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.