No, You Don’t Need to Bring a Gun on Your Bike Ride

This article originally appeared on Outside

On a frigid Saturday night a decade or so ago, I was pedaling my bike back to my apartment in Manhattan when I heard someone yelling at me. "Hey p—y," the voice shouted. "Yeah, I'm talkin’ to you." I swiveled around and saw a blue sedan with New Jersey plates rolling a few feet from my rear wheel. Some bro in a backward baseball cap was leaning out the driver's side window, trash talking me like Kevin Garnett berating a rookie. I pretended to ignore him and kept riding, only to see the car pull up alongside me. "I know you can see me," he taunted, revving his engine.

Rage bubbled up through my veins. My heart rate spiked. I was furious. When the car edged closer, I swerved and kicked the headlight as hard as I could. Plastic crumbled and the car slowed. Then, I heard it accelerate, this time toward me.

I went into full attack mode. I squeezed my brakes and watched the car zoom past and screech to a stop. I reached down and unclipped a steel U-lock from my frame. Wielding the hunk of metal like some type of urban boomerang, I hurled it with all of my might. It thudded off the trunk and up into the rear window, which shattered into a billion pieces. I heard the guy bellow a string of insults that would make any bridge-and-tunnel bro beam with pride as I pedaled the opposite direction down a one-way street, disappearing into the dark. I never saw the bro again.

Memories of this unfortunate moment popped into my mind as I read a recent Triathlete story ("Should You Carry a Gun While Training?") about a cyclist named James Whelan who calls himself "Armed Cyclist," and apparently packs heat on his rides around South Florida. Of course Whelan is an online influencer, and he maintains a thriving presence on YouTube, where he films his various encounters with bewildered cops and curious passers by.

Some of his safety tips are pretty funny: his bike is equipped with enough high-powered blinky lights to give those riding behind him a sunburn. But Whelan also gives somewhat cryptic advice on how to carry a gun while riding. "I carry two self-defense tools that shoot projectiles," he says in one video, pointing to a hip holster. "My recommendation is to get trained in the art of self-defense at least once a month if you're going to carry major self-defense tools with you." Whelan repeatedly says that arming yourself on the bike will prevent encounters with road raging drivers.

Whelan is not alone--there are multiple websites that offer advice for how cyclists can exercise their rights under concealed and carry laws. The sage wisdom is to buy a high-retention holster that keeps the firearm snug on your hip, preventing it from accidentally going off and shooting you, because yeah, that might happen. "For instance, a revolver is not an ideal concealed carry gun because it can lead to an accidental discharge if you land on it," reads one site.

OK, back to my anecdote involving the hurled lock. Look, I wish I had the calm and mature demeanor to simply bite my upper lip and walk away from situations like the one I had a decade ago. I've been to therapy and I'm working on becoming an enlightened and self-actuated member of society. But I'm not there yet. I can still transform into a raging lunatic at times--specifically when some jerk driver messes with me on my bike. Had I been carrying a gun during my moment of rage years ago, I probably would have emptied the clip into the windshield, which means I'd likely be writing pithy takes from a cell in Rikers right now. And that ugly encounter is hardly the only one I've had with drivers. Over the years I've been sideswiped, t-boned, intimidated, and buzzed too many times to count. If I rode with a gun, I might be responsible for multiple crimes.

I know I'm not the only cyclist who can come unglued in moments of driver aggression. The whole scenario makes me fear a dystopian future in which more bicyclists follow Whelan's lead and arm themselves while riding. Even if a tiny portion of American bicyclists started carrying guns, a certain percentage of them would have the same impulse-control problems that I struggle with. And as much as I hope that society is working to diminish the frequency of car-bike conflicts--because the cyclist always ends up on the losing end--I also know that crashes and carelessness will continue to happen. What does this mean? Thousands of angry and armed bicyclists, hopped up on post-crash adrenaline, will be roaming the streets looking for a fight.

Cyclists, I'm begging you: don't carry a gun when you ride. Read the Triathlete piece, as it offers alternatives to guns for protecting yourself like pepper spray, video cameras, and alarms. There's plenty of research out there to debunk the "good guy with a gun" myth, which is one argument that gun advocates use to justify carrying a loaded weapon in polite society. The number of justifiable gun homicides is tiny when compared with that of gun-related suicides and murders. More people die from accidental shootings than are killed by gun-wielding heroes. In a study of 249 mass shootings, researchers found just 12 instances in which a citizen with a gun was able to successfully kill or wound a suspect. Meanwhile, you don't have to search too hard to find stories of make-my-day situations gone wrong. This one happened in 2021 near the high school I attended in Colorado.

I don't care how mature or careful you are--all it takes is one careless moment with a gun to do irreparable damage. You don't even need to shoot someone. Back in 2017, an American pro cyclist named Danny Summerhill was on a training ride in the foothills of Colorado. For whatever reason Summerhill brought a handgun with him on the ride, and at some point he stopped on a rural road, and fired three times into a hillside. He'd later tell officers that he'd had a bad day and just needed to blow off some steam.

It turns out there were homes and condos on the hill, and a neighbor called the cops. Summerhill was booked for criminal charges, and he lost his job on the pro cycling team. At the time, he was one of the top up-and-coming racers in North America, and the incident likely stopped his progression in the sport.

Summerhill suffered a moment of extreme stupidity--but he had access to a gun. My interaction was far more heated and violent, but I did not. Had Summerhill chucked a lock at the hillside, he might be racing the Tour de France. Both Summerhill and myself are flawed humans, who make mistakes and act recklessly. My own history with bikes and anger makes me wonder whether Whelan and the other gun-toting cyclists out there are, indeed, perfect examples of humanity who will never suffer a lapse in judgment or a moment of unfettered rage. Let's hope so.

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