Defending Yourself on a Bike

Minneapolis has a well developed biking culture. One cannot drive in the city without seeing numerous cyclists on each road and the city has even paved several trails exclusively for the use of bikers and pedestrians. One of the more popular trails is call the Greenway and is also known for being unsafe to travel during nighttime hours. Incidents of assault and robbery happen periodically and there has even been an incident of numerous individuals ganging up on and assaulting a cyclist.

If you’ve ever ridden the Greenway you can understand why it’s a hotspot for assaults and robberies. The trail is located at the bottom of a ditch and is secluded from nearby buildings and roads. Several bridges dot the trail, each having several cement pillars one can lay in wait behind for unsuspecting travelers. At several points the trail is notably narrow and maneuvering room is nonexistent if somebody attempts an ambush from either side. This is a crucial point to note for cyclists because any strong impact from the side means an imminent meeting between the cyclist and ground. Unlike the people driving cars on the streets above, cyclists and pedestrians lack a surrounding cage of steel, plastic, and glass to protect them from would be attackers. Another disadvantage cyclists and pedestrians have when compared to motorists is the fact that a cyclist’s and pedestrian’s ability to run away from danger vanishes once they’ve impacted the ground.

In an attempt to reduce the number of incidents on the Greenway the Midtown Greenway Tail Watch Coalition (MGTWC) was created. MGTWC is a group of volunteers that ride the trail and attempt to add extra sets of eyes on the bike trail. They’re of little help for somebody being attack though since their guidelines [PDF] specifically state that volunteers are forbidden from intervening in a situation and from carrying weapons. In other words they can watch you get your ass beaten but they can’t actually attempt to intervene without breaking MGTWC rules. The only thing MGTWC members can do, without breaking their guidelines, is call the police. Due to the way the Greenway is constructed there are only a handful of access points from the above streets and that will affect police response times. In general you’re on your own even longer on the Greenway than on the above streets.

What can a traveler of the Greenway do? There are several steps you can take to protect yourself while traveling the Greenway. First and foremost, don’t travel the Greenway after dark. Everywhere the Greenway can access the above streets can access. In Minneapolis cyclists have equal rights on the streets as automobiles so there is no reason one must use the Greenway. Lake Street parallels the Greenway and can be ridden instead. For pedestrians there are the sidewalks that line Lake Street, and there is even a bridge cyclists and pedestrian can use to cross the Lake Street/Highway 55 intersection. Unlike the Greenway, Lake Street is well lit, almost always populated, and has fewer effective ambush points. There is the additional risk of being hit by an automobile although such incidents are rare as far as I know.

Another point to consider is whether or not your should stop. One of the incidents that occurred on the Greenway on June 25th details what can happen if you stop:

9:00 a.m. on June 25th. Reports that two groups of juveniles, one group of females and one group of males, were throwing rocks at bicyclists. One 17 year old male bicyclist stopped and was surrounded by a group of youth, then assaulted and robbed of an ipod.

Don’t stop. When you stop you make yourself vulnerable and any attempt by another to make you stop could be a trap. One of your best advantages while on a bicycle is speed, you’re going to be faster than anybody on foot and if you ride regularly there is a good chance that you’re going to be faster than many of the thugs on bikes. Keep your speed up.

What happens if you’re on the ground? At this point things become very dangerous because it’s likely that you’ve been injured from the fall. Just because you’re down doesn’t mean your out though. Even if you’re knocked off of your bike there are still several things you can do to protect your person. Krav Maga Minneapolis teaches self-defense classes aimed specifically at cyclists. I can’t testify to the effectiveness of such classes as I’ve never taken one but I’ve seen the class recommended by several cyclists so it’s something to look into. It’s also a good idea to carry some kind of defensive spray while riding a bike. Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray is useful for deterring both two legged and four legged (and there are four legged critter running around) attackers and is light enough to not make the weight weenies cry too much.

Let us also remember that Minnesota is a shall-issue state. If you apply for a permit to carry, pass the required class, and aren’t a prohibited person the state must issue you a permit. I can hear a few people reading this article going, “A gun? Where the Hell am I going to conceal a gun when I’m on a bike?” Worry not readers! Not only is Minnesota a shall-issue state but once you have a permit you can legally carry a gun openly. This is what I do. If you see a man on a red and black 29er mountain bike with a Glock 30SF strapped to his hip it’s probably me (feel free to say hi). Minneapolis isn’t very friendly towards open carry and people who see you openly carrying a gun on the Greenway are likely to call the police and the police are likely to stop and harass you. Don’t let them intimidate you, the state of Minnesota has preemption on gun laws and local municipalities cannot prohibit carry or forms of carry. They may bully you with the hopes of getting you to stop carrying a gun but there is no reason for you to submit to such antics, they have no legal ground to stand on. You can kindly inform them that if they were doing the job they promised to do you wouldn’t need to carry a gun so they can get you to stop if they can guarantee no further attacks will happen in the future (and deliver on that guarantee).

A firearm is the most effective means of defending yourself once you’re on the ground. Martial arts are effective if you’re assailed by one unarmed individual and not severely injured from the fall. OC spray is also limited in the number of attackers and it can deal with and carries the risk of not actually deterring your attackers. A firearm can be operated from the ground, in many states of injury (even if one of your arms is broken), and can engage multiple attackers. On top of that, if the number of people openly carrying on the Greenway increased dramatically it’s quite possible the number of attacks would decrease as well. Nothing deters a criminal like armed individuals.

I know the traditional cyclist culture and the traditional gun culture often clash but that shouldn’t be the case. Gun rights activists urge people to legally arm themselves, especially if they’re vulnerable to attack, and cyclists are vulnerable to attack, especially if they travel the Greenway.