‘I hate cyclists’ blog post ignites Internet firestorm

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A Sebastopol boutique meat purveyor ignited an Internet firestorm that spread across the country with a sharply-worded blog post about “obnoxious and entitled” cyclists, leading to a humbling lesson in the power of social media and the dangers that bike riders face every day on Sonoma County roads.

Adam Parks, the outspoken owner of Victorian Farmstead Meat Co., was contrite Monday after meeting with bicyclists to ask for forgiveness and writing individual apologies to commenters who deluged his company’s Facebook and Yelp pages with outrage.

“It was 24 hours that were very scary,” Parks said Monday.

The blog post, published last week on his company’s website, was intended to be “sarcastic and funny,” Parks said in an online apology.

“It was apparently neither,” he noted.

In the long, rambling post, Parks called cyclists in the traffic lane “fair game” and “Tour de Speedbump contestants,” and suggested a legitimate option was “running them off the road.”

The post enraged the North Coast cycling community and quickly spread over the Internet, drawing denunciations from bike riders across the country. One reader named him “douchelord” while another deemed him “seriously sick and twisted.” Many called for a boycott of his sustainably raised meat business.

Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said the swift and fervid condemnation of Parks and his blog stems, in part, from the harassment and threats cyclists routinely encounter on the road. It’s not such a leap, he and others said, that someone like Parks might actually try to hurt someone.

“The perception this guy has is just wrong,” said Santa Rosa cyclist Kashy Ghazzagh, “and unfortunately, there are some other people with that mindset.”

“Everybody who was aware of it had something to say for sure,” said Richard Peacock, owner of Spoke Folk Cyclery in Healdsburg. “It was totally unacceptable, obviously.”

Parks acknowledged it was hurtful and offensive, and says he’s learned quite a lot in a few short days after reaching out to critics and trying to “mend fences” — even driving Monday from Sebastopol to Healdsburg to meet Peacock and his staff at the shop.

“I was completely ignorant to the danger cyclists face,” he wrote in an apology posted Sunday on his company’s Facebook page that drew more than 130 comments. “We have been sent countless articles on people that have been hurt or killed on bicycles and the impact was strong. There is no excuse for what I wrote. All I can do is try to mend fences.”

Parks said he and his wife, Laura, will be donating $500 to a local fund for injured bicyclists and looking for ways to make amends. He said he’s hooked up with the Bicycle Coalition and agreed to be a sponsor and volunteer at the Tour d’Organics, an annual fundraising ride for the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center.

Written “off the cuff” from a note-to-self jotted down a few weeks back about a “common frustration,” Parks said the blog entry was meant to be “snarky and sarcastic.”

And in recounting the ill-fated drive to Santa Cruz on a narrow mountain road that apparently inspired his post, he veered sufficiently close to self-deprecation to hint at humor.

But when he wrote “I really hate cyclists,” proceeded to chastise their Spandex and expensive bikes, then talked of coming upon a cyclist on a hill and laying on a horn “to move him into a ditch and out of the way,” he hit too close to home, several cyclists said.

Hostility and road rage toward cyclists is common, Helfrich said.

“What’s unusual here, is it’s very unusual to get somebody that takes the second step, and then advocates running people off the road,” he said. “That’s what kind of set this apart: There’s kind of a call to violent action against folks riding bikes.”

But Parks says now he was unaware, for instance, that bicyclists are not required to ride on the shoulder when he wrote that “anyone not in single file and/or on the right side of the solid white line is fair game” for a driver.

And he said he did not know that cyclists truly are threatened sometimes in real life.

“It’s a very sensitive issue,” Helfrich said, “because most of us either have been hit or know someone who has been hit.

“Generally, it’s not on purpose, but there’s the extremes,” he said, referencing a 2012 incident in which an 82-year-old man chased a bicyclist across the Oakmont golf course before ramming the bike with his car.

The Community Market co-op, which subleases space in its store at The Barlow for Parks’ “chop shop,” got caught up in the fray and was forced to disavow Parks’ blog post on its own Facebook page, saying the market “does not condone or endorse violence, hate speech or threatening language of any kind.”

“We want you to know that our general manager and our board are going to put serious consideration into how we move forward from here,” the Facebook posting said.

In an interview Monday, the market’s community manager, Melissa Minton, highlighted what she said “was a huge learning experience” for Parks, and said the market supported “that learning,” even while objecting to his comments.

The incident comes at a potentially difficult time for Parks, who in December published an urgent request for crowdfunding on the website Cropmobster so he could get his company through a “rough patch” caused by the drought’s impact on feed prices for him and his vendors. He later declared the campaign successful, and humbling.

Peacock said he wanted to meet with Parks to remind him that the helmeted riders he sees on the road have faces, and names. They’re neighbors, teachers, friends, parents, “your nurse, your car mechanic, your doctor,” he said.

He was among those who said they’re trying not to greet Parks’ apologies with cynicism, as mere “damage control.”

But Peacock said many are waiting for the proof in the pudding. “He’s got a long way to go,” Peacock said. “His words were very, very hurtful.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary. callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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