Riding to Remember
Memorial honors the 100 New Mexico bicyclists killed by vehicles in the last two decades
Sunday, Sept. 20, was the perfect day for a ride—temperate weather, no wind and the rain clouds hovered over the distant southwest valley. Two-hundred bicyclists gathered in a parking lot at the corner of Jefferson and Copper.
In the crowd were national road champions and record-holders, weekend “tourists,” avid mountain bikers, two-wheeled commuters, children in trailers and a little girl riding with training wheels still on her pink-and-white bicycle.
They were there to remember their fallen comrades, friends, family, riding buddies, roommates and lovers. In the last 20 years, 100 bicyclists have been killed in the state by motorists. The memorial event “Can You See Us Now?” was organized by BikeABQ, an Albuquerque-based bicycling advocacy group.
Jennifer Buntz, an organizer, is a slender 40-something whose trademarks are long, blond braids and a passion for cycling. She’s been racing since 1984. In 2006, Buntz lost Paula Higgins, her close friend and racing buddy, to a careless driver.
The people who have been taken from us makes it personal.
“We just want motorists to slow down and pay attention—even if sometimes it means waiting to pass [a bicyclist],” she says. “The people who have been taken from us makes it personal.”
She chokes up when she talks about it.
John Vance had a close friend named John Dunn who he says was well-liked by everyone.
“I’m wearing his jersey,” says Vance. “After his funeral they said we could take anything from his closet, and I took the jersey I gave to him.”
Vance brought back a British cycling jersey for his friend after visiting relatives in England. Dunn was killed in 1994 by a speeding vehicle not too long after Vance gave him the gift.
“He was taken from us too early ... . By all rights, this jersey should have been worn out and tossed by now,” he says as he tugs at the stretchy orange-red fabric, which is old but not faded.
The procession of bicycles stretched for several blocks along Central as the group made its way west down the hill. The pack wore a strange mix of colorful racing attire, pragmatic bicycle-riding gear and outlandish costumes. Steve Mathias, Buntz’ partner, rode in an all-white outfit including whiteface. Craig Degenhardt rode a three-wheeled bike that was carting a white bicycle. Both men symbolized those who have passed on.
Most riders enjoyed the slow ride to Tiguex Park. Others showed an obvious mixture of joy for riding with friends and sorrow for the friends they lost to careless motorists.
Sorrow came on strong when the names of the fallen began to be read one at a time at the park. Conversation died down as older riders shushed newer ones who hadn’t lost a close friend. Tiguex Park grew calm and quiet before all the names were spoken.
Chuck Malagodi is the bicycle safety coordinator for the City of Albuquerque. His 12-year-old daughter, Angelina, also rode to Tiguex Park.
Looking at her father for confirmation, Angelina says she’s been riding since she was 4 years old. When asked if she feels safe riding city streets, the pensive preteen says, “Depends where, but mostly yes.”
“She’ll ride on Washington and on Central for short stretches, but I wouldn’t take her on Wyoming or Juan Tabo,” says her father.
He says he trusts her to be safe on the street because she has learned and practices the principles of “vehicular cycling.” Vehicular cycling means following all the rules of the road and riding predictably.
Buntz agrees. “Everybody has an obligation to pay attention and to take [driving] seriously to avoid accidents,” she says. “The things we want motorists to do will save motorists, too.”
Danny Hernandez has been a member of New Mexico’s bicycling community for 25 years.