My Ride of Silence Epiphany - Part I by Sonya Lovine

For the last two years I have assisted with and led the coordination of the local (Sacramento, CA) Ride of Silence. The Ride of Silence is an international effort to educate the public and it memorializes those lost doing what they loved.

The organization exists to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured on public roadways, to raise awareness that cyclists are on the roads, and to ask that we all share the road.

The first ever Ride of Silence occurred in 2003 in Dallas, TX after an endurance cyclist was struck and killed by the mirror of a passing bus. The maiden Ride drew 1,000 cyclists purely by word of mouth that began just ten days prior to the event. The cyclists came together and rode in silence, some in tears, in honor of one fallen cyclist – one of their own. Chris Phelan, now President of the Ride of Silence, coordinated this first ride for his dear friend – never with the intention to make it an annual event.  But when others learned of this very moving experience, Chris began receiving inquiries from many who wanted to honor fallen riders in their own local communities.

This worldwide event occurs in many countries on the same day, at the same time. Cyclists convene to ride in a silent slow-paced ride.  Although all cyclists have a legal right to share the road with motorists, the drivers often are not aware of these rights; many drivers are not even aware of the cyclists themselves.  The ride is held the third Wednesday of May, during National Bike Month.  Routes taken on this ride will often stop at ghost bikes that have been installed at the location of a cyclist’s death. Ghostbikes are small memorials for bicyclists killed on the road.  A bicycle is painted all white and placed near crash sites, and often accompanied by a small plaque honoring the cyclist.  They serve as reminders of the tragedy that occurred and represent a quiet “voice” in support of cyclists' rights to travel on safe roadways.

My involvement with the Ride of Silence evolved from a need to heal. In 2012, after only a year and a half of riding, I was struck by a car while riding home from work.  Long after I healed from the physical injuries, the emotional damage was still ever-present. 

The city in which I live, Sacramento, CA, has participated in the Ride of Silence for a total of six years.  I learned of this organized Ride through a friend who rode in each of the respective rides that were held from 2008 through 2012.  During those years, attendance was nominal – eight participants in the first year, 26 in 2009, and 11 and 14 participants in years 2011 and 2012, respectively (a ride was not held in 2010).  Prior to my accident, I wasn’t interested in participating in the ride – I knew what its mission was – but it just seemed a bit morbid to me.  Following my accident in October 2012, my friend tried to get me involved with the upcoming ride to be held in May 2013.  Now more than ever it felt far too morbid and I was unsure if this was the best thing for me to be involved in so soon after my horrible incident.  I gave in though and agreed to help “spread the word” about the ride.  Everything I did was very systematic – my only goal was to help increase the number of participants. I emailed every cyclist I knew. I tried to give it as much publicity as I could on Facebook, simply trying to drum up interest and participation.  The further I became involved, the more I took on.  It wasn’t until I started writing the press release for the event that what I was doing became real to me.  I was researching statistics on the number of bicycle-related deaths and injuries in our state which then led me to reading a number of newspaper articles about bicycle accidents.  

Next came the gathering of names of those who would be honored at the Ride – all of a sudden I was putting faces with names with actual lives. I remember at one point telling my friend that I could no longer be involved with the Ride. It all became far too much for me to come to grips with.  I was overwhelmed with the statistics and not so far removed that I realized I could have been one of “those” statistics.  Beyond that, for each and every person that I researched – their story became real to me – I was far more involved than I felt comfortable with.  I was grieving for all that I had gone through, grieving for those that died while doing the one thing that I loved, and to a certain extent, questioning how I managed to be so “lucky” on that fateful day.

Needless to say, I eventually returned to finish up what I started. Despite my need to disconnect emotionally, I knew that no matter what, I wanted this ride to be a success.  In the end, at the 2013 Sacramento Ride of Silence, we had 72 participants – more than all four previous rides total!  My efforts were rewarded!

About Sonya

Sonya Lovine is a Sponsored Research Officer at California State University, Sacramento. She has worked at Sac State for over 25 years.  Sonya received her master’s degree in Public History and bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Sacramento State.  She will begin work on her second master’s degree in Information Science in the fall of 2015. Sonya is an active volunteer with the Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park and enjoys spending time with her Boston Terrier and going for long bike rides along the American River Parkway.