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Cyclists bike from MSU campus to capitol to raise awareness for road safety, honor victims

May 16, 2024
Cyclists embark on the Ride of Silence toward the state capitol on May 15, 2024.
Cyclists embark on the Ride of Silence toward the state capitol on May 15, 2024.

Hundreds of cyclists rode silently from the Michigan State University campus to the state capitol Wednesday. 

They were joined by thousands of bicyclists across the world, who gather each year to honor those who have been injured or have lost their lives in accidents with motorists. The event, called the Ride of Silence, aims to call attention to the importance of bike safety.

Okemos resident Tim Potter, who manages the MSU Bike Service Center, has been organizing the event since it came to campus over a decade ago. As someone who bikes everyday to work, road safety is paramount to Potter. 

“It's an issue that is on the mind of a lot of bicyclists who spend a lot of time riding on the roads,” Potter said. “I've had friends who've been hit. I haven't had any friends who've been killed, thankfully, and thank God I haven't been hit, but it's something that I am very concerned about.”

Potter focuses on preventing bikers from being hit, which is something he advises customers on at the bike shop. He said he’s “doing what (he) can to prevent tragedies.”

The best result of the Ride of Silence, he said, would be if “we stopped having the need to remember” people who are hit and injured or killed. 

This sentiment was echoed on banners towed by bikes participating in the ride to communicate the ride’s purpose to observers. One banner read “Same Roads, Same Rules, Same Rights.”

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Safety is a prominent issue for bikers, first-time participant Mark Schultz said. 

Schultz, a Mason resident who biked to Wells Hall where the ride began, said he even encountered a road hazard early Wednesday when tools fell out of the back of a truck. He said the problem was made worse by people driving by quickly while Schultz helped the driver pick up the tools.

Schultz said that while many drivers are cautious and courteous, this instance shows that’s not always the case. Occasionally, motorists become agitated with cyclists, like Tuesday when a driver honked at Schultz who was off to the side of the road.  

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Biking on roadsides has become more dangerous for Schultz as he’s aged, too, causing him to stick to trails instead. 

So, when Schultz heard about the Ride of Silence, he decided to participate. 

“I think it's great,” Schultz said. “It's a good way to raise the awareness… I didn't want to miss it.”

Other participants, like Holt resident Jeff Zimmerle, have participated in the event before. Today marked Zimmerle’s third time doing the ride, which he said helps raise awareness for sharing the road. 

“At the end of the day, we still want to get home to our families and loved ones, too,” Zimmerle said. “So it's just one of those things where yes, we realize that we're on the road, but it's probably only 15 seconds out of your day, and once you pass us, we're out of your way.”

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Zimmerle said safety is always on his mind when he’s riding on the road, which is why he wears bright colors and has lights on his bike. 

Many of the participants showed up in their neon cycling gear, with helmets and the appropriate bike accessories. But this isn’t all that connects them, Zimmerle said, as their shared road safety goals provide a sense of camaraderie among participants. 

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Potter said the event also creates camaraderie because it brings together all types of cyclists, from mountain bikers to road cyclists. 

Yet, the event does have a somber feel because of the silence, Zimmerle said. Participants were instructed not to talk unless there was a safety hazard to alert others to. The silence is for honoring and remembering, Potter said. 

But the event is followed by an after party so it can end on a high note, like a wake after a funeral, Potter said. 

The ride echoes a funeral for another reason: a bagpipe serenade. 

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East Lansing resident Bill Collins was asked to play the bagpipes at the start of the ride. He arrived early, playing as cyclists arrived. He’s played at this event for several years, and said he enjoys helping with remembrances like this one.  

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And so, after the reading of a poem, the cyclists lined up by Wells Hall at 6:30. As “Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes, they rode off in silence. 

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