Morales: Young Man Killed During Critical Mass Lesson Learned, or Not?

Riders gather at the end of an Eastside Bike Club/Salesian Boys and Girls Club garden tour. Photo via Carlos Morales

(Following this weekend’ high profile crash and fatality at Critical Mass, there’s bound to be some discussion of fixed gears, “brakeless bikes” and helmet usage. Here at Streetsblog, we don’t want to run away from the controversy or try and tell you how to think so we decided to run a series on the issue(s) raised by the events of the last 96 hours. If you would like to chime in, feel free to do so in the comments section, or if you are interested in publishing your own op/ed, drop me an email at damien@streetsblog.org – DN) 

The news of a tragic bike accident during Critical Mass last week traveled at lighting speeds through Facebook, Twitter and text messages.

When I received the news of the crash, minutes after it occurred, my initial feeling was, I hope everyone makes it out ok.  The next thing that rushed to my head was, I bet it was someone on a fixed gear / fixie / or single speed bike, without brakes, and my third thought was, were these cyclist wearing a helmets?

Some may ask, why I would rush to these conclusions or questions so quickly?  In my experience, most bike accidents that are happening involve the types of bikes I mentioned above.  As an avid cyclist and reporter, I hit the streets on my bicycle. I have come across several bike accidents during my travels, and have spoken to several law enforcement officials from many municipalities, other cyclist, bicycle attorneys and even insurance companies.  They all agree that an overwhelming number of bike accidents that are occurring could have been avoided if the cyclist could of stop and control their bikes.

Incident after incident, Auto VS Bike, Bike VS Bike or Bike VS Pedestrian, A good percentage of accidents could have been avoided.

Not being able to stop is as irresponsible as a drunk motorist driving a car!

If you take out a fellow cyclist and he or she is injured or dies because you can’t stop or injure a pedestrian for the same reason, it is just not right. We as cyclist must take responsibility and think of what dangers we put ourselves and fellow bike riders in.  I realize that these are harsh words to say to fellow cyclist who enjoy the freedom of riding a bike as much as I do.   I may not become very popular saying these things, but someone has to step up and tell it like it is.

Not wearing a helmet?

Come on guys. Most people that aren’t wearing helmets aren’t wearing them because of cost.. Coming from LA’s Eastside, I personally know the financial challenges our community members face. I do realize that there are some riders that truly can not afford them.  However, most of the people who decide not to wear a helmet is by choice and just to be cool.  I have seen people receive helmets for free and refuse to wear them.

I have also seen cyclist getting hurt, way to often, week after week.  Most people reading this post will agree that they know of someone that has been hurt in an bike accident because (1) they could not stop, and (2) they were not wearing a helmet.  I am not talking about incidents where a motorist are actually at fault, by being distracted by a cell phone, text messages or just simply not paying attention to the road.

In 2009 a debate broke out over this picture of Enci Box riding without a helmet. The irony is she never rides without a helmet and just took it off for this picture. Read more at ##http://illuminatela.com/sharon-mcnary-from-kpcc-has-it-all-wrong/##Illuminate LA##

After they get injured, some see the light and value their life a lot more and start to wear a helmet.  I have several friends that can testify that I request them to wear a helmet for years, and it was not until they had a bad fall, some losing consciousness or getting a concussion that they realize maybe its not a bad idea, for others it may take actually seeing a bad accident that will change their minds about wearing a helmet.

Unfortunately, for young Jerico Culata it’s too late.

I mean no disrespect to my fellow cyclist, or to Jerico or his family or his friends, I did not have the pleasure of meeting him.

I have attended several Critical Mass rides over the years and wrote a post about “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Critical Mass Rides” several years ago.  I even have led these rides a couple of times and have friends who have as well.

Although some things have been addressed to make these rides safer, others have been ignored.  We, as cyclists and activists, have to rethink what we are doing to ourselves and to the bike culture.  Over the years we have made several big strides creating  change in the way cities, counties, states and nations address cyclist concerns.  There are several cities around the world now working on bike master plans to improve the bike transportation infrastructure.

It is not COOL when you get in an accident!

It is not cool to place fellow cyclist in danger because you can not control your bike!

It is not cool to leave family members and friends with the pain of losing you because you did not want to wear a helmet.

It is not cool to become a quadriplegic or brain dead!

Enough is enough, instead of blaming someone, let’s concentrate our efforts on looking at ourselves, and lets move forward.

SO IF EVERYONE REALLY CARES, LETS DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

We can regulate ourselves, or someone will do it for us – It’s our choice.

In the spirit of enjoying the freedom of riding a bike, and celebrating life and the friends we meet on a bike and in honor of Jerico, let’s create a movement to wear helmets and to add brakes to your bikes.

We all have family that we care about, and we all LOVE RIDING BIKES.

Why do we continue to hurt the things we love?

Look at the pain Jerico’s family is going through… It is up to us…

How many more Jerico’s do we have to lose before we decide to change things around?

This an opportunity to change things around, so – LESSON LEARNED OR NOT?

LET’S DO THIS!

(Carlos Morales is the founder of the Eastside Bike Club and Voice Community News Papers)

 

  • Erik Griswold

    Helmets are only rated to about 15 mph. They will not make a difference in most of the crashes that bicycle riders endure. Wear one if you like, but don’t ever think that helmet can or will protect you.

  • tired of this crap

    15 mph? That’s great! I had no idea helmets were that good. I ride about 10mph (I am a daily bike commuter) and I’m faster than most other commuters. Glad to hear those of us with sense have our brains protected. But hey, dude, your choice, obviously. 

  • I know that there’s a strong anti-helmet sentiment among urban cyclists. Because we’re all young and indestructible, right? 

    When I was 16, I got into a bike accident, no helmet, and spent a week in the hospital with a minor brain hemorrhage. I don’t care if you think it’s uncool to wear a helmet. I’m wearing mine. 

  • Bikeshare Friend

    Helmets are part of an overall prevention, avoidance, and mitigation plan in regards to collisions.

    You prevent collisions by holding your line, taking the lane as necessary and legally required, and being generally visible and predictable on the road.

    You avoid potential collisions whose situations you couldn’t prevent by practicing a variety of maneuvers taught by major cycling organizations.

    You mitigate the effects of a collision you were not able to prevent or avoid by knowing how to fall and having damage mitigation devices (pads, helmets,etc.).

    Most collisions and falls go unreported because they don’t include automobiles. Instead, they’re solo falls (hazards, mechanical failures, etc.) and bike/bike or bike/ped collisions.

    You are right that a helmet will not “protect” you. It will not absorb 100% of head-to-hard-object smashing, but it will reduce the effect. It mitigates the damage.

    So yes, wear one if you’d like. I do and since most people don’t know how to ride on the road or sidewalks with sufficient courtesy (thus increasing collision/fall risk), I think most people should.

  • Bikeshare Friend

    The hard part of getting people to wear helmets is getting around the obvious “nerd” factor. Those who have smashed their skulls against concrete or steel don’t care about the nerd factor as much, but pretty much everyone else does.

    Does that mean that all helmets are nerdy? Certainly not. Some make your head look like a fireball and others come in cool colors or patterns. But if you take a look at pricing, it seems like those that are affordable are to worst looking and those that look the best (and come in the most trendy of colors) are the most expensive.

    Is there a difference in the safety standards between the more expensive the less expensive models? Not really (http://www.bhsi.org/testbycost.htm). All bike helmets sold in the USA must pass the same safety tests.

    So why the difference in price? Because people will pay more for more fashionable helmets. Ya, seriously.

    I suggest that if you want to get more people to wear helmets, make pretty/cool helmets cheaper. How? No clue. =P Not many have had efforts lobbying private companies to make less profit.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I always wear a helmet myself, but I think that in many cases it’s not just about the “uncoolness” of wearing one that people refuse, but because of the inconvenience – if you’re going to do anything after you arrive, it’s an awkward object to carry around.  I normally lock mine to the bike, but I could imagine reasons why people don’t like that (ranging from rain to dogs).  Of course, this issue is much bigger for bike share – I hope to use the bike share a lot when it comes to Los Angeles, but I don’t yet have a solution to the question of how to bring my helmet conveniently and safely.

  • Bikeshare Friend

    The point of convenience is a good one. As I ride with at least one pannier to most destinations, I throw my helmet in the bag and go. When I don’t have a pannier, yes, it is genuinely awkward. I just accept it as a part of riding a bike, but I can see how it’s a significant turn off for others.

    Regarding bike helmets in bikeshare, Alta made mention of plans for a bike helmet vending machine for their Vancouver system (http://bikeportland.org/2012/06/27/alta-pitches-helmet-vending-machines-for-vancouver-bc-bike-share-73953).

  • BC

    Think about it.  Helmets should be worn for any ride that includes a fast downhill part (quite often in LA), or if you are going to ride in fast traffic (35 mph and up).   But if you are only riding flat areas (or only uphill), and only on residential streets or bike paths, then all the reasons discussed at copenhagenize.com and elsewhere for not wearing a helmet outweigh the reasons to wear one.  The chances for a crash and head injury still exist, but they are much lower and less severe, and the reasons for not wearing a helmet are the same.

  • Riding on residential streets or bike paths do not protect you from collisions, unfortunately. And it’s when you are riding at slower speeds in seemingly safe conditions that a fall, either caused by yourself or someone else, where a helmet could make a real difference between a minor accident and a head injury. 

    I’m not saying that everyone should be forced to wear a helmet. But I also disagree with the arguments put out by a lot of cycling advocates (such as Copenhagenize) which sees calls for helmets as scaring new riders away and giving the impression that cycling is a dangerous activity. 

    Think about the issue for yourself, decide what is important for you.

  • Sam

    I appreciate Morales’ perspective and appreciate his opinion on the issue. Culata’s death is both tragic and unfortunate but looking for something to blame after the fact doesn’t solve anything. Why does CM in LA even exist – why isn’t anyone asking that question? While some riders may avoid the helmet or ride fixed because of the cool factor, that is not the entire reason. Helmets aren’t designed to protect against all crashes and there is no way to determine what sort of crash one can be involved in while planning for the future. Hindsight is 20/20 but that doesn’t make for good policy decisions. ER data shows that most serious head injuries resulted from car crashes and of the tiny percentage are from bike crashes. Bike crashes however get a lot of media airplay because of the current hyper focus that we’re all involved in in highlighting bike issues to elected officials and policy makers. ER reported head injuries resulted from riding in a risky terrain or environment (mountain biking, racing, etc). I’m sure we’ve all heard of the risks associated with falling in bathtubs, down the stairs and so forth. As a culture we’ve normalized helmet wearing on bikes but not in situations where helmets may be more useful to the detriment of what is actually safe for cyclists on the streets. And the cool factor cannot be ignored. People don’t want to look like dorks. Else we’d all be walking around with padded uniforms. So while I appreciate the perspective, the message is very misdirected. My most sincere condolences to Culata’s family, but let’s keep our eye on the real problem here.

  • amanda

    Do we even know if a helmet would have prevented the injury that killed this cyclist? If we’re going to talk about helmets, let’s not give them magical protective properties they don’t actually have. Promoting a false sense of safety doesn’t really help anyone.

  • Karen

    I’ve only had to put my helmet to the test once, and it wasn’t during a crash. I had just biked a decent distance uphill in the heat without adequate hydration. I was also stressed out because my husband was in the hospital at the time, and I stopped to call him before completing my ride to the hospital. After a short amount of time on the phone, I fainted. I was a bit banged up with cuts and bruises, but my head was 100% fine and I didn’t get a concussion or anything thanks to the helmet.

    This isn’t the type of thing I ever would’ve thought would happen. It was the only time I ever fainted. But it was really a good thing I wore my helmet, otherwise perhaps we would’ve both been in the hospital. As it was, I felt awful he had to listen to me fall and be terrified for a few minutes.

    The helmet would presumably have protected my head equally had I fallen for a reason other than fainting (though the extent of protection would have been less if I was hit by a fast car, as I understand it).

    A study found that a cyclist is 14x more likely to die in a crash without a helmet than with it.

    You can’t control everything and a helmet won’t completely eliminate the risk of death or serious injury. But they can and do save lives and prevent serious head injuries.

    Be safe!

  • Davistrain

    Has there been a call to have “fixies” banned from public streets?  Just as drag racers are only allowed to run on dragstrips, should “fixies” be restricted to velodromes and other off-street locations?
     Regarding “gourd guards”  I don’t use a bicycle at this time, but if I did, I would think “better to be dorky and alive, than cool and cold.”  There was a discussion a while back about some cyclists in Portland OR who dressed like “Ninja warriors”–in black attire that was hard enough to see during the day, but almost like a “cloak of invisibility” at night.  One school of thought suggested that bicyclists should wear safety vests like road workers or train crews–one can imagine how this went over with the “hipsters”.
     
     
     
     .

  • James

    I never put on a helmet, then June 30th Coolass Mike got me a Bern 1000 Bikes helmet. The next day was the Sunday Funday beach ride, everything was going great & we made it to Santa Monica. @ 2ed & Santa Monica I had a green light. As I crossed 2ed st. A white Hummer hit me from my left side. The driver stoped, got out & said he was looking across the outher way & did not see me. I was hurt but I am here to ride another day because of a helmet.

  • James

    Everything on here is about helmets, what about fixies?

    Equipment Requirements. VC 21201

    a) No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make one braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

  • Wanderer

    There’s no logic to the argument that helmets don’t protect against all accidents, therefore they’re worthless. That’s a bit like saying, well, some types of flu resistant vaccines, therefore a flu shot is useless to me. As is obvious from this thread, helmets importantly protect cyclists from some potentially serious injuries.

    Riding on a class one bike path unfortunately isn’t a guarantee of safety. A friend of mine was hit, fortunately not serious, when she rode a class one pathway across a major arterial. I’ve heard bike planners say that this type of accident is a serious concern overall. 

  • Douglas Forrest

    First off, let me give my condolences to Jerico’s family, this will be a difficult time for them. Rest assured your son is asleep and at rest. This story shakes me for many reasons, one of which is the bizarre finger pointing by so many “bloggers” with little knowledge of what really happened. This was an accident plain and simple. It is not to be blamed on “fixed gear” bikes or lack of helmets on a fun ride. When we were all children we did many irresponsible things and lived to tell about them and sometimes we got hurt and learned a lesson. People die from car accidents, drug and alcohol abuse and countless wars sponsored by our own governments, so everyone take a breath and remember that Jerico was doing something he loved to do. I am a middle aged bike messenger with 15 years under my belt and have seen horrific things on the streets including my best friends dying from vehicular related accidents. Negligent or not they were always doing what they loved and to try to take away that one freedom is wrong. I think it was H.G Wells who said “When I see an adult riding a bicycle, I regain my hope for humanity.” Stop the nitpicking. Yes, I ride a track bike on the streets on a daily basis for a living and I am a professional who has learned how to use it with discipline and a deep respect for the traffic around me. I wear a helmet but didn’t always. I have learned my own lessons. Give these youths on bikes a chance to learn theirs, because first and foremost they are enjoying life and not submitting to other pressures like violence and apathy. Jerico was truly alive before he passed away. 

  • PC

     This (Douglas Forrest’s response to the article, I mean; certainly not the article itself) is actually among the vanishingly few non-inane responses that I’ve read in the last few days concerning this accident.  Thanks for writing it.

  • Ubrayj02

    Helmet safety campaigns have been proven, time and again in countries around the world to do one thing: they discourage bike use.

    The risks of not riding (i.e. living a sedentary life) are worse than the risks of riding helmetless.

  • Ubrayj02

    How about we just ban everything else from the road except fixies? I mean, we’re just throwing out reasonable ideas here, right?

  • Roadblock

    Do we have an official cause of death for this incident? 

  • Why is it assumed that in every single instance the cyclist is assumed exclusively at fault?  This blame-the-victim mentality is rampant among law enforcement even before they have all the facts.  You can’t trust anything they say when it comes to cyclists vs. motor vehicles. Case in point:  I wear a helmet when I ride.  I was hit in a crosswalk at a red light by an SUV that failed to see me ::IN THE CROSSWALK IMMEDIATELY IN FRONT OF HIM:: because he was too busy worrying about making his right hand turn on the red.  I was hauled off in an ambulance to the ER with a concussion, some busted ribs, multiple abraisons/bruises and enough road rash on my knees that the scarring would make Frankenstein blush.  The cop who took the report was heavily biased in favor of the driver and concluded that I obviously must have been negligent before he even had my side of the story.

     

  • Bikesinla

    No Don,
    Nothing has been released that I am aware of…

  • Bikesinla

    Amanda, so how do you feel about riding without brakes? Talking about a False sense of safety – How many people do you know or heard of being involved in an accident because they could not stop?

  • Bikesinla

    What do you have to say about riding without brakes?

  • Bikesinla

    POB,
    I’m not blaming the victim – I’m not saying wearing a helmet would have changed the outcome…. Asking myself those questions so quickly was solely based on my experience during Critical Mass Rides, over several years. Most of the cyclist having accidents during these rides is because they could not stop, and either hit another cyclist, a automobile or a structure. The majority of these accidents involved bikes without brakes.

    Yes, I agree for the most part the Law Enforcement has a bias AGAINST cyclist, I have seen it first hand many times, but I have also intervened to make sure the documentation of a collision is correct.

    Again, I am not blaming the victim, I’m just trying to create a safer environment for cyclist.

  • calwatch

    The fixie brakeless movement is something that’s new to me. So you bikers can look down on me with a $150 folding bike, or even with a, god-forbid, “bike shaped object” procured from Costco (which at least will let me return it at any time if I am dissatisfied with the product), but you ride without brakes down a hill. That’s nuts.

  • Bikeshare Friend

    Ubrayj02 – *Mandatory* helmet use has proven to reduce ridership. Suggesting people wear helmets have done no such thing.

  • Bikeshare Friend

    There has been no call to make fixies illegal, but the CVC does state that your bike is required to have a brake that allows you to skid on level, dry concrete. This is an old standard to show working brakes because, as many know, if you’re skidding, you’re not stopping as efficiently as possible.

    To date, no-brake fixie riders have asserted that their legs are their brakes and any fixie worth his/her salt can lean forward, lock that rear wheel, and skid to a (slow) stop. In my opinion, that meets the legal requirements, but it doesn’t meet the spirit of the law.

    If the law is ever changed to require that all bikes have *mechanical* brakes, there may be an uproar, but I’m pretty sure there would be fewer fixies “oops” on the road.

  • Bikeshare Friend

    Where’d you find a $150 folding bike?!

  • Dot

    2 great examples:
    I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in a Los Angeles bicycle club and was around when helmets came out. One of our members REFUSED to wear it and I remember he was killed when he had a (non motor vehicle) accident and died of massive head injuries. 

    My mom and dad rode until they were 80years old and rode fixed wheel bikes WITH brakes. Then brakeless bikes were for racing on the track NOT the road. When my dad was 65yo, he hit a cement rock at 35mph and went careening into a fire hydrant. Broke his helmet but just got a concussion. 

    My sympathies to Jerico’s family and friends. I lost my only daughter to a unknown virus and it is the worst things in the world to experience.

    Cyclists out there BE SAFE!!!

  • Kenny Easwaran

     One important point this blog has made many times in the past is that many things we call “accidents” are really perfectly predictable.  When you move two tons of steel at 55 mph and don’t give people a safe place to cross, you’re bound to get deaths at some point.  When you design streets for cars rather than people, you’re bound to get crashes.  We should think about what other design features there are that encourage crashes, whether of cars or bikes.  There may be a way in which lack of brakes is different from poor roadway design in the benefits that it has and the way it leads to crashes, but I don’t see the difference right now.

  • BC

     “riding without brakes”  — very very not smart

  • stupid posts are bad anytime, but on the heels of a death, stupid, poor taste, and worse.

  • Bikesinla

    Peter,
    What’s wrong with trying to save another family from going through this grief?

  • I’m sorry for Jerico’s family. Not only was he riding a bike without a helmet or brakes, someone (a fellow “RIDA” perhaps?) stole his bike as he lay dead on the ground. 
    http://mashafix.com/please-help-get-this-stolen-bike-back-for-funeral/

    Way to Stay Classy, Critical Mass. If Los Angeles cyclists want more respect, they need to start with respecting themselves. The sad fact is many kids who ride in these groups have no moral compass, have no sense of responsibility, no backbone whatsoever. The whole “blame the press and fuck the pigs” attitude is symptomatic of their adolescent mindset. I asked one of the leaders of another group ride if they would require all riders in their group to have a helmet and brakes. Still waiting for an answer.

  • what’s wrong with a post displaying common sense? or some class?

    you revel in this kid’s death — it gives you a chance to get on your high horse and act superior while people are suffering miserably. 

    if you actually cared about saving people’s lives, you’d be fighting for helmet use by motorists and pedestrians — the folks most likely to be killed from not wearing helmets. 

    you’d be fighting to make sure that drivers, traffic engineers, the police, and the city council and mayor and other authority figures are, respectively, held responsible for their murderous behavior, their malignant road designs which bring so much death and destruction, their lack of enforcement and outright protection of outlaw driver behavior which enables drivers to injure, kill, and maim with impunity, and their directives which continue to put the general population at high risk of death-by-auto.

    but you’d rather dance on a kid’s grave. hope you feel better now.

  • Here you go, @80324a83a4926b9935552891d588e452:disqus — this death is a bit old now for your taste, but i always argue it’s never too late to dance on someone’s grave. Have at it.

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/lovingly_held_her_dying_hand_Ol0Dlk0YoFf5stRP7hARPJ

  • got a fresh one for ya, @80324a83a4926b9935552891d588e452:disqus — hang in there, there’s plenty more a comin’!

    http://www.bikeblognyc.com/2012/08/27-year-old-cyclist-killed-in-cincinnati/ 

    i’m sure the guy did _something_ wrong, according to you. go ahead and get on over to all the articles and posts and tweets and tell them what the guy did wrong, and then ask them if his death has helped them learn their lessons or not? 

    or ask the dead guy if he’s learned his lesson or not. or whatever your post actually means. maybe you can ask his mom — what did he think he was doing pedaling a bike in Cincinnati after all? it’s too dangerous to bike there. he really should have known better. really.

    this is fun. i heard a pedestrian got run down in Golden Gate Park in SF recently. i’m gonna go see if i can find some links and let everyone associated with the deceased know the person should have been wearing a helmet — i.e. it was their own fault that they killed. so stupid. calling Darwin — hello!

    i mean, i know pedestrians are not required by law to wear helmets, but that’s not the point here — the point is that i get to feel morally superior by reveling in the misery of some people i don’t even know. i get to be like those Fred Phelps Church people who protest dead soldiers’ funerals. didn’t those soldiers know that going to Iraqistan was dangerous? so silly. i do want to know, tho — i mean — were they wearing helmets? 

    is there any better schadenfreude than getting over on the family, friends, and loved ones of someone killed by a car?? or an IED?

    i _love_ this stuff.

  • BikesinLA

    A message from the father of Jerico Caluta the father of the young 18 year old who died during last months Critical Mass Bike Ride:

    We the family of the late Jerico Vivar Culata, who perished last August 31, 2012 from fatal injuries sustained from a bicycle accident at the Critical Mass bicycle ride last month at UCLA, hereby release the following statement this September 26, 2012:

    So that Jerico’s death may not have been in vain and to prevent another life from being imperiled and a family suffering the same grief we are experiencing right now, we encourage the volunteers / organizers of the Critical Mass bicycle ride, the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles to adopt preventive measures to ensure everyone’s safety.

    We urge that all bicycle riders even 18 years old and older, observe all safety precautions like wearing a helmet and complying with the law as much as possible requiring all bicycles to be equipped with at least one hand brake. We plead that more emergency medical equipment and personnel be on hand to aid riders in need of help.

    The demise of Jerico is still too recent and too painful for our family so we ask everyone to respect our privacy and refrain from trying to contact us until further notice.
    We are just dreading the possibility that another life will be wasted if we do not voice our concern for the public’s safety at this Friday’s September 28, 2012 Critical Mass ride at LA. Jerico Culata’s death serves a greater purpose and that is to save more and more lives now and in the future.

    Arnel Culata
    Father

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