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Legal Cycling In The USA

October 2012

While perusing bicycling magazine’s website the other day I ran into an interesting story that relates to cycling on the road that brings up a few interesting points for debate…

Two guys peel off the back of an advanced club ride in Libya – I mean Ohio. They were both racers who had a fairly tough ride the night before and decided to finish the ride at an easier pace. Going through a small town, they encounter a Sheriff’s Deputy who excoriated them for riding on the road. An explicative flies from the Deputy’s mouth and pandemonium ensues… Ending with one of the cyclists tazed and both in cuffs.

Now the Deputy, from his own testimony, is a liar, pure and simple. That he wanted to be a prick and throw his weight around is made fairly clear in the article… I’ve seen this first hand and it’s scary as hell when it’s happening to you. The two sued and rightfully so…

My concern with the article is when it starts getting into the weeds:  Assuming that the cyclists were riding legally on the road – and as the article lays out, it’s pretty hard not to – the question then becomes what should a cyclist do when a police officer attempts to violate a cyclists right to the road when the officer is in the wrong?

From the story:

What happened to Tony and Ryan from the moment the Deputy first decided to say something to them is a real-world example of the challenge cyclists face in securing their right to the road. For most of us, I suspect it’s easier to just quietly comply with a law enforcement officer’s misguided attempts to enforce laws that don’t exist. Sure, we know the officer is wrong, but do we really want to go to jail to make that point, instead of wherever it is we happen to be going at that moment?

The problem is, if everybody acquiesces to a violation of our rights, do we still have the right? I would argue that unless the right is exercised, it doesn’t exist. Therefore, when a law enforcement officer is enforcing laws that don’t exist, it is incumbent upon us to stand up for our rights.

While that’s a good answer and true, the article makes the key point immediately thereafter:  But how do we do that without triggering a beat down and a trip to jail?

And therein lies the rub.  Keep in mind here, I had a rather troubled youth – I’ve had my run-ins with the police – and I’ve lived cleanly since, I know both sides of the coin.  Disregarding an officer’s order or request is foolish, no matter how right you are.  Often times this will result in a beat down of some sort for the simple egregious act of non-compliance to a Fourth Amendment violation.  Does it suck?  Hell yes, but once you’ve got the busted teeth and black eyes to show for disregarding the unlawful order of an officer who is violating your right to the road, they’ll really go to work on you and unless you’ve got the money for an exceptional attorney, you. will. go. down.  Now I have an excellent attorney and can afford to fight that kind of rap – if you don’t, leave that shit to people like me who can afford to fight it the right way by doing as ordered and getting off the road – at least until the cop is out of eyesight…  The only other option is to buck the system and hope you can find a lawyer who would fight the case for free (pro bono).  To that end though, you can bet that if a cop is unlawfully harassing cyclists, sooner (rather than later) the officer will happen across one with money – and at that point it’s on, as it was in this case.

Now, is this fair?  No it most certainly is not.  It is practical.  Bitching about it through busted teeth won’t change a thing either.  Cops make mistakes just like everyone else.  Just like doctors, nurses, lawyers, construction workers – everybody right down to the chick working the drive thru at Mickey D’s – and if you think the “chick” at the drive thru is discriminatory, fear not, the skinny pimple pocked boy is on the frier (feel better?).  Cops are just better at covering it up than just about everyone else (except politicians).  The point is, if it sucks to be you, there’s no reason to make it worse with a bad decision.

Feel free to disagree – the comments section is below.


  1. Chatter says:

    Good point, still not sure how I would handle the situation. Nothing irritates me more than seeing cyclists on the sidewalk when I am running. Food for thought. Thanks for sharing Jim.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Very delicately – that’s how you handle that one. Cyclists on the sidewalk are a danger to humanity and themselves. Couldn’t agree with you more on the sidewalk issue.

  2. Cool post! I think that people often resist unfair systems in their own way. Sometimes it means ‘giving in’ to that cop enforcing a law that doesn’t exist to fight another day, or in a different way. Sometimes the way to resist is to fight back on the spot, regardless of the outcome. That’s why I think that you have a good point in that we really can’t judge someone for what might look like “giving in” to us. Because, as you point out, sometimes it can go really bad for you, especially if you don’t have money (or will lose your job if arrested, etc). This comment may not have made much sense…I haven’t had my coffee yet 🙂

    • bgddyjim says:

      I got it – I know the coffee blues, I’m at the end of my first pot and feeling just about glorious.

      Though I would make a distinction: It’s not about giving in – it’s about living to ride another day and letting the proper people fight the good fight.

      • No, no I definitely agree with that. That was what I was hinting with the quotes around “giving in.” Others might judge and call that giving when, but I (and it seems like you) argue that it’s NOT giving in =) I don’t know why I wrote “us” — poor choice of words!

        I still haven’t had my coffee…but soon. very soon.

      • bgddyjim says:

        I was picking up what you were laying down. We’re good. 😉

  3. […] into Ohio’s laws to make sure that I hadn’t improperly stated anything in my previous post concerning a Bicycling article – the way they wrote the article follows the letter of the […]

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