An expert analysis of tickets and bike seizures in the Long Beach Critical Mass fiasco.

For the past few years, Long Beach has been the beautiful face of cycling in Southern California, showing the state what a bike-friendly community can be.

But these days, that face has an ugly black eye, thanks to the local police department’s heavy-handed crackdown on the city’s first “official” Critical Mass ride, despite organizer’s repeated attempts to get the city’s cooperation. And many area cyclists find themselves questioning whether any city can truly be bike friendly when the authorities seem to make up the law as they go along, and seize bikes with no apparent legal justification whatsoever.

Recently, Al Williams forwarded me an email written by Alan Wachtel, legislative liaison for the California Association of Bicycle Organizations, in response to that crackdown.

In it, he offered an expert analysis of the citations issued by the LBPD, as well the department’s authority to impound the rider’s bikes — by far, the most detailed and complete examination of the subject I’ve seen. As a result, I contacted Wachtel, and got his permission to share the email with you.


Citations issued to the cyclists included:

  • B240497 – Running stop sign
  • 21201 – No Brakes
  • 1050020 – No Registration;
  • Riding more than two abreast (Code 1048040)
  • Turning off lights after getting pulled over
  • No horns/bells
  • Riding an unsafe vehicle

The Vehicle Code preempts all local regulation of bicycles, except as expressly authorized. The affected cyclists should hire a lawyer not only to get these bogus citations dismissed, but to sue the City for harassment.

B240497 – Running stop sign: This appears to be a citation number rather than a code violation, which should be VC 22450. Whether it’s valid depends on the violation alleged and the facts; however, nothing in the Vehicle Code requires a cyclist to put a foot down in order to make a legal stop.

21201 – No Brakes: Vehicle Code 21201 requires that “(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.” It’s arguable that backpedaling on a fixie qualifies, because the fixed gear itself can be considered the brake. In any case, it shouldn’t matter how the bike is made to skid.

1050020 – No Registration: I.e., Long Beach Municipal Code section 10.50.020, which says that “No person shall ride or propel any bicycle upon any street, alley, park or bicycle path or other public place in the city which is not registered, or for which the appropriate fee has not been paid or which does not bear a bicycle plate as required by the provisions of this chapter.” But the Vehicle Code provides that:

39002. (a) A city or county, which adopts a bicycle licensing ordinance or resolution, may provide in the ordinance or resolution that no resident shall operate any bicycle, as specified in the ordinance, on any street, road, highway, or other public property within the jurisdiction of the city or county, as the case may be, unless the bicycle is licensed in accordance with this division.

Non-residents therefore may not be cited, and the maximum fine for residents is $10 (section 39011). Moreover, the Vehicle Code no longer allows impoundment for lack of registration.

Riding more than two abreast (Code 1048040): I.e., L.B.M.C. section 10.48.040: “Persons operating bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast, except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.” Invalid because preempted by the Vehicle Code.

Turning off lights after getting pulled over: Vehicle Code section 21201(d)(1) requires “A lamp emitting a white light that, while the bicycle is in motion, illuminates the highway, sidewalk, or bikeway in front of the bicyclist and is visible from a distance of 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bicycle” (thus allowing for generators). There is no requirement to display a light when stopped.

No horns/bells: Seems to refer to L.B.M.C. section 10.48.080: “No person shall operate a bicycle upon a sidewalk unless it is equipped with a bell, horn or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred feet, except that a bicycle shall not be equipped with, nor shall any person use upon a bicycle, any siren or whistle.” But this applies only on sidewalks (and if it did include the street, it would be preempted by the Vehicle Code).

Riding an unsafe vehicle: Vehicle Code section 24002 provides: “(a) It is unlawful to operate any vehicle or combination of vehicles which is in an unsafe condition, or which is not safely loaded, and which presents an immediate safety hazard.” But a bicycle is not a vehicle, and this section belongs to Division 12, “Equipment of Vehicles,” which does not apply to bicycles.

Impounding vehicles: Vehicle Code sections 22651 through 22711 set forth the authority to impound a vehicle, such as when it’s abandoned or illegally parked, or the driver is incapacitated or arrested. But I see nothing that would authorize what happened in Long Beach. Even in the case of a bicycle that was arguably unsafe for lacking brakes, Section 24004 provides that “No person shall operate any vehicle or combination of vehicles after notice by a peace officer . . . that the vehicle is in an unsafe condition or is not equipped as required by this code, except as may be necessary to return the vehicle or combination of vehicles to the residence or place of business of the owner or driver or to a garage, until the vehicle and its equipment have been made to conform with the requirements of this code.” So the cyclists should at worst have been allowed to ride home–except that this provision, too, belongs to Division 12 and doesn’t apply to bicyclists.


Speaking of Long Beach, Mobility Coordinator Charlie Gandy says the city is moving in the right direction, though maybe not as fast as some people would like. The Long Beach Press Telegram provides a quiz on bike rules, along with tips for motorists and cyclists. And Bike Long Beach offers a two-part bike traffic skills course; maybe they can offer similar training for the police department.


After the Vail District Attorney refuses to press felony charges against a hit-and-run driver because it could jeopardize his job — as if everyone charged with a crime doesn’t face that problem — Cyclelicious calls for a boycott of the city, and asks the organizers of the Quiznos Pro Challenge to drop the planned Vail stage of next year’s inaugural race. Works for me.

Meanwhile, People For Bikes directs your attention to a petition asking the Eagle County CO District Attorney to protect all road users, and BikePortland calls it yet another black eye for bikes in Colorado.


Thanks to soon-to-be former Congressman Jim Oberstar for his support of cycling issues. Not surprisingly, conservatives are already gearing up to push for an auto-centric transportation policy; meanwhile, Richard Risemberg, writing for Orange 20 Bikes,  says fiscal conservatives should be big fans of bicycling.


L.A.’s proposed cyclist anti-harassment ordinance goes before the full City Council at 10 am this Wednesday, November 10, at Downtown City Hall. As long as you’re Downtown, you can join in on the third, and hopefully final, Ed Magos Ride for Justice that takes place on Wednesday at noon.


It only looks like the Give Me 3 posters are starting to come down; then again, you can always download your own poster. Despite claims, L.A.’s bike plan is surprisingly non-ambitious. The students who live in North Westwood Village face some of the worst streets in Los Angeles; thanks to Be A Green Commuter for the link. The Claremont Cyclist offers great photos from the first day of L.A.’s first Griffith Park Cyclocross — as well as a photo of a competitor’s bike that was stolen after the competition; there’s a special place in hell for bike thieves — and here’s another great shot from dudeonabike. Sometimes, it’s not hard to tell that the people responsible for placing bike racks don’t ride themselves. Robbers push a Pasadena teenager off the bike he was riding, and steal it and his cell phone; meanwhile, San Francisco bike thieves slash a cyclist who resisted their robbery attempt, but get caught a few blocks later. Critics file suit against a proposed project to widen Highway 101 through Ventura County — not because in would increase the highway from four to six lanes, but because it includes a bike lane on the ocean side.

Cyclists need dedicated pathways, not shared-use paths that don’t work for anyone; South Carolina cyclists could face a 20 mph speed limit on a popular bike path. The problem with treating bikes equally with other traffic is that traffic laws weren’t written with bikes in mind. A Facebook group says we’re people on bikes, not lifeless obstacles in your way. Do we need a special slowpoke lane on bike paths and sidewalks? Portland plans to upgrade bike boulevards to Neighborhood Greenways. A Utah mother forgives the driver who killed her 11-year old bike riding daughter. A look at the Denver premier of Race Across the Sky, a movie about the 2010 Leadville 100 mountain bike race won by Levi Leipheimer. A Tampa Bay hit-and-run victim shows that no life is unimportant.

UCI rules Alberto Contador will face disciplinary action over his failed drug test. Aussie researchers call for scrapping the country’s mandatory helmet laws. An 18-year old Aussie cyclist, a gold medalist in the Commonwealth Games, is suspended after drunk driving collision that left a friend with serious injuries. Australian police force a teenage cyclist to deflate his tires and walk home after catching him riding without a helmet. A Kiwi cyclist asks if it’s unreasonable to expect off-road riders to be considerate of other trail users — and their dogs.

Finally, No Whip does the inconceivable and discovers the seemingly impossible by riding a bike to LAX to catch a flight, and discovering a bike rack in front of Terminal 1 — and actually finds his bike safe on his return four days later.

And best wishes to Claremont Cyclist, who succumbed to the national job layoff epidemic of today; let’s all hope he gets a bigger, better job soon.


  1. Thanks for the well wishes. And, by the way, the crossbike in question is back in the hands of its rightful owner. Apparently there is a story behind it, but I am not really qualified to tell it.

  2. Aaron says:

    I’d be interested to hear more on how the two-abreast provision is preempted. Which section of the Vehicle Code would trump this? I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

    • bikinginla says:

      This one is a little complicated. Riding two abreast is not specifically addressed in the Vehicle Code, which means that it’s not banned.

      The Uniform Vehicle Code specifically allows riding two abreast, while the bicycle section of the CA Driver’s Handbook says only that riders should ride single file on a busy or narrow street, implying that it is allowed under other circumstances.

      The section of the Code that is usually used to argue against riding two abreast is the requirement under CVC 21202 that cyclists ride as far to the right as practicable. However, in situations in which the lane is too narrow to safely share — which is most lanes where parking is allowed on the right side, due to the door zone — 21202 allows cyclists to take the lane, and arguably allows cyclists to ride abreast to increase visibility and better control the lane.

      However, what trumps the Long Beach provision against riding two abreast is that only the state can write traffic laws, as we learned from the L.A. City Attorney when L.A. considered its own three-foot passing law as part of the anti-harassment ordinance. As Alan wrote, Long Beach can pass any law they want regulating riding on the sidewalk; once riders enter the street, however, local cities have no authority to write their own traffic regulations.

      • In LA, things are even stranger. The state code defines the “Street” as the space between curbs.

        The City of LA defines the street as the right of way between private property lines (i.e. including the sidewalks). I know state code trumps local code, but this makes things very confusing.

  3. Allan says:

    Nice catch by Mr. Wachtel on the “Turning off lights after getting pulled over:”! I cracked up when I read that! I liked his responses and points made, I just wish he would have mentioned something about these bicycle licenses.

    In my research on the CVC code it states that the city (LB) maintaining the licenses program is suppose to keep an ongoing database. I called about 20 numbers to various city departments trying to find this database. I wanted to ask some questions about the database. I was never able to track down anyone that knew anything about this database.

    • bikinginla says:

      You’re right, Allan. CVC 39005 requires that any city or county with a licensing ordinance is required to maintain a database of all registered bikes. If Long Beach doesn’t maintain that database, the licensing ordinance is invalid and every ticket for failure to register should be thrown out.

      Also, under CVC 39011, the maximum fine for failure to register is a bike is just $10; if the city attempts to impose a fine over that, they are in violation.

      If you look over there on the right, there’s a list of local lawyer who just might jump at the chance to take this case on.

      • Allan says:

        Well I was able to track down this mythical database today! A friend I spoke with suggested I contact the Youth Services here in LB. After about 7-8 calls to the PD General Information desk and some rather firm arm twisting, I was finally transferred to someone that could at least start to answer my questions. Seemed like every time I called they told me I needed to talk to someone at the fire station, which was incorrect. All they do is gather the data and submit it to the PD. They know nothing about any database. So now I’ll wait a month to see if my record materializes on to this database. I submitted a junk bike to get licensed and then I let it get stolen. So in a month I’ll report it stolen just to see if there’s a record of my bike or not. I did this to mainly satisfy my curiosity on how effective this database is.

        Also I’m not sure if anyone has read up on how the City Council meeting held this past Tuesday(the 9th) went or not. There was a urgent meeting called after the CM incident. It was surprising to see most of the movers and shakers from the bike community there in support. I honestly thought it was just going to be the youngsters on this one. About 8 of the them spoke for 3 minutes apiece and the tone was surprisingly friendly and upbeat. The police chief spoke with the mayor and was able to have the rebuttal on the bikers. What was really sad was that it was painfully obvious that either he interprets the CVC code different in regards to the fixies/brakes issue, or he has yet to read the CVC code in regards to this issue. I could tell that a few wanted to make this point, but the format for doing so was not there. His position and that of the department is that if a bike doesn’t have a brake on it, not sure if one brake is sufficient or not, but regardless, if there isn’t brake(s) on the bike, it’s getting confiscated!

        I really think the fixie kids got f***ed on this one. One positive thing I came away with is I believe there is a communication channel that is open between the two parties. The mayor was pushing to make sure of that too. As of now, be forewarned, no hand brake bikes are in danger of getting confiscated here in LB. As are bikes that are not registered. It was never made clear if that includes bikes owners from out of town or not.

        Two steps forward, one step back. 🙁

        • bikinginla says:

          Thanks for the update, Allan. It sounds like it’s going to take a lawyer getting involved to convince the LBPD that they have no legal justification to seize bikes.

  4. Allan says:

    What’s really frustrating is we got the people here in LB that could set the PD straight. I’m not quite sure why that hasn’t happened yet. But as of now, they(PD) are off in another tangent.

  5. Hank says:

    The 8th amendment of the constitution states that government cannot have excessive fines. I would call this an excessive fine for the so called crime committed.

  6. veronica says:

    I have a huge issue with all this and would like all the input possible, my husband received a fine for not registering his bike and for riding on the sidewalk in a business district, his fine $465.00. Uproar caused of coarse. Where do I go from here?

    • Allan says:


      A friend of mine has this advice, copied verbatim;
      I’ve shared this method of winning traffic tickets on posts before and it has worked for ridas. As of today I’m now 7 for 7 winning traffic tickets.

      Good luck. Follow the directions exactly or don’t bother even starting.

      I am 5 for 5 beating traffic tickets (auto), 2 for 2 on the camera tickets (which of course doesn’t relate).

      The object is to postpone the process as long as possible and to give the cops as many opportunities to screw up as you can. Everything, except a final court appearance, if necessary, can be done online or on the phone. So, here is the system: The most important part is that you follow up and not be the one to miss a deadline.

      First, a week before your trial date get an extension. This will put you back 3 months from the ticket date. Second, a week before your extended trial date request a Trial by Declaration. The court will send you the paperwork and give you a deadline. This will put you back about 5 months from the ticket date. Now. remember, a cop gets paid time and a half to go to court. He gets paid nothing to fill out his own Trial by Declaration. If he doesn’t send his paperwork in, you win. I’ve won here about a third of the time. Your Trial by Declaration should be as thoroughly full of shit as you can write it.

      Now, if you lose here they will send you a notice. When you get that note and if it says you lost, NEXT is request a TRIAL DE NOVO. This is a whole new trial in court that they will give you just for the asking. This will put you about 7 months from the date of the original citation. AND NO COP EVER SHOWED UP FOR THAT OLD OF A CITATION (3x). Good luck!

      You’ve got ALOT to work with here. The fines are spelled out in the CVC and it states that they can not exceed $10 per violation. Here’s a good place to start reading,
      Don’t worry, it’s not that long or hard to understand. Feel free to email me if you want to get more info from my friend.

      allanalessio [a] yahoo dot con.
      Good luck.

  7. Allan says:

    This was just posted up today regarding LB licensing issue. LB Mandatory Bike Registration Ceased

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