A Nurse with a Gun

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bicycle Attacks

These kind of stories hit home to a bike commuter:
May 16, 2008, The Seattle Times:
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.
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.

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.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are forced to display or use a firearm or other weapon, by all means report the incident, but be aware that you should be cautious about speaking too freely about the incident without insisting on the presence of a lawyer if the circumstances could conceivably result in you being charged. It's not an easy line to draw in the aftermath of a violent encounter, but there should be some balance between being helpful to the police with respect to their immediate concerns (describing the assailant's appearance, clothing and so forth for example) and being an easy target for a "politically correct" department or DA.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is really welcome, as its something I think about a lot. As a university employee and frequent bike commuter, carrying concealed is pretty much out of the question (since I am not in a car, as soon as I enter the campus I am breaking the law). This is actually one of my biggest personal complaints about not allowing firearms on campus: you can keep your gun in your car, but if you bike, you are out of luck. But that's another issue...

A lack of bicycle awareness is a big problem with lots of commuters I see, and, being a really paranoid person, I put a lot of effort into awareness of all kinds of threats, and know all to well how vulnerable you are on a bike. It's good to see a post like this pushing for better cycling awareness.

12:32 AM  
Blogger JAFO said...

I'm curious as to the method one uses to carry a weapon with a converted knee brace. Got any links?

5:15 AM  
Blogger krazmo said...

"Get the iPod out of your ears"


That right there is the single most retarded mistake I see joggers and cyclists engaging in on a regular basis. They can't hear traffic, they can't hear their bike and they certainly can't hear someone approaching from the rear, even when I'm ringing my bike bell and shouting "ON YOUR LEFT!".

Burns me up, it does.

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sometimes ride through dangerous places, knowing that criminals rely upon suprise, so do I. Silent tires, a silent chain/no deraillures to make noise, and shutting off all of my lighting while pedaling fast I can get within 2 feet of pedestrians before they even notice me.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Cowtown Cop said...

Good post. I am a LEBA certified bike patrol officer and have done a lot of training on a mountain bike.One of the most important lesson we learn and teach is how to fall to avoid serious injury. I will write a short post on this subject.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Converted knee brace----- Still revising this concept for the KelTec P32. More soon....

Cowtown Cop, I'm looking very forward to your input on the subject!

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great essay.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this much needed piece.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...


Thank you for this post. Eight years ago I was targeted by five “youths” while unlocking my bike. I learned a lot from that event. I have recently become an NRA-Certified Pistol Instructor and CWP instructor so I can pass on the skills and knowledge I have gained since then. Your blog has been a great inspiration to me. Please keep up the good work.


7:48 PM  
OpenID tomcatshanger said...

Out of the group of folks that I trail ride with, I'm the only one that carries regularly.

I always carry my Glock 30 in the same place I do when I don't ride, strong side IWB.

The down side might be landing on it wrong one day. The upside is I'm more effectively armed then if I didn't carry.

I figure bad guys will figure out sooner or later that folks on bikes for fun tend to carry cash and not defensive arms. Seems like a trend I don't want to be a part of.

9:53 PM  
Blogger lee n. field said...

So, I'd be guessing that a recumbent rider would be at a great disadvantage, no?

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But from Seattle, there is a story about a motorist attacked by a mob of cyclists, the infamous "Critical mass". The guy obiously didn't have a weapon but if he had he probably would have been compelled to use it. They busted his car, took him out of it, and beat him up.

They're a notorious bunch of assholes.


7:10 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

I'm an avid biker as well. I usually spend 10-15 hours a week riding. Unfortunately, in some cases the deadly threat is gone before you can even react to it. I was stopped at a light once when a full beer can came whizzing past my ear. A guy in a moving truck threw it at me. I'm sure I would have been severely hurt or dead it it had hit me. The police hardly took it seriously. The reasoning, "Well you weren't hit were you?"

I think attacking a cyclist is easier than attacking a pedestrian for some criminals. They see people on bikes as easier targets.

I know I wish I could carry on my bike.

9:43 PM  

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