We Cyclists Need Licensing, Testing, Education, Plating and Respect

Background Reading


A surreal encounter with a driver, his daughter and a policeman is presented in a recent BikePortland blog piece:

Mike was struck by a man driving a black Camaro — and then things got weird. I’ll let Mike tell the rest of the story in his own words…

Mike Cobb at a recent cargo bike roll call event. (Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Mike Cobb at a recent cargo bike roll call event.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

I was riding west, down approximately the center of the parking lot lane, near the southwestern parking lot corner of the Home Depot on Marine Drive (map). A driver of a black Camaro was traveling in the same direction, approximately 50 feet ahead. He rounded the parking lot corner as I continued. He then stopped and backed up very quickly to enter into a parking space (shown in my pictures below). I noticed the impending collision, so pedaled hard, only to have the rear end of the bike tagged by the backward-moving Camaro’s rear left bumper.

The bumper got cracked, paint was exchanged, and I nearly got knocked off, but held it together. I was really startled and upset and my wrist was slightly bloodied by the handlebar being jerked out of hand and creating rough contact with my wrist.

The driver said he “didn’t see me” and seemed rattled and slightly apologetic. I checked for damage and told him that his bumper was cracked. He didn’t display any anger and certainly didn’t ask for my ID, seemingly corroborating his perception of being at fault (obvious to me). Shook up, but fine, (as far as I could tell) I left the scene. A couple minutes later, I decided that it would have been stupid to not take a picture of the license plate, just in case my boss’ bike frame was cracked (extremely expensive one-of-a-kind award-winning bike) or my shock was concealing injury. That’s when the driver became very verbally aggressive and hostile and stood in front of his license plate, telling me there was “no way that I was getting his license plate number”. He then assigned the concealment task to his daughter (pictured), while he called the police.

The daughter of the driver covered up the license plate. (Photos by Mike Cobb)

The daughter of the driver covered up the license plate.
(Photos by Mike Cobb)

The daughter of the driver covered up the license plate. (Photos by Mike Cobb)

The daughter of the driver covered up the license plate.
(Photos by Mike Cobb)

I hung out, telling the driver that concealing the license plate seemed like an extreme display of guilt and that adding a call to the police seemed like a confounding invitation to show the police that he did something wrong.

The police arrived and I was greeted by an inexplicably hostile Officer J. Cioeta’s (North Precinct #33930). I don’t know what his internal motivations were, but his response to my calm, exhaustive explanation made me feel like he was predisposed to cyclist disdain, intent on finding fault. His hostile inquiry felt really awful. If he has any complaints on his record, mine will help build the case to clean up his act. I really don’t want my taxes to reward his style.

The police filed a collision report, finding no fault. I wasn’t interested in pursuing legal action until I, the victim, was treated with such hostility by all parties.

Incidentally, after Officer Cioeta’s partner requested that the young plate-concealing woman step aside so that he could record the number, she stepped aside, then after went right back to hiding it, until the officer said something to the effect, “there’s no longer a need to do that”.

It was explained to me by Officer Cioeta’s partner that concealing a plate after a collision is not illegal and that people do strange things during moments of duress. He told me that I probably understand this type of behavior as a person involved with disaster relief preparedness.


I suspect that any motorist willing to call the police in a situation like this already knows the officer on a personal basis and that would help explain the aggressive attitude you experienced. Hey, welcome to my world. Had you been a person of color in this same situation you would have experienced this same problem perhaps several times more troublesome, depending on the racial bias of the policeman. So get over it!

Situations like this have turned out very badly for people of color who attempt to “get beyond their station” when dealing with both a white officer and a white motorist. And unfortunately you have made yourself a “nigger” by stepping over the top tube of that bike and daring to ride on a transport system reserved for people of color from foreign countries (usually Mexico) or children. Not realizing this situation is tantamount to being stupid. Had you been alive during the 1950s and been found driving a car while black in most southern towns (especially at night) you would have known the wrath of law enforcement “up close and personal“.

Since I grew up in the church where Emmett Till and his mother worshiped and I attended his funeral I know whereof I speak. For literally a hundred years or more people of color have been receiving the kind of reception Mike Cobb got for simply being alive. It is very difficult for me to feel sorry for the fact that you are now witnessing the situation at a personal level. It is not pleasant but I think it is instructive. It means that the very next time you read a news story like the Trayvon Martin murder it will be with a different mindset. That is a good thing. So get over your mistreatment! If you dislike it then drive a car and no one will ever again have to disrespect your person. I on the other hand and millions of other people of color have no sleight-of-hand that we can perform to suddenly no longer be recognizable as what we are. So again, get over it!

What is however very important is the underlying story, namely that having a way of identifying a person is extremely powerful. It helps to moderate behavior and certainly means that the identifiable party cannot hope to elude some interaction with law enforcement over time.

License plates are essential in signaling to the rest of the world that we are licensed users of the roadways. Until that point we are just grownup on toys. And we have ourselves to blame for not insisting that we be licensed, plated, tested and educated. We need to be as activist about joining the adult world as we seemingly are about not doing so.

Yet again on a northside ride in Chicago I was witness to an “urban cyclist” who is either a cardiac surgeon on call or simply too important to ride behind someone else on a bicycle. At any rate he decided that he simply had to blast past me while I was stopped at a 4-way stop intersection and pedestrians were in the process of crossing in the crosswalk:

He does all of this during the second half of this video while we are still riding along Damen Avenue approaching Milwaukee Avenue. His level of impatience is not uncommon. It is more the rule than the exception in my own experience. I really am saddened by the intentional “happy talk” about there being some 94% compliance with traffic controls when both I an the individual or organization putting out this information knows it not to be true.

Putting license plates on bicycles and requiring that they be easily visible might go a very long way to ensuring that the impatient riders who simply cannot be bothered with waiting their turn, get the message that just as with automobiles there is no room for folks who would rather break the law than relax and enjoy the ride.

The moment we adopt a licensing program for bicyclists with the commensurate classroom and field training components that motorcyclists get we will gain greater status as true equals on the road. Until then we are kids on bikes. We will not be recognized as partners because there is nothing about us that distinguishes us as such. Of course this will mean that running red lights and blowing stop signs will have consequences that are beyond our control. But that is a good thing.

Standardization of Manufacture

Schmidt Edelux Lamp © Peter White Cycles

Schmidt Edelux Lamp
© Peter White Cycles

The BikeShare experience is going to have far-reaching consequences for those of us who already own bikes. Already in New York City there is a helmet waiver for CitiBike users. That simple act will signal a death knell for helmet usage in NYC. But in addition to that these rental services are simply going to “kill” existing bike rental services. And furthermore they are going to change the notion of what a bike should look like and how it should perform.

Divvy bikes have a hub generator on the front wheel. It powers a blinking LED array that is embedded in the front basket. In addition the rear drops have embedded LED arrays that provide a visible signal to approaching motorists that something is up ahead. In addition these bikes have kickstands, fenders and horns. I think they will be the guideline for the next revision to city ordinances regarding how a bike must be equipped to be in compliance with the city transportation code. This in my view is a very good thing indeed!

I would however hope that at some point the Divvy fleet will be upgraded to include a 3-watt or 4-watt LED headlight to be powered by the generator at night. I run such a set up on my Easy Racers Tour Easy. It is wonderful and makes me just that much more visible to motorists. I also run with a Planet Bike headlight in flashing mode during the day. My LED light will sense when darkness approaches and come on automatically. It is already German-complaint so that I could ride this setup in Germany without any modification whatsoever.

Pletscher Twin-legged Kickstand

Pletscher Twin-legged Kickstand

Such additions to the bicycle are expensive and they tend to add weight to the bike. I favor the twin-legged kickstand shown at right. This kickstand is not only sturdy but allows me to drop the rear wheel without having to lay the bike down. I can even conduct adjustment to the derailleurs with the rear wheel free to turn using the pedals. And I can set a water bottle on the seat of my recumbent and by changing the weight distribution lift the front wheel off the ground and work on the brakes or repair an inner-tube again without having to lay the bike down.

The sooner our bikes approach the level of “appliance” in the common thinking the better off we will be. On this point both Mikael Colville-Andersen and I are in total agreement.