For many of us who cycle in Phoenix, riding to the TV Towers on South Mountain is a tradition. For some, it is a regular training ride. For the rest of us just trying to stay fit, Silent Sunday is an institution. It’s a winding, 5.5-mile climb — a real grunt at any speed with grades between 5 and 8 percent. You need to do it at least once a year, and you are thankful the narrow Summit road is closed to car traffic once a month. In addition to Silent Sunday, Los Freeloaders, my bike club, typically do the ride the Friday following Thanksgiving, while others are shopping at the mall. We assemble at The Farm on 32nd St. and ride out Guadalupe Rd. onto the 16,000-acre Preserve at Central Ave. We climb to the Towers, returning the way we came to eat lunch at the Morning Glory Cafe at picnic tables set out on the patio.
It was a shock then to wake Monday Oct. 30 and read in the Arizona Republic that Rob Dollar, a 36-year-old cyclist, had been killed on South Mt. in a collision with a motorist at 9:40 a.m. the day before. Nineteen-year-old Annaleah Dominguez had crossed a double yellow line to pass a cyclist riding up Summit Rd. in front of her and struck Dollar who was coming down. Dollar had been out with several buddies on a morning ride and had included the climb to the Tower. He was rounding a curve — most likely at 25-plus miles an hour — when his bike and Dominguez’s car made contact. Dominguez admitted to drinking and smoking marijuana. Indeed, one of the two passengers in her car had flung a packet of marijuana out of the car after the collision.
Dollar’s death struck a chord with the cyclist community. The Velo Bike Shop and Cafe quickly organized a memorial ride the following Sunday. Police from the city and the Preserve volunteered their support and escort. More than a thousand cyclists showed up and rode to the Towers en mass. Dollar wasn’t necessarily well-known outside the group he rode with and his California cycling club, The Big Orange. And though previous and current competitive cyclists showed up in force, so did we weekend warriors, commuter and pleasure cyclists.
It’s not that there is a war between cyclists and motorists in Phoenix. Not to the extent we find in Portland, where I come from. For the most part, the residential roads here are wide, well-paved and, frequently, with bike lanes. The extensive network of canals, the Phoenix Sonoran Bikeway, and the City of Phoenix’s plan to add 176 new bike lane miles in the next five years all point to interest in expanding cycling opportunities to this car laden metropolitan area. So why did so many show up? And why do those of us who didn’t fix on this death and memorial event?
I believe these twin events stand out is because we know that cycling is the most dangerous thing we do. At whatever pace and with whatever group, alone or in the company of 55 (as was the crowd of Wheezers and Geezers on a recent Saturday ride), it is the activity in life that gives us the most pleasure. As we cyclists age, we hang on to our interest in the ways that continue to work for us: we watch the Tour de France, tinker and make adjustments on our bikes, shorten our rides, pick the cycling companions and routes that are safest, the times of the day and the days of the week that are least hazardous. But we don’t stop cycling. Not until we have to.