Cycling Deaths: I Have Something I Need To Say

This morning started off well enough - coffee, some social media-ing, breakfast ... 

And then the news of Andrew Tilin’s death popped up on my feed in an article posted by Outside Magazine.  He was hit and killed by a car on his bike ride yesterday.

I met Andrew in 2014 after he reached out, saying he wanted to do a piece about me and my law firm. We talked by phone numerous times, exchanged plentiful emails, and he traveled to Golden that summer to meet me in person, see the office, and do a long bike ride together.  He also sat in on a bike law briefing I provided to the Boulder County Sheriffs Department. 

 Andrew's bright pink DORA the EXPLORER backpack, which he wore on our ride and carried with him everywhere we went (for his notebook, recorder, etc) was a source of laughs and humor during his entire visit. ;)

Andrew's bright pink DORA the EXPLORER backpack, which he wore on our ride and carried with him everywhere we went (for his notebook, recorder, etc) was a source of laughs and humor during his entire visit. ;)

His article was titled “Bikes v Cars, the War No One is Winning,” and when it hit the press in 2015, I was overwhelmed with emails and calls - mostly positive. Bryant Gumbel’s team at HBO Real Sports reached out, indicating they wanted to include me in a bike wars episode they were compiling.    

As you might imagine, the call from HBO was a game-changer for me and I immediately contacted Andrew and thanked him (for about the 100th time) for choosing me as the subject of his article.  I regularly expressed my gratitude to Andrew for the way his article opened up new doors for me - we stayed in touch on bike issues as well as personal life developments.  He was a cyclist and a writer I respected.  I considered him a friend and enjoyed our conversations.  

{Off-topic but I want to say this right now: is there someone who did something for you and it really made a difference in your life?  And you haven’t thanked them for it?  Go -do it now.  Seriously.  I’ll wait… I can’t tell you how glad I am that I made the time to tell Andrew -thank you - as often as I did. People who do meaningful things for us deserve to hear from us.  Make the time}. 

Today, I learned he was hit by a car while he was on the side of the road changing a flat tire on his ride yesterday.  It really affected me- as all cycling deaths do - but perhaps more so because I considered Andrew “one of us,” as in, one of the cycling advocates trying to make cycling better- and safer- and more well-known and well-understood. I also knew Andrew to be a very safe and skilled rider -a dad -who wouldn’t take needless risks on rides.  But of course as is often the case, rider skill wasn’t the issue here. 

Alongside the seeming randomness of the collision that took his life (a car skidding in fog into another car which struck him as he changed his tire on the side of the road) - I was consoled by the fact that Andrew went out doing what he loved to do: ride his bike.  

Allow me to back up here for a moment before going forward with the true grit of this article and the reason for writing it. 

May of 2017- I was on a charity ride, when a rider ahead of me rode over a stick which randomly shot under my front wheel.  I crashed instantaneously, and 2 riders behind me then crashed into me/landed on me.  Result: bike broken in 8 places, fractured sacrum (pelvis), torn labrum (hip), concussion (brain) and left side thoroughly road-rashed.  While I’ve crashed before, and broken bones before, this one was different.  Whereas my previous injuries all stemmed from racing, this one felt random -out of my control entirely-and it made me feel very vulnerable.  

It was during this timeframe that I was hired by a woman whose husband left for a morning bike ride and never made it home - he was hit and killed by a car on his training ride.  CSP released his bike and helmet to me and there it sat in our office.

As I was struggling with the concussion and pain I was personally experiencing -I saw his bike every single day.  (I'd think about how he left for his ride that morning fully intending to come back home, walk through the door, drop his cycling stuff and get on with his day).  And although I’ve been handling hard cycling cases for awhile now- this one, perhaps because of what I was dealing with in my own life-  it changed me.  I began to question cycling.  I began to question my work as an advocate, constantly trying to get MORE people out there riding their bikes.  I began to question why we do this - why do we ride our bikes on roads, and then act surprised when bad things happen?  What makes me different?  Why do I perceive my bike rides, and my riding behavior as safe, when clearly things can change in a split second - as a fluke, or as a result of negligence, or a myriad of other reasons?  

I found myself for the first time ever, afraid on my rides. My concussed mindset wasn’t helping me- but I also realized I was at a crossroads I couldn’t avoid anymore- I needed to decide what was what for myself when it came to cycling. 

And then the most amazing, wonderful thing happened: I made a choice.  (And now to the point of this article -thanks for bearing with me in getting here): 

I acknowledged that riding bikes is my most favorite thing in the entire world, for so many reasons (exercise, health, mental happiness, sunshine, seeing the scenery, using my body to get places, social aspects, and more).  I acknowledged that it makes me happy -and it makes most people I know who also ride - happy.  It makes me healthy.  It plugs me into my surroundings.  We don’t contribute to pollution or road wear-and-tear.  We DO contribute to our bodies’ health and our mental well-being.  I did acknowledge that riding carries with it some risks.  And then I recognized that most things we do involve risk. 

Here’s what this very specific, very purposeful decision did for me:

I don’t take my rides for granted anymore.  Every time I exit my garage door to leave my house, this image (taped to my door) reminds me that I am choosing to live my life- and that this ride could also be my last: 

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And I celebrate that.  What a gift of clarity.  I am firmly dedicated to making every ride- and every day -amazing.  When I ride to work and roll the bike into my office, there’s a moment of gratitude- “whew, I made it, and that ride was glorious!”  The same happens when I return home from a ride.  I roll the bike into my garage and as I put my hand on the doorknob to walk into the house, there’s a pause, a “thank you for letting me come home today” whisper to the universe.  And a question: "now, what can I do next, to make this day amazing? Whose life can I touch? How can I make a difference?"  My intimate awareness of life's brevity motivates me to take action.

The clarity this has provided me cannot be overstated.  It prompted me to streamline my life, consolidate financial stuff, sell off vehicles and possessions that were not serving me (and worse- weighing me down), assess relationships in my life, and yes- I got my will/estate documents in order.  My neighbors know how to get into my house to take care of my dogs, should I ever fail to make it home. 

My family knows how I want to be celebrated at the end of my life :

  1. no funeral, just a big raging, insane party!  DJ!  Drinks! Bikes! Sunshine! No burial, just a cremation (after all organs are donated of course) and my ashes sprinkled somewhere incredible! 
  2. go spend my money on amazingly fun adventures!! 

The point is this: this recognition that each day -each ride - could be my last -has made me a really grateful, organized, simple, inspired human.  Little stuff doesn’t matter anymore.  I’m locking down things that I once said, “some day I’d like to…” and I’m doing them NOW.  Not later, not when I’m older, not when I retire.  NOW.  (Example: I’m not waiting for a 40th birthday or a mid-life crisis or retirement or ___(insert your impetus here)____to take an epic bike trip.  Nope.  I’m doing it NOW.  This year.  It’s happening). I've always wanted to become a keynote speaker. Boom- done.  

I’m also committing more of my resources to people and organizations I can help NOW -while I’m alive -so I can experience the impact we are making as individuals and organizations.  So we can inspire others to come alongside us. (For example: HERE). 

NOW NOW NOW.  (Are you hearing me on this?).  

So yes- I know there are risks, but I chose to continue cycling.  And not only that- I vow to continue asking others to ride their bikes - because I do truly believe that the more cyclists there are out there, the more normalized cycling becomes, the more accepted it becomes, and the safer it will be.  

If you, like me, believe in the environment and protecting it -by doing things like recycling, boycotting factory-farmed animal products, buying organic and sustainable and ethically-raised and sourced; if you, like me, use reusable shopping bags to avoid plastic, and you make the efforts you can make to preserve our air, resources, and land -well then, I think cycling has its logical place in your list of things you believe in, to save not just our environment but also our economy

If you, like me, believe that life is more fun, and more full, when your mind and heart and body feel good/are exercised/breathe fresh air/have sunshine on your face, then cycling has its logical place in your life and your daily activities.  

If you, like me, believe that standing up for issues that matter to us, no matter how challenging it is or how much opposition we face, then cycling on public roads and having more cycling infrastructure, has its place in your list of causes to fight for.  

And hey listen - if you feel that riding roads is just too risky for your liking, I get it.  I know a lot of people who’ve traded in their road bikes for gravel and mountain bikes and they are steering clear of roads and traffic and cars.  I honor that choice and I don’t fault it one bit.  Everyone must make decisions based on their beliefs and their family, legacy and perspectives.  

Cycling safety is making strides, but it takes time.  I will keep working tirelessly at it, just like the folks at People for Bikes and Bike Denver and all the other amazing advocacy groups do, to make it safer. To raise money for separate infrastructure and to work on new laws that protect us, or punish people who harm us.  My big push is- and always has been -on education.  Teaching cyclists, motorists, and law enforcement what our current laws say and mean.  We may never be the next Copenhagen but we can make changes which will have large and positive impact.  

I believe cycling can save lives.  I see people losing weight, ditching antidepressants, soaking up sunshine, riding, exercising, sleeping better, making better food choices, having better relationships…  I see them sitting less, moving more.  I see us as cyclists, generally interacting with others around us more.  I’m not anti-car, I’m just pro-bike and all the benefits that bikes provide us.  

So- Andrew Tilin- if you’re up there reading this, I hope you’ll approve. I know you were never one to mince words or choose the path most popular -but instead, you wrote what you believed, and you articulated your reasons and that’s what made you a wonderful writer and human. You inspired me to write this. Thank you. 

I believe in bikes.  And I know Andrew and many of our other fallen cycling friends did too.  And while we mourn the loss of their lives, let us respect the fact that they rode their bikes because they loved to ride.  So let’s keep riding -in their honor.