• Sat September 30 2006
  • Posted Sep 30, 2006
The 20 bikers never met him, but they shared his passion for riding. By REID FORGRAVE REGISTER STAFF WRITER September 30, 2006 Dallas Center, Ia. — They entered the church wearing cycling jerseys and spandex shorts. They walked past the open casket, past the 120 family members and friends who filled Grace Brethren Church, past the Harley Davidson handkerchief emblazoned "Uncle John," and sat down, tucked quietly in the back of the chapel. They came not because they knew John Maxwell, not because they loved his ever-present smile or the noogies he gave his nephews or the candies he handed out at church. None of these cyclists had ever been on a bike ride with him. They had never even met Maxwell, the Dallas Center bicyclist who was struck and killed Sunday morning by a 22-year-old motorist who was later charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Instead, they came because they shared Maxwell's passion for cycling. And they came because they know that every time they mount their 10-speeds, they might face the same sad fate. "When somebody dies like this, you know it could be you," said Kim West, who organized 20 bicyclists to convene on the Raccoon River Valley Trail Friday morning, then ride to Maxwell's funeral, 10 miles away in Dallas Center. "We're comrades, kindred spirits. Hot or cold, day or night, that's what you do all four seasons when you're a cyclist." Maxwell, 45, was riding his bike to work at Heartland Co-op in Waukee shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday when a car struck him on County Road 16 two miles south of Dallas Center. Five days later, this group of cyclists gathered at the trail head in Waukee under Friday's crisp blue sky. Then they rode past the scene of the accident on the way to Maxwell's funeral. Many stayed for the services and rode their bicycles behind the hearse as it headed to the cemetery. Every serious cyclist knows another cyclist who has been injured or killed by a motorist, they said as they readied for their morning ride to the funeral. Maxwell was the third cyclist to die this year in Iowa from being hit by a motorist, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. In 2005, 11 cyclists were killed by motor vehicles, the highest number since the mid-1990s. "If people haven't come close to getting killed, they're not riding enough," West said. It's not that these die-hard cyclists are thrill-seekers with a death wish. It's that motorists are often irresponsible and ignorant of cyclists, they said. "There's some people out there who'll buzz you just to see how close they get," said Mark Drake, who drove in from Bagley for the memorial ride. "But bicycling ... gets in your blood. You'll go out when it's cold, windy, rainy, and you'll have a great time." "Cyclists have a different mind-set," said Kelly Welsh-Wingate, who came from Ames. "Nothing is going to keep you off your bike. It's what's going to keep you sane. It takes another cyclist to understand that." So why come to a funeral for somebody they'd never met? "Every bicyclist can identify with this because we're all vulnerable on the roadway," Mark Wyatt, the executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, said Friday morning as he waited outside the church for the funeral to begin. "Cars need to put an emphasis on safe driving. And drivers should be held accountable when someone is killed or injured." And so they quietly sat in the back as Maxwell's pastor from Sunshine Open Bible Church in Des Moines officiated at the service. They did it to support the family, as well as to caution bicyclists and motorists alike. "Enough is enough - it was time to make a statement," said Joe Cory, who came from West Des Moines. "If it's not safe to ride at 5 a.m. from a drunk driver, when is?"

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