(There's a back door to subscriber-only WSJ content, you know.)
YOLOSA, Bolivia—Nearly two dozen cyclists have been killed on Bolivia’s so-called Death Road, which descends 11,000 feet from the snow-capped Andes to the rainforest. That peril is part of its allure.
Sure, there are stunning vistas and sparkling waterfalls along the winding 40-mile ribbon of dirt and gravel that clings precariously to vertical mountain faces. But it’s the occasional tragedy, like when a rider overshoots a hairpin turn and Death Road lives up to its name, that’s made it one of Bolivia’s biggest tourist attractions.
The accompanying video was rather tepid, so I wasn't sure why people kept dying, but it turns out it's because many of the people who visit Death Road are both lazy and stupid:
In addition, the fact that it’s all downhill and requires minimal pedaling attracts people of all shapes and abilities. Some commit rookie mistakes, like squeezing only the front-wheel brake which can send them flying over their handlebars. Mr. Symons says that cut-rate tour agencies provide beat-up mountain bikes with faulty brake-pads. Still, he chalks up many of the mishaps to dunderheaded behavior.
Some tourists, he says, show up for the ride after a night of partying and are hung-over—or still drunk. Others are speed demons. Then there was the guy who taped a Handycam to his bike frame and, while adjusting his viewfinder, pedaled off a ledge.
Does it make me a bad person that I kinda wanna see that Handycam footage?
Speaking of flying off cliffs, let's talk about helme(n)ts:
As you'll recall because you hang on my every word, yesterday I mentioned I'd been flitting about the West Village this past weekend, and in addition to seeing cargo bikes I saw children wearing helments in situations in which helments simply aren't warranted.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Who are you to say when my child should and should not wear a helment?"
Well, I'll tell you who I am. I'm the voice of common sense, goddamn it! Because there's no reason whatsoever that a child should be wearing one of these:
On one of these:
Yet that's one of the many instances of gratuitous child-helmenting I've witnessed since the weather turned in our favor--and it was exactly that helment, too, lest you think I'm exaggerating for effect.
Now, it's important to remember that kids live in a world of fantasy, and oftentimes they like to wear helmets while playing because it makes them feel like they're race car drivers or Iron Man or Genghis Khan. (Are you kidding? Kids love Genghis Khan!) In fact, sometimes kids will even insist on wearing helments when they don't need them, because children are demanding little shits. However, this was definitely not the case here. As it happens, I personally witnessed this adorable little girl scootering about, bare of head and happy as you please, and then the nanny called her over urgently and cowled her with that hideous plastic abomination. Instantly she went from delightful vernal sprite to Darth Fucking Vader. It was depressing.
(And please note that I am not blaming the nanny. I'm sure she was under strict orders to make certain the poor kid wore that stupid thing at all times while scooting. I'm also sure she'd have been fired if the parents caught her allowing the kid to ride a scooter on a lovely April afternoon without a head encased in packing materials.)
And that's not all. Not too long ago I also witnessed a child wearing a helment as he rode one of these...on the freaking grass:
"Rode," by the way, is putting it charitably as the kid could hardly get the thing moving. (You know, because of the grass.) So why make your kid wear a helment in order to sit on what is essentially just a stool? Because it has wheels? Please. Look how low it is! His head is already closer to the ground while sitting on this than it would be if he were standing up! Letting the kid simply walk around the living room is far more likely to result in head injury than somehow falling off this thing and onto the grass--and even a child would have a hard time dumping this contraption, because it has three wheels and it looks like it weighs as much as an Ikea entertainment console.
"But that's not the point!," I can hear some of you crying. "Wearing helments while using three-wheeled toys instils good safety habits in children!"
Making kids wear helments anytime they get near anything with wheels just makes them think riding things with wheels is a dangerous pain in the ass, and instead of associating bikes with freedom and fun they'll associate them with hot sweaty plastic and shrill, panicked admonitions of "Put your helmet on!!!" as mommy and daddy chase them down in the playground. On the other hand, piling into the family Range Rover entails no such concomitant neuroses or safety apparel, save for the seatbelt and perhaps a booster seat. So which form of transport do you think the child is going to associate with convenience and safety and normalcy?
(Hint: it's the one I don't own.)
Look, we all want to protect our kids, but no matter what you do they manage to hit their heads somehow. This is because they're clumsy and stupid. Deal with it. They get big, purple contusions on their foreheads trying to retrieve toys from under the coffee table. They run after the pretty butterfly then go sliding face first down the asphalt. They bait the cat, with predictable results. This is why they can wear a helment all day on their crappy scooter and then eat shit that evening attempting to climb over the couch.
I'm not saying kids shouldn't learn there's a time and a place for helments, I'm just saying people need to realize there's a difference between safety and brainwashing:
("The magic symbol on your helment tells the drivers not to hit you.")
And we've been so thoroughly brainwashed by this point it may be too late.
Speaking of punishing you in the name of protection, it's springtime here in New York City, and that means it's time for the annual bicycle crackdown!
And what would a good old fashioned New York City-style bike crackdown be if it didn't involve ticketing riders for stuff that's not even against the law?
It turns out that Park Slope's police lead the city in tickets for texting while cycling, having written 151 tickets for cellphone use in 2014. There is an argument to be made about how such a crackdown would further road safety, but there is a much more glaring problem: texting while cycling is not illegal.
Although an NYPD spokesperson has previously claimed that it technically is:
State law currently bans texting or making phone calls while driving a car, and NYPD Legal Affairs Bureau spokeswoman Susan Petito confirmed this morning at the hearing that traffic laws applying to motor vehicles also technically apply to the operation of bicycles. However, she said summonses for texting bikers are currently "very rare": only six were handed out last year.
While I full acknowledge that using your smartphone while cycling isn't a good idea, I vigorously oppose any new law that would ban it, for the simple reason that it would put an end to my career as New York City's premier Cat 6 adventure photographer:
Sure, I could just duct tape tape a selfie stick to my head instead like that guy who plummeted off Death Road, but as the Lucas Brunelle of Citi Bike I live for the thrill of barreling down the Manhattan Bridge bike path at relatively conservative speeds while taking lousy pictures. After all, every saddle I have is a razor, and I play to roll. (After inserting my blue Citi Bike membership key and patiently waiting for the green light, of course.) Plus, I don't dare go faster--at least without dick breaks. To wit, consider this, the greatest "Spurious Anecdote" to date about why you NEED dick breaks on your rhode biek--or else!
Saved by These Discs
A section of Ballard Canyon turns downhill, and when you look at it on Google Maps, the road looks like the outline of a soft-serve ice-cream cone. I was coming around the last, sharp turn here with lots of speed, and passed another rider going the other direction. I looked over because I thought it might be Mike or Matt, and when I looked down the road again, I was practically on the shoulder. I thought, this is really bad. But here I am, recounting the misadventure without a scratch on me, which is real-life proof that disc brakes work. The Specialized Tarmac Disc is a crazy-fast, thoroughly fun bike that corners so well it makes you think of curves not as potentially dangerous challenges, but as yummy—and oh-so-tantalizing—treats.—Louis Mazzante
See that? If you move your head even slightly while descending on a bicycle YOU WILL DIE...
...unless you upgrade to dick breaks immediately.
There's no way he could have slowed that bicycle with primitive rim brakes.
Best of all, this life-saving bicycle can be yours today for a mere $9,500:
"What You Need to Know" indeed.
That's not nearly enough information, they really should add a second box:
And if all else fails, just lay a massive drunken guilt trip on the whole family by insisting that you need a safer bicycle, and that if they don't support you in this they clearly they want you to die.
Lastly, in other speed-related news, the Red Hook Crit happened this past weekend:
And the winner of the men's race appears to be a former pro who rode for Saunier Duval--you know, this guy's team:
Meanwhile, scanning the results sheet, the erstwhile hipster alleycat heroes of old placed down in the double digits.
It's the end of an era.
Or maybe the beginning of one.