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Wheels turn to curb cycling in Pasadena

For 60 years, riders have trained in packs around the Rose Bowl. Now the city is addressing rising concerns about safety.

September 18, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

With a whoosh, the pack of bicyclists bears down on an automobile starting to pull away from the curb in front of the Brookside Golf Club in Pasadena.

"Car!" shouts one of the riders in the front. "Car!" repeats someone deep within the pack.

As one, the 150 cyclists veer slightly to the left and careen past the startled driver. In a flash, they're gone.

Rattled, the motorist peers into his rearview mirror searching for more bicyclists. But there are none.

"A lot of time, people are not used to seeing a bicycle travel at this speed. They misjudge how fast these bicycles will be on you," said racer Fernando Burgos, who has stopped next to Rosemont Avenue to watch his friends zoom past. "They probably think the bikes are going 12 miles an hour, when in fact they're going 25 miles an hour."

Or 35 or 40 miles an hour. That's how fast they ride twice a week around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

For 60 years bike racers riding handlebar-to-handlebar in packs -- known to bicyclists as a "peloton" -- have trained and conditioned themselves by pedaling laps around the famed football stadium. The tighter the racers group themselves together, the less wind resistance they experience. And the faster they go.

There are occasional mishaps. They can run into cars, sideswipe pedestrians or joggers, and veer into each other. Lately, though, the bicyclists have been on a collision course with Pasadena city leaders.

Officials have set a deadline for peloton riders to help figure out how to coexist with others when they circle the outside of the football stadium.

As many as 150 pack riders turn out each Tuesday and Thursday for Rose Bowl rides. Beginning promptly at 5:55 p.m., bicyclists take 10 laps around a three-mile loop, ending at about 7:05 p.m. The rides are held during summertime months when daylight saving time is in effect.

But the early evening hours are also prime exercise time for thousands of joggers, walkers, skaters and baby-stroller pushers who also enjoy circling the stadium while the sun is setting beyond the arroyo's steep wall.

Bike racers sometimes crash into pedestrians. And clash with motorists, golfers and soccer players.

Complaints involving the encounters prompted an investigation by the Pasadena Police Department, which led to a proposed crackdown on peloton riders at the Rose Bowl and elsewhere in the city.

Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian told City Council members that pack racing had grown dangerous. He played a video of peloton riders speeding around the Rose Bowl, forcing automobiles off the roadway, swerving around recreational bicyclists and joggers, and spilling over the streets' yellow lines into oncoming traffic lanes.

Melekian said the pack riders are seemingly unorganized, with no group in charge or in a position of authority to set rules or procedures to be followed by peloton participants.

His officers cannot enforce traffic laws during the twice-weekly rides because the cyclists are in a tight pack and are dressed in similar-looking, colorful racing uniforms and helmets, Melekian said.

"Identifying individual riders gets to be problematic," he said. "The reality is there are some concerns that once the peloton gets going there could be chain-reaction crashes" if police tried to pull a rider over.

Councilman Sidney Tyler said the pack riders were spectacular -- but dangerous.

"I do find the pelotons interesting to watch, but intimidating, particularly when they come up behind me or groups of pedestrians trying to enjoy the experience of the Rose Bowl," Tyler said at a council meeting. "There are enormous numbers of people trying to enjoy the experience down there too."

The city criticism roiled the local biking community -- and prompted peloton fans to go on the offensive.

"The Rose Bowl ride is famous across the country," said Katie Safford, a national cycling champion who lives in Pasadena. She told the council that despite the pack's unorganized look, tradition dictates that newer riders are educated by veterans on how to maneuver in close quarters and at high speeds.

"We can't go fast enough riding two abreast to get the training we need," Safford said.

The city talked about a ban on bicyclists riding more than two abreast without a permit. Bike riders across Los Angeles responded by demanding that they be allowed to self-police the Rose Bowl rides and work with city leaders on ways to control traffic during the Tuesday and Thursday evening pelotons.

Private meetings followed with bicyclists, police and Rose Bowl operators. Everyone agreed to cool the rhetoric and work for the next six months on a compromise.

Among the changes now being considered: Turning the roadway loop around the Rose Bowl into a one-way street, limiting automobile traffic during the Tuesday-Thursday rides, and requiring joggers and walkers to move counterclockwise toward oncoming bicyclists.

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