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Be Like Mike.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Mike Rabe at bikesport


I'll be darned if my buddy Michael R. Rabe didn't buy the farm. May 2nd, Friday night, 9:37P.M. cycling lost one of its best, the world lost a great person, and I lost my best friend. Damn the luck. Typical deal.

Rabe caught the golden BB from a dim-witted 22-year-old female with a suspended license driving a junker car with hardly any brakes, a filthy windshield and two kids in the car and a drink in her belly. She said she never saw him. It was dark. She said she heard her car "hit something" and then decided to stop to see what it was. Her brakes were so bad she stopped a significant distance down the road. Yes, she had a drink. Just one. It was very dark. Rabe, the ding-dong, had no lights. He was on his time trial bike. A conspiracy of factors that lead to a fatal conclusion. Wrong place. Wrong time.

So what do we take from this except a new claim ticket at the emotional baggage counter?

Lesson One: This is a dangerous sport.

I've written and ranted extensively about the risks in our sport. Make no mistake: It is extremely dangerous. You can be killed at any time. There are substantial statistical arguments to support the probability that you will (not might) be killed eventually. If you aren't comfortable with that thought, find a safer sport.

What can be done to minimize the risks? Plenty. Like the great cyclist and 5-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault said, "Stack the odds in your favor". Wear a helmet. Ride in areas and at times that minimize your exposure to traffic. Avoid riding in the dark. Carry I.D. and a telephone. After Rabe bought it he spent 15 hours as a "John Doe". If he had his ID on him the police could have made a call at least, for whatever good that does.

Another thing you can do to minimize the risk is less tangible, but every bit as effective. It is attitudinal. The great surfer Duke Kahanamoku risked his life almost every day surfing enormous waves in dangerous currents over jagged coral reefs. Kahanamoku was never afraid of the sea. He respected it. This is what the Polynesian master said about risk:

"There are two kind of surfer- gun shy and gung-hao (gung-ho). Gun shy surfer can't accept risk. He is dangerous surfer. He die soon. Gung-hao surfer embrace the risk. He know it and learn it. He walk side by side with it every day in harmony. He good surfer"

What Kahanamoku is saying is: If you live in fear of traffic and having an accident you probably will. There is a Pearl Jam song that says "That what you fear will meet you half way". So true. If you are scared to ride in the road maybe this isn't your sport. If you are scared to ride in the road but you aren't interested in other sports then put your helmet on, get out there with a structured group ride and learn how to me more confident and competent in a road riding environment. It will add years to your life.

Having said all that it didn't help Michael R. Rabe one bit. He broke a rule of safe cycling by riding in the dark with no light and the driver was breaking the law since she was operating an unsafe vehicle while driving on a suspended driver's license. That points out a sub-lesson: It doesn't matter how experienced a cyclist you are, you can still wind up like a bug on someone's windshield. A crappy, stupid, drunk driver doesn't care if this is your first road ride or your 5,000th. But they will make it your last.

Stack the odds in your favor. Wear a helmet. Ride on routes you are familiar with. Don't ride during hours that are more dangerous. I know some of you will listen, some won't. So I will be attending more funerals. Eventually as the guest of honor, lying in the box. Then at least maybe Rabe and I can ride together again.

Lesson Two: Life is Short, Live it.

I am deeply affected by losing my best friend. It doesn't affect him because he's dead.

But I am more affected by having him as a friend for 18 years. Michael R. Rabe and I lived the good life. We did what we wanted, we did what we loved and I never missed a chance to tell that guy what a great guy and a good friend he was. He hated that.

We ate Coney Island's downtown at midnight. Worked on bikes until 3:00 A.M. Went to races and trained, we ate whatever we wanted. Sometimes when we were here late, eating pizza, listening to loud music and building bikes Rabe would say, real loud, "Hey, look at this boys, we're livin' like Kings!" How true it is.

I wear my heart on my sleeve a lot more than Rabe because I am pretty in touch with my own mortality. I survived a few close calls, so I know I am on this earth on "extension" or borrowed time and I expect that extension can be revoked at any time, without notice. So I figured I'd tell Mike "Hey dude, thanks for helping me with my cyclocross bike…" or whatever.

There is a huge lesson to be learned in that. It is the old cliché of living every day as though it may be your last. Rabe did that. He chased his dreams; he did what he loved. Sure, he had to cope with reality like everyone else. But when Rabe died his brother and sister found an entire room filled with unopened mail going back years. Rabe didn't waste time going through junk mail. As it turns out, that was an excellent decision on his part. He died young. That would have been an utter waste of time.

Sometimes when someone said something pointless, stupid or inane to Michael R. Rabe he would reply with, "Is that what you wanted to tell me? You just wasted 10 seconds of my life with that… 10 seconds I'll never get back." So true.

Rabe rarely wasted those precious 10 seconds. That is lesson 2.

Lesson 3: Give something back.

Philanthropy is when you give something back out of the goodness of your heart. Rabe lived it. He was a bike man through and through. He was an official, coach, promoter, racer, tourist, mechanic, announcer, jersey designer, and about everything else in cycling. Most of what he did he did for others out a love of the sport and a desire to bring other people into it.

Rabe loved cycling himself, and he enhanced his enjoyment of the sport by involving himself at every level. This brought other people into the sport.

Ask yourself: When was the last time you did something to benefit cycling? Or anything for that matter. When was the last time you volunteered? One thing I learned from Rabe was to always give something back to the sport. There have been plenty of times when I thought I should just punch out and go home rather than stay here past midnight (when I got here at 6:30 A.M.) to finish someone's bike. Rabe would always stay. "This person needs their bike tomorrow. They're doing a ride…". That was the highest priority to Mike. So we would order Pizzas, turn up the music, clean the counters and get to work. It wouldn't be long before Rabe would blurt out, "Hey boys….We're livin' like Kings now!"

Indeed we were.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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