Self-Protection on a Cycle
I may get flamed for this, but here goes.
The police do not have an obligation to protect any of us individually before something criminal happens to us. I beleve there are a couple of US Supreme Court cases to that effect, although I don’t have the cites for them right now.
Common sense would also say the same thing. To protect us individually we would have to have police on every corner. This is bad because: (1) it’s prohibitively expensive, and (2) you have created something like a literal police state.
What the police do have is the obligation to protect us as members of the general public — whether that is protecting our right of privacy when we are in our homes, or on the streets and roads exercising our right to travel.
It is only after one of us is beaten, raped, robbed or murdered that they take an interest in us individually. And that is so they can try to prevent the same thing happening to the rest of us as members of the general public, not the rest of us as individuals.
Therefore it is up to us to protect ourselves as individuals when we are out riding alone and each other when we are together in a group as best we can.
That means we have to think through what may happen to us and try to have a plan for how we will deal with it if we find ourselves in this kind of situation. That plan can encompass whatever we decide — anything from riding our bike straight at the person, pepper spray, self defense classes up to producing a 9mm pistol that we know how to use. Unfortunately we never know whether we have made the right choice for the given situation until we are in it. But we still have the obligation to plan and prepare as we feel comfortable with.
I do not have sympathy or respect for these miscreants because they have none for me in these situations. They have already decided to break the law by intending to deprive me of my property (bike, cash or whatever I have with me) or cause me bodily harm. They expect they will not get hurt in so doing. As a result they also expect they will be able to escape and reduce their chances of getting caught and there being any consequences to them for what they have done. I think that is bullshit.
@orionz I signed up for a class in Regent Square.
@Mr Marvelous: I’m hoping to have some techniques that will help me think more clearly in a scary situation. I’m more interested in “unstoppable fleeing techniques” than “pounding lessons.”
I haven’t punched anyone since I was about 10 and don’t plan to start. I’m really not into guns or knives and hope I am never compelled to try and use the pepper spray.
Mostly I would like to feel like I have a few more techniques & increased confidence for getting out of a hairy situation, hopefully without losing my bike or wallet or whatever. I value my life over my bike, but it does really stink to have someone just come up and take money or anything else I have worked hard for. I was robbed at gunpoint a very long time ago and it was a pretty traumatic experience even though I was not physically harmed.
I’m aware of the intense brew of factors that cause kids to lash out in this way, in no small part because I was also an “at-risk youth” and public school dropout way back when. I’m not excusing anyone’s behavior – I just would just like to avoid, if possible, the “deer in the headlights” feeling in a violent situation and feel better equipped to stay out of harm’s way.
[edit: PM me if you want more info on the class, which is in the fall.]
@ Pseudacris you are always the voice of reason and in my opinion have the most level headed post out of all of us. I was robed at gunpoint by a 16 year old a few years ago and it was a horrible feeling of helplessness.
Well, both of us have been robbed at gunpoint and neither of us is advocating for lethal violence, so that gives me hope for humanity
i never said that their behavior is ok, the post was very short…
i’m saying that they do this at 14 does not mean they are headed down a dark path, most of them won’t… that’s it!
@o0rion Having a spare wallet to toss to them or something to distract them to ride off might be the best option.
That is a great idea! You only need it to work once.
Ejwme once suggested a pocketful of loose $1 bills. Thugs won’t turn their back on cash.
I’m not a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, but they had it right when they said “Gimme 3 steps…” The difference between damage and escape is usually a touch over a second.
I’m still enamored of the idea of riding your bike directly at a threatening person, standing up on the pedals, and shouting. Plenty of times that wouldn’t work, though (like any technique).
If you must commit violence (which often leads to greater violence) a U-lock is often effective – frightening and painful, yet rarely fatal. Somtimes, I just hang it from my right handlegrip
i have used a u-lock as a personal defensive weapon with great success. i also carry a knife with me at all times which i am fully prepared to use (but have never had to). barring those 2 alternatives i am also prepared to duke it out with an attacker, or group of attackers. the only way i’m giving up my personal property without a fight is if i’m staring down the barrel of a gun (unless i see a way to remove that gun from said attacker). i am not a violent person and usually go out of my way to avoid a physical confrontation but i’ve made up my mind to defend myself and my property.
i don’t recommend this for everyone. just my own personal decision.
Your undeniable advantage is speed. And if you’re facing a group it may be your only usable advantage. Assuming sufficient time to reorient yourself, that is.
That being the case, I think the best asset you can have is good bike handling skills. I don’t have these, but I’m thinking a good way to get better would be to ride every which way rather than just on roads and designated smooth trails, which, happily, is something I was planning on doing for fun this spring.
Miscellaneous easier and more equipment oriented aids: strong breaks, a well maintained drivetrain, and a really bright light (more lead time plus bright light can partially blind them).
I mean, I really liked Mick’s idea, I could even see using the strategy against a single assailant who looked a little unsure of himself if I were on the flat or going downhill and didn’t have time to turn around. A bright light coming at you at 20+ would be enough to scare off most. But as a strategy against a group, I don’t know. I’m sure it would work most of the time, but if there were a collision suddenly it’s flipped over the handlebars you vs. at least N-1 very pissed off assailants.
My real backup plan? I fork over the wallet. I’m out a little cash and face a very annoying period of cancelling cards and getting them + ids reissued, but life goes on. It’s not life alteringly worse than the wallet decoy and is safer. If I really did have to defend myself, I’d use anything and everything within my reach and within my power, the u-lock at the top of the list, but it feels unlikely enough that I feel weird even mentioning. I’m sure I’d feel different if I were a woman.
As a Quaker I have a problem with violence, even in self-defense, but I have to admit all the descriptions of attempted muggings and aiming your bike towards assailants and having them back off makes my blood race.
I had pepper spray in a tear-away velcro bike holster for a while, until it tore away on its own somewhere on a trail near Apollo PA. I’ve thought about carrying a big can of bear spray, but I would need some practical way to carry it and access it quickly.
I tend to make eye contact with anyone I’m approaching on my bike or on foot, and smile/nod/wave at them. It’s not just friendly, but also a good way to assess the situation. People either smile/nod/wave back, or sometimes give me the suspicious side-eye. Only once (when I was on foot on a public stairway), I got a very unusual, dead-eyed stare–it triggered that gut feeling thing and I immediately turned around and got myself to a place with more people around.
What width do tires have to be to break through a sternum?
Fighting someone over property is trivial. Fighting someone over property, hitting them with a U-Lock, and them dying is not defensible in court.
Only, the moment that they physically attempt to take said property from me it is no longer a trivial fight over property but an attempt to injure me. If I whack them over the head in self-defense, that is quite defensible in court… so I fail to see your point.
It depends on your definition of physical. Killing a large 17 year old with a U-Lock over a wallet may land you in jail. The laws are written such that defense over personal property is not protected and a valid fear for your life needs to be present to respond with violence. Avoiding it all together is still #1.
“Avoiding it all together is still #1.”
Given the choice, I agree. I guess I had a different scenario painted in my mind.
There is much skill in avoidance and recognition though. It is a shame it is not taught more. Most people teaching anything with regards to defense, awareness, and so on have no clue and are merely preying on people $20 at a time.
Thinking it through now is key. Talk with an attorney and find out from who you would pay to represent you what they feel would be defensible in court. Base your actions on that.
Personally I would hand over a lot before touching someone. There is a point where it becomes me or them but it is not over my wallet or bike. Insurance and planning covers that.
A few years ago, a man was shot and paralyzed for life in a downtown parking garage by a couple of thugs looking for drug money. He was a photocopier repairman, standing at the back of his car, looking over a diagram of the machine he was on his way to fix, when this pair jumped him. Avoidance was not an issue; they found him, and already had his wallet. How do you disarm such a situation? Given that setup — and because the victim is a neighbor’s brother — I do somewhat live in fear.
I say, identify the upstream problems that led to the altercation in the first place. WHY were they on drugs? WHY did they rob, *then* shoot? Why was a gun even in their possession? I don’t care for fixing symptoms without thinking about the causes.
Root cause doesn’t matter to the paralyzed guy, does it? Violence and theft has existed since the beginnings of society, the root causes are always changing.
They could have been violent criminals out on parole or never caught before and without record. The amount of shit people can do and still walk the streets is astounding.
Sidebar: and then we lock up some guy for possessing $50 worth of weed….
Hanging out in a parking garage with your focus on a piece of paper is enough of a distraction. Being upright an aware will deter many people, projecting some amount of awareness in how one carries themselves goes further. Watch some of he videos where criminals in jail watch tape and select victims.
The one time I was in an accident that wasn’t my fault, and other times I’ve narrowly avoided them, I was not paying attention to what was in front of me — I was sort of thinking that things were one way without really examining what was going on. Example. I was coming down Rte. 48 to a light, along a line of stopped cars, which had a gap up ahead of me. Suddenly a car pulled through the gap just in front of me. The gap had been formed by some guy who was working his way through traffic to a steakhouse on my right, who got tired of waiting and decided to gun it.
I’ve heard similar stores from others with muggings. A guy was walking across the Aiken St. bridge and two guys were up ahead of him waiting. He expected them to move aside, but instead they stepped in front of him, and then another guy came up from behind. Trapped.
So awareness is crucial, but it’s very hard to be aware all the time. That’s just not the way the mind works. At least half the time, you’re doing things automatically, thinking about a tag poem or a movie or some problem at work, etc. So it’s easy to look back and say, that was stupid, I should’ve paid more attention to what was going on, but hard to keep up with it.
I had a Tai Chi teacher tell me that he teaches that kind of awareness. When I was punched off my bike once in Wilkinsburg it was exactly like that. I was approaching the light at Penn and Ross, slowing down, then — wham — punched from behind. I didn’t know what had happened until I fell down and saw the teenager walking away. I guess I’d passed him and his friends a little while before. If I’d paid attention to them and the potential threat, made eye contact like Joanne, I doubt it would’ve happened.
@orionz06: I agree with you that awareness and avoidance is usually the best way to keep yourself safe. However I disagree with what you said about defending yourself with a u-lock as not being defensible in a court of law. If someone is attempting to take your property and you refuse to hand it over the situation is very likely to escalate to threats of violence or outright violence. Both of which reasonably can make you fear for your life. In the one and only instance where I had to strike someone with my u-lock I was attacked by 3 20somethings Downtown. I was sucker punched right off my bike on a busy street at about 8:30 on a Sunday night. After I was punched I managed to get to my feet, gather my bike and bag and back away, but my attackers kept pursuing me, throwing punches and issuing threats. I kept backing up all the while yelling “Help! Help! I don’t want to fight! Help!”. All the while a small crowd of bystanders stood by and did nothing. When I was finally backed up against a wall and could retreat no further I slipped my u-lock from my bag and brandished it, telling my attackers that I would use it if they didn’t leave me alone. This tactic did nothing to deter the attackers and when one of them rushed at me with his fist cocked I hit him with the lock right behind his left ear and knocked him out cold. At this point one of the attackers ran off and one continued (a little less aggressively) to threaten me. Before I make my point I just want to add that I was VERY concerned for the guy I knocked out, I hit him with all my might and I wasn’t sure if I had killed him or caused him some permanent damage. Anyhow finally the police arrived with an ambulance and took a statement from myself and the one attacker who was still attacking me when they arrived. They then loaded the guy who was still out cold (but thankfully still alive) into the ambulance. I was really worried that I would be next to be arrested but the officers told me that I was free to go and that I had every right to defend myself by any means possible when I had a legitimate fear for my life.
Again let me state that I do believe that being aware and avoiding trouble is always the best course of action. And I don’t recommend what I had to do to defend myself to anyone. Everyone should make up their own mind as to what lengths they are willing to go to in the event they are robbed or attacked before it is actually happening. I did and it definitely saved my property and possibly my life.
@byogman I mean, I really liked Mick’s idea, I could even see using the strategy against a single assailant who looked a little unsure of himself if I were on the flat or going downhill and didn’t have time to turn around. A bright light coming at you at 20+ would be enough to scare off most. But as a strategy against a group, I don’t know.
The one time I used that techgnique, it was against 4. It was exhiliaratingly effective.
They were spread out on Reynolds Street next to the Frick Museum about midnight on a Friday night, in the early 1990’s. One of the two guys in the middle was a little smaller and less confident looking than the others. I headed towards him.
At about 5 yards out, it looked a little like I was hosed, but then I flipped my light to point at the guy’s face, stood up cranking the pedals, and shouted. I tracked my target as he ran behind the other guy in the middle. The two of them ran over the end guy as they tried to get away. The other end guy just watched.
I was going at a pretty good pace (uh… for me). E ven 12 mph is about 18 feet per second. A quarter second and you’re gone.
For reference, the fastest football players do 40 yards at about 17 mph and the top of their heads in only about 5 1/2 feet above the ground when they do it.
That means the largest NFL linebacker gives a moving profile similar to a medium sized woman standing on her pedals at a moderate speed.
Helmets and winter clothes give the impression of bulk.
A light shining in the face is the kicker.
DISCLAIMER: My experience was in the early 1990’s. Being out on a bike at that time of night was very rare. I did that trip every Friday night for years and I might have seen another biker once. For most people, the sight of a bike at midnight was “WTF?” Thuglets didn’t have any practice attacking bikes, nor any strategy for it.
Things have changed.
I’ve related this experience here multiple times in the past.
I have a flashlight that has a “panic mode” – a rapid, slightly off-beat flash, that would be awesomely effective. But you have to mess with the thing for a bit to get it into that mode. Half a second is all you get.
Joannes eye contact strategy is a life save, IMO.
As a pedestrian (often lat4e at night), there have been at least a dozen times where I have done things like walk right onot someone’s fromt or back porch, or climbed fire excapes. I’ve run through back yards and over fences more than once. I’ve just just walked into the outer foyer. Once, with a clear and present threat, I flagged down a moving car on Bates Street by jumping in front of it and waving my arms.
Some of these were laughably false alarms – like when the guys walking down the street were splitting up going around a car, not to surround me on the sidewalk. I suspect more than half of the times I’ve run were for no good reason at all. Many more than half.
When it comes to running, I have no problem with ludicrously over reacting. I’ve never been mugged.
I have a feeling that the presence of witnesses, the fact that the attempted robbery started with an assault, chefjohn’s retreat, his verbal calls for help and declaration that he didn’t want to fight, the fact that he didn’t kill the guy and showed concern for his welfare, all played a role in his not having any legal consequences for knocking the guy out. Things might be a bit different if he’d been attacked in a place where the only witnesses were the other assailants.
@jonawebb, I disagree. If you are being robbed I think the law is definitely on your side to protect yourself by whatever means necessary. The only time that I have heard of the victim being prosecuted for excess force is AFTER the robbery – i.e. shooting the robber as they are running away. Having someone confront you saying ‘give me your bike & wallet’ is much different that someone steeling a bike off of your porch.
Paging Ian for some case-law…
There is some leeway but under the castle doctrine one cannot use lethal force in the defense of property or goods. Being robbed is a strange situation as force may or may not be used.
Stern words and yelling might scare the piss out of an old woman and she may fear for her life but screaming for the purse is not enough for her to shoot someone. Engaging them even becomes iffy.
The scenario that scares the hell out of me is my own miss judgement and clocking some 14 year old football player who has considerable size on me over my wallet without him engaging me. Seems reasonable for many people to clock him and leave. You took care of the issue before he took care of you. A bystander down the road might see it as you being stopped, not touched, and then you kill him with a casual swing of “some large metal object”.
Lots of ways for this to go. There are lots of right answers. You need to know what you are willing to do, capable of doing, and have a plan to do it now so when it happens you already know.
You may be right jonawebb, I think another mitigating factor was that there were 3 of them against one of me. But, at least from my experience talking with the officers at the scene, I beleive Marko82 hit the nail right on the head.
You could kill someone with a U-lock, sure.
But chances are overwhelming that you would just hurt them a bit, unless you kept at it after they stopped.
In the extreme case the you feel you have to hit someone with your U lock, you dont have to hit their head.
They probably wouldn’t even need to go to the ER or anything. OTOH, they will notice that they’ve been hit.
You don’t need to use a U lock offensively. If if someone tries to hit you, block it with U lock. They might not want to try again.
There’s been a couple times I’ve taken my U lock out. “Just to check it and make sure it was working correctly.” No one has ever bothered me when I’ve been doing that.
One night I was riding past the Tennis courts in Frick Park next to Braddock. There was a large dog in the tennis courts growling, jumping on the fence at me, and running along. Generally in “I’m gonna kill this guy” mode. The owner was watching from the parking lot – laughing loudly. I wasn’t sure if there was a break in the fence coming up.
I pulled out my long U lock and make a couple practice swings like a polo mallet. I could get it down below crank level with a pretty good swing.
All of a sudden the owner started frantically calling his dog.
I’m glad I didn’t have to hurt the dog. Even my best swing – had I been forced to use it – probably wouldn’t kill the dog though.
Running away is kind of fine but you are leaving one pissed off/angry and this one is sure that he can do it without problem more times. So next victim is in harder situation. So just fleeing is very self centering and passing “bad luck” to the next person. and next person could be your relative, son/daughter, husband/wife, mom/dad.
Nobility aside I am not gonna allow myself to be the guy that gets coloring books for christmas so “the next one” doesn’t get it extra good.
I don’t buy the argument that you pass “bad luck” to the next person by running away. You are not the agent of harm here.
I especially don’t buy into the idea that I have responsibility to engage rather than run away for the sake of a next person who is, at this point, hypothetical.
Now what I would say is that once I’m a safe distance away I do have an obligation to call 911 and tell the police what’s going on. And that may slip the mind with adrenaline racing, so I think it’s good to remind ourselves of this. The police may or may not take it seriously, that’s not in my control. But they have the tools and training and backup arrangements to deal with it if they do, something I do not.
I am NOT Batman (sigh)
@mikhail – Sure running away doesnt’ solve anything but the immediate problem.
Is there anything else you have a realistic idea of “solving” right then? Let me know those ideas!
What’s with the emotionally charged rhetoric “could be your relative, son/daughter, husband/wife, mom/dad.”??
How does “self-centered” figure into this? At all?
To make it clear:” I think that trying to shame people out of avoiding violence is a bad thing.
@mick How about civil arrest? I did it once.
Rhetoric? I don’t know about you but I used to live in war zone. I prefer to hold my ground and I know that police could not be everywhere.
Ideas? Orion already told about awareness — real one.
And yeah, avoiding violence at all cost is a bad thing in my book.
I have/had a long drawn out post but the context can’t really be conveyed well here. Simply put I have paid for an extensive amount of self defense training and much of it relates this very issue, some of it has been to even supplement my essentially unarmed commutes to work. I would gladly relay more of my interpretations of what I have been taught if people wanted to listen but I anticipate much to fall on deaf ears.
@Mikahail And yeah, avoiding violence at all cost is a bad thing in my book.
Sure. But generally avoiding violence doesnt’ involve “all cost” just a little sense.
It’s not hard to imagine a situation where the threat is real, and a citizen’s arrest is a possibility. But it strikes me as rare to be criminally attacked in a situation where this is apossibility.
Usually before a violent attack the perps have assessed the situation a little.
Now, is it possible to step in when someone else is being attacked and stop it, possibly even making such an arrest? Sure. Still not temendously likely.
This needs to be attended by whoever can make it: http://www.steelcityrrc.org/events?eventId=619944&EventViewMode=EventDetails
@mick It looks like “avoiding” means slightly different meaning for us. In my book not engaging into most situation desribed in this topic is avoiding. And it requires not just a little common sense. It requires situational awarness in a sense orionz06 was talking about. When you are in situation where someone is trying to do something and you flee the scene — this is a “violence escalation”. Probably not for you but for the next person. And I am completely against the last case.
If you wanna jump in the grenade for someone else have at it. I am not sure anyone who is worth anything with respect to criminal studies, defense, and managing unknown contacts would agree with you but if it makes you sleep better….
“violence escalation” is a strange couple of words to pin to running away. I totally fail to see that the next person (who is, to reiterate, hypothetical) gets violence that’s any more escalated for my having run away, and I didn’t engage in any violence or escalation myself.
There has to be some check on behavior or society does unravel. But generally that’s known as policing, for which we have a police force. Perhaps that’s your calling, and I give a lot of credit to anyone who decides that it is. But doing anything more than running away or acting purely defensively as a private citizen is dicey at best and very often illegal.
Maybe if you had a secret identity. Then we could get a large spotlight for you with a bike mounted inside :)
Ben, you have never been on other side, haven’t you? I can explain. You can call those guys stupid but they are not. They are street smart and they are capable of learning. if I am trying to set up something (an ambush, an attack, etc) — I have a plan. If plan does not work (someone on a bike escaped), I’ll learn and I am going to be a little bit more aggravated — the biker who just flew away did it on “my bike” (yep, a lot of guys start to consider it as a lost profit). So next biker is going to face more complicated ambush. One of complication is that sometimes you can see two group of individuals. It may look like they are independent but quite often both groups are connected. I have experience with two cases on North Side. One of them on north side of CCAC.
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