Written by: Greg Ellifritz
I was on my favorite bike path last week when I noticed that there was an incredible increase in the number of cyclists as compared to the times before Covid-19. Even though the trail is very wide, at times there were traffic jams as bicyclists filled every foot of the trail’s width. I had never seen so many bikes at that location.
It turns out that Covid-19 was great for bicycle sales. Industry insiders call last year the “Great Bicycle Boom” and note that bike trails are currently running with three times more traffic than in the days before Covid-19. During the height of the pandemic, everyone bought new bike. All of those people are now breaking the bikes out of the garage for spring/summer exercise and recreation.
I wrote last week about the disturbing trend of large groups of violent teens wreaking havoc on urban areas as police officers are discouraged from taking enforcement action and breaking up these massively dangerous groups.
Those facts got me thinking about the probabilities of these two trends merging in the near future. Not everyone rides single track or on deserted bike paths. Lots of people commute to work in busy cities on their bikes. Urban residents ride their bikes for exercise in and around parks where many of the violent attacks take place. Undoubtedly, we will eventually see news of bicycle commuters being accosted by the violent teen gangs looking to start trouble in urban public spaces.
Have you ever thought about how you might best defend yourself while bicycling? If you are attacked while cycling, the criminal(s)’ motivations could be simply robbery or sexual assault. That’s a horrible prospect to consider. But it may be even worse to encounter a group of teens out “wilding”and face the prospect of getting punched, bludgeoned, or stomped by a group numbering 50+ members. The article below identifies some specialized bike issues for you cyclists. The tactics can be used to respond/prevent attacks by both individuals and larger groups.
Bicycle commuters and recreational cyclists are particularly vulnerable in isolated areas and urban locations where groups of teens gather. Traditional firearms and self-defense training doesn’t cover the situations in which cyclists might find themselves. Some specialized awareness and training is necessary.
For the record, I am not a bicycle commuter. I ride mountain bikes recreationally and have served as a bike patrol officer for my police agency. I also taught the firearms and self-defense portion of our state’s police cyclist certification class for several years. Although I don’t ride my bike every day, I’m aware of the specialized training that cyclists need.
Even if you don’t use your bike to commute to work, you can still benefit from some of these safety ideas. They may be useful even if you are just an occasional recreational cyclist. Some of my tips may also be useful for your children. Share them with your kids if you think the material is age appropriate.
1) Traditional holsters don’t work well for concealed carry on a bicycle. If you carry your gun behind the hip (either on the belt or inside the waistband) it will print horribly when you are riding your bike in a forward leaning posture. Appendix carry is generally out because you will be poked in the thigh with the muzzle on every pedal stroke. Ankle holsters are not feasible because they will bang on the frame or sprocket of the bike as you ride. To add even more commentary, how long hs it been that you have ridden a bicycle wearing pants with belt loops and a belt? Belt-mounted carry is more challenging when you aren’t wearing one.
The weapon will also be exposed to much more moisture than the average concealed carry gun. No matter whether the moisture comes in the form of rain or sweat, it will mess up a blued gun’s finish. The gun needs some extra protection.
There’s no easy answer. Shoulder holsters are an option, but I’ve never found them exceptionally comfortable. They also require a cover garment which may be uncomfortably hot while riding.
When I ride, I generally find myself carrying a Glock 26 in a fanny pack. I rotate it to the back of my body (as they were originally intended to be worn) so that it doesn’t get in the way of my pedaling. I realize this isn’t going to be an exceptionally fast draw, but it seems like the best compromise for me. I’ve also carried a small revolver or .380 automatic in a pocket holster in the thigh cargo pocket of my shorts.
I know some cyclists who carry the gun off body, but in a holster, pouch, or case mounted to the bike itself. That’s very convenient, but what do you do if you want to hop off the bike to get a drink, stop at a restaurant, or use the toilet? You don’t want to leave the gun unattended on your bike. There are a couple solutions.
If you want to use a bicycle-mounted bag, I’d take a look at buying something like the Wilderness Safepacker. That particular bag has a handle so that you can carry in your hand very easily. Some folks will just remove the Safepacker from the bike and carry it by hand rather than take the chance of it being stolen when left mounted on the bicycle.
If you are worried about being judged for carrying a “gun purse,” there are other options as well. You could carry a revolver with a clip draw attachment in the bag. If you have to leave your bike, take your revolver out of the pouch and clip it inside your waistband for carry without a holster.
You can get clip draws for semi-auto handguns, but they worry me if used in modern striker-fired autos with short and light trigger pulls. I worry about sliding a gun like that down in my pants and accidentally pulling the uncovered trigger. Rather than using the clipdraw on an auto pistol, I would use one of the old school trigger guard covers.
Something like the snap-on MIC trigger cover would be great for a gun carried in a bike bag. When you have to leave the bike, clip the cover over your trigger guard and slide the gun down inside your waistband. If you have belt loops or a belt, the string attaches there and pulls the trigger cover off during a normal draw stroke. If carrying without a belt, you will have to physically remove the trigger cover before shooting.
If you find the right gun/holster/pocket combination, this option can work well, but it will likely take some intense experimentation. One caution…magazine release buttons on semi-automatic pistols get pushed quite often when cycling. Pocket holsters are notorious for creating this problem. Make sure that your magazine stays in the gun after all types of exertion and movement.
2) Beware of potential ambush sites. Many bike paths travel through densely wooded areas. They often have curves, blind corners, and poorly maintained brush near the trail. Many times thieves, rapists, and robbers use these terrain features to their advantage in order to construct an ambush-style attack.
If I wanted to rob a bike commuter, I would find a place on a bike trail with a blind corner and set up some type of roadblock. A large tree limb, log, or rock can easily be placed in the path. If it is placed shortly after a blind corner, the cyclist may crash into it if he is moving at any speed. Even if the cyclist doesn’t crash, he’ll have to stop and move the obstacle in order to continue. When the biker either crashes or stops to move the obstacle, my buddies and I jump him.
Another option is exploiting any location where the underbrush is close to the path. The robber can hide in the brush and shove a stick into your spokes as you ride by. When you crash, he steals your bike and wallet.
Look for those areas on your route and either avoid them or be extra cautious there. Keep your eyes on the trail ahead. If you see an obstacle, either turn around or quickly dismount. Scan the areas around the obstacle for potential hiding spots and attackers. Access your weapon and be ready to fight if you are attacked.
3) Use caution when riding on roadways. Besides the normal hazards that sharing the road with cars provide, some criminals will use their vehicles to assault bicycle riders to facilitate their crimes. A few years ago, a kidnapper in Louisiana saw an attractive young woman riding her bicycle alone at night. He followed the girl in his truck, and when he saw an opportunity, he struck her with the vehicle. After she fell to the ground, the kidnapper approached her with a knife and forced her into the truck. The 19-year old girl fought back vigorously, spraying him with pepper spray and stabbing him with his own knife, but the man drew a gun and killed her.
Be especially aware of anyone who may be following you. Bikes move slower than cars. If a car is intentionally traveling behind you and not attempting to pass, take that as a warning sign. Get off the road and into the grass where a vehicle will have more difficulty following. Having mirrors on your bike or helmet are useful in detecting when a car may be following you.
4) Speed is your friend. Maneuverability and rapid acceleration from a dead stop is not. If you have forewarning of a potential problem, speed up. Don’t slow down. A bicycle moving at full speed is very difficult for a running human to catch. If you slow down, you are playing the on the criminal’s turf. A slowly moving bike is less maneuverable and lacks quick acceleration. If you slow to walking pace, you are better off dismounting than trying to quickly accelerate to get away.
5) Use your bike as a barrier, a weapon, or a distraction. If you have to dismount, keep the bicycle between yourself and you potential attackers. If they move to grab you, push the bike into them and either access your weapon or run the opposite way. This technique works surprisingly well at buying yourself a couple of extra seconds in a critical incident.
6) Learn to access your weapon and shoot from the “crash position”. If your luck is anything like mine, you will crash before you have a chance to draw your weapon in a dangerous situation. Can you draw your weapon of choice while laying on the ground in a heap with the bike on top of you? You may have to learn how to do it. Get to your back and push the bike away from you with your feet as you draw. Once the bike is away from your legs, work your way into a standing/fighting position and seek cover.
If you have a range where you can shoot from the crash position, I’d encourage you to do so. If not, work on dryfiring from the position in any private location. An airsoft gun and a few cardboard targets in your back yard may be a good substitute for live fire if you don’t have access to a private outdoor range.
7) Don’t try to stop and draw at the same time. Stop your bike first, THEN draw your weapon. This is primarily for you right handed riders. If you try to draw the gun with your right hand while simultaneously applying the brake with your left, what do you think will happen? You’ll lock up the front brake and go head first over your handlebars. That’s not a good thing in any situation, but it’s really bad when you have a gun in your hand.
This is one of the hardest lessons to teach cyclists who carry guns. They see a threat and are programmed to draw their gun. They draw and end up on the ground and are lucky if they don’t shoot themselves in the process. Stop first. Then draw. Some of my more serious cycling firearms students have actually switched their hand brakes. They make the right brake slow the front tire and the left brake slow the rear. That’s one option that will keep you from going over the handlebars when you are a right handed rider and forget to stop before trying to draw.
8) Consider mounting a weapon to your bike. Even if you carry a gun, having a backup or less lethal weapon makes a lot of sense. Many cyclists I know carry a folding knife clipped into the waistband of their pants (I like the Spyderco Salt because of its sweat resistance).
Several companies make pepper spray carry holsters that attach to your bike’s frame. I even know one cyclist who uses a tire pump mount to carry an ASP expandable baton. Be creative. I’m sure you can figure out a way to carry a weapon on the bike. Just make sure that weapon is secured if you have to lock your bike up and leave it in a public location.
If you want a very low-profile weapon, purchase one of the heavy metal U-shaped bike locks and mount it to your frame. You can strike an attacker with the heavy U-lock in a swinging/pivoting manner like the old school PR-24-style police batons. Hold the lock by the curved portion of the “U”. Strike the bad guy with the straight section of the lock with a pivoting strike from high to low or side to side.
9) If you dismount, unbuckle your helmet. A buckled helmet makes it very easy for an attacker to control your movements. The attacker can just grab your helmet and drag your head down. Where the head goes, the body follows. I’ve dragged 250 lb. bike cops around by their helmets all day long while teaching police bike school. When someone grabs your buckled helmet, it’s scary how much control they have over you. Make it a habit to unbuckle your helmet whenever you step off your bike.
10) Exhaustion will be a factor if you have to fight. I remember responding to an “officer in trouble” call one night when I was on bike patrol. It was a busy 4th of July and our city’s fireworks show was just ending. Traffic was snarled and none of the patrol cruisers could get through it. During this mess, one of my fellow officers was trying to arrest a drunk driver. The drunk driver was fighting and the officer was in a bad spot. He was calling for help, but none of the cruisers could get to him.
I was about two miles away on my police bike. I rode there as fast as I could and was the first officer to arrive on scene to help. I jumped off my bike and tried to run over to help my coworker, but my legs wouldn’t cooperate. I fell down in a heap. I had to crawl over to the fighting drunk, take him to the ground and lay on him until other officers arrived. That’s all I was physically capable of doing. And that was after a short five minute bike sprint. Imagine how much a long training ride would diminish your ability to fight.
Physically exhausted victims are generally more justified in escalating force during an attack. Realize that after cycling, you may have far less fighting energy than you would have if you were fresh. Plan accordingly. If you can’t control your attacker or escape, you should be considering higher levels of force before you become so exhausted that you can’t even access your weapon.
If you spend a lot of time on a bike, you owe it to yourself to learn some specific bicycle related defensive skills. Take your bike and your preferred weapon out for a practice session. Keep these tips in mind as you formulate a defensive strategy. I don’t want to see your name in a future news article describing yet another horrific attack on a bicyclist.