Guy On A Bike: Attacks On Cyclists & Staying Safe

The Minneapolis cycling community was shocked in August and September, after a rash of seemingly random assaults on cyclists. For three consecutive evenings, beginning Aug. 30, cyclists were attacked and robbed on the Midtown Greenway, each occurring around 11 p.m. Mackenzie Jensen of Minneapolis was seriously hurt when someone in a passing vehicle tossed a chunk of concrete at him, striking him in the face and shattering his jaw. Police are investigating this and a handful of similar incidents, which occurred around that time.

(credit: CBS)

Mackenzie Jensen, recovering in the hospital from his attack. (credit: CBS)

Despite the media attention given to these heinous crimes, Minneapolis streets remain overwhelmingly safe for cyclists. But for those victims their lives are often changed forever, and what was once an activity that provided joy may now be wrought with fear and uncertainty. And while these random acts of violence are impossible to predict there are things being done, and things you can do, to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Midtown Greenway Safety

With more than an estimated 1 million annual bike trips on the Midtown Greenway, this bicycle highway is one of the premier bikeways in the nation, and a gem of the Minneapolis cycling infrastructure. So when assaults occurred on three consecutive nights late this past summer Greenway officials stepped up efforts to keep the ribbon of road safe. (A link to all safety incidents reported on the Greenway, going back a few years, can be found here. )

(credit: Midtown Greenway Coalition)

(credit: Midtown Greenway Coalition)

In a recent written interview, Soren Jensen, Executive Director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, explained “we did respond to those assaults by increasing our Trail Watch patrols, and we also hired both private security bike patrols and off-duty police bike patrols.” This response is in addition to a pre-existing infrastructure that includes nightly patrols, emergency alert beacons, security cameras and myriad lights along the stretch.

(credit: Ellie Kingsbury)

(credit: Ellie Kingsbury)

Every night a group of Trail Watch volunteers ride the Greenway. Jensen says that the rides act as a deterrent to crime.  Trail Watch riders often clear glass off of the trail, call in graffiti or non-functioning lights, and help cyclists with flats and other mechanical issues. With shorter days and colder nights coming, the organization is always looking for more volunteers. You can find out more about helping here. Regular Trail Watch riders receive free bicycle self-defense classes.

Bicycle Self-Defense

Krav Maga Minneapolis occasionally offers a three-hour course on bicycle self-defense. This is the same training offered to Trail Watch volunteers, and is available to members of the public for $60 and culminates with an optional group ride.

(credit: Krav Maga)

(credit: Krav Maga)

The class, developed and taught by instructors Dante Pastrano and Gail Boxrud, teaches riders basic self-defense and how to kick and punch. In addition, attendees learn how to mount and dismount a moving bicycle, reduce the risk of injury if pushed off of a bike, how to fight from the ground, and fighting and escaping while riding. Instructor Gail Boxrud says one of the most important things the class teaches is to avoid confrontation and never fight for possessions, but to “fight like hell if you are physically attacked.”

Krav Maga Minneapolis has also held seminars for the International Police Mountain Bike Association at its annual conferences and is currently working on an advanced class for civilian cyclists. The next seminar for the public will be held November 15. Pre-registration is required and more info can be found here.

Awareness

One of the keys to remaining safe on your bicycle is to always be aware of your surroundings. Gail Boxrud strongly advises against wearing headphones while in the saddle. You are simply more vulnerable when you can’t hear what’s happening around you. Soren Jensen recommends riding with a buddy whenever possible and to call 911 if you notice anything suspicious.

With winter fast approaching it is more likely that you’ll have to pedal after dark. If you find yourself riding alone under moonlit skies do so on high traffic bicycle routes. Taking a longer route that is well-traveled is much safer than taking a shorter route that takes you through dark or sketchy areas.

Also invest in a quality headlamp that has a lot of illumination. This will give you a greater range of vision, and more time to react to nefarious activity. Avoid carrying valuables and consider a decoy wallet with a few spare bucks in it. If someone robs you toss it and get the heck out of there.

Police Investigations

Minneapolis Police Spokesperson John Elder says police continue to investigate the aforementioned crimes and have made “significant headway,” although no arrests have been made. Fortunately, no similar crimes against cyclists have been reported in Minneapolis for a number of weeks.

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