The 2023 International Annual Ride of Silence in Austin, TX

The third Wednesday in May is designated an international commemoration of those people who lost their lives while bicycling. It began in Dallas, Texas, where A Dude was hatched, after one man’s friend was cyxling and got hit and killed by a car. It has expanded to hundreds of cities and countries (222 and 14 respectively this year). It’s called the Ride of Silence, which I wrote about in “5/5/23: 5 Things You *May* Want to Do for Bike Month.” Here’s a recap.

Almost 50 souls braved the heat, humidity, and stupidity of Austin drivers to meet at Austin City Hall. Many wore white shirts and a serious expression on their faces. Death is serious business, after all. Our fearful elected leaders, City Council Members, had all been invited through various means. Only a few replied no, and not a single one of them showed up. Plenty of bike shops and groups were also informed, although probably not early enough. In the end, it was mostly the intrepid souls of Social Cycling Austin who showed up to pay their respects to fellow fallen cyclists.

This rider/writer has a theory about the low turnout: No one likes to reminded of death. It’s a big, bad, bummer, man. The worst. While it’s the inevitable end of each and every one of us, denial and willful ignorance seem to be the default reaction to hearing about the Ride of Silence. For cyclists, there’s often some sympathy or maybe even empathy, “Oh yeah, I had a buddy….” But it ends there. With many government types and official bicycle appartachiks, there is a certain attitude they seem to exude. It goes like this: “Rah-rah-rah! Yay for us! We’re a safe and bike-friendly city! Certified platinum, even! Everybody of all ages and abilities, just jump on your bikes and ride! Everything is fine and dandy! Pay no attention to those doomsayers over there demanding protected bike lanes!”

Is there a time and place for that kind of boosterism and a positive attitude? Sure! After all, it’s Bike Month, and Bike to Work Day is two days after the Ride of Silence. But that pollyannaish bullshit has its limits in the real world. It leaves little room for considering dead bike riders. With six dead cyclists in five months on Austin roads from December 2022-April 2023, though, that’s exactly what we should be considering. That’s more than a typical year of bike fatalities. How to prevent future deaths? How, or can we even, stop drivers from being distracted, drunk, or just bad? What infrastructure improvements need to be made NOW, particularly protected bike lanes? What about maintaining the existing friggin’ bike lanes? And stiffer penalties for people who hurt and kill cyclists with their vehicles, FFS?

But whatever, we were there to do the ride, the first time in Central Austin since 2019. The previous group that hosted it for many years disbanded. The pandemic killed it for 2020 and 2021, and in 2022 no one wanted to host it. This year, the Austin Ghost Bike Project took it up. A ride leader stepped up to lead it, the word was sent out, and it happened.

It was almost time to put “wheels down” as bike parlance goes. Everyone around the world rides at 7pm their time. So, the leader got everyone’s attention, the group grew quiet, and he gave instructions: No talking or music. Think of it like a funeral. Except in emergency. Follow the leader and thw other volunteers’ hand signals. Stay together. Here’s a red arm band if you survived a crash. Black for everyone else. We’ll pass by three ghost bikes and a site where another cyclist was killed but the ghost bike eas removed. We’ll gather back here after a slow and mostly flat seven miles, he said. His arms is tattooed with both a red and black band. I didn’t ask; I didn’t have to. He’s lost people to car violence, like so many. Too many.

And so we rolled out. Stupid me forgot about the silent part for a moment until someone shushed me with an index finger over the lips. We trailed through downtown Austin, often taking up a whole lane (yes, its legal!), with vehicular traffic and people on the street looking at us. We passed the first ghost bike, newly installed. It was for Roger Crain, who was biking on the sidewalk with a cart he was pulling with one hand when he hit some bumps in the grass, somehow fell into traffic, and was run over. Tragic. He left two sons, 18 and 28.

It wasn’t safe to stop, so we wound around through West Campus area, passing ghost bike two, where it the same thing, not safe. It was for Michael Delgado, 29. He was killed by falling construction debris from the Greystar Corporation (allegedly; the family’s lawsuit is pending.) He left a 3-year old daughter and wife. One rider crossed the street to hug the bike. That really hit A Dude in the old blood pumper, but one can’t really bike with their eyes leaking, so we cowboyed up and kept going, entering the campus.

Bike three was removed by the University of Texas after two weeks in all its wisdom (because, football boosters and donors). It was for John Anthony Diaz, 39, whom I wrote about here and here back in 2019 when he was killed by a legally but over-medicated bus driver. We had a memorial ride for Tony then. The driver just got seven years of deferred adjudication and 250 hours of community service. No jail time! Talk about a non-severe penalty that makes cyclists feel like second-class citizens. Passing by this site as I often do pissed me off yet again. Breathing. Pedaling.

As dusk descended on the city, we made our way across Town Lake, reflections of the sunset on the water. The Congress Avenue aka Ann Richards Bridge was lined with tourists waiting for the Mexican free-tailed bats which famously migrate here and reside underneath to take flight at nightfall. The smell of guano is inescapable. The last ghost bike was lashed to the south end of the bridge with no less than three U-locks. It was erected in 2012 for Robert Anthony “Chops” Ramirez, 30. He was on the way home from work when he was killed by a drunk driver who was sentenced to manslaughter. The murderer only got two years of jail time and eight years of probation. He could (and should) have been sentenced to 30 years in jail. Two years is an insult, a slap on the wrist for taking a life. He even drove off and didn’t render aid, and later called police to confess from his hotel room. What a fucking loser. He got off way to easy. Allegedly he was going to be sober after his crime. As if.

Looping around to First Street, almost back to City Hall, a young, tatooed, Latino guy in a Lexus tried to speed up and go around the tail end and then through the peloton. The sweeper blocked him, and got knocked by the car, but didn’t fall or get badly hurt, just some arm strain. The driver stopped, got out, saw his bumper was a little messed up. He was pissed about the damage and kept asking for the cyclist’s insurance and threatening to call the cops, which was not given and he did not do.

Another cyclist, a friend of the sweeper, got in his face and began yelling. The driver took off but found us at City Hall, where we were wrapping up. A few of the riders talked to him and explained that if you hit someone from the rear in Texas, you’re at fault. Eventually he left. Thus proving the point that cycling is dangerous, drivers are dickheads, and you better watch your ass at all times. Bcause hurting or killing cyclists is not called an accident. It’s a crash. And most crashes are avoidable.

If only City Council and citizens and organizations and staff and drivers all cared enough to show up en mass, like they did 1,200 strong a decade ago foe a rally atbthe capitol. Ther is a long way to go to make the pie-in-the sky dream of Vision Zero (no traffic deaths) a reality, rather than the bureaucratic buzzword it is. With 60 car v. bicycle crashes in 2023 so far, and four of the cyclist deaths happening due to cars, VZ is not going to happen this year. (Pedestrians die a lot more; cycling is generally pretty safe if you are careful and operate legally and predictably.) But everyone deserves to Arrive Alive. How to get there is the Million Dollar Question.

Notice something about three of the four victims in this Ride of Silence? They were Latino. Coincidence? Or do Latino, Black, other people of color die on bikes in disproportionate numbers due to the intersection of race and poverty? I imagine that poor white people are represented in the statistics, too. A life is a life.

Except for that conflagration, it was a peaceful, respectful, almost serene ride. The silence forces you to sit there pedaling with your thoughts, and if you’re paying attention, your thoughts are about those unfortunate souls who died. It may be little comfort to the survivors to say, “Well, at least they died doing something they loved,” although if it happens to me I would hope that if anyone cared, those words would be of great comfort. We’ve all gotta go sometime, somehow. Like my brother says, “No one gets out of life alive.” For these cyclists and hundreds and thousands more, life ended far too soon.

Parting words were said, hugs given. Some went off for beers. Hopefully everyone rode home, safely and maybe in contemplation–in silence–as I often do, because I’m mostly a solo rider. But it was good to come together with others and participate in the Ride of Silence again. Assuming this isn’t my time yet. Maybe next year we’ll have better news.

Stay frosty out there, my friends.

Copyright 2023. A Dude Abikes. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “The 2023 International Annual Ride of Silence in Austin, TX

    1. Yeah, man he’s still at it. More Bilingual, less pickle ball I keep telling him. I saw B got back on his bike once recently. When are you coming back? Wish I had the budget to go up there and beat the heat and see college friends.


  1. What a shame that not a single City Council member showed up.

    Do you think now that we’re (whispering) entering the post Covid era, that maybe there will be a better attendance for this event next year? I get that death is a bummer, but this ride is for life man. And props and hugs to you and all the peeps who rode.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, man. Yeah, it’s a rebuilding year. Next one will be better. But in the mean time, how about some progress?

      Maybe we should rebrand it, except Ride for Life has been coopted by a certain set of believers. Still in the womb, you’re not done cooking yet, IMHO. “No vagina, no vote,” Dennis Miller used to say. Wow, that digressed quickly.

      But people with vaginas ride and sometimes get killed bicycles, too.

      Be safe running, Sorryless. “It keeps you runnin’, yeah…”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’ll get there, sounds like it.
        Those pro-lifers . . . Dennis Miller had a great quote about them. Something in regards to how they value the life of an unborn child but are ready to pull the switch on adults without hesitation. I guess it’s all in the timing!
        Baby, I was born to run!

        Liked by 1 person

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