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“How to stay alive as a cyclist in North America”: Florida man spotted riding with ‘Armed Cyclist’ jersey, close passing flags and countless bike lights sparks cycling safety discussions

James Whelan says he’s just on a cycling trip across the country, but the reaction to his choice of attire and accessories has ranged from respect to uneasiness that such a set-up might be necessary to feel protected

Images of a man riding across the US with a vast array of lights and technology and the message 'Armed Cyclist' on the back of his jersey have led to discussions about cycling safety, and just how much is too much when it comes to protecting oneself from harm on the bike.

The pictures were taken by Jonathan Maus, who explains on his BikePortland website that he happened across the 'Armed Cyclist' on the Interstate 90, east of Coeur d’Alene in the US state of Idaho.

"When I looked at the images, I was amazed at what I saw", says Maus.  

"This guy was not messing around."

As pointed out by some of those replying to the original Twitter post, it turns out the cyclist in question is James Whelan, a resident of Florida who has built up something of a cult following on his Instagram page and YouTube channel (called Armed Cyclist, of course) where he posts images from his cycling trips across America and, sometimes, run-ins with local law enforcement officers. 

Whelan told road.cc that he runs 28 lights on his rear rack and eight on the front handlebars.

"I don't get people turning left or right in front of me at all because they pay attention when they see a bright burst of light coming towards them", says Whelan.

"For the tail light I came up with that idea because I got tired of people not seeing me. Now people typically change lanes a half mile behind me when they see my lights." 

Whelan also attaches flags to his bike to stop drivers from passing him too close, runs two GPS computers and carries a search and rescue beacon. He says that motorists bother him much less while wearing the Armed Cyclist jersey compared to a regular one. 

"In South Florida there is a lot of road rage against cyclists just for being on the road.

"Most people can read what it says. When they see my jersey it has a huge calming effect on the people that don't like cyclists." 

> Texas cyclist shoots driver who deliberately crashed into his riding partner

With statistics showing that cyclist fatalities have been steadily rising in the US over the past ten years, the extreme set-up has led to some conversations about cyclists' safety in the country, and some mixed reactions.

Some praised Whelan for exercising his rights, suggesting that the not-so-subtle warning could do much to deter careless or dangerous drivers, while others expressed dismay that someone would feel the need to take such drastic action to feel safe. 

While the message on the back of Whelan's jersey informs those around him that he is armed, whether his provocative outfit would break any local laws or customs in US states that allow concealed or 'open' carry of firearms is a grey area (Whelan says he always openly carries a gun where it is allowed).

Indeed, the video above that Whelan uploaded to his YouTube channel in 2020, that has racked up 3.4 million views at the time of writing, shows two police officers pulling him over due to alleged complaints from members of the public about his Armed Cyclist jersey. Whelan refuses their request for identification, saying he is not breaking any laws and goes on his way, leaving the cops "speechless" as he puts it. 

Whelan is currently on a bike ride across America, having embarked on 27 previous trips over 43 years. He says he's been stopped twice by the authorities on his latest adventure. 

"One time the guy just asked me about my lights. It was a consensual stop. The other some deputy didn't like my jersey. I reminded him of the First Amendment and then went on my way", he said. 

Whelan's current trip started in Key West, Florida and will have to end in a different location to the one he originally planned -  Prudhoe Bay in Alaska - due to wildfires. He said he has met some "great people" along the way, and we're assuming he wouldn't count any law enforcement officers who might want to disrupt his journey for spurious reasons among them... 

Arriving at road.cc in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of road.cc in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.  

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69 comments

Avatar
Demon1x | 11 months ago
2 likes

Given the high number of dangerous close pass videos posted on here it's quite refreshing to see an elderly Floridian's solution. Good job we have Draconian firearms laws in the UK as it would be so so tempting to pop a cap in the ass of pig ignorant motorists whilst out on the bike!🤔😡🤬🤪

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wtjs | 11 months ago
3 likes

Some people seem to have forgotten just how important the Information Commissioner is within the administration of GDPR, FOIA etc. It is all very well to make definitive statements about these acts on here because nobody important is listening. However, the police and the Commissioner are actually fighting in favour of an opposite interpretation, so someone has to oppose them. I am doing that.

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Secret_squirrel replied to wtjs | 11 months ago
1 like

Are you sure you are posting on the right article?  What has a gun nut got to do with GDPR?

Also I presume you are talking out the privacy disclaimer on the Rozzer Camera sites?  Whilst the cops are taking a "cop out" view there is no evidence to suggest the ICO shares that view, in fact plenty to contrary.  Failing to stop the coppers doing it doesnt mean they support it - it just means they dont see it as a priority (and they are probably right)

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brooksby replied to Secret_squirrel | 11 months ago
0 likes

I think the whole conversation went from gun nut to cameras, and thence to GDPR (and I think wtjs was intending to reply to something further down the thread instead of creating a new comment...).

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wtjs replied to Secret_squirrel | 11 months ago
1 like

Are you sure you are posting on the right article?

Yes- the Information Commissioner and GDPR were mentioned and I have quite a lot of experience of both

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brooksby replied to wtjs | 11 months ago
0 likes
wtjs wrote:

Are you sure you are posting on the right article?

Yes- the Information Commissioner and GDPR were mentioned and I have quite a lot of experience of both

That's what I said was going on!

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Car Delenda Est | 11 months ago
6 likes

Not stepping into the guns debate but similar bumper stickers are common, at least in New England, but I have never heard of a motorist being stopped for this.

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Săndel | 11 months ago
15 likes

I've been riding busy roads for about 30 years.
I learned two things about drivers seeing me:
- from behind, if the driver does not see me with a regular tail light and regular reflective bands - he's texting or doing something else except paying attention to the road and other travelers.
- from the front, high/low beams are a must. Many do not lower their headlights at night to oncoming cyclists. I need to see the road too. Usually, one flash is enough. I ride mostly on low beams even with an empty road ahead, otherwise.

You can dress as a Christmas tree - if the driver is playing with their phone you're still mashed potatoes.

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Owd Big 'Ead | 11 months ago
10 likes

I cycled from the southern tip of Argentina to the far north of Alaska 20 years ago and only ever felt threatened while riding in the good old US of A.
Sad that a cyclist thinks this get up is the only way to stay safe on the road, but it says more about the country he travels through than the individual himself.
Having said that, such a set up would come in quite useful in South Africa.

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ErnieC replied to Owd Big 'Ead | 11 months ago
1 like
Owd Big 'Ead wrote:

I cycled from the southern tip of Argentina to the far north of Alaska 20 years ago and only ever felt threatened while riding in the good old US of A. Sad that a cyclist thinks this get up is the only way to stay safe on the road, but it says more about the country he travels through than the individual himself. Having said that, such a set up would come in quite useful in South Africa.

Both useful and necessary in Mandela's Rainbow Nation. 

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Laz replied to ErnieC | 11 months ago
0 likes

it's no longer Mandela's is it ? and, have you a problem with race or liberal politics ? cycling is about freedom, and you cant be free if you are caught up in right-wing idealogy- ideas of confinement 

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Fignon's ghost | 11 months ago
6 likes

A rider I wholeheartedly agree with.

Not sure if legal in US. I'd stock limpet mines on my utility belt. Ready for magnetic deployment upon the most hideous of close pass vehicles.

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lonpfrb replied to Fignon's ghost | 11 months ago
1 like
Fignon's ghost wrote:

A rider I wholeheartedly agree with.

Not sure if legal in US. I'd stock limpet mines on my utility belt. Ready for magnetic deployment upon the most hideous of close pass vehicles.

I find that 1.5m of white plastic pipe 15mm attached perpendicular to the top tube onto the seat tube is effective in helping the spacially challenged to understand the minimum acceptable separation to a bicycle. On the offside, obviously.
Because it's unusual it gets noticed, which is the point.
It doesn't require a firearm nor explosive license so is open to everyone at a cost of about £1 from a hardware store or local plumber.

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Fignon's ghost replied to lonpfrb | 11 months ago
1 like

Yes. I do agree.

Stateside. I'd prefer GUNISHMENT.

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HoarseMann | 11 months ago
1 like

Sorely tempted to get one of those flags for my town bike...

https://bikerumor.com/pbe15-take-your-lane-makes-the-3-foot-rule-come-to...

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Turk | 11 months ago
0 likes

Armed cyclist with a CCW in the US are not happy with this character. One tail camera and the weapon suffice much better than the proclamation and desired confrontation..

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hawkinspeter replied to Turk | 11 months ago
4 likes
Turk wrote:

Armed cyclist with a CCW in the US are not happy with this character. One tail camera and the weapon suffice much better than the proclamation and desired confrontation..

Isn't the entire point of the proclamation to avoid confontation?

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
5 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

Isn't the entire point of the proclamation to avoid confontation?

Sounds confusing to me - unless this is Batesian mimicry. Otherwise why not just have your plasma rife painted in stripy colours and slung over your shoulder?

I'm not up to speed on the US carry laws though...

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Cugel replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:
Turk wrote:

Armed cyclist with a CCW in the US are not happy with this character. One tail camera and the weapon suffice much better than the proclamation and desired confrontation..

Isn't the entire point of the proclamation to avoid confontation?

Hardly! It seems to be to invite one, t' see who be quickest on the draw. Are the carloon punks feelin' lucky, eh? My bicycle don't like you laughin' at him.

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hawkinspeter replied to Cugel | 11 months ago
4 likes
Cugel wrote:

Hardly! It seems to be to invite one, t' see who be quickest on the draw. Are the carloon punks feelin' lucky, eh? My bicycle don't like you laughin' at him.

I was under the impression that most gun ownership in the U.S. was driven by fear and insecurity. There may well be brave gun owners as well as old gun owners, but there's precious few old and brave gun owners.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

I was under the impression that most gun ownership in the U.S. was driven by fear and insecurity. There may well be brave gun owners as well as old gun owners, but there's precious few old and brave gun owners.

I suspect you're correct ("most") but I did find out there is such a thing as "recreational gun" and indeed recreational machine gun...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RlHzy2LtS4k

... and some of their rules are framed in terms of sport or collecting. Bit like cars - quite a lot of people strongly associate them with "fun".

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hawkinspeter replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
4 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

I suspect you're correct ("most") but I did find out there is such a thing as "recreational gun" and indeed recreational machine gun... https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RlHzy2LtS4k ... and some of their rules are framed in terms of sport or collecting. Bit like cars - quite a lot of people strongly associate them with "fun".

I've got nothing against gun sport, though I don't like hunting. I've even done a bit of archery myself. It's the owning of a gun "just-in-case" that leads to many accidental discharges and injuries/deaths.

I'm not a fan of cyclists carrying guns, whether concealed or not as it seems unneccessary to just get from A to B. I can't see that there's many situations that are improved by someone drawing a gun and intending to use it.

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Rendel Harris replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
8 likes

A mate of mine who lives in Washington DC found himself stuck in a small town in Texas and to kill time went into a gun store (he hates guns, was just curious). He was looking at a semi-automatic 7.62mm assault rifle when the salesman came up and said, "Y'all interested in guns as a hobby or for killin' bad dudes? 'Cos that's a good gun but it's more a hobbyist gun, y'know?" A hobbyist assault rifle...

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chrisonabike replied to Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
2 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:

A hobbyist assault rifle...

Presumably that's the kind you spend almost all the time tinkering with?  Or is it the chap was pointing out that with that cartridge you might also take out some dudes through the wall in the next house?

Still rules are for playing with for some.  Just look at what you can get a "sporting exemption" for.

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OldRidgeback replied to Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
8 likes

I go to the US regularly for work. Me and a colleague often go to shooting ranges and rent pistols and blaze away at targets. It is a curious experience to go to a range, show them a driver's licence, pay some money and then get handed a 9mm pistol and a box of bullets. They generally ask you if you've shot before and take your word for it when you answer, "Yes." I mean I've quite a bit of experience with pistols, but if I didn't I could easily lie about it. When I explain to Americans I meet how we can't do this in the UK, they just can't believe UK gun laws.

I like shooting but I'm glad we have the gun laws we have here in the UK. 

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hawkinspeter replied to OldRidgeback | 11 months ago
3 likes
OldRidgeback wrote:

I go to the US regularly for work. Me and a colleague often go to shooting ranges and rent pistols and blaze away at targets. It is a curious experience to go to a range, show them a driver's licence, pay some money and then get handed a 9mm pistol and a box of bullets. They generally ask you if you've shot before and take your word for it when you answer, "Yes." I mean I've quite a bit of experience with pistols, but if I didn't I could easily lie about it. When I explain to Americans I meet how we can't do this in the UK, they just can't believe UK gun laws.

I like shooting but I'm glad we have the gun laws we have here in the UK. 

I don't see a problem with people using shooting ranges and I don't think there's much restriction in the UK on who can use them - it's easy enough to go clay pigeon shooting without needing to own your own gun. It's the casual gun ownership that's the problem in the U.S. and especially the ease with which people carry (and use) them in public.

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OldRidgeback replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
2 likes

Exactly this....

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TheBillder replied to Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
3 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:

to kill time went into a gun store

Something you can't kill with a gun.

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Paul J replied to Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
3 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:

A mate of mine who lives in Washington DC found himself stuck in a small town in Texas and to kill time went into a gun store (he hates guns, was just curious). He was looking at a semi-automatic 7.62mm assault rifle when the salesman came up and said, "Y'all interested in guns as a hobby or for killin' bad dudes? 'Cos that's a good gun but it's more a hobbyist gun, y'know?" A hobbyist assault rifle...

Perhaps the gun store owner knows what he's talking about... There are multiple reasons why NATO has moved down to smaller 5.62mm calibre for standard battle rifles, from the 7.62mm of old.

7.62mm in civilian use for similar reasons would be a "hobbyist" thing - e.g., someone into long-range rifle shooting, collector, etc.

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to Paul J | 11 months ago
1 like
Paul J wrote:
Rendel Harris wrote:

A mate of mine who lives in Washington DC found himself stuck in a small town in Texas and to kill time went into a gun store (he hates guns, was just curious). He was looking at a semi-automatic 7.62mm assault rifle when the salesman came up and said, "Y'all interested in guns as a hobby or for killin' bad dudes? 'Cos that's a good gun but it's more a hobbyist gun, y'know?" A hobbyist assault rifle...

Perhaps the gun store owner knows what he's talking about... There are multiple reasons why NATO has moved down to smaller 5.62mm calibre for standard battle rifles, from the 7.62mm of old. 7.62mm in civilian use for similar reasons would be a "hobbyist" thing - e.g., someone into long-range rifle shooting, collector, etc.

I think both points are valid (the UK bafflement at the whole idea and the knowledgeable suggestion that is not ideal personal / home defence).  And (totally OT now) apparently the pendulum / fashion is swinging again - the US now wants "a little bit bigger / moar power" apparently for all troops (TBC).

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