CHANNAHON — Sara Jo Briese of Channahon wants to make the world safer for bicyclists.
By raising awareness, she hopes to prevent senseless tragedies, like the one that took her mother’s life.
In 2005, Briese’s mother, Jan, 68, also an avid cyclist, was struck on her bike by a motorist and killed.
To remember Jan and other fallen riders, Sara Jo will lead the Ride of Silence on May 15 in Joliet.
“The Ride of Silence exists to honor cyclists who have been hurt or killed, to raise awareness that we are here, and to ask that we all share the road,” Briese said last year at the start of the ride.
This is the seventh year Briese has been leading the ride. Last year, she had about 600 people turn out. This year, the ride starts at with the lineup at 6:45 p.m. from the Joliet Memorial Stadium, 3000 W. Jefferson, U.S. 52, Joliet. The slow-to-medium paced ride is ridden in silence over a nine-mile course with the Joliet Police Department providing an escort.
Even now, Briese admits, with tears coming, she still missed her mother.
“She was in fabulous shape,” Briese said. “She helped others — she volunteered. She planted gardens in Plainfield and here. It was so senseless.”
Sara Jo said that the day her mother was killed her mom was leading her regular Thursday morning ride with a local bicycle club, a ride that usually went from New Lenox to Peotone. Jan left the group early to head back when an 88-year-old motorist struck Jan from behind while she was riding on Harlem Avenue, just north of Monee Manhattan Road in Monee, Ill.
Just a few days before the accident, Sara Jo, then living in North Carolina, rode in a Ride of Silence event. She told her mom, “Mom, you should organize a ride like that in Joliet.” Little did Sara Jo know that the next year she’d be organizing the ride in her mother’s memory.
“What I asked her to do, it became my responsibility to do for her,” Briese said.
The Ride of Silence is a worldwide event with rides taking place in more than 300 cities, in 70 countries and on all seven continents.
People everywhere, Sara Jo said, know someone that has been killed bicycling. Briese said the crashes are called “accidents,” but she emphasized that most would be preventable if drivers paid attention.
“People saw the riders and didn’t slow down,” she said. “People are not paying attention, texting, using cell phones.”
Beside advocating for road sharing, Sara Jo knows the senselessness of losing someone. She’s reached out to others who’ve lost a loved one in car-bicycle crashes.
“Once it happens to you, you’re in a club that you don’t want to be in,” she said.