I. Rich gets a bike and Rich gets in trouble. surprise!

“Why do you always have to rock the boat?” my friend texted me, right after this all happened. I’m sure she was laughing. For the record, I don’t rock the boat. The ocean does. I just get tossed around with the rest of y’all.

Riding a bicycle is the epitome of freedom. Wind-whipping, exhilariating, fast, and dangerous. Give me bicycles or give me death! I’m overlooking the common right now and there’s this little boy racing around on his sick set up. He’s cutting sharp corners and falling into the grass. Don’t you know it — he gets right up and jumps back on…

In late December 2013, I ordered a bicycle on Amazon. A slick, fast fixed gear for under $300, shipped to me for free. I found it on my porch one morning and ecstatically dragged it up the stairs into my apartment. I disassembled the packaging and placed the bike — mostly still just parts at this point — in a quiet corner. Snow fell, and fell, then it refused to melt. Then it fell some more. The February thaw came…in March. A few warm days inspired me to throw that bad boy together. I tightened all the bolts, aligned the brakes, then ripped the front brakes off. Who needs ’em! I also ripped off the grip on the handlebars and any other component that wasn’t necessary to ride the bicycle. Lean, mean pedalin’ machine!

Then I stuck a tiny little sticker to the frame: “anti state, anti war, free market” and a little pine tree sticker next to it. It was ready for a test drive. The time was 8pm. It was dark and cold, but there was no snow. I took to the streets. Up Epping St., right onto Rte. 27, then right into the grocery store parking lot. I bought a “Mountain Lion” soda and a Larabar. I ate the Larabar in the parking lot and admired my new possession. My last bike was nicknamed “The Stallion” because it was a workhorse Motobecane: heavy and slogging. It plowed fields! Slow and steady. That thing fell apart, as it was older than I (and I am fast approaching 30).

I nicknamed my new bike, as it possessed only one brake lever on the handlebar, “The Rhino.” A lean, fit, rugged rhinoceros. I imagined my bike doing that Cowardly Lion routine, “Put ’em up, put ’em up!” but my bike doesn’t run away. It socks you and laughs. This bike makes me want to scrape up the dirt and jauntily charge straight ahead with my head down. Strut, strut. It is so fun to ride.

I realized why this bike is so fun to ride as I cruised back towards my apartment in downtown Raymond, New Hampshire. There are no gears! Just one. It’s around 8th gear on a 10 speed. See a hill? Tough. Going downhill and your pedals aren’t catching? Tough. Wait. The fixie makes you work, and it lets you rest. It’s beautifully perfect and simple.

[After riding The Rhino for a few months I am laughing my way up hills that I couldn’t on my ten speed in an easier speed. My thighs have become tree trunks.]

So I’m riding my bicycle on Rte. 27, just past the Tuckaway Restaurant in Raymond. I’m just inside the fog line, a space of concrete about a foot wide between paint and dirt. As an experienced road biker, I can handle the heavy, fast traffic inches to my left without being distracted. I stay straight and strong. Head down, charge, right? Something ahead was distracting me and I began to swerve a little. Feeling at risk for my life (which is what cops say before they shoot leashed dogs twenty yards away), I covered the left side of my face with my hand. What was the distraction? you ask me….

On the opposite side of the street, a cop had pulled over a victim (“pounced on”). His lights were the distraction: flashing fast and blue. I groaned, because I loathe cops and everything they stand for and do, but also because I knew that covering my face in front of a cop is something you…don’t…do. I pedaled on and turned left onto Epping St., back toward my apartment on the corner of Epping and Main.

When I turned, I noticed the blue lights still. Damn, is this a city-wide disco party? Subconsciously, I knew something was wrong. Shrug. I felt to make sure my “Mountain Lion” soda was still in my hoodie’s pocket and I raced home, loving my new bike, the exhilarating feel of the chilly March air on my face, a feeling I hadn’t felt since early December when my Motobecane went ragged in the middle of a long-distance ride cut short by a sudden snow storm. (Certain skidding stops caused the already failing gears to lock up and the bike was scrap metal after that!)

Whoop, whoop! I stopped at the stop sign like a good citizen bicyclist and stepped off my ride. I took in the quiet Raymond village, not a thing to be heard or seen. I hopped back on and turned left for the twenty yards to my apartment. Right across the street from my apartment, I hopped off my bike and walked with it in my left hand. Someone was behind me.

A light shone. Not just some dinky light. A bright spotlight. Meant to intimidate. That fucking cop followed me.

The last time I had spoken to a cop, I was being handcuffed, and told not to “be a dick.” My response to that state trooper? “That’s realll professional of you!” Since I was DUI’ing and he was militarizing, guess who lost that battle. Since then, I’ve read Dale Carson’s advice [H/T: Will Grigg] to simply make eye contact, don’t react, don’t smile, and be accomodating and respectful. Grumble….

I also know from reading Balko, Whitehead, and others that cops are trained not only to ask questions unrelated to the specific incident (in order to extract more information and possibly more charges), but they will also outright lie if necessary.

So this Raymond cop did not begin the interaction with an explanation of why I was being withheld from continuing ten yards home. First, he asked, “Do you have an ID on you?”

“No.”

“You don’t have any form of ID on you?”

“It’s in my apartment right there.” I pointed. (I don’t carry my ID unless I know some scaredy-cat cashier is going to card me, lest the state rain hell upon them.)

“Oh, ok. What’s your name?” He had his little notepad and a pen. I was holding my bike defensively between us, the Rothbard sticker on my side, “fortunately.” I was calm and alert. He had that same farmboy look, that crew cut, that goofy state trooper wanna-be look all city cops who are under 30 share. Rookie.

Knowing I was a captive, I remained quiet, unless spoken to. Eye contact, solemn, no smiling. Unfortunately, I was being questioned. So I replied.

“Richard Masta,” I said, feeling like Kunta Kinte. “Toby,” most people would say.

“Date of birth?” He was really rolling with the routine.

“Five twenty-nine eighty-six.” I know how to respond.

My pulse was racing from the ride and the cold (I checked later: thirty degrees), so I may have appeared more nervous. I was worried he’d think I was “slurring” or something cops love to invoke upon their victims. I took this into account and focused on my speech and clarity.

I noticed he was looking at my bike a lot, then me, then my bike again. I gripped it tighter and was prepared to argue if he was going to accuse me of stealing it (I’ve been approached in Somersworth, NH before by a cop because I was walking my bike in my own neighborhood. He followed me, as well).

The Raymond Rookie stepped aside. He radioed my information into the station. Quietly, so I couldn’t hear. They were checking me out. I tried to make eye contact with a woman driving by so I could groan and shrug. She kept her head down like a good little citizen. Those blue disco lights are not a party: they are the party-snuffer.

When the cop returned, I asked him why I was being “approached.” He told me in his perfect cop-speak that I didn’t have a reflector and/or a headlight and/or reflective clothing on myself or my bicycle. Otherwise, the cop told me, people would be dying all the time, getting smacked around by cars. (Hmm, I seemed to be fine.)

I laughed a little inside because not only did I forget to put my blinky light and headlight on my new bike, but just that day I read a random page of a book I love called Just Ride by Grant Peterson.

Blinking lights lull drivers into target fixation — the tendency to stare at something that stands out and connect with it…When you’re riding at night with your red taillight blinking, thinking you’re safe because you’re visible, a tired or drunk driver commuter in an SUV locks onto your flashing light, maybe thinking it’s a distant car he should follow, and turns his wheel ever so slightly to follow his tracking eyes. [p.41]

I did not share my knowledge with Officer Rookie. He, however, wanted certain information from me.

“Do you have anything on you I need to know about?” Ha ha, like “illegal” drugs or weapons? I patted myself down. No, I have a generic soda and my out-of-date Zune mp3 player. Not even a thug would want to rob me. Only a cop. “So,” he asked, you live right here? Yep. How long have you lived in town? “November,” I replied, seething inside, as my new least favorite person ever interrogated me uselessly.

[I thought of him as my nemesis, not because he was a certain person aggressing against me, but because he was a cop. Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop pins it down: “Cops out walking beats could chat with citizens, form relationships, and become part of the community. Squad cars gave cops a faceless and intimidating presence…Police and citizens interacted only when police were ticketing or questioning someone, or when a citizen was reporting a crime.”]

The Raymond Rookie asked me, “Where are you coming from?” Hannaford’s. Sorry, I’m out of breath, I told him.

“So, what do you do?” My brain furrowed. I wasn’t answering this crap! “What do you do for fun?” I think that’s what he said. It implied, regardless, “Just riding for fun, or what?” He asked me if I have a car. He did this all matter-of-factly, like he was my buddy, you see…

Obviously, his little check-in on me produced my dee-wee. Duh. I wonder if he was trying to scope out if I had been drinking. I was not. That bike kept some distance between us.

“Nope,” I said, patting my rhino, “This is it. This is the first time I’ve ridden it. I fixed it up tonight.”

“Why did you cover your face back there?” He went there. Just like that.

I’m intelligent. I can figure people out. Jeez, a cop makes small talk and doesn’t tell me why he’s approaching me, then spews some fodder about my blinky light not being plugged in. No, I know why you followed me, you creep.

I told him the truth. “The blue lights were distracting me. I wanted to stay between the white line and the dirt, and I couldn’t see.”

He was actually sympathetic and understood that the blinking lights could be distracting.

Ha!

So, is this a Raymond statute? I ask.

No, he tells me. New Hampshire state law. Alright.

Here’s what I did: I told him I had a light inside my apartment (“right there!” I pointed). He was all shrugs and “okays.” He seemed to step back a little bit, especially when I thanked him for letting me off (shh! he never did!) and we mutually departed. He didn’t “warn” me or anything. I left on my own accord. Some good citizen might have been thankful to have been released, but I just left. Sayonara, coppah! Lesson: learn to recognize rookies, then take charge, but only if you don’t think you’ll get shot.

I carried my bike up the stairs and texted a bunch of my friends immediately to chronicle the incident. One replied, “Don’t let your annoyance with safety lead you to be unsafe.” I replied with the Just Ride quote and the real problem: the only car behind me was a cop. An opportunist cop, who wanted to hunt down the kid who dared cover his face in front of the royalty’s pet lion. Funny when I told the cop what was in my pocket during my self-patdown. A soda called “Mountain Lion.” You’re the lion, I thought. I’m a lion, too. Riding a rhinoceros! Ha, my imagination is silly. A lion riding a rhino on a boat in the middle of the stormy ocean of government regulations. Just a kid tryin’ to ride his bike.

II. a little taste of raymond, nh

288

“drive like your kids live here” = voluntary peacekeeping.

At least once a day, I hear the most obnoxious sirens fill the common as a cop blows through town, as if Osama bin Laden, himself!, was shooting up the Citzens Bank. I read the police log and it is always lame stuff like “woman hears noises in house, asks cop to make sure plants aren’t blowing in wind” or “7-11 clerk is scared of customer who lingers in parking lot too long, turns out he is a regular and clerk is his buddy.” Sheesh.

Here’s another: “Man calls cops because someone’s car is parked in his driveway and he wants it removed.” So the cops are the tow company in the yellow pages?

Meanwhile, right under the 101 bridge on Main Street, is the perfect speed trap, the perfect cop hiding spot. Guess why I cross Main St. every morning on my walk to work? Yes, so as not to be close to that shady loiterer. I fear for my life. Plus, if I do so much as cover my face for one second — say my nose itches — he’ll follow me and ask me why.

III. new hampshire’s bicycle laws.

In all the excitement, I forgot the word "have."

In all the excitement, I forgot the word “have.”

Today I sat on my front stoop in Raymond and enjoyed the sunshine. I watched this long-haired, shirtless, ripped, tan, hippie guy fly by on his piece-o-crap/perfectly-tuned glory bike. He was in Raymond like a flash of lightning, and gone even sooner. I nodded peacefully. He gets it. Bon voyage, ami!

Here are the fascist bicycle laws of the “Live Free or Die” state for those who dare ride a bicycle within its sacred borders (gasp!):

RSA 265:143 — All rules of the road apply to bikers as they do any motorist (except for “Peace Officers,” aka “bike cops”).

RSA 265:144 — Bikes must have a “permanent and regular seat.”

“Any bicyclist shall stop upon demand of a Peace Officer and permit his bicycle to be inspected.”

“No bicycle shall be operated unless the steering, brakes, tires, and other equipment are in safe condition.”

“A bicyclist shall wear at least one item of reflective outerwear apparel, such as a reflective vest, jacket, or helmet strip, during the period from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 before sunrise.”

RSA 266:86 — Headlight must be white and emit 300 feet from bike. Red reflector visible from 300 feet on rear.

The eight-page PDF of all the NH RSAs doesn’t threaten with punishments. It doesn’t mention any “failure to comply” rules. It also doesn’t specify any details as to what is actually “safe condition” or inspection-compliant. All at the whim of the cop. That is the worst punishment possible.

I have the wimpiest blinky light and headlight. I saw some funny reflective stickers at the dollar store of smiley faces. Guess what I’m sticking on my back next time I night-ride?

Also, I see kids under 16 riding helmet-less all the time, at night, on the wrong side of the roads, often swerving like the carefree daredevils boys often are. Do the cops follow them for a mile and try to intimidate them? NOPE. No profits for the highway robbers. (Those kids are awesome, by the way. I think a critical mass is in order!)

Anarcho-biking is born! Be safe, but don’t comply! Ride free! If you get pulled over, play dumb, and remember that classic line from Easy Rider: “They hate us ‘cos we’re free.”