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