New River Valley cyclists draw attention to car and bike crashes with Ride of Silence

NRV ride corresponds with rides around the world

By Shayne Dwyer - Reporter

RADFORD, Va. - With the warmer weather, cyclists are breaking out of hibernation and returning to the roads. But nearly every year, people are hospitalized in Southwest Virginia after being hit by a car while riding their bike. That's according to the cyclists who participated in the 12th annual Ride of Silence through Radford Wednesday night.

For many along the sidewalk — and drivers stopped to watch the procession go by — it truly was a sight to see. A long line of cyclists rode slowly and in a single-file line to honor those hurt and killed riding their bikes on roads. Every year they say it becomes more important than the previous year to make a scene and get noticed.

In the silence of the ride, all you could hear was the pops of the gears and the spinning chains. The ride is about strong heads, clear minds, and absolute solace.

"It's a pretty powerful ride because nobody says a word," Ride of Silence co-organizer Laurie Buchwald said.

Eric Johnson was on this year's ride and he was thankful to be able to do it. He was hit while riding his bike in Radford a few years ago and things could have ended very differently.

"I had four broken ribs, a concussion, broken toe, dislocated pelvis and road rash from basically head to toe," Johnson said.

He was one of the 50-plus people riding Wednesday night down Main Street in Radford. The annual ride comes complete with a police escort in cars and on bicycles as well. They ride slow and steady to purposefully make people look.

"I think one of the things that the studies have shown is that people in cars don't think of people on bicycles as being human beings, they're cyclists," Johnson said. "They don't think in terms of there's a human life in danger if I'm not careful that I could end that person's life."

The cyclists wore black armbands as a symbol of solidarity and to help draw the attention of those they rode by. The New River Valley ride started in 2008 after local professor and veteran cyclist Fees Green was killed while riding.

"It's about an 8-mile ride and it's almost like a funeral procession. It's very powerful, very moving," Buchwald said.

The ride is sponsored by the New River Valley Bicycle Association and Pathways for Radford.

Every year, cyclists get hit by cars and it's never on purpose. Buchwald said that's the tragedy in all of this, and that as drivers become more distracted, it is more important now than ever to get the word out.

"When you read police reports, when you talk to officers, the first thing people say after they hit somebody is officer I didn't even see them, and we want to have their eyes open," Buchwald said.

Johnson knows that even with a ride like this, the chances of someone else being hit while out for a ride are high. That's why he had people signing a petition that he'll deliver to the city asking for more dedicated bike lanes and that the city lower certain speed limits.

"We're people too. We have families, we would like to enjoy what we're doing, but we want to do that safely," Johnson said.

It's safety for cyclists and for drivers, and they're giving it the silent treatment to hope it has the best chance of sticking.

This year the group also recognized the fact that police officers, firefighters and tow truck drivers are hit on the side of the road, too. They want drivers to be thoughtful of following the move-over law and help make sure everyone can go home safely.

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