"My bicycle saved me." — John's Story


Name: John Bannon
Resides in: Old Town East
Works in: Easton Town Center @ Trader Joe's

“My bicycle saved me.”

One morning in 2010 John jumped in his old beat up truck, but this time it wouldn’t start. Rushing to get to work on time, he unburied an old mountain bike from its hiding place in the basement. He hadn’t ridden a bike in years except for a short trip here and there. That day he rode from Old Town East to Easton. “It’s 9 miles to work, not a short jaunt.”

John couldn’t afford to have his truck fixed for two more weeks. His best solution - continue commuting by bike. “I experienced this revelation, I don’t need my car. My bicycle saved me.”

“Every time you’re on a bike, something weird can happen.”

John knew he wanted to continue biking, so he started searching for guidance on safe bicycle commuting. “I came across Yay Bikes! stuff that said it will teach me to ride the road.” He soon found himself at the first ever Year of Yay! ride in 2011 on a snowy, slushy January day. Despite the weather, John was hopeful the ride would still go on. “I think these people still ride in the snow,” he thought. And they did.

He participated in the first Year of Yay! ride skeptically. On the second ride in February he considered quitting all together. He remembers the weather was freezing. “At one point I thought I was going to throw up.” But, he made a friend who gave him tips to a more comfortable ride and encouraged him to keep pedaling. “Yay Bikes! came along and it’s like, I can do anything on my bike,” John says. That year he ended up riding 1200 miles. He also made many new friends who would end up being his support system in a time of need.

“I don’t remember getting hit.”

Three years ago today, John’s regular route was under construction. He was traveling home from work, biking through roads at the airport after 10pm on a Sunday night.  His last memory was glancing behind him while stopped at a traffic light, the red blinking light attached to his seat flickering on the road. “The good news is I don’t remember getting hit.”

Somewhere near the long-term parking lot entrance, a motorist clipped John’s rear wheel. It sent him spinning. He landed, head first, into the pavement. His helmet cracked in half. “I woke up on my back with my feet facing the curb. I’d done a half turn.”

The rest of his memories are a little fuzzy. What he can remember is the people who were by his bedside when he came to at the hospital. Many of those people he hadn’t met until just a year before when he found himself in the midst Columbus’ bike community.

“That’s the thing about the bike community…”

Following his accident, John posted a photo to his Facebook page from the hospital. Only a few hours later, the first person to visit was a fellow Yay Bikes! member who had also been struck by a motorist less than three months prior. “That’s the thing about the bike community, you know everyone. We all talk to each other.”

The outpouring of support John received from his fellow cyclists was humbling. They helped him get in and out of the hospital, they helped him navigate the legal proceedings and insurance, they helped him get his bike fixed, they helped him get to and from if he needed it. Two weeks later, he needed it. His truck, the same truck that made him a bicyclist, broke down again. Still weary of riding, his Yay Bikes! friends drove John and his bike to work. “I had to ride home,” he says.

“I’m not scared.”

Since his crash in 2012 John has steadily increased his bike mileage each year. Physical limitations from the accident prevent him from commuting as much as he did before, but he does it. He rides to the grocery store, to coffee dates, to meetings around his neighborhood. “I’m skeptical [of motorists] but I’m not scared.”

Frustrated by the frequency of bicycle related crashed and deaths, John knew he needed to do something. Last year he joined the planning committee for Ride of Silence, a silent promenade of cyclists in tribute to riders who have been injured or killed in crashes. “There’s this idea that only cars belong on the road.” He wants to change that. Ride of Silence is a way to pay tribute while educating motorists about the need to share the road. “This whole thing means something.”

"When I'm biking, I'm saying thank you." — Yolande's Story

Yolande started commuting daily by bike earlier this year after experiencing a Year of Yay! ride.
Yolande started commuting daily by bike earlier this year after experiencing a Year of Yay! ride.

Name: Yolande Berger
Resides in: Reynoldsburg
Works in: Downtown Columbus @ the Ohio Department of Education

“Columbus is a bike city!”

Yolande moved to Columbus in 2009. Inspired by the cyclists she saw riding the road, she was immediately compelled to commute by bike.

“I always knew I was going to do this commuter gig, but I didn’t know how,” she says. Fresh from a 1-mile ride to our lunch date at the North Market, Yolande’s enthusiasm for her new-found passion radiates. “Columbus is a bike city!”

Knowing her desire to ride, a friend gifted Yolande a bike soon after her move to Columbus. But, at that time, her physical abilities were limited and riding a bike was out of the question. The bike sat, collecting dust in the garage of her Reynoldsburg home for more than six years.

“Just keep moving your legs.”

Fast forward to early 2015, Yolande’s health had improved and she felt confident from achieving her first half marathon the prior year. At the urging of a friend, she and her 24-year-old daughter found themselves at a Year of Yay! ride in March with an Underground Railroad theme.

That day Year of Yay! travelled from Upper Arlington to Clintonville, through Linden to Sunbury Road where they pedaled uphill before stopping at Ohio History Connection. It was 17 miles in a cold, miserable drizzle. “It was intimidating, but the welcoming and patient community [of Year of Yay riders] made it accessible. I kept thinking, just keep moving your legs.” Yolande pedaled with purpose during that first ride.

“A different face of Columbus.”

Along the way, kids peeked from windows in neighborhoods along the route while business owners cheered from shop entrances. Despite the weather, or perhaps because of it, the group of more than 50 Year of Yay! riders brought the energy of a holiday parade. The community was excited to see them. “You see different face of Columbus when you’re on the bike.”

Her first ride since childhood sent a spark through Yolande. Just a few weeks following her initial ride, she sought out a Yay Bikes! Ride Buddy to help her learn to navigate the roads. The experience riding the busy streets allowed Yolande to gain comfort in the skills, signals and rules of the road she had learned during Year of Yay!.  After that, she was hooked.

“It’s a moment of gratitude.”

Just a few months later, Yolande is a proud bicycle commuter motivated by the benefits to her health, the environment and her pocketbook. Each morning Yolande travels from Reynoldsburg to the near east side by car before parking and riding the final 2 ½ miles to downtown Columbus on her bike. Commuting by bike has added a time of quiet reflection and peace to Yolande's day. Removed from the chaos of the typical morning commute, Yolande now rides streets lined with oversized trees and picturesque homes. “The only word I can use to describe how it makes me feel is calm,” she says.

And Yolande is grateful. “I don’t take physical activity for granted. When I’m biking, I’m saying thank you. It’s a moment of gratitude.”