wheelmen all over S. Cal. There were changes from my last club cycling experience. While some rides still started from “The Corner” near the center of LA, more were car-start rides out in the country. LA was just too large to ride out from the center, get in a country ride, and get back again before dark, or exhaustion. While some of the cyclists typified the financially poor cyclists of the 1950s and before, many others were obviously substantial middle-class. Many were what I call “road people”, in that they liked highway touring, whether by bike or by car. Substantial numbers of them arrived at car-start rides with their bicycles slung across the backs of Jags or Mercedes; for that matter, my own car was a TR-4.
The bicycles were different, too. A large proportion were genuine racing bikes, little different from those used by European racing professionals. Over that period, more and more of us were riding on silk tubulars, Campionato del Mundos for touring and Criterium Setas for racing. Nothing but the best for us, for we Americans could then afford what in Europe was restricted by expense to professionals. There were also genuine touring bikes, properly equipped for continental touring by people who did just that.
My oldest bicycle is a German Schwarzkopf track machine that about 1935 was left behind in Saint Louis by a German team, and reached me decades later by a varied route.
California is a state with big mountains. We climbed for hours, then descended in minutes. The first developed our power and endurance, the second our bike-handling skills. We rode in desert conditions, which developed our rehydration techniques. Much of Southern California is urbanized, and some of that is mountainous, so we rode through heavy traffic, sometimes at high descending speeds. Our distances increased as we reached better condition, and century rides were normal. Dr. Clifford Graves in San Diego, a long-time European tourist, gambled by holding the first double-century ride that had been held in America as long as anyone could remember: San Diego, Ramona, Vista, and return down the coast. Many of us rode that. All those roads were new to me; I remember climbing Torrey Pines grade in the dark, the last climb before the finish. Los Angeles Wheelmen then held subsequent double-centuries; my Viking still bears a metal plaque saying 1969 LA Double Century in 13 hours 40 minutes.
It still rained in SoCal. I found it difficult to replace British rain capes, and they were cheap plastic that ripped easily. So I sewed my own from coated nylon fabric. I thought that slightly heavier coated-nylon fabric would allow a much better shape for saddlebags, so I designed and sewed my own. Then I ordered a Holdsworth Italia from London, dimensioned for hard fast touring, full Campy equipped, but with a carrier for panniers mounted on brazed-on bosses. Its Brooks Pro saddle came without bag eyes. That required that I make a saddlebag fitment for when only a saddlebag was required. Those items were the start of what later was Custom Cycle Fitments.
Shortly after the `69 LA DC, I moved to another job, this one in Silicon Valley. On my first ride there, I met racers from San Jose Bicycle Club, who persuaded me to sign up for racing again. At 40 years of age I was a veteran, so I was racing within my class. I never had a criterium sprint, but the tougher were the climbs the better was my placing. I was second veteran in the Mount Hamilton race, after making sure that my teammate, who did have a sprint, was in position to win should others intervene. I later organized a N.Cal veteran team to contest the second Tour of California, the second American stage race in decades, against a SoCal veteran team, but that race didn’t raise enough money to start. Besides racing, I rode with Western Wheelers and with Marin Cyclists, several double centuries in N.Cal.
I also met Dorris Taylor on a big afternoon ride. She rode up beside me, looked over my bicycle, and commented that there were only three Holdsworths in Minneapolis, where she came from. What lonely cyclist could resist such an approach from someone so well informed? She was only visiting, but ended up the next year by coming out to stay with her two daughters, Lynne and Laurie, four bicycles, and two cats. For some years we had four racers in the family, Dorris and me as veterans, and Lynne and Laurie in juniors and then seniors. I am the only one of us who never managed to race in the national championships, and Lynne is still a racing official in Colorado, with a young son who goes very well himself. When considering my failure, I console myself by saying that N. Cal was a very tough circuit in which to compete. We had Jaques Boyer, the first American Tour de France competitor in decades, George Mount who won at Mount Royale in the rain in the `76 Olympics, and Greg LeMond, who won the TdF three times.
4.2 1970s Social
In other parts of the nation, there were cycling groups that were rather different from those in California. In the 1960s several large annual rides were organized, some of which attracted riders who differed from those in California. Almost the first, and typical, was the Tour of the Scioto River Valley, from Columbus down 105 miles to the Ohio River in one day, returning the next, and organized by Dan Burden. Typical midwestern flat cycling allowed the presence of what we considered incompetent riders whose accomplishment was to plod along all day and make their century in 12 hours. Despite living in a rainy climate, very few were equipped for rain. They had few traffic skills, either considering highway traffic or just bicycling traffic; the best thing to do was to stay well clear of them while getting on with the ride. Such riders would have been a horrible traffic nuisance on the Western Wheelers Century up through San Francisco and return, and unable to finish the Marin Cyclists Twin Century whose weekend distances matched that of TOSRV.
On the other hand, the Potomac Pedallers of Washington DC were as competent a group as I have known, and very similar were all the cycling clubs that emphasized cyclist competence and the enjoyable challenges of cycling. I tended to think that such clubs existed in the cycling areas of the nation, the West Coast, New England and the Middle Atlantic, the North Central, and Colorado. Many of these areas, but not all, had hills that tested cyclists, both climbing and descending, and I think that such topography assisted in developing competent cyclists.
However, topography is certainly not the determining factor, for there are delightful cycling areas in the USA in which the cycling is far more by visiting tourists than by local residents. I think that the factor might best be described as cosmopolitanism, meaning contacts with the rest of the world, in the case of cycling largely Europe, and the broad-mindedness that comes from such contacts. People in societies with such contacts are more likely to learn about the existence of real cycling, and are more likely to enter the activity once they do learn. And, even if they do not decide to become cyclists, they are much less likely to despise cyclists in the way that parochial persons do.
So far, my discussion has been of cycling activity as I experienced it, with some reflections on the social situation in which it occurred. However, it was in 1972 that cycling became embroiled in the political controversy that has existed ever since.
4.3 1970s Political
In 1972, government started three actions that have ever since been extremely detrimental to cyclists, although, of course, these sets of actions were proudly and parochially proclaimed to make cycling much safer. In essence, government decided to impose upon cyclists the toy-bicycling view of cycling held by the ignorant American motoring public. Up to 1970, American public and government had left cyclists alone. We may have been thought of as economic losers, or as social freaks of one sort or another, but we were not seen as a public problem. We were protected by our legal standing as drivers of vehicles, and even though there were some exceptions, they were rarely enforced against us. We cyclists could practice our activity in an entirely lawful manner, just like other roadway users, and that is what we did. We associated ourselves with the other drivers of vehicles. The fact that most American bicycle riders were simply children playing ignorantly in the streets, and were popularly considered to be some species of pedestrian, mattered not to us. Those Americans who chose to join the cycling activity were quickly taught the proper traffic skills and the legal view that we were drivers of vehicles. The legal position, not being challenged, did not require the extensive emphasis that it later did, but there were those of us who used the phrase that the League of American Wheelmen, the L.A.W., stood for “the LAW” in legal terms.
In the early 1970s, government and public started seeing bicycle riders and bicycles as public problems that had to be solved by governmental action. The sources of this change in perception were both demographic and political. Demographic in that more people were riding bicycles, and these were people more likely to be noticed by the public. One cause was suburbanization, which put young people out where there were greater distances to travel and poorer public transportation to assist in that, before there was sufficient wealth to provide cars for most of them. Another was response to the Vietnam War, which impelled many young men to remain students longer than they otherwise would have. One political cause was the combined reactions to the money-and-security-first emotions of the 1950s and the protests against the Vietnam War. Another political cause was the growing opinion that the world had become a more dangerous place and that society, through government, had both the ability and the duty to protect the members of the public from dangers that sprang from a variety of sources.
Insofar as cycling went, these actions that were trumpeted to make cycling safe went in three directions:
- The design of bicycles, via the Bicycle Safety Standard of the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission
- The design of highways, via the Bikeways Standard of the California Department of Transportation, which later became the Bikeways Standard of the Federal Highway Administration and the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, to which were added several layers of planning and funding requirements for implementing the bikeways so specified
- The traffic laws for bicycle operation, via the California Statewide Bicycle Committee, whose laws later entered the Uniform Vehicle Code through the National Committee for Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances.
All of these sets of actions were and are based on the concept that the act of riding a bicycle makes a person utterly incompetent, a danger to himself, and both a nuisance and a danger to the motorists who are the predominant roadway users. Had these plans been carried out as their advocates intended, cyclists would have been required to ride toy bicycles in a childish manner that was both dangerous and inconvenient. In short, the intent was to compel all cyclists to regress to, and to remain in, the ignorant and incompetent state that was all that the American public and government knew about cyclists.
Sometimes I wonder whether the results would have been better had I not been in the position to organize and spark the opposition to these programs. Had these been implemented as their advocates desired, there would have been real bicycles being smuggled in through every port, and cyclists defying the new laws by riding as they knew was best, and the whole mess might have been shown up for the fraud that it was. But such a successful resistance might not have developed.
As it was, cyclists resisted these programs and thereby held them to a half-hearted implementation that enabled well-informed cyclists to avoid the dangers so created. If that is success, that is the measure of my success.
5 1972 – 2007
At this point I need to change the format of this history. Over the last three decades of the century, I saw little change in cycling as I knew it, but enormous change in the governmental environment in which cyclists had to operate, the governmental environment that was imposed on cyclists.
As I have written above, government did not bother adult cyclists operating lawfully in the vehicular manner. This situation ended about 1970. By 1970, society both saw bicycles and bicyclists as social safety problems, and had accumulated the political power to correct these problems and make cycling safe. By making cycling safe, American society understood only that bicycles were “toys or other articles intended for use by children” (to quote the authorizing law) that should be used in the manner of toys, that is in the “bike-safety manner”, by persons incapable of operating in the vehicular manner. Therefore, there are two main threads:
- Bicycle design regulations making bicycles into toy bicycles
- Restricting cyclists’ operating rights by law and by facilities
The presentation will more coherent if I cover each of these in turn through the last three decades of the century. Since I have covered these in great detail in other publications, this may be a summary, if I can bring myself to summarize.
5.1 1972 – 1976 Bicycle Design Regulation
During the 1960s there had arisen a public suspicion that manufacturers of products used by the public were concentrating on profits by ignoring safer, but more expensive, designs and materials. One result was the Consumer Product Safety Commission of the United States, empowered to issue safety regulations that had the force of law for most consumer products. The first large task chosen by the CPC was a bicycle design regulation, based on the idea that a large proportion of the large number of injuries and deaths associated with bicycle use were caused by defective design of bicycles.
This assumption was false. Even when the CPSC selected out of its long list of injury reports those that looked as though they were caused by defective bicycle design, only 17% of those already selected appeared to be caused by mechanical failure, and most of those were caused by defective maintenance and hard usage. In short, there was no need for any significant regulation, but that didn’t stop the bureaucrats.
At this time, almost all the bicycles manufactured in this nation were toy bicycles. Of the large manufacturers, only Schwinn made any quality bicycles. The Bicycle Manufacturer’s Association (BMA) (to which Schwinn did not belong) had produced a standard of its own, BMA/6. This was intended to persuade parents that BMA’s products would survive the rough treatment given by children, and would be safe to use, and, to some extent, the standard would prevent parts suppliers from supplying defective parts and reduce the competition from foreign makers.
The CPSC thought that BMA/6 represented a safety standard, and therefore adopted it as the proposed law. The result would be that the only bicycles permitted to be sold in the USA would be toy bicycles. All the bicycles that cyclists used would be prohibited. One would think that the national cycling organizations would have been in uproar. There were two, the Amateur Bicycle League, for racing, and the League of American Wheelmen, for all other aspects of cycling. However, the Executive Director of the LAW, Morgan Groves, had his salary subsidized by BMA. He took great care that the directors of LAW would not learn of this problem until it was too late to do anything about it. I discovered the CPSC’s proposal, and wrote an article titled The Toy Bike Syndrome. That roused many cyclists. The bureaucrats were not used to receiving complaints from those whom they were supposed to be protecting, and they particularly weren’t used to having those objections stated in obscenely injurious terms.
The CPSC buckled under and its director got out on their front steps for a press conference at which he quoted the law under which the regulation was being issued, one of the child protection acts. Adults need not worry, he said, the regulation could legally apply only to bicycles for children. That is correct, but the statement was a lie just the same. Once the firestorm died down, the CPSC clarified the scope of the regulation. Just so long as there was one person not quite 16 who was tall enough to stretch over the frame, that bicycle was held to be intended for use by children. Therefore, on the quiet, unlawfully, and by means of lying, the CPSC made almost all bicycles sold in the USA subject to its regulation.
As I wrote above, the CPSC adopted the requirements of the BMA/6 standard. That standard did not explain why it had those requirements. However, the law required that every requirement have a safety reason and the CPSC had to explain why it had each requirement and the test associated with it. I held the CPSC to the law, first with comments on the proposed versions of the regulation, then by suing the CPSC itself. The CPSC’s engineers then had to invent safety reasons for requirements that had not been created for safety reasons. That stretched their inventive powers to the limit, and the pseudo-scientific and pseudo-engineering reasoning that they produced were ludicrous.
For example, BMA/6 had a requirement that front forks stand up to the kind of curb climbing to whch kids subject bicycles. Quite a reasonable requirement, if you want to persuade parents that if you buy a BMA bicycle it won’t need frequent repairs. The test specified that applying a specified backward force to the fork tips would not bend the fork more than a certain amount and require at least a certain amount of energy to do it. The CPSC engineers first explained that this was a collision amelioration requirement, to reduce injuries in the event of a head-on collision, or cycling into a wall. As any damned fool ought to know, when a cyclist runs into a wall the bicycle stops and the cyclist continues onward. Even if you tied the cyclist to the bicycle, that wouldn’t help, because, since the cyclist weighs four times as much as the bicycle, he would simply tow the bicycle along behind him. When I exposed that, the CPSC engineers argued that the requirement was intended to reject bicycle forks that would fatigue through in long service life. Well, the proper test for fatigue resistance is calibrated oscillating loading, not a single impact test. The whole thing got mixed up with another requirement, that nothing protrude up from the top tube. The object was to prohibit shift levers that stuck up, upon which the cyclist could transfix his or her genitals in case of sudden stop. However, the CPSC did not dare prohibit the then popular, but now no longer used, shift levers that stuck backward from the stem, so it allowed them. As a result the CPSC was defending its permission for stem-mounted shift levers with the argument that the cyclist had sufficient strength in his arms to prevent him from sliding forward far enough to impale himself on the stem-mounted shift levers, but insufficient strength to prevent himself from sliding less than that distance to the top-tube levers, while simultaneously defending its logic about front forks by first saying that the cyclist had sufficient strength in his arms to resist the deceleration of running into a wall, provided that force was attenuated by the crushing action of the fork blades, but then arguing that since it had no control over how fast the cyclist would crash into something it could not say the cyclists’ arms were sufficiently strong.
I used to wish that I had the skill of George Bernard Shaw, or of W. S. Gilbert for that matter, to describe this as the comedic tragedy that it was.
Another comedy ran around the strength of wheel rims. BMA/6 had a requirement that the rim retain the spoke nipple even though excessive spoke tension was applied. This requirement stemmed from a bad shipment of foreign-made rims, which let the spoke nipples pull through as the wheels were being built up. OK, that’s good purchasing specification logic, but it has nothing to do with the safety of the cyclist. Again I required that the CPSC demonstrate why this test would prevent injuries to cyclists. The CPSC argued that this test selected out rims which would fail so many spoke holes so rapidly, as when going over a bump, that the cyclist would be thrown to the ground. Nobody had ever heard of such an accident occurring, but the CPSC argued that its engineers, who understood the physics of the wheel, knew that this was a likely scenario. They argued that when a bicycle went over a bump, the spokes near the top of the wheel had to be subjected to increased tension, so that if the rim were too weak the nipples would pull through. The subject of how the tension-spoked wheel carries its load had been debated for the century since its invention, with no definite results. So the CPSC engineers were guessing just as much as anybody else. The fact that nobody had ever heard of an accident caused by the mechanism that the CPSC’s engineers postulated would suggest that their guess was probably incorrect, and, in any case, indicated that there was no need to have any such requirement. However, the CPSC argued that whatever guesses its engineers made about means of preventing accidents had to be accepted in law, and the judges eventually agreed with that argument. However, once the fireworks were over and I could take a rest, the subject came up in conversation with Jobst Brandt. In the course of that conversation, which was beside the road in the dark because I had stopped him to examine his light, I realized that I could test the hypothesis. So the next morning, in three hours, using just the home machinist tooling that I had at home, I demonstrated for the first time in a century of debate how the bicycle wheel carries its load. It carries its load not by increasing the tension of the top spokes, but by decreasing the tension of the bottom spokes. Therefore, the explanation of wheel failure used by the CPSC’s engineers, and accepted by judges who had no technical training, was physically impossible. No wonder that nobody had ever heard of an accident of the type they predicted would require their test to prevent.
As I remarked more than once in this lawsuit, you cannot reduce the rate of accidents that have never happened.
Then there was the requirement that pedals be made so badly that, before the tread markings wore off, the pedal either broke away from the crank or the bearings jammed so it wouldn’t turn. That was because feet slipping off pedals (typically, rubber-treaded pedals in wet weather) were a known cause of injuries to cyclists. Then thee was the prohibition of derailleur adjusting screws, so that derailleurs had to operate maladjusted instead of being properly adjusted. Don’t ask me to explain these; just accept them as more examples of bureaucratic idiocy.
Fred DeLong, who had assisted Schwinn in getting its dealer organization up to speed with derailleurs, now stepped in to assist the CPSC in changing its regulation so that it did not prohibit good bicycles. This he did. For example, he got quick-release hubs written into the regulation, where they were prohibited before. Why were they prohibited? They were prohibited simply because American toy bicycles didn’t use them, so that the regulation was written to consider only nutted axles. Frankly, I criticize DeLong for this, because things would have been much better for cyclists had good bicycles been exempted from the scope of the regulation, whether in law or just by bootlegging fact, which would have been the result had the regulation continued to permit only toy bicycles while prohibiting good ones.
Amidst all this foolishness, there was one enormously dangerous part of the regulation, that which required the all-reflector system be on all bicycles sold as the required system for nighttime protective equipment. This system had been invented by the BMA and written into BMA/6. The manufacturers were terrified that they might be required to provide lighting systems on all bikes sold, as, for example, in Holland. For the kind of bicycles that the BMA sold, provision of a lighting set that would continue to function under childish use would probably double the cost of the bicycle. I don’t know what BMA’s basic motive was, increased sales, avoidance of liability, or whatever else might come to mind.
However I am convinced, from the gossip that I have picked up as well as the documents in the CPSC case, that the BMA leaned heavily on the CPSC, saying that they would accept practically anything in the regulation as long as the all-reflector system continued to be required. The CPSC system had never been tested, merely the subject of a dog-and-pony show. Either the reflector manufacturers or the bicycle manufacturers, or both of them, collected the CPSC staff in the CPSC’s driveway after dark. They lined up cars shining lights along the driveway, stationed the CPSC staff adjacent to the cars, and then had someone ride a bicycle equipped with the all-reflector system around in small circles within the headlamp beams. Of course, the bicycle’s reflectors were illuminated all the time, because the bicycle was never out of the headlamp beams, and whoever watched that demonstration had no idea that motorists often had to steer or brake to avoid cyclists before the cyclist reached the headlamp beams. In other words, all the bicycle manufacturers, or all the reflector manufacturers present, and all the CPSC staff with responsibility for the safety of bicycles were either utterly incompetent or lied.
I explained time after time, in writing, to the CPSC and to the courts, that unless the cyclist has a headlamp other road users cannot see his approach, and will collide with him. It is impossible to tell whether the CPSC were too dumb to understand this, or so venial that they decided to lie their way out of it. The first is practically unbelievable, the second is extremely serious, and I cannot distinguish between them.
The CPSC did lie to the courts about the all-reflector system, in the end, when I was working just as hard as I could and couldn’t prove that until too late. Understand that I, without any legal training at all, with only my own understanding of bicycle engineering, without backing and without any money either, was suing a regulatory agency of the United States government about the absurdity of its regulation. Here’s the CPSC’s lie to the courts about the all-reflector system.
The CPSC stated, in its reply brief, that it had considered and researched the nighttime accident situation and it was convinced of the correctness of its original official finding in the Federal Record that “the all-reflector system provided adequate visibility to motorists under lowlight conditions.” To support this claim, the CPSC quoted a range of 800 pages of the record. I felt that they hadn’t done this, but I had insufficient time when preparing my rebuttal brief to read those 800 pages to discover what they had done.Years later, when I took the time to research that claim, I discovered one sentence in those 800 pages that concerned this subject. It stated that better illumination, or better reflectorization, might reduce the nighttime accident problem. That’s all that it said. No evidence of any study at all, just somebody’s guess that didn’t even distinguish between reflectors and headlamps.
I claimed that 16 requirements of the regulation were without scientific foundation, including, of course, the all-reflector system. The law says that regulatory requirements can be voided only if they are either contrary to the law or are patently absurd. Well, I won 4 of those 16 points, including the one about pedals that had to be designed to fall off. The judges openly scratched their heads over that one. Any attorney who considers the conditions under which I sued a regulatory agency of the U.S. government, alone, without training, without money, marvels that I won any points at all. That just shows you how bad the CPSC regulation was, and remains.
However, the judges upheld the all-reflector system, which is demonstrably the most dangerous part of the regulation. After all, the CPSC told them that it had studied nighttime accidents and had reached its reasoned conclusion, the lie that I had not time to discover.
Since then there have been notorious cases of cyclists being in car-bike collisions because they relied on the all-reflector system instead of a headlamp. These all bring out the tort-law objectors saying that anybody in their right mind has to know both that state laws require headlamps and that riding w a headlamp is just plain foolishly dangerous. Indeed, there is a conflict with state laws, which do require headlamps when riding at night.
Here is the legal status. The CPSC requirement for the bicycle to be loaded with reflectors applies only when the bicycle is in its shipping box in interstate commerce, precisely the time when the all-reflector system cannot provide protection to a rider because there cannot be a rider at that time. Once the bicycle is sold to the user, the CPSC requirement for the all-reflector system becomes no longer legally valid, so that when the time comes that it might provide some protection, if indeed it ever did provide any protection, its use is no longer required, but a different system is required. The problem is that since the federal government requires that the all-reflector system be mounted on all bicycles sold, and since the buyers and users can see no other purpose of the all reflector system except to provide nighttime protection, they, quite reasonably, believe that it does provide that protection.
We cyclists have had some five (I think) meetings with the CPSC staff since then, to no avail. At each of those meetings, the BMA’s attorneys have appeared, arguing that the all-reflector system is better than nothing, and therefore legally acceptable. The CPSC’s staff have been impenetrably obscure about their understanding of bicycling in the dark, and have gone on doing the wrong things.
In the 1970s, I attended a meeting of the National Committee for Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, held specifically to consider a request submitted by the BMA. The BMA’s attorneys told the NCUTLO that the new law, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act (of which the BMA had been a heavy lobbyist) now invalidated all state traffic laws that required headlamps when cycling at night. The law prohibits any state or local legislature from enacting or continuing any statute that concerns a safety matter that has been regulated by the federal government (in this case, the all-reflector system for nighttime safety), unless that local statute is identical to the federal regulation. Therefore, the BMA’s attorneys told the NCUTLO, any state traffic laws requiring headlamps at night, being different than the all-reflector system, were no longer valid. The BMA’s attorneys put it to the NCUTLO that that organization should take the requirement for headlamps out of the Uniform Vehicle Code, to make it easier for the BMA to convince state legislatures that this was the recognized best statement of the law. If the NCUTLO did not do this, the BMA’s attorneys asserted, they were going round the states in any case; the NCUTLO’s early acquiescence would just get the job done sooner.
I repeat, I was there and I heard it all. When it was my turn to speak, I told the NCUTLO’s members that, if the BMA’s course actually came about, it would make motorists, those whom most members represented, liable for colliding with cyclists whom it was impossible for them to see in the darkness. The motorists got the point; BMA didn’t get a single vote in favor, as I remember.
The bicycle design regulation was completed in 1976, and there has been no significant change since then. While cyclists have several times challenged the all-reflector system of nighttime protection, the CPSC and the BMA together have blocked any reform.
5.2 1972 – 1978 Restricting Cyclists’ Operating Rights
About 1970, California government decided to “make cycling safe” by establishing a system of laws and facilities that would impose the cyclist-inferiority system of operation upon all cyclists. Such a system would require both bikeways and laws to require cyclists to use those bikeways. California government did not inform cyclists of its intent.
California paid the Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering of the University of California at Los Angeles to prepare bikeway standard designs: Bikeway Planning Criteria and Guidelines, April 1972. The ITTE authors, whose only understanding of bicycling consisted of the cyclist-inferiority “bike-safety” propaganda, copied the work of Dutch and German bikeway designers. These designs would be horribly dangerous if the cyclist tried to operate in the vehicular manner.
California then needed recommendations for the traffic laws that would prohibit cyclists from operating in the vehicular manner wherever a bikeway became built. It instituted the California Statewide Bicycle Committee, consisting of eight members selected from the highway and motoring establishments.
In a newspaper, I read of the first meeting of this committee, saying that it was intended to reform bicycle traffic law. I appeared at the second meeting, suggesting that cyclists ought to be represented on such a committee, and presented myself as a cyclist who believed in obeying traffic law. I was accepted, by mistake. I meant that cyclists should be obeying the traffic law for drivers of vehicles, as the legal code required, while they thought that I would obey any law that they proposed and the Legislature enacted.
The committee members failed to inform me of the committee’s task, and of the bikeway designs for which it was expected to provide the legal enforcement. It became obvious to me, as the work of the committee proceeded, that the only desired product was laws to push cyclists off to the edge of the roadway, or off it altogether, where that would be possible. All other suggestions about reducing known collision factors were rejected. All knowledge about traffic cycling, gained from decades of cycling by many people, was rejected. The most reasonable conclusion that could be reached was that bicycles had to be cleared from the path of same-direction motor traffic for the convenience of motorists, but excused by saying, falsely, that this made cycling safe.
After one particularly harrowing presentation by a salesman for bollards to mark bicycle lanes, I bought a Gestetner Mimeograph and started issuing reports to all the cyclists I knew in California. That stirred the California cycling world into writing letters to the committee expressing opposition to its work.
Only when the work of the committee had been half or more done did I discover, through my own researches, the existence of the UCLA bikeway design standards and how they were authorized. The danger of those designs gave me more power to instill a bit of caution in the members of the committee. With my newly recruited cyclists, I was able to work up arguments regarding those designs most dangerous for cyclists. By demonstrating the conflict with standard traffic-engineering principles, we were able to frighten the members that, if those designs were built, cyclists would be injured or killed and the plaintiffs’ attorneys would have trial-winning arguments that those designs were dangerous. The fear of liability on the part of the organizations whom the members represented was the only argument that swayed them.
There was one more telling item of evidence against the committee, the presentation of the first substantive study of car-bike collisions. As part of the effort to restrict cyclists, California had paid for the first substantive study of car-bike collisions, to be done by Kenneth D. Cross. It is quite obvious now that the committee members expected that this study would provide definitive statistics to support their claim of the great danger of same-direction motor traffic, a danger so great that the prime duty of cyclists was to stay out of its way. When Ken Cross had completed his study, the committee made arrangements for him to present it to the members of the committee and some others, in a conference room at the Sacramento airport.
Ken presented his paper to this group, issuing purple hectograph copies. In this study only 0.5% of car-bike collisions in the California study area were caused by straight-ahead motorists overtaking straight-ahead cyclists, and the great majority of car-bike collisions were caused by turning or crossing movements by either or both parties. This confirmed what I, and other cyclists, had been telling the committee from the beginning, based on our own experiences, and it thoroughly disproved the committee’s contention of the great danger to cyclists of same-direction motor traffic. I had not yet, then, appreciated the full depths of the committee’s opposition to lawful cycling. Foolishly, I stood up and stated that this study utterly disproved the committee’s claims and supported what we cyclists had been saying all along. As a result of this statement, the committee members realized how damaging Cross’s study was to their purposes; no further copies were issued and no mention was ever made of the existence of the study. I have kept my copy, and have made it available on the internet.
As a result of the efforts of cyclists against this discrimination, we were able to head off the intended mandatory-bike-path law by demonstrating how dangerous side-path cycling was. However, were unable to head off the mandatory-bike-lane law, and we were unable to get repeal of the mandatory-side-of-the-road law. Whenever I pointed out how that law, as originally written years before, contradicted standard traffic law, the committee members protected the discriminatory law by inserting exceptions, and they did the same thing with the mandatory-bike-lane law. Many cyclists nowadays think that those exceptions were inserted into the law through the goodness of heart of the committee members, but that is entirely incorrect. The committee members inserted exceptions only to protect the discriminatory law from judges who thought cyclists should obey the normal traffic laws rather than the imperfect and discriminatory law written for cyclists alone.
Since 1976, there have been minor improvements made to the bicycle traffic laws created in California and then widely adopted in other states, but no basic changes in principle have occurred. Cyclists are expected to stay out of the way of motorists unless some other law requires that they do otherwise. However, the exceptions that were added, by motorists to protect the integrity of the side-of-the-road law, have, instead, had the benefit of making that law much more difficult to enforce. So cyclists have been able to wrest some benefit out of the motorists’ discrimination against cyclists.
The resistance by cyclists against discrimination, and their demonstration of the dangers of the UCLA bikeway standards to lawful, competent cyclists, prevented those standards from being adopted. California therefore set up a new committee, the California Statewide Bicycle Facilities Committee, to design new standards. Of the eight members, cyclists were allowed two; the rest represented branches of government. Those members knew the objective: as the member for California Cities later told the Legislature, cities had to have bikeways to prevent these bicyclists from delaying motorists.
My leadership of the cyclists’ resistance had made me unacceptable on the new committee, but, since I was by then president of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, they could not keep me from attending and submitting papers. In my attempts to redirect the committee to making cycling safer rather than discriminating against cyclists, I wrote probably about half of the paperwork produced by the committee. My close associate, Professor John Finley Scott, of the sociology department of UC Davis, represented CABO, and Richard Blunden, a state government employee, acted as representative of the League of American Wheelmen.
The government members pursued their objective of designing bikeways to control cyclists according to the cyclist-inferiority superstition. That they had no concern for the safety of cyclists is shown by three actions.
- The study of car-bike collisions showed that bikeways would not reduce car-bike collisions and probably would increase them.
- The committee rejected all consideration of facilities that would, according to the study of car-bike collisions, reduce car-bike collisions without shoving cyclists aside.
- The committee approved only designs that shoved cyclists aside.
As before, the only lever that cyclists found effective was the threat of liability in personal injury lawsuits. Some of the proposed designs were so obviously dangerous to cyclists that we cyclists could generate plaintiff’s arguments so persuasive that the other members decided not to include those designs.
Seven conclusions are to be drawn from these events.
- The actions of the committees were done by motorists and largely opposed by cyclists.
- The motoring members ensured that all actions shoved cyclists to the side of the road, or off the road if possible.
- All actions of the committees served to physically institutionalize the traditional treatment of cyclists as incompetent children, to be kept at the side of the roadway or off the roadway if possible.
- These actions were justified by the excuse of the great danger of same-direction motor traffic.
- The excuse of the great danger of same-direction motor traffic had no scientific support at the time, was said to be false by experienced cyclists, and was in fact conclusively disproved during the operation of the committees by the first good statistical study.
- All the actions of the committees were actions that served the interest of motorists in shoving cyclists to the edge of the roadways, or off the roadways.
- These discriminatory actions against cyclists were approved by the public because the public wholeheartedly believed the propaganda that the motorists had issued over the previous forty years.
Consideration of the first five of the above conclusions leads inexorably to the sixth, that the basic intent of these bikeway design standards was to make motoring more convenient by shoving cyclists aside or off the roadways. And, equally, to the seventh, that this was possible only because of the strong public belief in the cyclist-inferiority superstition.
The California committees provided no justification for their actions. In the political sense, they had no need to do so, because the only opposition, and unexpected at that, came from the small minority of vehicular cyclists. The committee had initiated the study of car-bike collisions, in the expectation that this would justify their actions. However, when this produced conclusions exactly contrary to their expectations, they suppressed it and carried on as though it had never existed.
Approximately simultaneous with the California actions, the Federal government was considering establishing a nation-wide standard for bikeways. However, it hoped to do so through the normal process of highway design standardization, which relied on engineering principles and data developed by investigation.
The Federal Highway Administration contracted with Ken Cross (who had done the California study of car-bike collisions) for a nationally representative study of car-bike collisions. It also contracted with DeLeuw Cather & Co. to manage a research program into bikeways. The Cross study was published in 1977. The bikeways research study produced an interim report in 1974, two manuals (one for planning, one for design), and the report of the research that justified these manuals, all three in 1976.
The data of the national Cross report on car-bike collisions were similar to those in his earlier California report, and equally damning to the desires of the bikeway promoters. That study remains the most substantial of all studies of car-bike collisions, and a recent study confirmed that the patterns have remained constant. The research that was expected to justify the bikeway designs failed to do so. I wrote a detailed criticism that demonstrated how badly the research failed to meet standard scientific criteria, the extent to which its justified conclusions were irrelevant to the desired support of bikeways, and how unjustified by the data and reasoning were the conclusions that intended to support bikeways.
The result of all this was that the Federal government and the states adopted the California bikeway standards, presumably because these had gone through the fire of cyclists’ criticism and were least likely to produce liability judgements against the governments’ agencies.
There have been no significant changes in either the laws or the bikeway standards since those were created at that time.
6 Since 1978
6.1 Personal Since 1978
The intellectual effort of creating the discipline of bicycle transportation engineering disrupted my racing program. Every time that I set out for a serious training ride, I found myself thinking of the problems that I had to solve and therefore riding at reduced speed. Since then I have cycled for enjoyment and for transportation, but not for competitive speed.
My concentration on bicycle transportation produced two other results. I was away from my engineering profession for too long, making employers unlikely to hire me, but, in exchange, I became known as an expert in bicycling affairs. Attorneys with problems regarding bicycling accident cases started calling me for assistance, which I was happy to provide for fees typical of such services.
As it happens, attorneys with bicycle accident cases are the only persons whom I have identified who are willing to pay professional rates for advice in the field of bicycle transportation, advice that is so accurate as to be able to withstand cross examination. All other persons or organizations will pay only for words that support the cyclist-inferiority superstition.
Of course, those persons who have purchased my cycling books have also provided a small amount of financial support. Effective Cycling is a handbook for cyclists, and Bicycle Transportation is a handbook for government personnel with cycling responsibilities and those who wish to influence such persons. Both are published by The MIT Press.
As early as 1969 I had designed and sewn bicycling raincapes and spats, and saddlebags of a new design, all better than any I could obtain in either America or Britain, and made possible by the availability of waterproof and flexible nylon fabrics. These were for myself, at first. Then, when Dorris Taylor and her daughters came to live with me, Dorris sewed these for herself and her daughters. Other cyclists, seeing these, asked for similar equipment for themselves, so Dorris and I set up a partnership which we named Custom Cycle Fitments. We made capes and spats in custom sizes, three sizes of saddlebags, two sizes of tire bags, and pannier bags that were good for both touring and for general transportation. I brazed custom mounts on our bicycles for carrying racks, and brazed up carrying racks that were easy-on, easy-off. I designed and made mounting sets for generator headlamps that, starting with a brazed-on mounting plate, were then permanently aligned to provide easy-on, easy-off mounting, and with generator speed reduction drive wheels to provide reliable lighting from 5 mph to 30 mph. Once good saddles no longer carried saddlebag eyes (because of the decrease in bicycle transportation), I designed and made steel saddlebag fitments that clamped onto the saddle’s frame and provided eyes for the saddlebag’s straps. Along with the traditional British easy-on, easy-off mudguards, this equipment provided easy transitions between sport and transportation cycling, between daylight and darkness, and between dry and wet weather.
While these were the finest items of their type, the number of cyclists who desired such useful items was rather small. We could not justify sufficient production to transfer the processes to Asian suppliers, and making the items at home did not produce a wage sufficient to justify the effort. After some twenty years of home production we decided to stop. We still receive occasional letters from owners whose equipment has worn out, wondering whether we would make replacements.
6.2 Political and Governmental Since 1978
The motorist and highway powers managed to make their cyclist-restricting bikeway program the official governmental program for bicycle transportation. They succeeded despite the fact that they could produce no evidence to support it, that it conflicted with standard traffic-engineering knowledge, and that the evidence that existed was against it. Motorists liked it because of its promise of greater convenience for them, and both motorists and the rest of the public approved of it because it enforced the cyclist-inferiority style of incompetent cycling that they erroneously thought made cycling safe for children and other unskilled cyclists.
Since 1978, there has been no significant change in knowledge of bicycle transportation engineering. There has been one recent but crude duplication of Cross’s study of car-bike collisions, sufficient only to show that the pattern of such collisions is the same now as it was in 1975. No study has shown that bikeways reduce car-bike collisions. No study has shown that bikeways reduce the level of skill that is required for safe bicycle transportation. In short, no significant change in knowledge of bicycle transportation engineering has occurred, and the optimum method continues to be for cyclists to obey the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.
Governments have funded many studies whose purposes have been to discover support for the bikeway program. Some academics and advocacy groups have done likewise. Two key claims are made for bikeways: they reduce car-bike collisions and they decrease the skill required for safe cycling. So far as I know, no person has attempted to demonstrate that cycling in a city with bikeways eliminates some normal traffic-cycling skill. The claim is so obviously false that nobody has dared to risk trying to demonstrate it.
There have been many attempts to demonstrate the claimed reduction in car-bike collisions, but these all suffer from two main problems. The major problem is that nobody has described a set of mechanisms produced by bikeways that would produce a net reduction in the mix of car-bike collisions that we know has occurred. So far as I know, nobody has even attempted such a demonstration. This is in contrast to my demonstration, soon after the Cross statistics were published, that the topological relationships between drivers that bikeways produce is more likely to produce a net increase in that mix of collisions than to produce a net reduction. Without such a causal relationship, only an unequivocal demonstration of a reduction has any credibility. Such a demonstration is difficult to produce and none has been. All that have been advanced are correlations between cities with many bikeways but low car-bike collision rates and with many confounding factors. There is no evidence that bikeways have produced the low collision rate, and considerable evidence that the low collision rate is better explained by other factors.
6.3 Judicial Error About Bike Paths
The California standards for bikeways created three types: Class One, or bike paths; Class Two, or bike lanes; Class Three, or bike routes. The California Legislature enacted statutes defining these, requiring that safety design standards be produced for these, and requiring all organizations that built bikeways to comply with these standards. The standards were produced (with my assistance), first in 1976, and then kept up to date in the California State Highway Design Manual. Bike paths had to be designed as if they were miniature roads. Nobody questioned the validity of the requirements.
There is good law that if owners of unimproved property allow people to cross their land for recreational purposes, the owners of the land are not responsible for injuries caused by the condition of the property. For example, if a motorcycle rider on such unimproved property takes a bump too fast and is injured in the subsequent fall, he cannot take action against the property owner.
Naturally, some such cases involved bicyclists. California courts took to calling the dirt trails involved by the name of “bike paths”. Naturally, this was not questioned at the time, because these were obviously dirt trails and the issue of whether or not these had been designed to comply with the state law for Class One bike paths was never raised. The courts simply used a colloquial name in complete ignorance that there was a law defining bike paths and requiring that they comply with state standards. The courts held that the law for dirt trails applied to bike paths before they ever had a case involving a real bike path.
When a cyclist was severely injured because a paved bike path of the City of Los Angeles fell out under his weight (unreported erosion beneath it), Los Angeles argued that because this was a bike path its owners had absolute immunity against such claims, because other courts had applied the law for dirt trails to bike paths. LA got away with this; probably all the attorneys were unready for this surprise.
Later, another cyclist was injured on a different LA bike path. He was injured at a place where the path violated the standards in several different ways, which defects cooperated in causing his injury. I examined the site for the plaintiff and reached that conclusion. Once I was alerted that LA would again argue its immunity, I ensured that the record held all the relevant information possible. (Plaintiff’s attorney at this time was clearly out of his depth in a case that would involve appellate action.)
It appeared to me that with the California statute law regarding bikeways and the clearly erroneous misuse of a name defined therein in cases that never had involved bikeways of any kind, it would be no more than common sense to fix the error. The cyclists’ injuries were not multi-million dollar items, and he had no money of his own. I alerted the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, who put up a small amount of money, but I put up the major share, $88,000, to get this up to an application to the California Supreme Court. But that court declined to hear the case, upholding the clearly erroneous opinions of the earlier and lower courts. One more example, of which we have seen several in this account, that the judicial system operates on the basis of words rather than on facts, in the way that would flunk a beginning engineering student.
6.4 The Rise of Anti-Motoring
Bikeways have one other claim made for them, that they greatly increase the volume of bicycle transportation. This is the favorite claim of the new party that has entered into bicycling affairs since 1978: they call themselves bicycle advocates, but a more accurate description would be anti-motoring activists with bicycling concentration. They have a vision of a bicycling society, in which distances are short and the necessary trips can be made by almost anyone without special equipment, clothing, or training. In short, this is the American cyclist-inferiority cycling system applied to all cyclists, just as the motoring and highway establishments desired and planned. Since such a bicycling society has not occurred in America, the bicycle advocates look abroad, seeing Amsterdam as the finest embodiment of their vision.
The anti-motoring agenda of these bicycle advocates spreads their activism beyond bicycling. They oppose those items that have been made possible by motoring: the decentralized city, suburbia, large stores, large residential lots. They advocate centralized urban areas, dense employment, dense housing, mass transit, small shops. The bicycle advocates’ vision is that of the American city no later than 1950. However, they have no vision as to how to rebuild our cities in that way. They fail to understand, deliberately or unconsciously, the intimate connection between transportation and urban pattern. Besides bicycling, the only other transportation they advocate is mass transit. They fail to understand that the decentralized city has made mass transit even more marginal than bicycle transportation, and any criticism of mass transit brings their hatred upon the writer. When it comes to bicycling, bikeways are the core of their advocacy, the one item about which they are
Bikeways do not reduce car-bike collisions, they do not reduce the level of skill that is required, and only rarely do bikeways make cycling more convenient. In short, there is no engineering reason for this attachment to bikeways. One would think that the better way to increase bicycle transportation would be a program of making cycling better. That is, improving the level of skill of those who cycle, accepting vehicular cycling as the social standard, and improving the road system for vehicular cycling. But no, the bicycle activists insist, loudly, vehemently, and consistently, in advocating bikeways, which facilities, since they have no engineering advantages, have only a psychological appeal.
The first paradox is that bicycle advocates pray for precisely that system that was designed by motoring and highway authorities to limit cyclists’ right to use the road, under the excuse that cyclists are incapable of obeying the rules of the road. That system provides no substantive benefits, such as reducing the accident rate, reducing the level of skill required, or making trips more convenient. It’s only appeal is psychological.
The second paradox is the psychological one: Why do bicycle advocates pray for the system that does them harm? Here’s the curious thing. Bicycle advocates hate my theory of the cyclist-inferiority superstition, that amounts in some people to phobia. (A phobia is when a person with an exaggerated fear of a not-very dangerous condition produces actions that are against the interests of the person. That is, when fear of not-very dangerous same-direction motor traffic impels a person into conflicts with the known and much more dangerous turning and crossing motor traffic.)
Bicycle advocates love bikeways and believe that they were produced for the benefit of cyclists. Hence they hate my account of motorists producing the “bike-safety” instruction that was based on fear of same-direction motor traffic, and my account of how the motoring and highway establishments created bikeways to restrict cyclists’ right to the road. They reject these accounts even though no contrary accounts have been published. And they equally hate my reasoning that the bikeway discrimination was politically acceptable because it provided physical facilities to enforce the cyclist-inferiority superstition.
Bicycle advocates dismiss all evidence for the cyclist-inferiority superstition, claiming that this is crackpot psychology produced by an unlicensed amateur. Yet here is the paradox. While bicycle advocates reject all consideration of a cyclist-inferiority superstition, their belief in the core element of their bicycling advocacy, bikeways, can appeal only to a person afflicted with that superstition. They must either reject bikeways or accept the reality of their cyclist-inferiority superstition.
The intellectual contradictions inherent in this form of bicycle advocacy, passionate advocacy of precisely the system designed by motorists to limit cyclists’ operating rights, prevent any coherent consideration of bicycle transportation; the bicycle advocates cannot do it, the motorists don’t want to do it. My statement that the bicycle advocates cannot consider bicycle transportation in a coherent manner comes not from theory, but from observation. They consider the knowledge of bicycle transportation engineering, derived from facts and standard methods of reasoning, to be largely invented for the purpose of keeping bicycle transportation as what they call an elitist activity. In short, they praise ignorance. But, of course, they have to have some false statements and illogical reasoning to support their bikeway program. They still maintain that bikeways are intended for beginners (though they deny that bikeways are intended for incompetent cyclists). They insist that copying European bikeways will greatly increase American bicycle transportation (ignoring the differences in urban pattern and life styles, and the failure so far in America). They insist that a large proportion of Americans don’t like living in suburbia and driving around it (despite the fact that those living there chose to do so), and will shift to bicycle transportation wherever bikeways are present (despite the fact that few do). It is reasonable to conclude that these bicycle advocates see themselves as being in the forefront of a movement that will rebuild our cities according to their vision of an ante-1950 pattern. They seem to think, although they are insufficiently logical to actually say this, that, just as the availability of the automobile caused the development of the decentralized city, then the availability of bicycle transportation, supposedly produced by bikeways, will cause the rebuilding of cities in that ante-1950 pattern.
The above discussion indicates that the primary motive for these so-called bicycle advocates is opposition to motoring, an opposition so intense that it both refuses to acknowledge facts and invents falsehoods of its own. These falsehoods reach their most intense form when directed at me. Because I hold that the important issue for cyclists is how best to travel in the present type of city (rural areas needing much less consideration), and that it is unlikely that city patterns will return to those ante 1950, they say that I must therefore be what they hate most, a lover of cars and sprawl and an enemy of cyclists. Bicycle advocates frequently villify me along those lines, inventing lies for the purpose. That their emotions motivate them to so act, rather than discussing the real cycling isues, demonstrates the paucity of intellectual content in their arguments combined with intense emotional motivation.
The only Americans capable and willing to consider bicycle transportation on the basis of facts and reason are the small group of vehicular cyclists.
6.5 Changes in the League of American Wheelmen
The above events have changed the League of American Wheelmen, now known as the League of American Bicyclists. I became a director in 1976, served into 1983, and was president in 1979-80. In 1976 I gave the League the Effective Cycling Program and operated it for the League until it could run by itself. I came into office when the League was attempting to recover from the technical bankruptcy caused when Morgan Groves, the executive director subsidized by the Bicycle Manufacturers Association, tried to increase the size and political power of the League by recruiting new members from purchasers of BMA bicycles. Purchasers of such bicycles were not interested in organized cycling, and League members didn’t buy the kinds of bicycles made by BMA, considering them toys. But much money was spent in anticipation of this growth, with the result that the members themselves had to run the League until we had worked ourselves out of debt. Both the CPSC bicycle regulation and the FHWA and California bikeway standards were issued during this time, and the League had to establish its position regarding them. I spent much of my presidential time getting the League to issue policy statements regarding lights at night and bikeways that did not contradict traffic laws. The CPSC regulation stated that its all-reflector system provided adequate conspicuity at night, which is false; the League had to take a stand against the all-reflector system and for headlamps. The difficulty within the League was that while most recognized the necessity of headlamps, many wanted to water this down by adding many reflectorized items of very dubious utility. Insofar as bikeways were concerned, some League members thought they were beneficial, some did not. The result was a compromise policy statement that did, however, assert the primacy of the rules of the road over designs that would contradict them. I worked very hard on these problems, both in publishing articles in the League Bulletin and with the other directors. Several of us also rewrote the bye-laws to reflect a properly operating League. The League at that time looked as though its policies were firmly based on serving the interests of lawful, competent cyclists.
However, in the early 1980s the Ohio area, and its directorship, were taken over by bikeway advocates. With this admission to the Board of Directors, the bikeway advocates used unethical means, contrary to the bye-laws, to gain control of the League. The League’s political affairs director was forced to resign in the midst of a board meeting for assisting in their efforts, but they won the battle. Ideologists with zeal tantamount to religious find ways to take over organizations that are normally run by normal people; that’s been demonstrated time after time. Of course, the bikeway advocates thought that they were leading a huge movement, but if so, it wasn’t a movement liked by League members. Membership declined despite the funds spent on increasing it, and the League ran out of money again. Since then, I have watched from the outside, as the League has wavered several times from reasonable advocacy for cyclists to anti-motoring advocacy of bikeways, and from a semblance of prosperity during the first to the precipice of bankruptcy during the second.
7 Summary, or Farewell?
I have enjoyed my cycling life, be it transportational, club cycling, touring, or racing. I have many happy cycling memories going back to before I was ten years old. I have enjoyed designing and creating equipment to make cycling more convenient and more fun, equipment that Dorris and I sold under the name of Custom Cycle Fitments. I was raised in a society in which cycling was an accepted daily activity and in which cyclists operated as drivers of vehicles. After I arrived in the U. S. A., I found a nation in which cyclists were expected to be children who should stay out of the way of the cars who owned the road, but in which some adult cyclists persisted in operating as drivers of vehicles, according to the European practice. By 1949, America had turned all of its attention to automotive travel, but the remaining adult cyclists who declined to follow fashion still rode in the vehicular manner. Then, in the 1960s, there was a resurgence of adult cycling in America, and many of the new cyclists joined cycling clubs and learned from the older ones. The cycling future was bright, and, I think, most of us would have been quite happy to have our cycling lives continue as they had been going in 1970, each cyclist with his or her own enjoyable mix of transportation, club, touring, and racing.
But the 1970s brought trouble as government imposed on us, the lawful and competent adult cyclists, the operating methods and limits that government, erroneously, thought suitable for incompetent, low status children. The governmental program had no science behind it, only the superstition conveniently believed by motorists, but it required that we cyclists develop the discipline of bicycle transportation engineering just to be able to head off the worst that government proposed. Since then, cycling has for me been as much a worrisome profession as it has been enjoyment, as it has been for several other persons.
This was not the first time, nor has it been the last time, when I have been faced with an intellectual challenge almost as great as this one. My cycling experience, my lifetime interest in transportation, and my professional training and experience combined to enable me to develop the discipline of bicycle transportation engineering. I enjoyed both creating the pattern of facts and reasoning that constitute the discipline and fighting my way through the controversy that resulted. It would have been far better for all had there been no controversy, had bicycle transportation engineering been seen as just another small extension of highway transportation engineering. However, government, the motorists, and the anti-motorists still insisted on imposing the method of cycling they thought suitable for incompetent children, and that created the bikeway controversy. It has given me a rueful pleasure to see the ignorance, stupidity, and passionate absurdity of the arguments advanced by the bicycle advocates in attempts to counter bicycle transportation engineering knowledge, but no amount of reason has broken their political power.
What’s to become of the activity of lawful, competent cycling? For that matter, what is to become of cycling in the official manner that is based on bikeways and lack of skill? If I were to extrapolate from present trends, I would predict continuing decline in bicycle transportation as the opportunities for useful transportation decline with the continued decentralization of cities. I would predict continued growth in easy recreational cycling and in various types of sporting cycling, ranging from charity rides, guided tours, off-road cycling, and possibly in racing. One might attribute these predictions to the continued activity of the automobile. On one hand it reduces the proportion of transportational trips for which bicycle transportation is useful, while on the other hand it enables the cyclist to get away from traffic before starting his ride, or provides support for cycling activities that, in the old days, required cyclists to be self-supporting.
If these predictions largely come to pass, where will the lawful, competent vehicular cyclists come from? Do any of the above cycling activities form a base from which vehicular cyclists will arise? They won’t come from Europe, as so many did half a century ago, for Europe has become as bikeway-centered as the US. I think that some cyclists will find themselves riding in traffic, and that some of these, as our experience tells us, will discover that vehicular cycling works best for them. However, they should not be forced to learn by the mistakes of experience, but should have available to them the knowledge of vehicular cycling and the bikeway controversy. It will be important to keep that knowledge available, and current, and interesting, and doing so requires an organization committed to that purpose.