So… what did you get up to last weekend? Probably nothing like what the founder of Skatterbrane (Guitar) Pickups, Rod Kinkade, did. He lost his temper with a group of professional cyclists who were out on a training ride and he rammed one of them with his Oldsmobile Aurora, nearly killing the victim. It was completely unprovoked and he would have gotten away with it if a couple of brilliant men hadn’t run him down and brought him to justice. Now he’s been charged with felony assault. He admitted to the incident, and he’s going down, make no mistake about it.
It’s also possible that none of the above is true.
As some of you know, your humble author competed in various cycling disciplines for twenty years, including a decade as a professional BMX racer. Although I rode on the road for years and have completed over a dozen “centuries”, I never fully settled in with the roadie mentality. Many road riders are great pals and fun people. Some of them, however, are passive-aggressive whiners who are forever complaining about everything from the weather to the use of Biopace chainrings in a paceline, to name just two things I heard bitched about continually when I did winter training rides in the Eighties with a Biopace-equipped Cannondale SR500. BMX and mountain bikers tend to be pretty regular guys, with high pain tolerances and a certain joie de vivre, but the hardcore roadies are often really nasty, picky, bitchy little people.
I’ve written the above paragraph so you understand my prejudices here. I’ve ridden literally tens of thousands of miles in pacelines and I’ve witnessed cyclists take offense at innocuous or accidental actions on the part of drivers more times than I can easily recall. I’ve been struck by cars and trucks five times during my career, including one particularly nasty leg-and-neck-breaker of a hit in 1988, so I understand why cyclists are defensive and hypersensitive when it comes to interacting with cars, but for every genuinely dangerous or offensive action on the part of a motorist, I saw ten cases of overreaction and deliberate trouble-seeking by roadies. The majority of the trouble I saw between drivers and riders was in large part actively sought-out by the riders. I realize that’s not a terribly PC thing to say in the era of Critical Mass, but it’s true in my personal and extensive experience.
Tyler Wren is a 31-year-old pro road cyclist and cyclocrosser. At 5’11” and 145 pounds, he’s very much the prototype of the modern roadie and when I was racing pro BMX at 6’2″ and 210 it was my pleasure to wipe little people like that off mountain bike trails with my elbows. Nevertheless, he’s well-respected within the sport and he earns a buck riding, which is extremely hard to do. Last week, he published a blog entry which quickly went viral. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
We departed for our ill-fated training ride on Friday at 10:00 a.m., headed out of town on Valencia Road, a common thoroughfare with a generous shoulder bounded by a white line. The 15-rider group was riding two-abreast in a long line, as far to the right as possible, in full accordance with Arizona traffic law. Our team’s strength and conditioning coach Todd Herriott and I were on the front, he on my left, closest to the passing traffic. Kinkade’s tan Oldsmobile Aurora suddenly and violently impacted Todd’s left side. He and I crashed hard on the front of the group as Mr. Kinkade sped away. My teammates also reported that Mr. Kinkade was shouting obscenities at us during the attack through his open car window.
Wren then tells a tale of using chase cars and long-lens cameras to nail the perpetrator. Based on the presented evidence and testimony from the riders, the police arrested Rodney Kinkade of Tuscon, AZ. Mr. Kinkade is apparently facing felony charges. Sounds reasonable and fair, right?
The cycling and music communities of the Internet aren’t exactly two separate circles on a Venn diagram so it was quickly assumed that “Rodney Kinkade” of Tuscon was the Rod Kinkade of Tuscon who operates Skatterbrane Pickups. Mr. Kinkade winds replacement guitar pickups for
people who are too stupid, cheap, or plain ignorant to buy Throbaks musicians who want a vintage sound. Over the past week, Mr. Kinkade’s business has reportedly come to a halt as people spread the word of his unprovoked assault across the musicians’ forums. He’s been branded as a bad guy and the chorus of Internet Hammurabian Justice has called for his immediate shaming/beating/death/whatevs.
Mr. Kinkade has yet to respond to any of those claims anywhere with a resounding “Hey, guys, it wasn’t me,” so maybe the Detectives of the Internet were right. Or he’s in a vacation cabin somewhere with a spool of 42 AWG wire and hasn’t heard anything about it. Either way, he’s taking a heck of a hit right now in an economy that’s already stumbling in ways that are too obvious for our tame media to deny.
Let’s assume that Rod and Rodney are one and the same, as seems likely. Does he deserve to be convicted of the most malicious possible interpretation of events, without benefit of investigation or trial? What if he simply was moving back into the lane and made a mistake? What if Todd The Cyclist drifted further to the left and participated in the responsibility for the impact? Mr. Wren’s unambiguous in his sentence of guilt, but a couple of problems with his story are immediately apparent to my cycling mind:
- “The 15-rider group was riding two-abreast in a long line, as far to the right as possible, in full accordance with Arizona traffic law.” That’s another way of saying: We were aggressively occupying the lane and spread out wide. Double pacelines, and wide double pacelines in particular, are one of the completely unnecessary passive-aggressive maneuvers roadies love to pull. On a massive ride like RAGBRAI or TOSRV, double and even triple pacelines are common because the road is so crowded with bikes. For a 15-person training ride, it was unnecessary. From the perspective of approaching motorists, the cyclists were probably taking up most of the road and obscuring vision as well as making it difficult to get by. While Arizona law may permit double-filing, it almost certainly set the conditions for the incident.
- The claim that Kinkade began yelling and acting aggressively without provocation. This rings false. Very few people just start screaming at cyclists from nowhere, and from what Mr. Kinkade’s friends are saying about him, this was a gentle and devoted musician, not some inbred hick with a chip on his shoulder about Lycra and Rudy Project sunglasses. Naturally, all fifteen of the riders immediately agreed that Kinkade acted in an unprovoked manner. They’re a team. Professional cycling teams are close-knit organizations capable of telling a uniformly consistent lie about far more complex issues than this. Ask Lance Armstrong. The ring of truth concerning how the incident started is conspicuous by its absence. It’s frankly unlikely that Kinkade simply drove up and started abusing the riders. In relating the incident, Wren himself wrote, “Mr. Kinkade underestimated the cohesiveness and capability of the Jamis squad.” Indeed. Or perhaps the police did.
- The team’s chase cars tracked down and photographed multiple cars. The photographs were shown to the team, which identified Kinkade’s car after an unspecified amount of effort. It seems unlikely that this step was necessary, unless some sort of consensus-building was taking place. Take it from me: twenty-five years after being hit by a Mac lumber truck, I could pick that lumber truck out of a parking lot, freeway photo, or junkyard at a distance. That kind of thing tends to stick in the mind.
- Mr. Wren states “…the unprovoked attack by Mr. Kinkade was wholly unnecessary. I understand that cyclists sometimes slow traffic, which can annoy motorists, but we share just as much right to the use of roadway, and no amount of annoyance or delay could justify an assault with a 4,000-pound weapon like his Oldsmobile” That’s not the kind of thing you say unless you gave the man a pretty fair share of annoyance and delay.
Let’s play Monday morning quarterback on this, just for the hell of it. I wasn’t there, but based on the numerous similar incidents I’ve witnessed, my guess is that it went something like this:
- Kinkade drove up behind the Jamis team, which was occupying the entire lane and pacing at about 22-26mph. Not bad for bikes, but very slow for the open roads of Arizona.
- Kinkade was unable to pass for some period of time due to the double paceline. Not being acquainted with the roadie mindset regarding road use, he may have found the double-file rather difficult to understand.
- He hit the horn or pulled out for a pass.
- One of the team members took offense at Kinkade’s behavrior and flipped him off or started yelling at him. Again, this is something I saw happen again and again: motorist is impatient or stupid, cyclist takes it as deliberate attempted murder and responds with a harridan’s shriek.
- And it escalated from there.
Mr. Kinkade should make sure he has a good attorney, because otherwise he’s going to serve time for being half of an incident that, despite Mr. Wren’s protestations that his fancy Lycra outfit was “shredded”, injured no one seriously and had no consequences other than a damaged bike and a scratched door. The justice system is unlikely to consider that the testimony of a unified and cohesive cycling team really shouldn’t count for much more than the testimony of a single rider. He’s in a lot of trouble.
Ironically, Mr. Skatterbrane probably would have gotten away clean if he’d simply aimed his Aurora at the back of the group and floored the throttle. The resulting carnage would have destroyed anybody’s ability or willingness to chase him down and/or take any incriminating photos. His mistake may have been acting in an insufficiently violent fashion. Any motorist who finds himself in this kind of situation should probably make sure there’s only side of the story left to tell.
Given that I’m hoping to do a couple of long road rides this year, however, I’m hoping nobody else feels that way. I’ve been hit by enough cars, trucks, beer cans, eggs, and bags of trash already. I’ve also used the steel pegs of my skatepark bike to take a fair amount of urban revenge in stoplight to stoplight situations. None of that’s any good, really. The cyclist/motorist relationship works best when both sides are respectful and courteous. In today’s social environment, however, the chances of that respect and courtesy being mutually extended seem to be as slim as a roadie in his blood-doping prime.