City Desk

Camaro Versus Fixie

One more for the annals of  D.C.'s ongoing car culture versus bike culture conflict.

At 2 a.m. last Friday, cyclist Ian Barry tried to fight back. Standing at 6'1", he was bigger than the guy trying to put him down on the 1800 block of Adams Mill Road NW. But Barry was also looking at some disadvantages. First, he was wearing road racing shoes, which, Barry says, "is like running on ice." Second, he'd just been hit by a 2011 red Camaro, he says.

As he squared up with his opponent, in a nearby alley, he could see his buddy, Saul Leiken, taking a beating. He saw attackers let go a flurry of punches and kicks that would leave Leiken with a concussion.

Just moments before, as Barry, on a fixie, and Leiken, on a Surly Travelers Check, biked toward Leiken's home in Mt. Pleasant after visiting some friends, everything had been fine.Barry had decided to crash at Leiken's place. Leiken said it was okay, but also came up with the perfect way to top the night off: taquitos from a 7-Eleven on Columbia Road NW. Thinking about the small, stuffed corn tortilla rolls that churn endlessly on the store's rolling grills got the two excited. They were talking over the merits of the delicacy when the Camaro screeched in, going for a "curb cut" that led to an alley.

Both Barry and Leiken are avid cyclists who work at City Bikes and have been in car versus bike conflicts before. Many started the way this one did: with a car cutting across a bike lane for some reason. Though the city has been installing bike lanes to make things easier on both cyclist and drivers, it's well-known that the narrow lanes have become battle zones. ”The drivers always want to say that it's the bikers fault," says Leiken. Leiken thinks Adams Morgan cyclists have a particularly hard time because of narrow streets.

The sports car made a left turn, theoretically heading for an alley. ”It him head on," says Leiken, who was stunned as he watched his friend crash onto the car's windshield. Those inside the vehicle were shocked, too. From inside the shiny car, Leiken remembers hearing panicked voices: "Oh my God, oh my God, you hit someone!"

Maybe it's because he's used to toughing things out in the rugby matches he's addicted to, but in a moment, Barry was both on his feet, and pissed off.

At first, the driver and four passengers refused to get out of the car. Barry insisted they had to because he needed their information. "He was yelling, so they might have felt threatened," Leiken says. When the all-male group (dressed "club-casual," Barry says) finally emerged from the vehicle, they told him to "get out of their face," Barry remembers.

Then the guys jumped on Barry. Leiken called the cops on his cell phone, but when the guys from the Camaro noticed him trying to read the car's tag number, they were on him, too. The battle took a turn when a bystander came to their rescue. Pointing what the cyclists later discovered was a fake taser, the bystander chased the Camaro guys away.

The cops have been looking for the assailants, and have a lead, so there could be an arrest any day.

Leiken seems scarred by the whole ordeal: "I have yet to ride my bike at night again," he says. "I'm a little afraid of doing so."

Photo of Saul Leiken by Charlie McCormick

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  • AmericanWade

    There are cyclist and drivers that make things terrible. Particularly in that part of Columbia Heights. However, as a driver, you never have an excuse if cyclist are in bikes lanes. It's one thing when bikes disobey traffic laws or cycle on the street down a one-way like Irving NW, but it's another when they're cycling in a lane that's clearly marked.

    Also, you kind of have to root for the cyclist since the morons were in a Camaro.

  • noodlez

    "Also, you kind of have to root for the cyclist since the morons were in a Camaro."- PREACH!!!

    YOU GOT BAMMAS THINKING THEY KNOW HOW TO DRIVE IN FAKE ASS 2K MUSCLE CARS WHEN IN FACT THE ONLY THING THEY KNOW HOW TO DO IS OPERATE A VEHICLE! SOME FOLKS CANT EVEN DO THAT(HI VA.).

    IF YOU DONT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE THEN YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

  • 4 Wheels

    They say in the District at least 3 cyclists or pedestrians get hit by a car every day. Those stats are only the ones reported. I think that number has to increase until cyclists start obeying traffic laws like we cars do and pedestrians look both ways before they cross the street.

    This incident clearly I would side with the 2 wheels but in 99% of my daily driving it's the cyclists and pedestrians who break the rules and cause most of the accidents. Not the drivers.

  • More Wheels

    4 Wheels — You're suggesting drivers hit more pedestrians and bikers in order to keep them in line? I think that's a good idea, I mean drivers obey the laws and look both ways all the time.

  • L Dubs

    Yep, agree with 4 wheels. These guys may have been douchebags but it's usually the cyclists and peds who aren't paying attention.

  • Istvan

    Once police will understand that even with a Police car they can not stop and stand in bike lanes, they will enforce other drivers as well....

    Just to be fair, "Lance Amstrongs wanna be" USE the bike lane instead of road wherever is possible.

    You are not that fast...

    Regular biker on 14th St.

  • Bud

    You need to carry your lock with you, a nice broken window will manage to settle most problems!

  • JustJosh

    Bud, you're damn right. I carry a NY "fahgetabouttit" lock... which has proven itself to mean "fahgetaboutit" in more ways than one.

    And I call BS on those claiming *drivers* are the ones more likely to follow the rules. I've yet - in three years of cycling to work - YET had a commute where I didn't have to swerve around a car / truck / whatever illegally blocking the bike lane. I say if you're going to block traffic with your CAR, then block CARS. Leave the bike lanes alone.

  • lou

    I also call BS on the claim that drivers obey the rules. The only rule they obey is stopping at red lights. As a pedestrian I've been almost hit by drivers making rolling stops at stop signs and so busy texting they weren't watching what they were doing.

    To say nothing of speeding. That's considered a suggestion, not mandatory by drivers.

  • washcycle

    There is no way that drivers follow the law more than cyclists. According to a FHWA study, on 90% of roads, the majority of drivers are speeding. Sometimes compliance with speed limits is as low as 3%. And many independent studies show that drivers are more often at fault than cyclists in crashes with adult cyclists.

  • Nick

    Car drivers are always complaining about cyclists not waiting at red lights. It doesn't make sense for them to wait at red lights because when it turns green the cars start laying on their horns and trying to drive them off the road. The safest thing for a biker to do is treat stop signs and red lights like caution signals. You slow down or stop, look both ways, and go when it's safe.

    The rules of the road were developed for cars because without them they kill people. Car drivers need to obey them. They are the ones sitting back in comfortable seats with the radio on while texting friends. From the inside of their hulking vehicles they have limited vision and difficulty hearing what's going on around them. As a result they kill more than 30,000 fellow drivers, 4,700 pedestrians, and 600 cyclists each year in the US alone. Bikes aren't the problem. It's the cars.

    I understand that you may not like it when your fat ass is sitting in a traffic jam and a biker is going between cars, approaches a red light, looks both ways, and crosses. They have made a decision to use a mode of transportation that doesn't kill people. You have made a different decision so you have to follow the rules set up for people like you. Quit bitching.

  • Dan

    4 Wheels says "I think that number has to increase until cyclists start obeying traffic laws like we cars"

    I suppose Mr 4 Wheels has never gone one mile per hour above the speed limit in his life, nor has ever cruised through a yellow light.

    Right?

    RIGHT?

    What utter bullshit.

  • Frazier

    @Just Josh,

    Wow...pretty self obsessed aren't you.

    1. Cyclists, as they love to remind everyone can legally take any lane they like. If the world has come to a virtual end and someone "gasp" is blocking a bike lane for some reason, simply bike in the travel lane.

    2. Bikes make up just under 2% of the vehicle trips on DC streets on a given day. Of course, thats on nice days with accomodating weather. That means that there are 49 times the number of vehicles on DC streets, and vehicle traffic flowing (cars, buses, deliver trucks, construction vehicles etc) is far more important on every level, then blocking an entire lane of vehicle traffic because the once every few minutes biker who comes along (and can take any lane he/she likes) might get offended.

  • U Street resident

    The drivers laid a beating on the cyclist. Forget about who violated what rule of the road. They need to be in prison for assault. That's a violent crime.

  • DC Motorists

    @Nick

    The reason DC Motorists bitch about cyclists running reds is that they are putting themselves and everyone around them in danger. In the last month I've had 4 seperate instance of a cyclist blowing thru a red and me having to jam on the breaks and swerve to avoiding turning him into hamburger.

    I respect bike lanes, i respect cyclists who follow the rules of the road. I don't respect some type a asshole with $2k racing bike who thinks anyone other than him can go to hell causse he's the king of the road.

    It's no diffrent from some asshat in a beemer or benz cutting off people cause he's got a massive hard on from his set of wheels. When you break the law you break the law, red lights still apply to cyclists even though "it dosn't make sense."

  • crin

    Look enough with the comments. There are shitty cyclists and there are shitty drivers. It doesn't matter which there are more of.

    Rule #1: Do no harm
    Rule #2: Do not get harmed

    There.

  • Steve O

    The driver and passengers left the scene of the accident. So all this talk about who's right and who's wrong, etc. is irrelevant. No one ever has the right to leave the scene. For that alone they need to be tossed in jail.

  • Steve O

    Also, upon re-reading, I see they made a "left turn." Bike lane or no bike lane, left-turning traffic always yields to through traffic--whether it's a car, ped, bike or llama. No matter. As a driver, you must wait for all traffic to clear before turning left. There is no gray area here: the driver turned left into oncoming traffic, causing a crash.

    Then they assaulted the victim of their traffic infraction.

    Then they left the scene.

    Book 'em for all of these.

  • steve

    Those commenting that it's usually the cyclist fault are missing the point here - the driver of this car encroached in the bike lane, the driver struck the cyclist head on, the driver and his passengers then further assaulted the cyclist. That's the story here. Anything else is speculation about how a city full of road users behave. Yes, there are cyclists that violate the law just like motorists. Cyclists will always lose that battle of car v. bike. These guys committed a serious offense by further assaulting the rider and his friend and they should be punished to the full extent of the law.

    Why add in the perception of offenders by mode? It's irrelevant. Take this one case for what it is. There are cyclists who do follow the law and still get hurt because of negligent motorists. Is kicking someone's ass going to contribute to a solution? Let's stop generalizing and making statements like 'if cyclists follow the law, motorists will respect them', that's bullshit. I follow the law and every day motorists use their cars to get where and what they want on the road. Motorists break the law every day otherwise we wouldn't need red light and speed cameras and other forms of enforcement. The road doesn't belong exclusively to motorists, stop behaving like it does.

  • Doug

    Sounds from the description like this guy on the bike who got hit started the fight. I don't think most peoples first reaction after acidentally hitting someone with their car is to jump out and start beating the victim. I grant you the guy had a right to mad after getting hit with a car, who wouldn't be but he probably should have had the sense not not try and fight four guys at once. I guess he bit off more than he could chew and then got beat down. Those guys in the camaro should have had some sense to though, they are going to be in serious trouble if they are caught. Hopefully they will be and get what's coming to them, I think the guy on the cyclist probably already got what was coming to him though. I don't feel to sorry for either party.

  • ladida

    hey Doug did you even read the article? the passengers started beating the bystander who was calling the cops. I feel sorry for your mom.

  • Gianni

    Seems like the same sort of ridiculous online squabbles that we get in Sydney (Australia) between bike and car advocates.
    I think we all have to realise 2 basic issues in new bike cultures such as in Oz & North America:
    1. bikes are way more vulnerable than cars. Riders will die and have died.
    2. that the 3 groups: cars. bikes and pedestrians need to share the space. That includes not abusing each other.
    In the case of the bike rider in this accident – sure he yelled etc but I know when some thing like that happens up goes the adrenaline levels out comes the fear and anger. Its hugely assaulting to get in a head on with a car. Riders usually calm down if the driver apologises. And I also agree that there are two issues here: the rider was run down in a lane and his buddy was assaulted because he tried to do the right thing. So aggro!

  • Gianni

    Oh and I forgot.. just a little point following on from Steve above. There are some good and some totally awful riders AND drivers out there. Not willfully negligent most of the time but this is not the point here. A guy riding legally was hit by a negligent driver – which was compounded by his friend being beaten up for doing the right thing. We get the same aggro here in Australia.

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