Foss: A ghostly reminder of a fallen cyclist

o-organizer David Kraus assembles the new bike at the Dave Ryan Ghost Bike site on Riverview Road.
o-organizer David Kraus assembles the new bike at the Dave Ryan Ghost Bike site on Riverview Road.

Whenever Bob Preville bikes the section of Riverview Road that runs through Rexford, he stops at the ghost bike that sits in a patch of grass near an orchard.

It’s a calm and peaceful spot, overlooking a thick woods, and when Preville visits, “it’s pretty much the same as going to a cemetery.” 

When he’s there, he pulls the weeds that have grown up around the bike and tries “to keep it as clean and presentable as possible.” 

The ghost bike marks the spot where a young physicist, David Ryan, was killed 15 years ago when a reckless driver smashed into him at high speed as he cycled along the road. 

I visited the site myself last week, to meet Preville and other members of the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club and watch as they replaced the original ghost bike, which had deteriorated after so many years out in the elements, with a new one. 

There are ghost bikes that have appeared all over the world, and they serve a dual purpose. 

These spectral sculptures remind drivers to exercise caution, but also pay tribute to fallen cyclists. 

They are designed to inspire reflection and promote public safety, and I suspect they’re effective — more effective, perhaps, than more traditional signage. When I see a ghost bike, I’m reminded of how vulnerable bikers are when they take to the road. 

As John Gillivan, a member of the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club, put it, “The ghost bike tells people slow down, we’re all trying to exist.” 

I’m glad Ryan is getting a nice bike, because his story is an important one. 

Anyone who’s ever spent time riding on Capital Region roads has a story of a driver behaving unnecessarily hostile — shouting at them for being in the road (which is where, under the law, they are supposed to be), throwing things at them, failing to move over or slow down. 

The evening I joined the small crew from the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club, the group was startled when someone in a passing car made an obscene gesture as they worked to prepare the site for the new ghost bike.

“That’s what we deal with, and you never know who is in the car,” club member David Kraus said. “I’ve had soft drinks thrown at me. I’ve dealt with people obviously coming too close.” 

There’s no excuse for treating cyclists this way, even when they fail to follow the rules of the road. 

Hostile behavior increases the likelihood of an accident, and the consequences could be grave. Drivers might not like to slow down and share the road, but some perspective is in order: A three-second delay to accommodate a bicyclist is not a big deal, but reacting with rage might make it one. 

It’s easy to understand what drew Ryan to the stretch of road where he was killed, and why cyclists continue to ride it. 

It’s curvy and scenic — the kind of place that’s a pleasure to bike. But it isn’t without risk — the shoulder is narrow, and the rolling hills and winding turns can make it hard to see what’s ahead. 

On Saturday, cyclists from throughout the region took part in the 15th annual David Ryan Ride for Safety Awareness. 

Ryan and Preville were friends, and Preville described Ryan, who was British, as “brilliant and well-liked,” with a “dry and witty” sense of humor. “He certainly enjoyed a pint of beer, and I had one with him on occasion,” he said. 

Bill Leahey, the president of the Mohawk Hudson Cycling Club, didn’t know Ryan. 

But he was out there last week, helping install the new ghost bike. 

“I ride these roads,” Leahey said. “I live in Clifton Park. … The ghost bike keeps the awareness alive, that someone died here doing something they love to do.” 

That person was, by all accounts, a fun-loving and gifted young man who deserved better than to lose his life to a driver whose actions — hitting speeds close to 90 in a 45-mph zone — suggest he had little regard for those with whom he shared the road. 

The best way to honor Ryan’s memory is to do better — to be patient and respectful when we’re behind the wheel, and remember that we all have destinations to reach, schedules to keep and people who love us and want us to come home alive. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. 

Categories: News, Opinion

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