The Explainer: He’s Ba-ack … for now.

The Explainer: He’s Ba-ack … for now.

Dear Readers,
Okay, this is something of an experiment. A week ago, I told Padraig that I am ready to resurrect The Explainer, a column I’ve had a hand in on-and-off for a number of years. The thing started at a cycling magazine I used to write for and carried on here at Red Kite Prayer, due to Padraig’s support and encouragement. For that, I am forever grateful.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column and with me, a bit of background might be in order. (For those of you who do know this stuff, just scroll down to the day’s questions. You’ve probably heard it before.)

ExplainThisBullshitThe Explainer is something of a combination of projects that began nearly a decade ago. As I recall, the very first Explainer columns were essentially FAQs for those newly interested in the sport. As I offered Live Coverage of the grand tours, I’d often get questions that I’d answer one day and then get the same question the next day. They were often simple and straightforward questions, like “are they using radios?” “where’s (such and such rider)?” or “what happens to all of those gel packs and water bottles the riders toss away?” Other times, the questions would send me off on hours of interesting research in a hunt for an answer. Eventually, we used The Explainer to provide quick and ready access to those easy questions and my flailing attempts at providing an answer to the more complicated ones.

At the same time, I served as editor for Oregon attorney, Bob Mionske, and his Legally Speaking column. Bob, a former Olympian, eventually wrote a book on the subject and then moved his column over to Bicycling magazine.

Meanwhile I, for reasons I have yet to comprehend, went to law school at the age of 48. So, it seemed natural to give me the assignment of answering those questions once directed at Bob. I doubt I did anywhere near the quality of work Bob did, but adding legal issues to The Explainer was, for me at least, a lot of fun.

So, The Explainer evolved into a hybrid of sorts: a column that hoped to address a broad spectrum of reader questions, including racing tactics, legal issues involving cycling and pretty much anything that caught my eye. It was fun when I did it for that cycling magazine and it’s even more fun here at RKP.

I need to begin by saying that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an “expert” in anything. When it comes to cycling, I raced for 12 years or so, but was what I like to call a “Peter Principle Cat.2” (For those unfamiliar with the term, the Peter Principle was a management theory developed by social scientist Laurence J. Peter who, among other things, concluded that employees are promoted and eventually rise to the level of their incompetence.) In other words, I killed it as a Cat.3, but kinda sucked as a 2.

In 1994, while working in Washington, D.C., I got an offer to write for that cycling mag’ I keep mentioning. That was a freakin’ bike geek’s dream, as far as I was concerned. Sure, I was working in the U.S. Senate, but that was just a bunch of guys in suits. Here, I was being offered a chance to cover the sport I loved. I could abandon the muck and mire of politics and turn to beauty, simplicity, purity and honesty of cycling. I mean, what could go wrong?

As it turned out, it wasn’t exactly that pure or honest. … my career there happened to almost exactly coincide with something known as “The Armstrong Era.” Nonetheless, 17 years there were, for the most part, pretty damn cool … until that lovely little magazine was purchased by a vulture capitol company and … well, I digress. Even in that sullied time, it was a pretty cool gig and I eventually got to cover doping in sport, a topic I truly enjoyed. My original bosses even let me go to law school in my “spare” time and I flew under the radar of the new corporate masters until a year after I got my license. But all good things come to an end, I guess, and that stint ended in 2011 (on a day with another odd coincidence, but I’ll leave that for later).

Now what? Well, these days, I am a small-town lawyer, largely specializing in criminal defense in a university community, just 25 miles north of a state where marijuana is legal. It ain’t here, so we have a thriving little business defending minor drug offenders. As a result, I don’t write much for a living anymore, but I do keep my hand in things by continuing to offer Live Updates from the grand tours. As a result, I follow cycling as much as I can but real life often interferes. Part of that interference comes from the fact that I am now also a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives. That probably sounds more impressive than it is, since I am but one of nine Democrats in a 60-member House. (I like to say that I represent an island of blue in a veritable sea of red.)

So, there you have it. A non-expert and generalist, at best, who also happens to be a bike geek. Gee, who wouldn’t want to ask questions of a guy who can’t seem to stay focused on any single topic for too long?

Seriously, I will do my best to answer one or two questions a week and I promise to give those as thorough an effort as I can. Will I be right? I might be. I might not be. Like the rest of you, I am human or at least resemble one. That means that I have a perspective colored by 57 years of experiences and prejudices that may ultimately affect a response. It means that I may be grasping at straws when trying to answer a particularly tough question.

In other words: You are free to disagree. While columnists’ stock in trade is their “expertise,” I make no such claim. I’m a guy with opinions and a little background in a lot of things. My answers may well be off-base. If you think so, call me on it. If I’m wrong, I hope to be able to admit it. Either way, I hope The Explainer will be something a little different … and I hope that I can stick to it for a while.

So, after all of that rambling, let’s try to take on this week’s questions:

Is the Tour going disco?
Dear Explainer,
I was happy to see Padraig’s Facebook post saying you were coming back to RKP.

During this year’s Tour, I noticed that guys on the Trek team were using disc brakes. I know that the UCI is toying with the idea, but I thought it was going to be years before we saw those in the peloton.

Why were discs allowed at the Tour? I am guessing that the Trek riders weren’t cheating, so what’s up?
Randall P
Cle Elum, WA

Dear Randall,
You are right. The Trek team was part of an experiment this year. That experiment will continue on through this season and into the next, as more and more teams toy with the idea of switching to disc brakes. The UCI is reacting to pressure from manufacturers and some riders to lift its existing ban on disc brakes in the pro peloton and, as a result, has agreed to take this small step.

While discs have been around mountain bike racing for a decade and cyclocross for three or four years, the UCI and some riders have been resisting efforts to introduce them into the pro peloton.

Some of those concerns involve the potential safety hazards of having nearly 400 spinning metal discs in a crowded peloton. Others have argued that the additional stopping power of discs may actually lead to crashes.

There are obvious technical concerns, too, particularly involving the ease of making a wheel change and the compatibility problems posed for those guys working neutral support.

Frankly, I think most of those concerns are either baseless or can be readily addressed.

I have been an advocate of bring disc brakes into road racing ever since carbon rims found their way into professional road racing.

Here, I am going to show my age and say that I always found a road bike with aluminum rims and something akin to a set of the old orange Scott Mathauser brake pads to be a perfect way to control the speed of a road bike. That all changed when rims went carbon fiber … especially when the braking surface was carbon. I recall Marco Pantani at the Giro one year crashing in the rain as his cork brake pads did little to control the speed on his bike, equipped with a beautiful pair of carbon rims. Those rims were great going up a climb. They weren’t so great going down … especially in the rain.

As for the spinning discs of death argument, there is little evidence to support the claim that discs will present much of a hazard in a crash. Of course, I may eventually be proven wrong, but I think the risk of injury is far greater in circumstances faced by riders who simply can’t control their speed with slippery brake pads.

As I mentioned, some have argued that disc brake’s greater stopping power may pose a hazard and, to a point, I agree. But that problem is exacerbated under the status quo, with a mix of rim and disc brakes in the peloton. I firmly believe that as the peloton uniformly adopts the superior technology of disc brakes, we’ll see the eventual demise of rim brakes and there will be consistent brake performance and stopping power in the peloton. That, in and of itself, should minimize the risk. Right now, it is a problem, though.

As for the technical questions of compatibility, that’s where the UCI could – and should – step in with uniform standards.

Doored and floored
Dear Explainer,
You know the old saying: “I was just riding along and ….”

So, I was just riding along in the bike lane and BAMM!!! Some guy opened the door on his pick-up truck, without looking, about a second before I reached it and I couldn’t stop. I slammed into his door, hit the ground, snapped my fork and broke my collarbone. Sure, he was apologetic and all, (“I didn’t see you!”) but I think my bike is ruined – at least the fork – and I am here typing with just my right hand. This hurts like hell. I’m just glad I had my helmet on.

Can I make a claim or sue the guy?
Anna W
Gary, IN

Dear Anna,
A couple of things to start with: You have the misfortune of living in one of ten states that actually does not specifically address the issue of “dooring” in statute. (The others are Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.)

Also, as the disclaimer below explains, I am merely offering a general observation and not specific legal advice. For the latter, you should consult an attorney licensed in your state.

That said, I am going to make a few assumptions here, since your question was short on detail. First, let’s assume that since there was an injury and property damage that the police were summoned to the scene. If so, there is a police report and, if the officer concluded that the facts were the same as you describe, you should be able to make a claim against the apologetic driver’s liability insurance.

If that fails, can you sue? Sure. Anyone can sue anyone for anything, any time they want to. Will you win? That’s another question. Let’s assume that you have a claim for about $7500. Hospital emergency rooms are expensive, you probably lost some time at work and you have a bike to repair or replace … okay, let’s make it $10,000.

In many cases, you can take such a case to small claims court and avoid the cost of hiring an attorney. In Indiana, the maximum amount to bring a case to small claims is $6000. That may not keep your $10,000 claim from being handled by the court, since you have two separate claims: Personal Injury and Property Damage. Again, it is important that you at least consult with an attorney to see what your options are. Most attorneys offer low-cost or free initial consultations, so that shouldn’t be too burdensome.

So, if you end up in court, you face something of a hurdle, because Indiana law doesn’t specifically address the question of dooring. But that shouldn’t stop you. You can sue based on a negligence claim, anyway. Most simply, an act of negligence involves someone causing you harm by not behaving in a fashion that a reasonable person normally would. If the police report bolsters your argument, you may not have too much trouble showing that a reasonable person would do something like check his/her rear-view mirror before swinging the door of their car open.

I might have an easier time in my own state of Wyoming, where Wyoming Statute § 31-5-121 specifically places a duty of care on the driver of a vehicle who is opening the door of an automobile when there is traffic:

“No person shall open any door on a motor vehicle unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on a side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.”

Now, Wyoming’s law does not specifically mention bikes, but other parts of Wyoming law define bicycles and bicyclists as “traffic” so that wouldn’t be a huge issue.

You might also check with an attorney to see if there are any specific local ordinances or state laws that define the duties of a driver parking next to a designated bike lane.

For me, the bottom line has always been to stay at least three feet clear of any vehicle parked alongside the road. Often that means that I do not ride in the designated bike lane and move out into the traffic lane. Yes, I’ve been stopped by an overzealous cop who thought that the mere existence of a bike lane meant that I was mandated to ride in it. Even in my pre-lawyer bike geek days, I was an argumentative sort and I managed to convince the officer that there was no basis for that assertion.

A bicyclist has the same rights and responsibilities as those applied to a driver. You do not need to ride in a designated bike lane, especially when those who designed the aforementioned bike lane were boneheaded enough to place parked cars directly alongside it. Raise some hell with your local city council or better yet, try to get on the local planning board and make a case for intelligently designed bike lanes.

Above all, good luck with your claim. I hope you can resolve it through the driver’s liability insurance and not have to rely on the courts … or worse, hire a lawyer (we can be expensive).

Small-HeadshotThe Explainer is supposed to be a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer (Pelkey gets sidetracked now and then).
If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at [email protected].

PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.



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