ChipSeal’s Defense

Let him ride.

I am part of a group trying to raise funds for a worthy cause, a fight against an injustice done to a Texas cyclist. Some of you may know him. His name is Reed Bates. Until recently, he penned the ChipSeal blog.

The police have stopped Bates numerous times in and around Ennis, Texas. Most notably, he was arrested and jailed for the ‘crime’ of riding a bicycle on the road. He was riding on the roadway, not the shoulder, so the county sheriff’s department decided he had to be taught a lesson.

Like most states, Texas forbids motor vehicles from using the shoulder. Cyclists are permitted to do so, but they are not legally obligated to ride there. Rather than charge Bates with violating a non-existent law, the police charged him with impeding traffic – on a four lane road.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but when there are two lanes in the same direction, isn’t one of them often called the ‘slow lane’ and the other the ‘passing lane’? Motorists pass slower traffic all the time, yet when Reed Bates rode his bicycle in that slow lane, somehow it became a crime. On January 23rd, the Ennis County Sheriff’s Department arrested and jailed him on an initial charge of “riding a bicycle in the roadway” which was later amended to the impeding charge.

You can make a strong argument about whether cyclists have a right to use the public road if they don’t actually exercise that right. Bates was riding on the road in right hand lane, not on the shoulder. Yet to the Ennis County Sheriff’s department, his mere presence on the road was impeding traffic. That was sufficient justification for citing and jailing him. They couldn’t legally forbid his use of that public roadway as there’s no law requiring a cyclist to use the shoulder, so the impeding traffic charge served the same purpose.

But think about that for a moment. If the mere presence of a bicyclist impedes traffic, then police anywhere would have ample justification to order us off the road. In effect, that is a defacto ban on bicycling, something that the state legislatures obviously did not intend or they would have adopted specific language barring bicycle travel. Instead, cyclists are expected to share the roads lawfully, as most states say we have all the rights and all the duties of any other road user. We have ALL the rights, not an abbreviated set, or a subset of rights to be determined by the whim of a passing county sheriff’s deputy.

Answer this question. Do you have the right to use any public road that does not prohibit bicycle travel? This is not the same as asking if you’re comfortable or you feel safe on a particular road. Do you have the right to use that road? If the answer is ‘yes’ – even if you’d never dream of actually riding there – you understand the importance of our individual right to use the that public space, and use it regardless of our choice of transportation mode.

Bates was tried and convicted by a jury of his peers – not a cyclist in the bunch, obviously – and his case is now on appeal. That is, his case will be appealed if we can raise enough money to contest this unfair treatment. Please, please, please, visit this website and make a donation however small and do something to stand up for a cyclist’s right to use the public roadways. Reliable estimates say Bates will need about five thousand dollars for his appeal, less if he’s acquitted quickly. Anything above the required amount will be donated to bicycling education.

And where are LAB and the Texas Bicycle Coalition in all this? The sound you hear is crickets chirping. But that’s a story for another time.

For more information:

P.M. Summer’s Cycle*Dallas
Steve A’s DFW Point-to-Point.
Keri Cafrey’s CommuteOrlando.
And the man himself, Reed Bates at ChipSeal.

Reed Bates


  1. Your summary of the facts of the case is incomplete — and completely misleading. Had I been on the jury, I'd certainly have voted for conviction. And now you're asking me to contribute to an appeal fund? To reward a fool for his folly? No thanks. With allies like ChipSeal, cyclists don't need enemies.

  2. Ed,

    I'll begin by saying that I found the above piece very convincing. I find it difficult to imagine countervailing evidence that could invalidate the arguments presented here, but I'm mostly unfamiliar with the case and would like to hear another informed perspective. Now, you have piqued my curiosity.

    Could you please share your thoughts more fully?

    Anthony P.

  3. There is a picture of the road on his blog… is it really a wide bike lane, or are there usually cars parked there… or lots of broken glass? I think bicycles have the right to ride on the road, especially if that's the only place they can safely ride… but being a jerk is often legal. If there is a safe bike lane, don't be a jerk.

  4. I donated to Reed's defense. From the write up here, the charges are nothing more than police harassment. He wasn't doing anything illegal, he was riding his bicycle on a public road where bikes are allowed.

    If Ed Sailland has a different side of the story then I would be interested to hear it. If I'd been on that jury, I would have voted against convicting him based on the evidence presented here.

  5. If you google Ed Salliand's name, you'll discover he leaves hateful comments all over the internet. Has no knowledge of this case.

  6. What you see in the photo is a shoulder, not a bike lane. Although many cyclists prefer riding in the shoulder, it only lasts a few blocks which mean moving in and out of traffic. Staying in the traffic lane is the safer thing to do.

  7. I'm sorry Ed S would “certainly” convict at a trial where he heard no evidence because he was not there. I was, and I saw the videos. I heard the testimony. I'll stand with Chip.

    Since the post, Chip got to spend another day in jail. They were waiting for him this time. That now makes five charges pending. All for the same charge of not riding on the shoulder when one is present. None for any violation you might actually find in Texas law. It appears the Ennis strategy is to overwhelm the guy. Thank God I live in Tarrant County!

  8. I've never been on that road, but I've been on other roads with wide, high-quality shoulders that aren't also commonly used for parking or dumping broken glass or other debris. I've also been on rides with people who feel like because it is legal for them to ride in the road, it's the right thing to do… even though they can safely ride on the shoulder for MILES without weaving in and out of traffic. I don't know if that is the case here–but it's hard to sympathize with a guy who writes like he is one of those people who feel obligated to be a jerk because it is legal to be a jerk (…). That kind of guy doesn't need my money, isn't helping advocate cycling and wont get my sympathy.

    Most drivers are courteous to cyclists… and most cyclists are courteous to drivers. There are some extremists on both ends of the spectrum… and neither ends of the spectrum are healthy.

  9. I don't know if Reed was being a jerk or not but this conviction sets a very scary precedent that could affect everyone who rides a bike in Texas. Some shoulders are probably safe to ride in while others certainly are not. Texas law leaves that decision up to the individual cyclist but this conviction was made in contradiction to this law.

    Unfortunately, sometimes we need “jerks” like Reed Bates to stand up for the rights that benefit us all.

  10. Like we've stated on the website:

    “On this stretch on Hwy 287, there are 4 total travel lanes, a lack of consistent shoulders, and a high number of intersections/turning movements. Reed does not own a car and travels everywhere by bicycle in a law-abiding way.”

    Reed is not being a jerk. He is using his bike to *live*. This isn't fun and games or recreational.

  11. I just sent this email to the city of Ennis:

    As a road cyclist and Texan (although not in Ennis), I am writing to express my dismay with the city of Ennis' treatment of Mr. Reed Bates, a local cyclist who seems to have been unfairly subjected to prosecution by the city of Ennis. While I am only privy to the details of the case as they are being reported online, it appears to me as though Mr. Bates was operating his bicycle legally on the roadway.

    As a result of this incident, the national and even international cycling community is literally laughing at the attitude of Texas cities, holding us up as an example to be ridiculed. Bicycle tourism is becoming an increasingly important part of many states' revenues, bringing in significant sums to states which embrace the activity, (such as Florida and California), in the form of increased hotel and airline bookings, bicycle rentals, restaurants, campgrounds, etc. Unfortunately though, the city of Ennis treatment of Mr. Bates appears to be damaging Texas' reputation as a welcoming venue for cyclists and other tourists.

    As a fellow Texan, I urge the city of Ennis to adopt a different attitude. In fact, I think it would go a long way with potential tourists if the city of Ennis began promoting itself as a bicyle-friendly community – a complete about-face from its current reputation. A couple of suggestions I would make would be organizing an annual century ride (like the “Hotter Than Hell” ride in Wichita Falls), and the installation of a network of posted bicycle trails and paths, like the city of Folsom, CA has done:

    While I am not an Ennis resident, and my opinion is therefore not as relevant as that of the local citizens, I am a Texan, cyclist, bicycle tourist, and work in the travel industry. I don't know if this letter will matter much to anyone in Ennis government, but I felt compelled to at least try to help improve a situation that seems to have become detrimental to everyone involved. Thanks for your time.


  12. As I understand it, Chip chooses to ride in the “center” of the traffic lane, which may be his legal right, but it might not be the “right” thing to do in all cases. I may be wrong, but I also believe if he's being approached by a car he chooses not to move to the right of the roadway, but to continue to “take the lane”. Yes, sometimes taking the lane is the best thing to do. But you know what? Sometimes it's not.

    From information I also understand Chip likes to take the left side of the lane. While I will defend Chip's right to bike in the road, I also disagree with the way he conducts himself. There's nothing wrong with every now and then “giving up the lane”. Some might consider it an unselfish act and that's not a bad thing.

  13. Anthony P, take the time to read the Texas law which (I apologize for not having it exactly) is pretty much like other states and says sometjhing like “…as far to the right of the road as is safely possible.” The “safely possible” is what Chip disagrees with. He doesn't think it's safe to ride or move to the far right of the roadway but prefers to “take the lane”. Apparently, “safely” is subjective and the jurors disagreed with his interpretation (my guess here).

    In my opinion, he could have prevented all this by riding about 1 to 2 feet from the right edge. Cars would still give him plenty of room, except for that minority who will come as close to you as possible no matter where a cyclist rides.

  14. Steve… since there is no transcript can you summarize the reason the jury reached a guilty verdict? I've read everything about this and do not see what the citation was. For example, for what section of the law was he prosecuted?

  15. Since I was not in the jury room while the jury deliberated, I can only speculate why they found him guilty. I think there were multiple reasons. First, the defense attempted to explain a complex area of the law in a complex manner that was not instantly understandable to motorist jurors that didn't want to be there in the first place. Second, the traffic videos, including one presented by the defense, didn't help, because the cyclist looked like a tiny spot, much as the moon looks like a tiny spot in a photo taken with a normal lens. Third, and perhaps most important, the defense never pointed out that the statute he was prosecuted under really shouldn't apply in the first place because “Sec. 551.101. RIGHTS AND DUTIES. (a) A person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle under this subtitle, unless: …(2) a right or duty applicable to a driver operating a vehicle cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.” A person riding a bicycle cannot, by nature, ride close to 65mph, so he cannot reasonably be expected to have a duty to do so any more than any driver is expected to maintain a high speed while preparing to make a left turn from the same road. Even so, he could have been prosecuted properly had there been a posted minimum speed, or a designated bicycle lane, niether of which was the case. Nowhere in the law is there a DUTY or OBLIGATION for the cyclist to ride on a shoulder. What's more, he had no duty to ride anywhere in particular in a lane less than 14 feet wide. Whether his riding was smart, or courteous might be debatable. He was not hauled into jail for being dumb or discourteous. He was hauled in and is being prosecuted because he did not ride on a shoulder when one was present, despite there being no legal basis for such a requirement. As the officer testified, he decided to “make contact” with the defendant when a shoulder appeard and the defendant continued to ride in the roadway.

    The section of the law he was prosecuted under was: Sec. 545.363. MINIMUM SPEED REGULATIONS. (a) An operator may not drive so slowly as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

  16. Mostly Motorists face no penalties for hitting bicyclists infect motorists are in the clearly at fault. This is happen because of lazy police and there is lack of justice experienced by cyclists comes not just from the police, but also from motorists and the media. This shows that most people have against cyclists.

  17. You're ignoring the fact that the transportation code specifies exceptions to “as far right as practicable” for any outside lane less than 14 feet wide and any outside lane not wide enough for a bicycle and a car to travel safely side by side. TC551.103(a)(4)

    If it's not wide enough to share safely, then riding at the edge only encourages them to try to share it unsafely.

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