The Face We Cyclists Turn Towards The Public

Background Reading


Maybe We Should Pass These Out to Fixie Riders?

Maybe We Should Pass These Out to Fixie Riders?

You are quite unlikely to read a letter to the editor from Ron Burke about Alleycat Races. You will read one in which he rants against the rantings of Mark Konkol of the Chicago Sun-Times. That is because journalists who criticize cyclist behavior and some of the things we do represent low-hanging fruit. Their words are the kind that get under the hides of cyclists and if you give them push-back it drives cyclists right into your arms, or at least their wallets. It would not surprise me one whit to learn that every Spring someone gets together with either Mark Konkol or Jack Kass to find a way to have a rant published which in turn Active Transportation Alliance get to write about in an open letter to the editor.

After drinks the writer gets to celebrate the increased number of hits his article brought to the paper and Active Transportation Alliance gets to run yet another silly write-in campaign against this or that paper, all of which leads to a page where you can contribute to the fight by donating or joining or whatever. I recognize the trend in promotion since it is the very same one that the GOP and DNCC use to try and wheedle away money for their various concerns. Yes, dear reader the Cycling Movement like all other movements is “all about the Benjamins“.

We cyclists are a gullible lot. We think in terms of Climate Change and what is good for the environment and then we hear that someone overseas has managed to provide a sure fire way to keep us safe while riding urban streets, so we sign up with Active Transportation Alliance and suddenly we are helping to safe the planet by painting the surfaces of various boulevards green. To add something of an ironic touch we take those sections of PVC piping (not generally favored by those who are concerned about the Planet) and use them to demarcate our fresh green painted lanes.

We show up for “photo ops” of showcase lanes and then learn in a matter of hours that the installation is both flawed and lacking in completeness. But we struggle with the disappointment by setting up a thread on ChainLink where we can do what we do best, bitch and whine about cars and the misery they have brought to our lives and oh yes, the damned businesses are unloading trucks in our bike lane on Dearborn and somebody else is shoveling snow into that same lane and yada, yada, yada.

Of course we eventually learn that there is a lack of coordination in the cleaning of the Dearborn (and other PBLs) which is conveniently being rectified by having two workers for the CDOT man the snow removal equipment for presumably all the PBLs in the city? Oh, well. Yet another Band-Aid™ has been carefully applied to the problems of bicycle infrastructure in the great City of Chicago. At least until we learn that the grates being installed over the bridge at the northern end of the Dearborn PBL is being considered a hazard. One rider writes:

Reply by Derek 16 hours ago
Just got out of the ER. Also went down hard on Dearborn bridge trying to go around the trucks parked in the bike lane. Lucky I got away with only a sprang wrist / fractured hand and few bruises. Next time i’ll take Clark or walk over the bridge.

And these are the types of responses other “supporters” of cycling are giving. No ranting against cycling just folks honestly reporting what is happening. So much for having built a “showcase” lane. If the PBLs are designed for the greenest of riders (i.e. newbies) what does it say about their vaunted safety when seasoned riders are dropping all over the place when trying to use this sort of bridge route?

But It Is Our Attitude Towards Motorists That Really Intrigues

There is a Gender Gap that cyclists like to acknowledge and confess to wishing to erase. But as usual when cyclists try to “erase” something they take a tack that few non-cyclists would ever consider. Take for instance the non-sanctioned road race that occurs just before the L. A. Marathon each year. The up close and personal rider they interviewed for this piece was a female who was there to add some balance to the nearly all male wreck that this race represents. Not certain how adorning yourself in an ugly shower curtain of an outfit helps to close the Gender Gap in cycling but, whatever.

Not to be outdone Chicago has tried this same sort of nonsense as well. I have personally witnessed remnants of this Alleycat Racing that still goes on here each Sunday. What is important to remember are Chuck Goudie’s words about the race:

Alleycat events are outlaw bicycle races, during which riders blow through red lights, ignore other traffic laws and confound motorists. After a rider’s death a few days ago, those who defend alleycats say it is car drivers who need to be more careful.

Notice that last sentence. It sums up the near totality of the posture of the Cycling Movement. We get to be as unsafe as we care to. It is motorists who are the problem. This in intriguing because cycling infrastructure is supposedly being installed precisely because we want to increase “safety” and not just for ourselves but for everyone. Pedestrians, motorists and cyclists are purported to benefit from Road Diets. These traffic calming techniques are the justification for the many millions of dollars being spent annually on cycling infrastructure. And what do cyclists do in return for this new found safety, they create events in which they are likely to lose their lives. Makes about as much sense as wearing an ugly shower curtain while trying to close the Gender Gap.

Now what sorts of open letters to the editor have you read from Ron Burke about these kinds of races held either here or elsewhere? My guess it that you have not. That would be political and financial suicide if not properly handled. Hipsters are the backbone of the support of Urban Cycling. It is true that Ron relies on the hated suburbanites to give the true financial backing, but he has to deal with the tattooed minions on a daily basis for volunteer support and of course the beloved photo ops that everyone trots out for at the drop of a Twitter Tweet.

Being blunt about the nature of our attitude as cyclists towards our own personal safety while putting the blame all on the shoulders of motorists is a time-honered tradition. It is best summed (in closing) by the words of the fellow who most recently asked about reviving the Alleycat Race tradition here in the Windy City:

Reply by zerofivenein 6 hours ago
well, if you’re a dummy and you run red lights, you also run the risk of getting hit.
mark said it best.
don’t be an idiot and risk life and limb for something insignificant.
i’m not encouraging idiocy.
i recommend people be safe.
it’s a fun fast ride for fun.
the point is to be as fast as you can manage safely.
if you get hit, it’s because you took a risk you shouldn’t have when it wasn’t serious enough to do so.
people make their own decisions on that front, though.

Don’t be fooled by the blather about “safety“. I have witnessed first hand what these races look like on the streets of Chicago. They are neither safe nor sane. But heck, when you have to put your buddy in a body bag and a reporter sticks a microphone in your face, remember to Chuck Goudie’s quote:

those who defend alleycats say it is car drivers who need to be more careful.

Some Follow-Up Comments

Reply by Juan Primo 3 hours ago
I rode some of the Tour d’Chicago races in 2008, and yeah, it was just as dangerous as Chuck Goudie said. I’ll admit with much guilt that we were a danger to ourselves and others. Totally. There was a pack mentality when I was in the pack, that “WE’RE ALL RUNNING THIS LIGHT”. When I lost the pack (man, those guys are fast), common sense took back over. I still rode as fast as I could but without the pack I stopped when I had to and signaled a lot more.
Alex Wilson doesn’t come off very well in his interview. I wonder if his views have evolved.

Reply by Jim S 1 hour ago
I was just going to say that. I don’t think any person with common sense would agree with what he was quoted as saying.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pedestrian, cyclist, or even another motorist – you’ve made a poor choice by running a red light and have to be willing to accept the potential consequences ..i.e. death.

Reply by Brendan Kevenides 1 hour ago
That’s cool. Just know what you’re getting into:

Lies We Tell Ourselves

What Chuck Goudie’s article does it show us who we are and what we really think when our minds are hyped up on adrenaline and our blood stream flush with testosterone. And if you doubt this read through some of the many threads on ChainLink and do so with as dispassionate a stance as possible. Act as if you are your sainted mother reading through a sometimes venomous recounting of what we either want to do or did do to that motorist or pedestrian who strayed into our bike lane to unload a truck or walk along it when a perfectly good sidewalk was available. It gets pretty scary when you let the full import of the threats and boasts of having cracked off the driver’s side mirror of a vehicle when the driver exited and we did not appreciate the near collision that resulted. Never mind that such exits cannot cause problems if we are riding to the left of the “Door Zone”, when we are incensed logic flies out the window.

Juan, views never evolve. What often happens is either you decide that expressing your views is counter-productive to fitting in and so you keep silent, or you suddenly decide that the basis for your original views was a lie so you jettison it and them. For instance if you are a Catholic and a GOP supporter (or for that matter an Evangelical Christian) you may have come to the Party because it espoused the Biblical Principles you were taught in your youth. Views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage (by extension) are a good example of what I am referring to. Now after several losses the GOP has decided that it must revise its views on same-sex marriage.

This presents a problem. Unless of course the Most High has issued an edict rescinding the laws about homosexuality described in the Old Testament (and I a assuming he has not since my buddy the Pope has not emailed me a copy of that Heavenly Memo) then changing your views on the subject is simply out of the question. What has to take place in this instance is that you renounce the Authority itself. The laws are clear and not really open to interpretation. So you either accept them or you don’t.

Of course a good theologian can offer you just about any kind of “cover logic” to help assuage your guilt about abandoning a tenet of the Faith, but abandon it you will.

The same goes for ideas about riding fixed gear bikes without brakes in packs on city streets where the only way to win the race is by running red lights.

The High Priest of the Church of Urban Cycling is loathe pronounce on this subject because a heck of a lot of his employees and bike shop supporters ride these “death traps” and love them dearly. So he keeps silent and that way the cash from membership renewals keep flowing in from folks in the suburbs (the most important source of membership funding and the least tolerant of urban hipster stupidity) and from the hipster community on the northwest side of Chicago that provides all the workers and volunteers he needs to pump up those numbers come cycle-commuter census taking time each spring. Yes it’s a game, but if you understand that at the end of the day it is all about the Benjamin’s it begins to make more sense.

As for the notion that “you’ve made a poor choice by running a red light and have to be willing to accept the potential consequences ..i.e. death” that is pure blather. Jim should know better.

Urban Cyclists are notorious for holding candlelight vigils posting ghost bikes and all sorts of things for fallen comrades who ride without brakes, then collide with opening doors because they are not willing to ride outside the “Door Zone” and follow up these deaths with promises to blanket every automobile on the block with stickers to “educate” them about the harm they are causing because cyclists don’t want to be bothered riding outside the “Door Zone“.

Cycling In ‘Bad Faith‘ Is Like Texting While Driving

Bad faith (from French, mauvaise foi) is a philosophical concept used by existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to describe the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns his/her innate freedom to act authentically.[1] It is closely related to the concepts of self-deceptionand ressentiment.

I reject the intellectualization of the very notion of an AlleyCat Race. I reject it as much as I reject the notion that there is any justification whatsoever to ride a bike on the streets (especially in urban traffic) without benefit of brakes. “Skid stops” are not a substitute for rim, drum or disk brakes. Sometimes we want to be able to walk down both sides of the issue. Take for instance this bit of “double-talk“:

Bad things can and do sometimes happen in alleycat racing. In March, 2008 a racer was killed during what used to be the biggest and most important such race in the city, the Tour Da Chicago. During the race, several racers ahead of the main pack approached the six-way intersection of Lincoln-Damen-and Irving Park. As they did, the pace, which had been high, slowed because the light was red. However, one of the racers, Matt Lynch, apparently tried to take advantage of everyone else slowing and shot into the intersection. When he did he was struck and killed by an SUV traveling at full speed. Matt made a mistake and it cost him his life.

All the facts are in place here. But folks let’s “call a spade a spade“. We cyclists have found it fashionable to refrain from describing a collision between a bicycle and a car as an “accident”. There have been essays on the subject and letters written to editors decrying the use of the term in that context. Fine. Then I will call out this namby-pamby tiptoeing that we are doing around the bald fact that AlleyCat racing “accidents are not mistakes“. They are acts of “suicide“.

The author above goes on to invite a member of the messenger community to expound on his views concerning these “death marches“:

Alleycat races are pretty much always illegal, and can be very dangerous. That said, they can also be a very important part of the messenger community and the biking community in general. It sounds crazy, but I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t participated in alleycat races. In their purest form, alleycat races are a way for messengers to compete against each other and find out who is actually the fastest and who knows the city the best. I have the top spot at one of the best messenger companies in Chicago, and the truth of it is that I got into the company that I work for by racing in alley cats and proving myself about four years ago.

That second sentence says it all. AlleyCat races are important not only to the messenger community but the “biking community in general“. This is a profound statement and one that when viewed even in context is astounding. But it is clear that hipsters both understand and acknowledge the debt owed to them for helping define the very definition of what it means to be an urban cyclist. This gentleman has taken off the gloves and said essentially that what we urban cyclists are all about is doing what is possibly “illegal and dangerous” in service of getting from one side of town to the other.

There are not letters to the editor from Active Transportation Alliance which can undo or obfuscate the meaning of this truth. Urban Cyclists are not simply going to put up with a two-stage turn around a corner using a Bike Box when running a red light will work as well. They are not going to even think about the “bullshit” explanations of Ron Burke regarding how much safer everyone will be when all the lanes are a pretty green and the PVC bollards stretch as far as the eye can see. He knows this to be true even if he will never announce it publicly.

We cyclists are as dishonest with ourselves as Ted Haggard was with himself and his congregation. If you get caught using a homosexual massage therapist who brings you methamphetamine to heighten the pleasure have the decency to admit you are gay. Why prevaricate and call yourself a “heterosexual with issues“. Like Haggard our cycling community is conflicted. We like to watch movies like Premium Rush:

But we tell ourselves that this was only escapist entertainment and that we are more like the guys who ride those Dutch Bikes that are heavy and bulky and have fenders and lights and sprung saddles and chain guards and kickstands. And we know that that is a lie. But it helps us sleep at night or at least to get from bar-to-bar in a drunken stupor (before forgetting where we secured our bike) without having to admit we are somewhat depraved.

The very notion of being able to ride in traffic with the automobiles is a “turn-on”. The guys that “get lucky” on a Friday night are the ones who have the coolest looking fixed gear bikes (without brakes mind you) and if further separation is needed from the other alpha males, nose rings and tattoos get us the rest of the way. Urban Cycling is to 21st Century America what being in a Harley-Davidson motorcycle gang was back when Marlon Brando did his thing on screen with is Harley roaring beneath him.

And then as now nobody wants to be too honest about the nature of what is going on. We cyclists love to talk about “safety“. And then in the same breath we debate the necessity “to stop at red lights” which while illegal can supposedly be “ethical“. Randy Cohen was more of a theologian or apologist for the Church of Urban Cycling than an ethicist. And we liked that about him.

No Longer ‘Toiling In The Shadows’

The Urban Cycling Community is not much different than that which populates any inner-city ghetto. People do not like to “talk to the cops” but they know things. If you could for a moment listen to what is going on right now on the ChainLink you can get a glimpse into how secretive and yet open AlleyCat Racing really is:

Matthew Manger-Lynch Ghost Bike

Matthew Manger-Lynch
Ghost Bike

Reply by globalguy 4 hours ago
Nuff Sed.
Matthew Manger-Lynch
Thursday, 28 February 2008
Age: 29
More details here…

Cautionary tales are wasted on Urban Cyclists for the most part. Like the songs about drug dealers sung in Mexico and the lavish funerals for Mobsters in the 30s and of course outlandish caskets for murdered drug dealers in Chicago there is always a memorialization of the lives and even the deaths of those we admire.

These are people who live outside of the law and we admire them all the more. They are like the Bonnie and Clyde team that robbed banks. People were torn between knowing that what they were doing was wrong and yet feeling a bit gleeful each time they eluded the grasp of Authority.

And yet the Urban Cycling Community dutifully stands and listens to the blathering of its High Priests and Politicians as they tout the “safety” and “legal riding practices” that will ensue if only we can bring PBLs to our streets.

Reply by zerofivenein 4 hours ago
i sincerely appreciate the warnings and horror stories.
and i mean it.
post more of them or more info on them as you find them if you can.
i’m showing the links and articles to the people involved so they too know exactly what it is that they’re getting into.
this is a dangerous thing i’m suggesting, and i want everyone to make informed decisions on the risks they’re taking with their lives and the lives of others.
it’s an event geared more to the professional city cyclist crowd that started as a fun thing between friends/coworkers, and is open to (almost) everyone.
chefs looking for a thrill, kool kids with aerospokes on their sweet fixie and no experience with the nuances of traffic, and dentists with $20,000 pinarellos are advised to keep away or really really (really) read up on what they’re getting into.
because this is not premium rush. when you get nailed by traffic, time isn’t going to go backwards to give you another shot at a different outcome… you might end up a spectator at the damen derby.

It all sounds so very earnest. He wants to bring informed decision making to those who may risk their lives and the lives of others. Does this sound like the musings of a group that really and truly values “safety“? It’s as if someone were willing to have people who had taken hits from a very potent batch of Mexican heroine and were willing to share their experiences, good or bad. And some of these people who were listening could be school teachers, bus drivers, airplane pilots, surgeons about to head into the OR and law enforcement officers out late at night on edge and trigger happy. Does this sound like a group you really want to oversee the “safety” of our bike lanes?

Reply by Juan Primo 4 hours ago
I suggest you keep this as underground as possible then. Lots of dentists and Pinarellos on this forum.

Evidently this information exchange is not much different than a handoff during a drug purchase. If you are smart you find a place a few yards into an alley and you get the glassine packets in exchange for the folding money. You do not wish to have narcs taking pictures of you that could later turn up in court.

Reply by zerofivenein 4 hours ago
that’s the plan, i mostly posted it here in case there were any fellow friendly courier types that would want to give it a go in as safe a manner as possible. and i didn’t want to keep it toooo underground so the really seedy overly underground types aren’t there turning it into something it’s not.

I guess even law breakers have standards. They do not want the “really seedy underground types” to take over. That sounds about right. If you are really not certain about how really stupid what you are doing might be why have someone involved who might be racing on methamphetamine and likely to get leveled at an intersection and have the whole sordid affair appear on Fox News in the evening?

Reply by Paul Fitz, Scrabblor 3 hours ago
oh no, I thought the damen derby was going to be the race that hinged on the mid ride feat of eating the texas donut delight at huck finn! Now it just sounds silly.

Reply by David Barish 2 hours ago
Good advice. Publicly post that its a joke and anybody who wants to contact you can do so by PM rather than in public. Me? I’m old, chickenbleep and slow.

Sage advice from a barrister even. So you know that this sort of thing is not that out of the mainstream in the Urban Cycling Community.

Reply by Lorena Cupcake 5 minutes ago
Yeah, as an organizer of unsanctioned races I would not recommend The Chainlink as a place to find like-minded folk. ChiFG would likely be more appropriate place.

That being said, there is very little use for “Is anyone interested in making this thing happen with me?” threads, because if you need the interest of other people to make it happen, likely you’re not commited enough to actually organize the thing. Just throw it. People will show up. Or not.

Keep in mind average attendance for “super hardcore planned-by-messengers-for-other-messengers” alleycats is around 5 people right now. Not sure if you’re gonna do better than that for an unsanctioned road race.

Guess the whole thing sounded silly from the outset. Evidently Paul Fitz was at least interested. Lorena is an interesting person since she is not only evidently an organizer of these races but was also instrumental in organizing a cupcake sale for Dustin Valenta following his crash. Clearly the racing underground is as active and obviously known to its peers as anyone might suspect. ChiFG is the fixed gear forum that Chicago’s Urban Cycling Community likes to use.

If you are afraid to log into the ChiFG forum you can still get a look at who is part of the group and gauge its size by looking at their Flickr photo library.

What Others Hear Is Not What We Meant To Say

Final thoughts on this thread from these last few replies:

Reply by zerofivenein 7 hours ago
good to know.
i followed your advice before posting this topic, and have already figured out my route, date, and have a group of people slated to ride. this topic isn’t really a “is anything interested in making this happen” thread, it’s a “is anyone interested in joining this thing that’s happening” thread, and a means of gathering info and opinions on it.
i only posted it here in case there were a few more people that would have some interest.
i’m above average attendance so far, hopefully some of the other random people that have displayed interest come through for more competition.

Reply by Lorena Cupcake 7 hours ago
Sounds good. If you have a FB event and/or flyer shoot them over to lorenarama (at) and I’ll post them to . We’re posting Midwestern bike events every day this week.

Reply by zerofivenein 6 hours ago
most certainly, once i get a flyer designed up, i’ll shoot it over your way.

So the “unsafe” practice of AlleyCat Racing in one form or another persists. Like gang activities in the poorer neighborhoods all the locals know it goes on but when questioned by the cops, “nobody know nothin’“. And so the farce continues and lives will be lost. And the High Priests will continue to defend the Urban Cycling Community against charges that it knows to be true but cannot admit because that would be political and financial suicide. Babies die on the South Side and brakeless riders die on the North Side. Karma is balanced.

Reply by h’ 1.0 5 hours ago
Alex’s interview was chopped to hell and not only were the pieces presented acontextually, but used to fit a different context in the slimiest possible way. He swore he would never allow himself to be interviewed again after this. I wish Mike Schwab knew the Chicago bicycle scene well enough to know which sleeping dogs to let lie.

Reporters use tape recorders and tablets to capture their interviews for a reason. The mind of both the reporter and the interviewee can play tricks. Our memories are selective. Interviews are seldom other than one-on-one confrontations between those two individuals.

Interviewees whether they be seasoned politicians or eager AlleyCat racers are seldom happy with what any interview produces. Politicians have taken to having their press secretaries present during an interview to help them “stay on point“. It is the ego of the interviewee that gets in the way most often. No one seems able to resist being in the limelight. Having what you say and think be the content of a news piece is intoxicating. But what groups accept as commonplace pronouncements over beers and after a gathering can sound silly and banal in print.

The problem is that unless everyone has an audio copy of the interview there really is not way to reconstruct what was said. One has to rely on the honesty and the sensitivity of the reporter to get things right.

Urban Cyclists are very casual about their dislike of “cagers“. They think that suburbanites are stupid to pay $50 or so for the privilege of riding around the city at night during the annual N.I.T.E. Ride and they say so openly on the ChainLink. They are also disdainful of tourists who put around on Segways along the Lakefront Trail and along Michigan Avenue. They hate it when people call their behavior into question but take great delight in photographing motorists who abuse the bike lane. And slowly but surely cyclists began to objectify motorists in much the same was as motorists do them.

It makes for very uneasy conversations over dinner when a motorist and a cyclist clash. But in the final analysis it is the cyclist who has to think unilaterally. We are looking to build infrastructure which may or may not work in the context of our city. It is a bit of a gamble. We need the support of motorists to get over the objections of their legislators to the spending of so much money on what many feel are unproven plans.

Choosing our words carefully not just in interviews but when writing on the ChainLink can go a very long way towards easing the tension between cyclists and motorists and even pedestrians. We say we want to taser pedestrians who violate our precious bike lane. Maybe that is hyperbole but you cannot read the face of the writer through the written word. We imply that we have broken the drivers side door mirror of motorist who displeased us. But even it that was meant as a joke, it sounds callous and vicious and leaves one to wonder why we take such umbrage at having the tables reversed when we are alone riding to work in the wee hours of the morning and a pedestrian decides to rob us.

Karma is a bitch.