published Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Chattanooga area cyclists ride for safety, memories

Chattanooga Police Sgt. Austin Garrett leads 55 riders north on Alton Park Blvd. in the annual Ride Of Silence Wednesday evening to honor cyclists who have been killed on the nations roadways.
Chattanooga Police Sgt. Austin Garrett leads 55 riders north on Alton Park Blvd. in the annual Ride Of Silence Wednesday evening to honor cyclists who have been killed on the nations roadways.
Photo by Tim Barber.

They've been run off the road, clipped by passing cars and flipped onto windshields. They've met the pavement too many times to count, earning scraped skin and torn ligaments and shattered wrists. They've lost friends, friends of friends, and fathers.

A group of local cyclists gathered in a Finley Stadium parking lot on Wednesday evening before the 14-mile Ride of Silence, a ride that is about bicycle safety and little else.

Before the ride, most of the cyclists chatted with each other, some catching up with fellow riders, others sharing stories about the damage endured on the road. Some have been lucky. Others are now too scared to bike alone.

But when the ride began Wednesday, the whole group -- all 55 cyclists -- stopped talking. Silent and slow, they rode.

The Ride of Silence is a worldwide event with two goals: to raise awareness about cyclists' right to pedal on public roads, and to honor those who have died doing just that.

The event takes place in 26 countries on the second Wednesday in May. In the continental United States, there is at least one ride in each state except North Dakota.

At least 10 cyclists in the United States have died this year, according to a list on the Ride of Silence website.

The list includes Antonio Jose Desousa Ribeiro, of Jacksonville, Fla.

Two weeks ago, police say, Ribeiro died on Ochs Highway when he lost control of his bike and crashed into a car during the 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge, an event organized by the Chattanooga Bicycle Club.

Wednesday's ride is also organized by the club, and before it started President Tom Ingledew told everyone the rules of the ride.

"No more than 14 mph," he said. "And nobody speaks unless there is an emergency."

Taylor Keaton stood among those listening. Keaton said he has been hit by cars three times, but none of those left him in serious pain.

"I'm on the lucky end," he said.

Another rider, Tim Bell, was hurt much worse. Bell said he was riding on Manufacturers Road in February 2012 when a car pulled out in front of him. The driver didn't see him, and they crashed head-on.

Bell's left wrist broke, and the ligaments in his left knee and ankle were damaged. He stopped riding for two months.

Bell doesn't compete in road rides as much as he used to, though he still races mountain bikes. Out there, he said, among the trees and the paths and not much else, the crashes are your own fault, and usually not as dangerous.

"Bikes don't win when you have an issue with a car," he said. "It's never going to go well, and it's out of your control how bad the crash will be."

Sitting atop a custom-built silver bike Wednesday, Holley Meek leaned against her handlebars in a Privateer Bicycles T-shirt. It was her dad's company.

David Meek died March 6, 2009. He had read weather reports indicating it would be the first pretty day of the year, and he urged his friends to ride to work, as he would. But on the way that day, David Meek was hit by a car.

He loved to ride, Holley Meek said. He loved to exercise, he loved the outdoors and he loved to spend time with other people.

Holley Meek, 24, isn't a big rider herself, though she rides now more than she ever did before her father passed. She wants to honor him.

She has participated in the Ride of Silence for five years now. And each time, as the riders gather before the start, she thinks of her dad.

On Wednesday, in the middle of the bicycle he built for his child, sat a picture of David Meek.

He is outside, and he is leaning against his bike. And underneath the picture is a message: "See you on the road."

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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