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"Silent Tribute"

Author / Coordinator: Richard Chin
St. Paul Pioneer Press
May 2006

Bicyclists around the world will take part in Ghost Rides to honor fallen riders — and call attention to a problem.
 
By Richard Chin

St. Paul Pioneer Press

A solemn procession will go through Minneapolis on May 17, a silent parade of tearful people, moving at a slow pace and wearing black armbands.

It will be just like a funeral march, except everyone will be on bicycles.

Called the Ride of Silence, the event is part of a burgeoning international movement to stage annual bike rides to honor the memories of cyclists killed by motor vehicles and to raise awareness among motorists that they must share the road with bicycles.

The Minneapolis ride is being organized by Twin Cities Bicycling Club ride leader Stephan Kieu. There also will be a Ride of Silence the same day in the Brainerd area, organized by Paul Bunyan Bicycle Club member Joe Stattine. This is the first year Ride of Silence events will be held in Minnesota.

The ride got started after a cyclist named Larry Schwartz was killed after being hit from behind by a school bus in Dallas on May 1, 2003.

Schwartz, 42, was a well-known ultra-cyclist, said his brother, Ron Schwartz, a St. Paul resident.

"It just shocked everybody. He used to ride 20,000 miles a year and just never had an accident. Everyone just knew him as a very safe person," said Chris Phelan, one of Schwartz's friends in Dallas. "We all said, 'My goodness, if that happened to him, what does that say about the state of cycling?' "

Shortly after the funeral, Phelan sent e-mails to other cyclists announcing a memorial ride for Schwartz.

"I didn't expect anyone to come out. I really didn't. If it was just me, it was OK, because I kind of wanted closure," he said.

But when Phelan arrived at the ride site, he found about 1,000 cyclists waiting.

"I remember standing there in front of everyone and they're all looking at me," Phelan said. "I told everyone to look around because statistics tell us that someone here won't be here next year."

The ride was slow and quiet.

"You could hear people weeping during the ride," Phelan said.

Phelan didn't plan that it would become an annual event or that it would spread to other locations. But "the next day, I was getting e-mails."

Thanks to electronic word of mouth, cyclists in other cities started contacting him, asking how to organize their own memorial rides.

"It's just me and a computer," said Phelan, a track coach. "Some people think there's a Ride of Silence glass office building in downtown Dallas."

In May 2004, about 2,500 people came to the second Ride of Silence in Dallas. At the same time, there were rides in about 50 other locations, from Hawaii to Montreal, Phelan said.

This year, Rides of Silence are scheduled on May 17 in more than 200 locations, including Australia, China, New Zealand and England.

"I've been told that I struck a nerve," Phelan said.

He said he thought the danger cyclists face from motorists was a problem just in Dallas or just in Texas or just in the South or just in the United States. But he has learned it's a problem for cyclists everywhere.

"They also had Larry Schwartzes out there that had no reason to be hit," he said. "It's just carnage on the road."

Stephan Kieu said a death of a friend and fellow rider last year led him to organize the Ride of Silence event in Minneapolis. In February 2005, Bahram Daneshvar was hit by a truck in Texas on a trip organized by a group of Twin Cities riders.

Kieu said the ride isn't designed to be anti-car or to impede traffic. The message is coexistence between cyclists and motorists. Cyclists need to obey traffic laws, but motorists need to realize cyclists have a right to be on the road, Kieu said.

"We should all be able to ride to work safely," said Kieu, a Minneapolis resident. "If I observe all the rules, I should not be bothered."

"My major goals in riding are as a grieving process for me and to raise awareness to sharing the road with cyclists," said St. Paul resident Stephanie Skulley.

She plans to participate in the Minneapolis ride in memory of her brother, Edward Sufilka, an Ohio paramedic, firefighter and police officer who was killed by a truck during a 2004 bike ride in Australia.

"I think it will be inspiring. I think it will raise awareness," said Edina resident Patty Carney-Bradley, who will be riding in memory of her brother, Jack Carney.

Carney was struck and killed by a motorist in October while riding his bike in Arizona.

Carney-Bradley said her brother was originally from Austin, Minn., and at least eight family members will be at the Minneapolis ride, wearing black armbands with photos of her brother.

"I'm looking forward to consoling others and being consoled," she said.

Typically, about 1,000 bicyclists are injured each year in crashes with motor vehicles in Minnesota. From 1995 to 2005, a total of 85 cyclists were killed in the state in crashes with motor vehicles.

"These are people fed up with taking their lives in their hands when they go cycling," Phelan said. "I'm just really incensed by the idea that motorists own the road. They don't. Cyclists legally have a right to the road."

The Ride of Silence Web site, www.rideofsilence.org, suggests all the memorial rides should be between eight and 12 miles long and scheduled to start at 7 p.m. local time on May 17, which falls during National Bike-to-Work Week. Cyclists are supposed to go no faster than 12 mph and are to remain silent during the ride.

"There is no brochure, no sponsors, no registration fees and no T-shirt," according to the Web site. Helmets are required and riders are encouraged to wear black armbands in memory of someone killed while riding, or a red armband if they have been hit or injured by a motorist.

"It's very emotional. Every time I've ridden on it, I've cried," said Judith Jolly, Larry Schwartz's partner.

In Iowa, riders will be following a hearse, Phelan said. In other cities, the ride will coincide with installations of "ghost bikes," bikes that are painted white and set up as memorials at locations where cyclists have been hit or killed by motorists.

The ghost bikes are part of another grassroots program, started by a bike mechanic in St. Louis, that has spread to other cities around the world.

"The whole thing is to get people to slow down," said ghost bike originator Patrick Van Der Tuin.

Richard Chin can be reached at rchin@pioneerpress.com or 651- 228-5560.

The Ride of Silence in Minneapolis starts at 7 p.m. May 17 at the parking lot off West River Parkway next to the Stone Arch Bridge. Park at the public parking lot at the corner of Second Street and 11th Avenue. You must wear a helmet and sign a waiver. For more information, see www.biketcbc.org or contact Stephan Kieu at 612-910-0254.

The Ride of Silence in the Brainerd area will start at 6 p.m. May 17 at the Paul Bunyan Trailhead in Baxter. See www.paulbunyan cyclists.com or contact Joe Stattine at jstattine@charter.net for more information.