May 16, 2008, The Seattle Times:As a group of people, bicycle commuters are used to enduring the scorn of drivers, often having curses and even trash hurled at them as they pedal down the street. With the increase of people taking to pedal power, a more significant crime is certain to increase, however. Muggings of cyclists will no doubt increase both in frequency and severity.
The recent mugging of a man who was riding his bicycle through the Interstate 90 Mount Baker Tunnel has prompted police and the Cascade Bicycle Club to urge bicyclists to always be aware of their surroundings and travel with others.
Bob Cornwell was pedalling home from work through the Mount Baker Tunnel last week when he was attacked by three teenagers who knocked him off his bike, slammed him against a wall and stole his wallet, money and bike bag. The Seattle University professor said he was lucky to escape with only a few bumps and bruises. Initially, he didn't want to report the incident to police. "I didn't want to make a big thing of it," he said.
But a colleague and fellow member of the Cascade Bicycle Club encouraged him to call police, and warned others of the May 7 assault through a posting on the club's message board. The posting was forwarded through the local biking community. According to a police report, the strong-arm robbery occurred shortly before 5 p.m. near the entrance of the tunnel from Sam Smith Park, on the lid of I-90 at Martin Luther King Jr. Way South.
To decrease the likelihood of being victimized, it is imperative that the cyclist understand the motives for these attacks. A cyclist may be attacked through road rage, as juvenile entertainment, or in a strong arm robbery attempt. Only rarely is there a personal vendetta.
Criminals do not attack randomly. They select victims after formulating a plan. Frequently it is a plan that has worked for them in the past. They set up an ambush site and wait for a likely target. The victim may have been chosen beforehand, or the victim may be an unwitting target of opportunity.
If you are targeted before hand, the attack will likely come as you have your back turned, kneeling down and your attention taken by the task of locking or unlocking your bike. Situational awareness is crucial at this time. Choose a well lit area with frequent passersby to mitigate the risks. Scan the areas for loiterers. Have an alternate site to lock up at if conditions do not seem safe at the primary spot. By locking up where you are secure, the bonus will be your bicycle secured in a more theft resistant location.
Attacks can occur while riding as well. It is difficult for a cyclist to divide his attention between the traffic around him and the potential threats that lurk between parked cars. Get the iPod out of your ears. Listen to what is going on around you. Watch the movements on the sidewalks, as well as the traffic ahead of you. A cyclist can be brought to an abrupt stop with a broomstick jammed into the spokes of his bike. After getting up from the pavement battered, he will be quickly beat down again in a robbery attempt. Cyclists can be tackled from the side, clotheslined from the front, or beaten across the back with bludgeons. The key to surviving such an attack is to recognize it in it's infancy and avoiding it all together. It will originate from the sidewalks as you approach. Avoidance of attacks and the potential confrontations that may precede an attack is crucial. If the cyclist is brought down while riding, he will be forced to defend himself while already injured.
The bicyclist has the advantage of speed. If speed and maneuverability are combined with situational awareness to keep distance between potential attackers and the cyclist, evasion is academic. Knowing how to bunny hop curbs, how to maneuver through traffic, how to use traffic as a screen and how to evade approach without getting smacked by an automobile are all tools in avoiding an attack from street thugs.
Of greater importance is having several routes that can be taken, both to eliminate patterns and also to escape an attack. Territorial disputes between gangs and road rage from drivers demand that the cyclist use his knowledge of the areas traveled to take the path of least resistance. It is far better to take an extra four or five blocks pedaling than accept twelve hours on the pokey and a court date, much less an endotracheal tube and a ventilator for support. Avoid conflicts and altercations. Ride where your attackers cannot go. If you must pass through an area or situation, keep to the center of the streets. Force any attacker who may be on foot to enter the street to get to you. Be willing to pedal through stop lights if a safe opportunity presents itself. The key, after avoidance, is to keep moving but know when you must stop and defend. Maneuver around those who try to stop you. If, regardless of your efforts, you can not avoid contact, get your feet on the ground and your hands off the handlebars. You do not want to have to physically defend yourself immediately after taking a fall from your bike at speed.
If a cyclist is unable to avoid conflict, and is brought down by force, he will be fighting while already injured. His helmet and gloves will take on new importance in allowing him to avoid significant injury so that he might fight for his life if need be. If one must fight, knowing how to fight with non-traditional weapons is beneficial. Do not use a bike as a weapon, it's too unwieldy. Carry a U-lock, it's a great defensive weapon, as is a bike mounted tire pump. I solidly recommend Marc MacYoung's Guide To Improvised Weapons For Self-Defense for learning how to use a U-lock or a tire pump to best effect. Get the backpack off your back and into a basket on the bike. One reason I do not wear a backpack is I do not want it strapped to me if I am forced to defend myself.
Pepper spray is an effective non-lethal weapon. I currently carry Fox Lab's Mean Green spray with a cone nozzle. The cone gives me the advantage of being able to spray predatory humans and aggressive dogs on the fly if need be. I carry it in a clip on holster secured on the bike's basket behind me. Carried there, it cannot spray me in an accident, yet it is readily available for dogs of all types. If the cyclist has a CCW license, a firearm can be carried in a fanny pack, in a belly band, or even in a converted knee brace. Lycra riding clothes are generally out if a person wants to conceal a firearm. I have found pocket carry (one of my preferred modes of carry) to be too risky on a bicycle, unless the pocket has a zipper to close it. Smith & Wesson J frame revolvers and the KelTec P32 make good portable biking firearms.
If you are going to carry a firearm on your bicycle, it is imperative that you train with it. Train with it on your bike. Learn how to take a fall, how to keep your bike between you and your target, and how to get hits from the ground, wearing your cycling gloves. Find a range that will allow you to practice, or if that is impossible, practice the maneuvers through dry fire in your garage. Being able to draw safely and shoot quickly and safely from your back with your lower body towards the target is crucial. If you have the opportunity to observe bicycle police training, learn all you can from watching them.
Finally, if you are assaulted on your bicycle, report the crime. Carry your cell phone. Do not fall victim to the embarrassment that Bob Cornwell felt. You were victimized, and it was not your fault. If you were forced to employ pepper spray or a firearm, or even if the presence of the device deterred the attack, report the attack. You do not want your attacker reporting you as a crazy person threatening them with a weapon.
Roughstuff´s Guide to Cycling the World´s Dangerous Places
Commuter Self-Defense…For Real This Time
Then again......Bike Kwon Do.