Apparently, bicycling’s own Bull Connor is alive and well and living in Long Beach

In case you’re still wondering why you need to vote today, consider this.

Even in the most bike-friendly city in Southern California, a seemingly out-of-control police department can engage in a heavy-handed crackdown on cyclists.

Not only did the Long Beach police department halt the city’s first Critical Mass ride for lack of a permit — raising questions over the rider’s First Amendment right to free association and freedom of assembly — they seized up to 40 bikes with no apparent legal basis.

Or at least, no police officer I’ve spoken with was aware of any law that would allow a mass seizure of legally owned bikes.

Maybe they have a different set of laws down there.

One of the reasons for the seizure cited in the Times article was a lack of brakes on 11 of the bikes. Yet the standard under state law only requires that the operator must be able to make one wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement — a standard that most fixies can easily meet.

Any guesses whether the officers made the riders try to skid their bikes before taking them?

Yeah, I don’t think so either.

The article also says that bikes must be registered with the city and inspected by the fire department. Yet under state law, such local licensing requirements can only be enforced against city residents, and cannot be applied to anyone who lives in a different jurisdiction or is just riding through the city.

And the law only allows for a maximum fine of $10 for not having a license. Nothing in the law allows for the seizure of a bike for not having a license — even for local residents.

The official statement from the city, which goes to great lengths to remind everyone what a cycling Nirvana Long Beach is — or rather, was prior to Friday — says 21 bikes were impounded, and over 70 citations issued. It also claims the riders chose not to get a permit, even though the Times story reports that they attempted to get a permit for the past two months.

And even though that pesky little First Amendment seems to make a permit unnecessary. Does Long Beach plan to crack down on any group of riders who happen to gather together for a ride?

Or only the ones that call themselves Critical Mass?

As more details come to light, the words of Police Chief Jim McDonnell sound even more chilling than they did over the weekend:

“The group known as Critical Mass travels from city to city and as a matter of practice engages in dangerous conduct, violating every rule of the road and endangering the public.” said Police Chief Jim McDonnell. “We take bicycle safety seriously in Long Beach and will not stand by idly while any person or group acts with blatant disregard for safety of the residents of our community.”

If you’ve been reading this for awhile, you may know that I’ve never been a fan of Critical Mass. And I’m the first to agree that police have every right to write up cyclists for legitimate violations such as running stop signs and not having lights after dark.

On the other hand, I’m even less a fan of police officers who seem to operate under their own version of the law. If this is how the “most bicycle friendly city in America” treats cyclists, God help the rest of us.

I thought this kind of policing went out of style with Bull Connor in the ‘60s.

But clearly, not everyone agrees.


More information about the memorial ride for Jim Laing, the cyclist who was killed by an alleged drunk hit-and-run driver on October 23rd.

The ride is tentatively scheduled to begin at 8 am on Saturday, November 20th, at the Agoura Bicycle John’s at Kanan Road and East Thousand Oaks Blvd, and will pass by the site where he was killed on Agoura Road. It will be short, and slow to moderate pace, so it should be something anyone can feel comfortable participating in.

The early start may make it difficult for me to get out there in time for the ride, but I’m going to do my best to be there.

Because we need remember all those cyclists who have died needlessly on our streets, and let their loved ones know we share their grief.

And make it clear that too damn many of us have died already.

Thanks to Dave Mace for the information.


  1. peteathome says:

    The city licensing requiremnt is the most disturbing to me. Why should each city have its own licensing approach? That should be a state-wide requirement. The town-level requirement is always abused, even when it is not suppose to apply to non-residents. As far as I can tell, that’s the point of having the law. It’s like the old vagrency laws that were used to harass undesirables.

  2. Allan says:

    This was far from the first CM ride in LB. They have been happening off and on since ’96. This *is* the first time I’ve heard of them confiscating the bicycles though.

    Since the police chief takes bicycling safety so seriously, you would think there was confiscations in the recently run LB marathon wouldn’t you? There wasn’t one ticket handed out or even a police officer inspecting. So why the double standard? Seems like the only time the police department wants to get rid of some “undesirables” on bikes, they roll out this licensing requirement.

  3. The statement of the police chief is completely incorrect and outlandish. Critical Mass is never about engaging in dangerous behavior, and one has to just look at the October LACM thread on Midnight Ridazz to see that we all are taking safety very seriously. In fact, it’s probably the number one thing being discussed: how do we safely pass the group through the city? Do we get a permit? Do we break in to smaller groups? How do we deal with LAPD motorcycles and cruisers that are being unsafely towards the cyclists?

    That police chief and department abused the rights of a group of citizens who chose to exercise their 1st amendment rights. I have no problem with citations for red light runners or other actual traffic violations, but do you have your car confiscated when you get a ticket? No, you don’t. This was an illegal seizure of property and a violation of the people’s constitutional rights to assemble. I hope these riders band together and sue to Long Beach PD. It sounds like they are being treated like criminals for no other reason than they were riding bikes.

    • CVC sections 22651 through 22711 give authority for police to impound vehicles. The reasons are for illegally parked vehicles, abandoned vehicles, when the vehicle driver is arrested or incapacitated, etc. None of these applied in Long Beach, so the police seizure of the bikes is clearly illegal. Not only that, the vehicle code in section applies *only to motor vehicles* and bicycle are expressly excluded from the provisions of that part of the vehicle code.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gary Kavanagh, Ted Rogers. Ted Rogers said: Is bicycling's own Bull Connor running the police department in formerly bike-friendly Long Beach? […]

  5. Fenriq says:

    So if they called themselves something else, they would haven’t been hassled? Seems like discrimination to me. And totally bogus bike confiscations!

  6. Opus the Poet says:

    So, do they impound cars that run red lights? Or even that go the wrong way against traffic (which none of the CM riders did BTW)? This is plainly overstepping the line against bicycles and cyclists.

  7. Allan says:

    It would be interesting to see if any the LB police bikes are registered. Or if the city tour guide bikes are registered. I wonder how cities that have a complete and encompassing licensing system handles this?

  8. reb1 says:

    21201. (a) No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is equipped with a BRAKE which will enable the operator to make one braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.
    If they handed out tickets for no brakes then they are correct. Can someone get a list of the different violations the tickets were written for. There is no license requirement in the city I live in. So according to CA law I do not need a bicycle license anywhere. Where in the CA code does it state that the police have the right to take bicycles for violating traffic laws. If they did this in connection with an arrest for breaking the law then it might be warranted.

    • bikinginla says:

      I understand what you’re saying, reb. However, my argument would be that a fixed-gear bike doesn’t need to be equipped with a brake because it is a brake. All a cyclist has to do to brake — and leave a skid mark — is stop pedaling; courts in Long Beach have dismissed tickets for no brakes for exactly that reason.

  9. […] issue of bike confiscation seems to stem from the issue that has yet to be decided by a court: is a separate hand brake legally required on a fixed gear bike.  It is a matter of interpretation what a “brake” is, which makes the language of the […]

    • Allan says:

      I’ve read in a couple of post that this issue of a brake on a fixie had been resolved in a case in LB, but I have yet to read the reference cause on was not provided. I suspect that it had since fixed gear bikes have been around for quite sometime. It would seem rather strange that this had not ever been resolved one way or another.

      My guess is that a typical hand brake is not needed for a qualified brake on a fixed gear bike.

  10. […] bike friendly when the authorities seem to make up the law as they go along, and seize bikes with no apparent legal justification […]

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