An open letter to cyclists from the Rock Store photographer, and a warning about a dangerous NELA bike lane

Cyclists tackle The Snake on Muholland; photo by Paul Herold

Cyclists tackle The Snake on Muholland; photo by Paul Herold

Sometimes, my posts get written for me.

Not that I’m complaining.

This is one of those occasions, with an open letter to cyclists from a well-known motor sports photographer. A couple of videos. A request for witnesses from an LA bike lawyer.

And a friend who played an unwanted game of bumper bike near Westside Pavilion on Pico Blvd.

……….

First up is that open letter to cyclists who ride the famed Snake on Mulholland, aka the Rock Store ride, from Paul Herold, known around the world for his photos of the cyclists, motorcyclists and high-end sports car drivers who test their skills there.

I can’t say I agree with everything he’s written. On the other hand, I don’t ride there; some cyclists who do tell me his advice is spot on.

Either way, it’s worth a read.

Dear Velonauts,

Rumour has it that Amgen’s 2014 Tour of California will be returning to The Snake (the Rock Store climb) this May with the same circuit format we all enjoyed so much back in 2010. While I can find no confirmation on the TOC web site, I see ample support for the rumour in the faces of scores of new visitors I am seeing every weekend. Enthusiasm is not the only thing I am seeing in those new faces though….fear, horror, dread, anger frustration and rage are there too, mixed in with the usual fatigue and desperation. I can’t help much with fatigue. But perhaps I can help ease some of the fear, dread, loathing and rage.

And there's the problem; photo by Paul Herold

And there’s the problem; photo by Paul Herold

After sitting on The Snake camera in hand for seven years of weekends and holidays, I have some ideas to help make your ascent or descent of the Rock Store more enjoyable and safer. First, some perspective.

The Snake is one of the greatest 2.3 mile stretches of tantalizingly twisty tarmac on the West Coast. Located on Mulholland Highway north west Los Angeles County, the road is accessible to millions of car enthusiasts, motorcycle riders and cyclists. And it ain’t no secret. Crash videos from The Snake on YouTube are viewed by tens of millions viewers world wide. Visitors from South America, Europe and Asia are on the hill every weekend to witness the spectacle in person. Unsurprisingly, the top sweeper known as Edward’s Corner, is probably as famous and recognizable as any street curve in the world.

Local car clubs regularly include The Snake on their weekend cruises. National car clubs run The Snake for their national events. Individuals in everything from tricked out Civics to convertible Bugatti Veyrons run The Snake on a normal weekend. And the vehicles Jay Leno brings are sweet enough to ruin your diet.

Photo by Paul Herold

Rider down; photo by Paul Herold

Motorcyclists from all over the USA ride The Snake too. For some, it is a jumping off point for hundreds of miles of canyon and coastal riding. For many, many others, it is an end destination.  I have seen individual riders pass me over 50 times in the course of a day, up and down, again and again loving every minute. The mix of motorcycles is split between crotch rockets, sport tourers and cruisers.

So…how do you stay safe on your bicycle, amidst the mechanized din? Here are my suggestions.

  • Please ride single file. Don’t force overtaking traffic into oncoming lanes. If you are riding with two friends or twenty please respect the rights of the traffic behind you.
  • Lose the ear buds. It is unlawful and dangerous. Not every motorcycle or car has loud pipes.
  • Ride early….or late. The mechanized madness peaks between 10am and 3pm.
  • Hug the white line. I read many years ago that if you can’t keep your road bike on the line, you shouldn’t be on the street. The white line is your friend. Hug it robustly.
  • Generally, the higher the RPM of the vehicle approaching you, the less skilled the operator. Stay alert.
  • Don’t stop and sightsee in turns. Step over the guardrails if you must, unless a wheelchair sounds like fun.
  • Another rider down; photo by Paul Herold

    Another rider down; photo by Paul Herold

    Imagine an out of control car or bike heading your way from the other side of every blind apex…and pick your line accordingly. If a driver or biker is going to lose control, it will usually be at the exit of a turn.

  • While climbing, courteous riders vacate the apex post haste. There is only one ‘best line through’ any turn. If you don’t need that line, don’t hog it
  • If you didn’t climb it, don’t descend with abandon, because you don’t know what road hazards may await…oil, wet patches, gravel….
  • Ride with a GoPro or dash cam. If you complain to me about a car or motorcycle, I can’t educate/mediate/excoriate unless I know who it was.
  • Prepare your body. Out of shape climbers rock to and fro enough to move themselves around within their lane.
  • Prepare your mind. This is not an abandoned country road. You are going to get ‘buzzed’. You are going to hear a horn or two. And you will certainly hear some throaty exhausts.
  • Prepare your bicycle. The Snake is not where you want to discover a slow leak or frayed cable.
  • I keep water, velo tools, tubes (thank you Ashton Johnson of Franco) and air in my truck at all times. So if you are in need, find me on the hill.
  • This is what you may see coming from behind; photo by Paul Herold

    This is what you may see coming from behind; photo by Paul Herold

    STAY OFF THE YELLOW PAINT! It is slick as bal… er, uh… ice. If you try and corner on the yellow lines, you will go down.

  • Be especially vigilant on the first Sunday of each month. A well attended Valley automobile event gets a lot of motors running, usually between 9am and noon.
  • Be prepared for anything. A group from Helen’s on a break neck descent came around a fast curve only to confront an armada of three radio controlled cars screaming towards them in the wrong lane. Semis, garbage trucks and longboarders are also sighted frequently.
  • Road shoulders at the exit of any turn are not the place for repairs. Cross the road or get well off to the side.
  • The better the weather, the more mechanized company you will have.
  • RIDE SINGLE FILE!

In these past few years, I have taken over I million photos on The Snake. In that time, I am aware of only three incidents in which a cyclist was hospitalized, and know of only five incidents involving motor vehicles vs. cyclists. The catalog of close calls and WTF’s could fill a reservoir, but the safety record still isn’t bad.  I’d guess that despite the frenetic nature of a sunny Sunday prime time on The Snake, you are still safer here than you would be on PCH…or in Kabul. ;).

Major speed differential creates danger among the various road users; photo by Paul Herold

Major speed differential creates danger among the various road users; photo by Paul Herold

And there is no real enmity among the motorcyclist towards the cyclists. The moto riders’ #1 complaint is when cyclist ride two or more wide. Conversely, the number one complaint I hear from cyclists is that they were buzzed by a motorcycle. Seems to me that if fewer cyclist rode in social formation, there would be fewer incidents of ‘buzzing’.

My experiences, observations and suggestions are limited specifically to weekend conditions on The Snake, but may have general applicability to narrow canyons throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. As May approaches, there will be more and more riders heading for the Rock Store climb, as our heroes will be doing in the 2014 Amgen Tour of California. The purpose of this letter has been to give you some perspective about The Snake and offer some suggestions that will keep you and everyone else safe.

Come. Ride. Enjoy. Buy pictures! And remember….You Will Never Ride Alone.

Ride safe,

Paul Herold
RockStorePhotos.com
 

………

Next up, Los Angeles Bicycle Attorney Josh Cohen offers a warning about a dangerous stretch of bike lane on westbound Colorado Blvd in Eagle Rock. And he’s looking for witnesses familiar with that hazard for a case he’s handling representing an injured bike rider.

A serious injury has been reported due to a dangerous condition in the center of the westbound bicycle lane on Colorado Boulevard, between Vincent Avenue and Mount Royal Drive, in Eagle Rock. The condition is a deviation in the center of the lane that runs for several yards parallel to and directly between the lines that delineate the bicycle lane. It consists of an undulating ledge that has formed where the asphalt of the roadway dips into a shallow trench where it meets the concrete that forms the gutter and sidewalk. Cracks also exist between traffic side lane line of the bicycle path and the number two vehicular lane (and bus lane). There is also a bus stop just west of and adjacent to the hazard, which makes navigating this section of roadway even more treacherous. Cyclists riding along this section of lane should use extreme caution and be especially mindful, as following the arrow at Vincent Drive that directly them into the bicycle lane on Colorado forces them into having to choose between avoiding a series of cracks on the left side, the ledge on the right, and possibly a bus that may be merging across their path.

Anyone with first-hand information or experience with this situation is urged to call him at 323/937-7105 or email josh@paulfcohenlaw.com.

……….

Okay, so it’s not LA. Or even Southern California.

Or the US, for that matter.

But I was forwarded this short video from Vancouver Cycle Chic about a veteran Vancouver politician, the man who loves him and their mutual love for bicycling. And liked it enough to share with you.

……….

I’ve long considered Streetsblog’s Damien Newton a friend, sometimes collaborator, occasional employer and always, editor of the best transportation website in the city.

On Wednesday, we can add dooring victim to that list.

Damien was riding his bike east on Pico Blvd between Overland and Beverly Glen Blvds — a busy stretch of roadway which inexplicably used to be considered a Class 3 bike route and isn’t anymore, for good reason — when he was dangerously buzzed by passing driver who nearly didn’t.

Riding my bicycle on Pico Blvd. going east between Overland and the really hilly section a driver buzzed so close to me (note: the lane to his left was empty) that I veered right…right into an opening car door that was opened inches in front of me. As I struggled to maintain balance, another car buzzed me and this time I toppled over onto my right side into an empty parking space directly in front of the Beverly Hills Bike Shop.

I probably terrified the woman in the car. To be fair, I doubt she was at fault. I came at her at a funky angle after reacting to the “Jerry Browning.” Frustrated, scared and filling up with adrenaline I took my helmet off and slammed it into the ground as Gunpowder clattered itself on the asphalt and I walked to the sidewalk. A 6’2 guy acting erratically after a high-stress incident probably seemed like something from another planet to this elderly woman who was gripping her steering wheel and staring at me.

Thank goodness he was able to limp away.

It could have been so much worse.

……….

Broadway make-over; photo by Patrick Pascal

Broadway make-over; photo by Patrick Pascal

Downtown’s Broadway has long lost the luster that made it the heart of pre-war LA. Now it looks like it could once again become the heart of a revitalized Downtown, as the city gives it a pedestrian, if not bike, friendly makeover.

Frequent bike commuter Patrick Pascal shares a photo showing the work has already begun.

……….

One of yesterday’s links was to the story of a Bermuda Dunes bike rider who was seriously injured in a hit-and-run. Now more information has come out.

And as too often happens, the truth is worse than anything most of us may have imagined.

According to MyDesert.com, 20-year old Liliana Avalos was talking on her cell phone as she drove down Country Club Drive at a high rate of speed, weaving through traffic and passing vehicles in the left turn lanes and right shoulder. She was attempting to pass yet another car on the right when she entered the shoulder and struck the 28-year old victim from behind before speeding off.

And in a sign of just how seriously the courts don’t take traffic crime, she was released within hours on a mere $25,000 bond.

No, really.

And we wonder why so many people don’t take traffic laws seriously.

Thanks to Danny Gamboa for the heads-up.

……….

Finally, music videos featuring the LA bike scene are becoming a very crowded sub-genre these days.

The latest is from Nashville-based indie-rock band And the Giraffe, who rigged a camera onto the front of a bike with some strapping tape, and rode around greater LA from PCH to the high desert, capturing a number of recognizable vistas.

The whole thing cost them about $200 to make; I’ve seen far worse for a comma and two or three zeros more. They talked about it with KPCC.

Not a bad song, either.

38 comments

  1. Mark Loftus says:

    I couldn’t read much of the Rock Store photographers letter. After awhile, it came down to: “If you don’t wanna get hurt, get outta the way”.

    I have an idea for a rebuttal: “If you don’t wanna get hurt, how about those with weapons between their legs learn how to use them safely”?

    One useful piece of advice he gave: “Generally, the higher the RPM of the vehicle approaching you, the less skilled the operator. Stay alert.” I don’t know motorcycles, so I found this interesting.

    • Ralph says:

      I don’t know about that as a blanket statement. Cruisers usually are tuned to run at lower RPM for the good part of their power band while performance engines tend to get their peak HP and torque at higher RPM.

      The advice is basically good because there is evidently no enforcement of road rules in that area so it does become every person for them selves.

      It is good to note that the exit points of turns are the most dangerous places to stop as that is where motorized vehicle drivers will land if they become unglued.

      If you are descending on your bike at speed you will need all the lane and will be close to the speed limit so there should be no problems caused by not hugging the white line.

  2. Mark Loftus says:

    Regarding the Eagle Rock bike lane: it’s terrible throughout. They basically laid down some paint on the shoulder of the road and said, “Here ya go”. There are cracks and slightly uneven pavement throughout. A few potholes and warped ridges (from heavy bus wheels) also adorn the lane. There are some spots where the lane is 2-feet wide (or less!) and the right-hand edge IS the curb. Very dangerous if a passing vehicle is still close and pushes you right. I’ve ridden it maybe a half-dozen times. The section where the lawyer mentions is actually one of the least dangerous traffic-wise as it is very wide and separated from the traffic lanes by a buffer zone (except for right-turning traffic–another idiot-design-without-thinking feature!). There are still overlapping asphalt layers here & there and cracks in the road, so inexperienced riders with just learning bike control: beware.

  3. Thanks for the kind thoughts, Ted. It’s sort of surreal how little damage was done to my body by that crash.

  4. jg says:

    Hey Paul, did you write an open letter to the ricer and donor-bike websites informing them of California’s new 3 foot passing law? No? Didn’t think so. Hypocrite.

    • Paul Herold says:

      Guys, I ain’t talking about legal rights. I am talking about using common sense to keep from getting hurt. I am suggesting ways that the diverse interests that call Mulholland theirs can peacefully and safely coexist.

    • are you kidding me ? who the fuck are you calling hypocrite ? 99% of the shit I see you cyclists ride is not only atrocious/dangerous down right should ticked and cited for missing equipment on their bicycles.

  5. Paul’s advice is right on. Before venturing out into the canyons I highly suggest watching this Bad Driving Compilation video.

  6. […] Are the Eagle Rock Bike Lanes the Worst in the City? (L.A. Bicycle Attorney via Biking In L.A.) […]

  7. […] It seems like every day I need to link to something Ted Rogers puts out. Today is no exception. An open letter to cyclists from the Rock Store photographer, and a warning about a dangerous NELA bi… […]

  8. Joe B says:

    You know what would be really splendid? A moratorium on non-cyclists telling cyclists how to ride. That would just make me feel all warm and toasty inside.

    It’s not that the advice is bad. It usually is, but not always. And it’s not that they’re always being dicks about it; this Paul guy seems to have his heart in the right place.

    I don’t like the “it’s not your place” language, though perhaps that might get the point across to some. Rather, the problem is that the “advice” so freaking overdone.

    Drivers want me to ride single-file on the shoulder? That they’ll get angry and harass me? Nonsense! Next you’ll be telling me that if I get hit by a car, I’m unprotected and will likely be injured, right? Astounding! Listen, these earthshattering insights that you have, we’ve heard them all before. Many, many, many times before. There’s a reason why we ride the way we ride. If you want to join the conversation, please educate yourself first. Do some reading, ask some questions if you don’t understand, maybe ride a few hundred miles in traffic to get some personal experience.

    What these lectures do accomplish is to blame the victim. They shift the focus of the discussion off of people who can solve the problem (crazy drivers) and onto people who can’t.

    This isn’t a problem with Paul specifically. As I said, his heart seems in the right place, and I’m sure many riders appreciate the supplies and (especially) water. But if I never have to hear another motor enthusiast telling me to ride in the gutter and stay out of the way, it will be too soon.

  9. James says:

    Has it occurred to Mr. Herold that he is a part of the problem. The presence of his camera and the chance to show off for it may attract the worst drivers or motorcycle riders or encourage dangerous behavior. Before I had the misfortune of living in southern california I spent plenty of time riding on similar or windier roads in the Northwest and Germany and never had as many problems, experienced as many close calls or suffered as much harassment as I do here.

  10. khal spencer says:

    “…Hug the white line….” is not advice any League Cycling Instructor would give to a cyclist, at least without some caveats. In the context above, it amounts to “stay out of other people’s way. But such advice has two problems. One, it is not always practical, nor is it legal advice. A cyclist is entitled to use the lane as is neccesary for safe operation.

    Secondly, the advice amounts to “stay out of the way of all these other people in overpowered vehicles who are driving them illegally and at times, recklessly. Perhaps the answer, if motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts are not able to share the road without endangering themselves or others, its time for them to go to a closed course.

    I ride all three, moto (BMW K1100RS), bicycle (too many to list), and sports car (WRX). I don’t consider it other people’s jobs to stay out of my way so I can misbehave behind the wheel or handlebars.

    Thanks.

    • khal spencer says:

      BTW, lest anyone think I completely disagree with Paul, I don’t. Some of his advice is quite good–earbuds being a dumb idea, for example, and not forming a chatty social peloton on ascents. But on the stretch of road in question, everyone rides/drives it to test one’s self. One does have to remember, however, that one’s limits of self-indulgence have to stop short of where someone else’s right to get home safely begins. Unless, of course, one wants the local police to smack everyone’s fun down.

      Share the road, and be careful out there. We are all brothers and sisters on that stretch of asphalt.

  11. HAC says:

    Herold’s lecture to bicyclists is self-aggrandizing crap. How’s ’bout you get on a bike and hug the white line with barely any shoulder and give the room to the motorized so you can take their pics and make money selling them, Mr. Herold? You’re also dismissive of the clear hazards by giving short shrift to the multitude of near misses in attempting to promote the perception that your place of business is safe.

    Your wheelchair comment is especially thoughtless, disgusting, and offensive, given the seemingly increasing number of motor-caused cyclist injuries and fatalities.

    May we look forward to an open letter from you to your motorized customers?

  12. TT says:

    Nice of you to ONLY take a shot at CYCLIST and tell them what they should & shouldn’t be doing while cars & motorcycles own the road so they can do whatever they want!!! Thanks for telling us how, when & where to ride…..Of course its never the cars that are at fault they are too busy on their cell or not bothering to turn to their stiff neck to look out for cyclist. Give me a break!!!

  13. Guys, if you’re this mad reading a blog post, you’re probably going to crash out on the road. The key to survival is staying calm and thinking clearly.

    “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

    I read Paul’s letter as logically acknowledging the conditions as they exist on that road, not some theoretical ideal world where every user of the roadway follows every letter of the CVC. Because of the law breaking that takes place on this road and the limited resources of law enforcement, this road is particularly NOT safe for cyclists. Regardless of how you feel about the conditions as they currently exist, following his advice is likely to help a cyclist avoid an accident, regardless of who is at fault.

  14. khal spencer says:

    I’m not sure which of my comments Mr. Herold thinks are unfounded. The specific point I disagree on is the “hug the white line” advice, which is neither legally sound nor safe. A cyclist hugging the line on The Snake, which has narrow to useless shoulders, is putting himself or herself in a situation where one has little room to maneuver and where hot rodders may think they can pass without adequate lateral clearance. I would advise anyone reading this to consult neither Herold nor me, but a California League Cycling Instructor familiar with CA law and the road in question.

    I found this thread interesting not because I live in LA, but because in Northern New Mexico,we have an abundance of narrow, twisty mountain roads routinely shared by sports car enthusiasts, motorcyclists, and competitive bicyclists. We have managed to coexist just fine, but only because of a sense of equity, i.e., no one is admonished to get the hell out of the way so that others can userp our own right to the road. The road doesn’t belong to self-identified interests that ” call (the road) theirs…” or to special interest groups. The roads belong to the public. Period.

  15. Rob Toomire says:

    I’ve ridden that loop many times on my Harley. To be perfectly clear, I never felt I owned the road, nor did I ever think that a cyclist – or car – was any less worthy than me on my loud lawn mower. There is a big risk on blind curves for all of us, mostly from oncoming traffic cutting the corner of the apex – either intentionally or unintentionally – but also from overtaking another rider. It’s not particularly equitable, but cyclist can be a bit slower and are certainly a smaller profile, and unquestionably are the most vulnerable to serious injury in a collision. I don’t have an easy answer, but acknowledging the issue is a good start. I personally have felt a bit of fear entering a blind curve – not for my technique, speed control, etc – rather for what could be there. I suspect that there are many cyclist who have a fear not only of what kind of pavement, rocks, sand, oil, etc lie before them, but also what may be approaching from behind. Probably the best solution for the Snake is to have coordinated controlled or timed access in both directions. While that is not really practical or possible, as individuals we certainly can create space between enthusiasts prior to joining the fray. All of this is, of course, common sense, and you don’t need to be “told” such things. Same with riding single file, managing your lines, staying out of over-run/crash zones, etc. I’m certain that every single cyclist reading this adheres to common sense, and is not a problem rider. As with everything, it’s a select few that are problem riders – or drivers – who are complete A-holes and ride/drive as if it IS their road. Some of those idiots are simply not be aware of the challenges road cyclist have. Paul’s letter reached not just cylist, but also at least one motorcyclist. As a result I am now even more cautious, and will be more tuned into your unique challenges than I was prior to reading the article. I suspect more than a few cyclist will be just a bit more aware, a bit more calculated when approaching places like the Snake. In my opinion (granted, I’m providing it unsolicited) you shouldn’t be pissed about the letter, and shouldn’t be offended that a non-cyclist is telling you what you should be concerned about. If that’s you, you need to understand that the message is intended for your bretheren who need to be reminded, occassionally, of common sense. You know one or two of those guys, and so do I. I don’t ride with idiots, but I can certainly educate them when given the opportunity. Mr. Herold is spot on. And yes, the same message should be given to Neanderthal Hareley riders like myself, as well as the rice rocket crews, the asian tuner guys, and the old/rich farts in exotics.Just my two cent’s worth.

  16. Rob Toomire says:

    Please forgive my typos…

  17. […] Grief…Mullholland again, Cyclist An open letter to cyclists from the Rock Store photographer, and a warning about a dangerous NELA bi… I wanted to bring fellow chatters attention about^^^^^ this site "above" and its […]

  18. Ron B says:

    As regards biking on Mulholland, Piuma, Stunt and Las Flores, the regulations are specific: bikes are not allowed to ride two or more abreast. I don’t mind if people do ride side by side, as long as they move into a single file when vehicles of any sort approach. A simple matter of courtesy, common sense and safety. Slower vehicles, bikes included, get out of the way of faster vehicles regularly. I pull over to let motorbikes and sports cars pass when I’m in my regular vehicle, and hope for the same when I’m in my sports car. Doesn’t matter if it’s uphill or downhill, don’t be a dick. If there’s an overtaking vehicle, make room for them. I keep my dash camera on, and I’m happy to show the sheriff who’s doing something dangerous.

    • bikinginla says:

      Just what regulations are those, Ron? The subject of riding abreast is not addressed anywhere in the California Vehicle Code. And one of the basic precepts of law is that anything that is not expressly forbidden is legal.

      I know the CHP and county sheriffs have tried to twist the law to suggest that the outside rider is not riding as far as practicable to the right; however, that is a gross misinterpretation of the law, which does not require cyclists to ride to the right on any lane too narrow to be safely shared with a bike and a motor vehicle.

      While it may be common courtesy, as well as common sense, there is also no law requiring slower vehicles to get the hell out of the way of faster ones. The roads are to be shared by all users; speeding car do not get preference over anyone else, no matter how self-important their drivers may think they are.

      As for your advice not to be a dick, it goes both ways.

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