Ed Erickson’s profile on the Strava fitness app is a love letter to cycling. He posted road-bike rides from his home in Ann Arbor along the Huron River and all the way to Dexter, thigh-burning climbs on his mountain bike through the Island Lake Recreation Area, fat-tire journeys through snowy woods lit only by his headlight, and even a ten-mile ride he titled “Trying to Shake Bronchitis …”
There are pictures of his bicycle silhouetted against vibrant sunsets and verdant woods, and shaky action shots with his handlebars or his front tire peeking into the bottom of the frame. As an avid cyclist myself, I appreciate these pictures. I’ve taken a few of them myself. Sometimes you’re on the kind of ride where your bike is an extension of your body, where you swear you’re flying, and all you want is to hold onto a little piece of it, even if it’s just some blurry photo that means nothing to anyone but you.
But Ed also shared his rides with his family: his wife Yukari and his two children, Rena and Yuto, whom he affectionately referred to as “the monsters.” There are heartwarming pictures of them on all manner of outdoor adventures, but especially on their bikes. A few of the captions are in Japanese; he was fluent and made yearly trips to Japan for work and to visit family.
“He almost found a meditation in cycling,” his lifelong friend Scott Fitzpatrick told me. “He just found his happy place riding, and he loved win-wins, so if he could put that together with a charity and help people … that was just totally his personality.”
Ed’s charity of choice was the Make-A-Wish Foundation. For nine years, he participated in the annual Wish-A-Mile Bicycle Tour, which runs for three days and 300 miles through Michigan countryside. When he embarked on this year’s Wish-A-Mile, he’d already surpassed his $3,500 fundraising goal by $200.
“A wish replaces fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope,” he had written on his donation page. “And hope is essential for these courageous children, now more than ever.”
His last Strava post, 100.58 miles from Traverse City to Big Rapids, is dated June 29.
June 30 was a beautiful day for a bike ride. Eighty-two degrees and partly cloudy, maybe a slight crosswind, but nothing an experienced cyclist like Ed couldn’t handle. He was biking along the shoulder of Stage Rd. through Ionia County farmland, the kind of mild terrain that melts effortlessly away beneath your tires. Easy miles on a summer day, and a group of friends riding their bikes to make a difference. But this is the truth every cyclist knows: It can all change in an instant.
An SUV passing a box truck. A driver with a previous arrest for operating a vehicle while impaired. The GoPro footage from one of the bikes indicates she made no attempt to slow down or swerve. When the police pulled her over, they found a prescription bottle for benzodiazepine in her SUV. As she stood swaying and regarding the crash scene, she remarked to Ionia County sheriff’s detective Chelsea Kasul, “That almost looks real.”
Three of the riders survived with injuries. Michael Salhaney of Bloomfield Hills lost his life. And so did Ed Erickson.
I didn’t know Ed, but his story strikes a special chord for me. We both believe in the power of bikes, both as instruments of joy and of change. I’ve also done a long bike ride for charity; in fact, that was the first time I ever visited Ann Arbor.
To lose a member of our community is a senseless tragedy and a gut-wrenching reminder of a grim truth every cyclist knows: Cars can kill.
According to the CDC, nearly 1,000 cyclists die every year in crashes on the road, and more than 130,000 are injured. But when the agency lists interventions for bicycle safety, no mention is made of driving techniques—just bike helmets, fluorescent clothing, and head/taillights. All of the responsibility for protection (and scant protection at that) is placed on the victim.
The city is trying to address the issue. Michigan law requires drivers to give three feet when passing a cyclist; in Ann Arbor, it’s five. In August, Ann Arbor joined four other Michigan cities in Bicyclist Safety Enforcement Week, focusing on actions by drivers that could endanger people on bikes. (Of course, they also cracked down on violations by cyclists—more victim-blaming, if you ask me.)
But it’s unclear how many Ann Arbor motorists actually know about the five-foot rule, let alone follow it. Although the city has nearly 150 miles of bike-friendly paths, bike lanes, and shared roads, the system is disjointed in places, ending suddenly or spitting cyclists out onto busy roads. In the winter, snowdrifts accumulate on the shoulder, forcing bike commuters to drift further out into the road, where they have to contend with traffic as well as snow, slush, and ice.
Perhaps most pressing is the condition of the shoulder. In a car, potholes are an inconvenience; on a bike, they’re potentially deadly. I’ve had to make some scary snap decisions on the roads in our community: Do I hit this and risk damaging my bike or flying over my handlebars? Or do I swerve out into the road? If I do, is today the day I get hit by a car?
Look, the CDC isn’t wrong. A helmet will protect your skull, and obnoxiously bright clothing makes it easier for drivers to notice you. But that’s where the real responsibility lies: with drivers. Please, if you’re operating a vehicle and see a cyclist, slow down and give them space. We notice, and we appreciate you. Your actions are vitally important; they could save a life.
The passing of a good person before his time is a tragedy. But a life is not defined by the way it ends.
Riding a bike makes you feel alive. Air rushes into your lungs, blood courses through your veins, and you feel truly a part of the world around you. And Ann Arbor is an incredible place to ride. It has the kind of gorgeous summers, gentle terrain (with a few hills to keep things spicy), and bustling downtown that make for some unforgettable rides. A bike can turn something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store into a little bit of an adventure.
Biking is fundamentally a celebration of life. Maybe that’s why it’s such a natural choice for fundraising. And memorials. The Ride of Silence is a worldwide event that happens every May. According to the organization’s mission statement, it exists “to honor those who have been injured or killed, to raise awareness that we are here, and to ask that we all share the road.”
It’s a long time until May. Let’s get a lot of rides in before then.
Calls & Letters, October 2022: July, not June
“Maybe someone has already reached out,” Miki Yuko emailed after reading our September My Town on the bicyclist’s death during a fundraising ride, “but Ed Erickson got killed on July 30. Not June.” We appreciate the correction, and apologize for the error.