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A Fred’s Eye View: Close encounters of the angry kind

RECKLESS DRIVING: Any person who drives any motor vehicle, bicycle, or motorized bicycle in such a manner as to indicate either a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. Colorado Driver Handbook. Pg. 24 sect. 12.5You hear the grumble of an approaching engine and ease closer to the shoulder’s white line, only to have your eardrums shattered by a long horn honk and an angry yell. Instinctively, you raise your hand and offer the irate driver’s rearview mirror the one-fingered international sign of goodwill, and a nice ear to ear grin.

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By Fred Dreier

RECKLESS DRIVING: Any person who drives any motor vehicle, bicycle, or motorized bicycle in such a manner as to indicate either a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

Colorado Driver Handbook. Pg. 24 sect. 12.5

You hear the grumble of an approaching engine and ease closer to the shoulder’s white line, only to have your eardrums shattered by a long horn honk and an angry yell. Instinctively, you raise your hand and offer the irate driver’s rearview mirror the one-fingered international sign of goodwill, and a nice ear to ear grin. Brake lights flash, and the car slows. Your heartbeat quickens as your mind rushes through a thousand frantic questions.

Is he gonna stop?

Will he get out?

Does he have any weapons in that pickup truck?

Where’s my frame pump?

Are we gonna rumble?

Every cyclist who has ever pushed the pedals for more than week has had his/her fair share of near-misses, close-calls, and oh-my-god-I-almost-died run-ins with irate horn-loving motorists. More often than not, however, the encounters end in a similar fashion –motorist and cyclist exchange a hail of unpleasant language and facial expressions, then both parties continue on their merry way, simultaneously saying, “That guy’s lucky I didn’t open up my can of whoop-ass” to their respected companions.

But what happens when the altercations lead to more than just a little f-word action? What happens when the gloves do come off and carnage ensues? Who is the reckless one –motorist or cyclist?

While we cyclists, being the more-vulnerable of the two parties, would like to believe that the motorist should always be at fault, this is not always the case.

Unfortunately, last Saturday in Boulder we saw two distinct instances of driver-motorist altercations that both led to violence –not to mention the destruction of two bikes and one windshield.

Also unfortunate, repeated calls to the Boulder County Sherriff’s office were not returned, and therefore the police’s official stance in both instances is not entirely clear. The one thing that is clear, however, is that most bikes can’t survive a battle with a car.

Case 1: TIAA-CREF vs. Guy in Pickup Truck
It was the tail-end of team TIAA-CREF’s weeklong training camp, and the boys were heading up to Carter Lake when they encountered an irate pickup driver. The truck swerved alongside the group, then swung sharply into a driveway, narrowly missing striking 23-year old Chad Hartley. The driver’s wife got out of the truck and went into the house.

When team coach Colby Pearce, a 2004 Olympian and Pan-Am games bronze medalist, stopped to have a word, the driver revved his engines, hit the gas and sped toward the now-dismounted cyclist.

Now, most motorists would think twice about running down a cyclist after pulling out of the driveway, but not this specimen.

“The guy came right at me and from how fast he was going he had no intentions of stopping,” Pearce said at TIAA-CREF’s Denver team presentation. Pearce jumped out of the way to safety, but his four-day old Javelin Amarone wasn’t so lucky. The bike met the pickup head on, bounced off of the bumper, and landed in a twisted mess in the road.

“The saddle is destroyed, the bars are totally bent, both wheels are taco-ed, and the cranks are pretty messed up,” said Pearce.

Repeated angry knocks on the driver’s door went unanswered, so Pearce went to the cops.

“They asked me if I wanted to press charges, and, yeah I did,” he said.

According to Pearce, the driver is looking at two felony charges, but as far as we know he has not been charged with the wrongful-death of a sweet, sweet ride –yet .

Case 2: Bicycle vs. Windshield
After the local Saturday group ride, three cyclists –Trek VW’s Nick Martin, Chris Hopwood, and Dwight “Whitey” DuBroux, both members on the local Team Giant mountain bike racing team –were heading back into town when a honking, screaming Jetta passed within inches of them. The trio caught up to the car at a stoplight, and some ugliness ensued.

“The lady driving the car started yelling, and then the dude in the passenger seat got out of the car and he was pretty massive, but he got back in,” said Martin. “Whitey got in front of the car, and the lady told him if he went before her he should wait and see what happens.”

When the light did turn green and DeBroux started pedaling, the Jetta rammed him from behind, knocking him off his bike, taco-ing his rear wheel, and mashing his wattage meter.

The collision stopped traffic, and another group of cyclists gathered around to watch. DeBroux picked up his LeMond from under the car and swung it down on the Jetta’s windshield twice, the second time shattering the glass with the seat post.

“I felt like I was acting out of self defense,” he said. “I thought at worst I would have to buy her a new windshield.”

The authorities felt differently, however, and after the Sheriff arrived on the scene, DeBroux was cuffed, charged with Criminal Mischief and Disorderly Conduct. When Martin and Hopwood asked the officer why the motorist was not charged as well, he responded that, despite the witnesses and crunched bike, there was not sufficient evidence of any wrongdoing.

Debroux spent the rest of the day in his Shammy at the Sheriff’s department, and his bike is still impounded and crunched.

So where does one draw the line in cyclist vs. motorist road rage? With this last case in mind, it seems clear that, because no definite state statutes (I checked) address what to do in instances of biker vs. driver fisticuffs, the matters fall into a legal gray area, and therefore are best battled out by our friends, the lawyers – DeBroux already has his on call, claiming the act was in self-defense.

I can see the defense strategy already: “C’mon, your honor. This is a high-performance machine we’re talking about. It’s got full Dura-Ace.”

Still, with our trusty definition of Reckless Driving as council, it seems obvious to me that in these two stories there exist two automotive parties who are guilty of recklessly driving with willful disregard for the safety of cool cycling equipment–pickup truck guy for recklessly driving over a shiny new bike and the Jetta queen for recklessly ruining a rear wheel and a PowerTap.

And poor Whitey?

Well, I’d like to say that if I had been in his position, I would have gotten up coolly, written down the license plate number, and started walking home.

But hey, what do I know? Every run in I’ve ever had with a horn honker has ended the same way –me telling a buddy, “Yeah, I could have kicked his ass.”


Associate editor Fred Dreier is the latest addition to the VeloNews editorial staff. His colum, “A Fred’s Eye View,” will appear most Mondays here on VeloNews.com. If you have a comment, an opinion or observation regarding this anything you have seen in cycling, in VeloNews magazine or on VeloNews.com, write to WebLetters@InsideInc.com. Please include your full name and home town. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.