The Perfect Crime

The Perfect Crime

Crime fiction is a pretty fascinating fiction genre. Whether we’re talking detective mysteries and second-guessing the author into whodunnit or following a criminal covering their tracks and wondering if they’ll get away with it, the intense alignment of plot and logic can keep you turning pages with the breathless anticipation of a first kiss.


But of the many variations on crime fiction I’ve encountered over the years (and I’ve even met a few crime/mystery writers), I’ve never encountered anyone who made the bicycle an integral part of the story. I think I may have figured out why.

There are two crimes in American society (this doesn’t seem to be a problem elsewhere) in which the victim is routinely blamed. The first is rape. In rape, the accuser must overcome their prior wardrobe and behavior. Short skirt? She was asking for it. Drunk? She didn’t actually say no. Short skirt and drunk? What did you expect? Worse, the more affluent and accomplished the accused is, the more likely the accuser will be ignored. Consider: Bill Cosby isn’t some kid from a rough neighborhood.

The second crime in which the accuser will be blamed is in crashes involving cyclists. It is routinely presumed that cycling on city streets is tantamount to dancing in a wood chipper. Not only was the cyclist asking for it, no other outcome was really possible. If law enforcement had its own Wikipedia, the entry under “inevitable” would show a dead cyclist on the side of the road.

In the wake of Matthew Von Ohlen’s murder in New York, the NYPD began citing cyclists for infractions like running stop signs. Video of the crash shows a Camaro knock the Von Ohlen from his bike before deliberately running him over. He wasn’t running lights, weaving a serpentine through streets and flipping drivers the bird. He was riding in what any cyclist would conclude was a safe and reasonable manner. The NYPD added insult to injury by also handing out safety pamphlets to riders. This is world-class victim-blaming. Can you imagine the advice they’d have given victims of the Orlando shooting?

The Village Voice, in reporting on Von Ohlen’s murder, revealed that the NYPD investigates fewer than 2 percent of hit-and-run crashes. That’s not solves, that’s investigates.

What I’ve realized is that if you want to kill someone, don’t use a gun. Any time someone is murdered with a gun there is a universal desire to get the killer off the street, at least until the incident can be investigated.

If you want to kill someone, run them over. Then grab a bicycle, run it over, and then place the bike next to the deceased. Problem solved. This is why bikes aren’t in crime novels. It’s too damn easy to get away with the crime. The fuel of a mystery is suspense—you’ve got to care about the circumstance and the characters—and a dead cyclist isn’t something anyone other than live cyclists care about, apparently.

Sure, not all municipalities are as give-a-shit as the NYPD, but I know from my time in Los Angeles that hit-and-runs rank right up there with iPhone theft. As it turns out, getting away with a crime is much easier if it’s never investigated. You get away with murder not by evading the CSI team, but by committing a crime for which they never bother with forensics.

This is where the interests of all cyclists dovetail. Whether you’re a commuter, a racer or a weekend recreational rider, we are all at risk. This won’t change until we all commit to doing more to make the cycling community more cohesive and help it speak with one voice. If you’re not a member of your local bike coalition, it’s time to join and make it clear you want them to advocate to law enforcement on our behalf.



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    1. Author

      I’ve seen that. It’s an outrage. But cyclists don’t count, so that’s not hate speech.

    2. daveeckstrom

      The more of us that are riding with cameras rolling, the fewer excuses the cops will have and we might get something accomplished. A .38 in the center jersey pocket might also level the playing field a bit.

  1. hoshie99

    Sadly I agree w/ you on this one Padraig on both counts.

    True story: I was stabbed in the arm while cycling north of my college town, San Luis Obispo. Literally, two dirtbags pulled their car into the side lane of Highway 1, stuck a knife out the car window and cut me while I was riding up a hill out of town.

    I called the police not only to report what happened but to try to warn them as I suspected these fine citizens might do more damage as they travelled north. When the police car arrived, the officer was chewing and spitting out sun flower seeds as I told the story and used every excuse not to investigate the incident. I mean literally every excuse.

    I left not knowing who I was more mad at, the two stoners in the black corolla or the police officer.


  2. Rick

    Waiting to see how the circus that will probably surround Charles Pickett Jr. (killer of five cyclists in Kalamazoo) plays out.

    1. Author

      That case is most unusual for a really sad reason: he was actually charged with murder. Its outcome will hopefully be the least surprising one we hear about this year, unless, of course, you’re really cynical and inclined to think that all drivers who kill cyclists get off scot free, and you could be forgiven for that perspective.

  3. Rick

    From the beginning it sounded like his defense was priming things to claim that Pickett had some sort of medical condition that caused the accident. There was a nearly identical accident in St. Petersburg some years back where a man mowed down and killed five or six cyclists riding legally in a paceline on the road shoulder and he got off completely on the “medical condition” defense. Wish I could remember the details more clearly.

    1. Author

      There’s no point in staying around. Leave the scene of something that isn’t investigated and there are no repercussions.

  4. Andrew

    As much as I’m horrified by the lack of attention and investigation cyclist crashes get I can’t help but wonder if it’s not a symptom of a wider problem. That is all the road deaths and injuries that our societies treat as, somehow, “acceptable”.

    By any measure travelling on the road by any mode of transport in any country is one of the most dangerous things we can do. However we’ve become so used to the risk we’ve become conditioned to it and desensitised. The figures I’ve seen for the 2015 US annual road statistics are variously between 35,000 to 38,000 deaths and around 4.4 million injuries. If you stop to consider it those are horrifyingly huge numbers and yet the response is far, far less than more “spectacular”, much-publicised deaths such as mass shootings (~500) and wild animal attacks (numbers?).

    I also wonder if Police officers are even more desensitised to the issue because their job has them deal with most if not all tragic incidents (on and off roads) and many other of the worst-aspects of our societies. They are only human and are also constrained by not-unlimited time and resources, and the machinations of the legal process. Not to excuse their behaviour but to help us realise their scale of horribleness extends further at the “bad” end than our own might, so their response to an incident will almost certainly be skewed by that.

    1. Andrew

      US annual animal deaths are less than 200 (sharks, alligators, bears, snakes and also includes insect bite deaths, and deer and cattle deaths – seriously)

  5. Les.B.

    Here in SoCal we had problems in the city of Palos Verdes Estates not taking seriously the harassment of cyclists and not taking seriously the death of one cyclist.

    So with the encouragement of the author of the blog “Cycling the South Bay”, cyclists have been attending meetings of the city’s Traffic Safety Committee. The city is responding and will be taking positive action.

    This is what it will take to turn things around. Not memorial rides, nor merely ranting about the problem. Right now cyclists in the US are on the wrong end of a civil rights issue. As is typical with civil rights issues, it will take activism to set a new course.

  6. Shawn

    This is a serious problem. Bike Snob NYC writes about it daily, usually with a new auto on bicyclist/pedestrian collision in NYC each day. Each day. Wtf?

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