Jeff Jardine

Jeff Jardine: ‘Ghost bikes’ reminders of cyclist tragedies

Road cyclists file into line along Milnes Road east of Modesto as they pass a “Share the Road” sign they helped fund during their weekly ride with the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club in January 2014. About 30 cyclists from the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club took to the country roads during their 30-mile course that led them from the Village 1 area to Valley Home and back.
Road cyclists file into line along Milnes Road east of Modesto as they pass a “Share the Road” sign they helped fund during their weekly ride with the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club in January 2014. About 30 cyclists from the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club took to the country roads during their 30-mile course that led them from the Village 1 area to Valley Home and back. Modesto Bee file

Expect spectacular, gorgeous spring days Sunday and Monday, even if it’s still technically winter.

Temperatures in the low 70s. Brilliant sunshine by midmorning. The almond blossoms are starting to show. And if the air quality is decent, you’ll get a spectacular view of the lightly snow-capped Sierra to the east and the Diablo range to the west.

Should be great days, indeed, for a drive or a bike ride with friends, and that means there will be plenty of motorists and cyclists on the roads. Each group needs to be aware and accepting of the other.

Two white bicycles along country roads east of Modesto serve as reminders of what happens when they aren’t, and how terribly wrong things can go.

Friends placed these old racing bikes as memorials, called “ghost bikes,” for cyclists who were struck by cars and killed. In what is becoming a growing worldwide trend, there are 600 such bikes spanning the United States, South America and Europe, and in many Pacific island nations.

The two east of Modesto are permanent, while others have popped up in area cities but are allowed to be displayed for only the day of a specific event. You’ll find ghost bikes in Sacramento, San Francisco and other parts of the state. Each represents a tragedy.

Just in the unincorporated areas of Stanislaus County covered by the California Highway Patrol, 150 vehicle vs. bike accidents have resulted in 11 deaths over the past five years.

One ghost bike is along Milnes Road just east of Langworth Road and recalls 46-year-old Michael Richey. He was killed in September 2008 by Craig Kyle Nelson, a man with a checkered driving history that included a DUI. The driver’s toxicology report showed high amounts of painkillers and also evidence that he had used marijuana.

The current homeowner of the property along Milnes, where Richey died, incorporated the ghost bike into the landscaping outside the wall he built to protect his children and pets from the frequent traffic on the road. He built a permanent bike stand, and a light to showcase it at night.

A couple of miles away, friends of 49-year-old Raymundo Campos placed a ghost bike on Claribel Road in his honor. Campos died in June 2013 after being struck by Ross Lee Grissom. Grissom awaits trial on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit-and-run and driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license.

Campos was a member of the Funsport Bikes Cycling team. Teammates Candy Jensen and Robert Cortes decided to memorialize him with a ghost bike. They received a “retired” bike from Team in Training cyclists. Cortes painted it white. D&D Graphics gave it lettering. On Feb. 8, Jensen took to it to a place near the spot where Campos died. It rests against a power pole, with flowers next to it.

“There were issues,” Jensen said. “I couldn’t put it where he actually died. We let some time go by and put it along Claribel.”

These cycling clubs form because of members’ love for riding, and they understand that more riders means greater visibility to drivers.

“We’ll get 15 to 20 people together (for midweek evening rides), said J.C. Cox, a member of the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club. “And we’ll get 50 to ride out Orange Blossom Road (east of Oakdale) to Knights Ferry for (a monthly) breakfast. There’s safety in numbers.”

They wear bright-colored jerseys and shorts designed to attract attention. Campos and Richey wore the same when they died. But like many who want to get in a workout daily, they were riding alone when they were killed.

Cortes, who helped ready the ghost bike remembering Campos, often rides alone.

“Monday through Friday, by myself,” he said. “I wear the high-vis yellow and blue (Funsports colors) and I ride with a taillight. I try to be as safe as I can.”

The Stanislaus club raised money to pay for “Share the Road” signs warning drivers that cyclists also use the routes.

“As cyclists, we need to share the road, too,” Cox said. “We need to ride single file instead of tandem (two abreast). If we’re in a group, drivers are very respectful. In fact, the drivers have been fantastic. We’ll come up to an intersection, and they’ll motion for all of us to go by.”

At the same time, other drivers love to speed on winding, hilly country roads. Some buses and semis literally suck the cyclists toward them if they don’t slow down as they go by, Cox said.

The clubs can communicate safety to members through their meetings, rides and websites. Meanwhile, the vast majority of bicyclists involved in accidents locally don’t wear helmets or attention-getting uniforms. They wear street clothes, often dark-colored, and dart across city streets at all times of day or night. They put themselves and others at risk every day. If you drive anywhere in Modesto – particularly downtown – you’ve encountered them and probably become accustomed to them.

But on a sunny afternoon in the country, with the blossoms blooming, the Sierra wearing a snow-covered cap and the Diablo range clear as a bell to the west, drivers need to be aware.

Cyclists need their share of the road, too, and not in the form of a ghost bike memorial.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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