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Remembering Dan Gebhart, who found community via cycling in Portland

Posted by on October 5th, 2020 at 12:37 pm

Dan Gebhart and his Sunday Parkways volunteer shirt at Peninsula Park. Dan died in a cycling crash on September 22nd.
(Photo courtesy Cathy Bickerton)

Like many people who arrive in Portland alone and without a network of friends or family, Dan Gebhart found his “kindred spirits” via our vibrant and welcoming cycling community.

“He found within the bike community here in Portland his calling, promoting safer streets.”
— Cathy Bickerton, Dan’s mom

That’s one reason his death while bicycling alone is all the more sad and tragic.

According to Dan’s mother, Cathy Bickerton, he was riding home from work on Tuesday September 22nd when the crash happened. He worked at a gas station on SE 122nd and Sunnyside in Clackamas and was headed west toward his apartment at 72nd and Foster in southeast Portland. Bickerton says he likely gathered speed on the curvy downhill of SE Otty Road, lost control of his bike, and hit a curb before colliding with a nearby fence. Bickerton said the Clackamas County Medical Examiner checked Dan’s Bike Friday folding e-bike and that, “It was obvious the brake cables slipped and would not stop the bike.” (She also noted he’d been moving the brake cables around recently after installing a front rack.)

Dan was 38 years old.

Selfie of Dan at the Dr. Who Ride during Pedalpalooza wearing a scarf he knitted himself (“And was quite proud of it,” his mom said.)

I remember Dan as a quiet and active volunteer with Bike Loud PDX who I’d often see at events and meetings. We interacted via Twitter (he’s @DeadPanDan) and he was a reliable source who’d send me photos to use for stories and brief dispatches from events to help with our coverage.

In 2016 he organized and led the No More Four-Lane Roads ride to raise awareness of the dangers of wide, high-speed arterials. He made a sign for his bike that read, “All Modes, No Stroads”.

Also in 2016, Dan took part in activism to improve safety on SE Division Street which led to PBOT lowering the speed limit. He’s in the blue puffy jacket in the celebratory photo below of the new new speed limit signs:

Dan (blue coat) with other advocacy partners celebrating lower speed limits on SE Division in 2016.

Dan was born in Elgin, Illinois and lived in Indiana, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Connecticut and New Hampshire before moving to Clackamas in 2013. “After months of struggling in a new place with no friends or contacts, Dan discovered the bike community here in Portland,” Bickerton shared with me recently. “Pedalpalooza and Sunday Parkways brought Dan in contact with kindred spirits – finally folks he had interests in common with.”

“He found within the bike community here in Portland his calling, promoting safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians. He became a member of Bike Loud PDX and participated in many of their initiatives.”

Here’s more from Cathy:

“In late 2019 Dan purchased his first e-bike, a cargo bike. He was so thrilled with the cut in his commute time he ordered a second one as a commuter bike that arrived this past March just as the pandemic hit. Organized bike rides during this time ground to a near halt, so to pass the time Dan took up woodworking with hand tools turning his little studio apartment at 72nd and Foster into a quasi-workshop.

Dan’s degree was in Engineering Technology and his brain was always geared to a ‘fix it’ mindset. He was quiet, thoughtful, slow to speak and had a dry snarky humor. He was anti-car and ironically worked at a gas station for almost six years. True to his character he even gave pumping gas his all. His supervisor was heartbroken when she heard the news. “He kept this place running,” she said.”

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Dan’s sister Rachel Moline also shared a few words about him:

“Dan was sparse in words but not in mind and heart.

In childhood, Dan was a kind and inspirational brother who was perpetually immersed in some project to expand his understanding of the world around him. As an adult, he was a good friend. Whether you needed help moving, an appliance repaired, or an extra mind to solve a problem, Dan was eager to help.

Once in Portland he found focus in a new passion of bicycling. He was finally able to merge his intellectual pursuits and generous spirit with a greater purpose through bike and pedestrian safety. He really was a beautiful soul who genuinely cared for his family, friends, and community.”

Family and close friends gathered on September 26th to say goodbye to Dan. He is survived by his mom, Cathy Bickerton, his father Leonard Gebhart, his two brothers Michael and Timothy, and his sister Rachel Moline.

Bickerton plans to donate two of Dan’s bikes and lots of spare parts to the Community Cycling Center.

Rest in peace Dan. And may the wind always be at your back.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Phil RichmanJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)Tom McTigheFredDavid Hampsten Recent comment authors
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Cory P
Guest
Cory P

I’m so sorry to hear this. I had many conversations with Dan, He was always thoughtful and seemed particularly interested in talking about skateboard transportation.
Group rides won’t be the same without Dan riding along.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Thanks for all your efforts, Dan.

katew
Guest
katew

i didn’t know dan well, but from our few interactions, he seemed quiet, kind and worked tirelessly for bike advocacy. tailwinds, dan, rest in peace.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I’m really sorry to read this. I don’t think we’d ever met in person, but in our interactions online he came across as a really great person.

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

This is so sad! Dan was a wonderful person, kind, and with a sense of humor. I really enjoyed his attendance at the many events I saw him at. So sorry to hear this!

mh
Subscriber

I feel sick. I was so pleased when Dan got the apartment on Foster, because he had lived so far from what he was involved in. I kept hoping he’d land the job he applied for on Hawthorne, and never dreamed that that would be such a small and unimportant wish.

Zander77
Guest
Zander77

Sounds like he was a great guy, and someone who strengthened our bike culture here in Portland. I can’t help but be curious as to whether he was wearing a helmet when he crashed. According to these pictures, he only wore them sporadically.

Phil
Guest
Phil

As a follow-up: I understand the curiosity, but these sorts of questions after a tragedy come across as victim blaming to those who are grieving. To be very clear: I’m assuming your intent was benign, I recognize the relevance of a helmet in a crash, and I want to help you understand why such questions are a habit to leave behind. I’ve made similar mistakes before, ain’t nobody perfect – but we keep learning!

armando
Guest
armando

so sad to hear this

Daniel Amoni
Subscriber

I met Dan at my first group ride after moving to Portland, and later that year attended PSU’s Traffic and Transportation class with him. He was a fixture in the bicycle activism community, and I will miss his steadfast and resolute presence.

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

I would have thought I’d seen him on rides in Portland since earlier than 2013. He was always out there. Sad.

Maria
Guest
Maria

What very sad news. Dan was a regular on Bicycle Kitty rides. He had a silent strength and confidence about him.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

This is so sad and confusing. Was there no MCT investigation / it was not treated as a traffic death? Even a mechanical error/failure deserves to be questioned in terms of Vision Zero and safety by design. What fence?

Dan will be missed. I still have the sign I made for his No More Four Lane Roads ride last year “See you at the next light!”, and indeed we did repeatedly catch up to the speeding and honking car traffic which had passed us only to wait idling at the next stop light.

Timur Ender
Guest
Timur Ender

So sad to hear

Tom Howe
Subscriber

Dan will be sorely missed. He was a regular attendee of Puddlecycle rides over the years. Check out the nice photo album he posted for the Hidden Gems of the Springwater Ride:

https://www.facebook.com/events/947507788595178/?active_tab=discussion

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

I bet I have so many pic.s of Dan on lots of rides. Paula got you and Dan on the ride you mentioned https://flic.kr/p/r95JHt
I wonder how many bike moves he was on.

Josh G
Guest
Josh G
Paula Funatake
Guest
Paula Funatake

Just reading about this now … I’m so sad! Dan was an amazing bikey friend – will miss him.

Tom Howe
Subscriber

Went down memory lane to find more pictures of Dan. His Facebook page is rather sparse in self images:

The Luck of the Irish 2019 (Dan in back center):
https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10210637472453618&set=pcb.437744873673556

Planes, Trains, Automobiles & Bikes 2018:
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10216859882222767&set=pcb.551730491975657

Ride to Fairview Christmas Tree Lighting 2018:
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10156739230268326&set=gm.300720353754239

Nighthawk Holiday Lights Ride 2017:
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10155880596918326&set=a.10152628403573326

Bomb Shelter Ride 2017 (Dan’s photos):
https://www.facebook.com/events/231746873942718/?active_tab=discussion

Ride to the Dahlia Festival 2016 (Dan rode home with a bouquet on his bike):
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10154401382928326&set=gm.204626906619870

Orange Line Art Hop 2016:
https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10153277272531837&set=a.10153277271541837

Clinton’s Run 2016 (Dan in high-vis outfit):
https://www.facebook.com/puddlecycle/photos/pcb.447815985416373/589755597840165/

Into the Maddax Woods 2015 (Dan in high-vis outfit):
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10153747735508326&set=gm.162706014091983

Riders to the Stars 2015 (Dan’s picture through Santa’s magic glasses):
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=946845852051217&set=gm.915267075222995

Fixie Friendly Council Crest 2015 (pictures of Dan and his photo album):
https://www.facebook.com/events/530742447092743/?active_tab=discussion

Dan’s photo album on the Ripplebrook Century 2015. He rode 130 miles!
https://www.facebook.com/events/534980796649794/?active_tab=discussion

Orange Line Adventure 2015 (Dan in blue shirt taking picture):
https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10153538647813326&set=gm.411903785662031

Flying Carpet Ride 2015:
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10153021190838326&set=gm.342876879248709

North Portland Greenway Excursion 2014:
https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10152989967033326&set=gm.323013161225654

Into the Maddax Woods 2014:
https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10152902370163326&set=gm.615574168542047

Riders to the Stars 2014:
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10152883504808326&set=gm.750052291716083

Dan with the Belmont Goats 2014:
https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10204632021896925&set=a.10204632005816523

Springwater Hidden Gems 2014:
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10152868486643326&set=gm.703776239714173

Cathy Bickerton
Guest
Cathy Bickerton

Oh my gosh Tom, thank you so much for pulling all these photos together along with the rides and dates. If you find any others feel free to message me through Facebook. I am putting together a memory book of Dan. There is a lot about his life here in Portland that his brothers and sister living in the Midwest are unaware of. Thank you!

Tom Howe
Subscriber

Thanks Cathy! I’ve updated the Puddlecycle ride list with a “Dan” icon for the rides he went on. Some of those don’t have pictures, but do have comments he left:

http://cedmagic.com/bike/

I’ve got some higher resolution images on iCloud, so I’ll get those to you as well via Facebook.

Cathy Bickerton
Guest
Cathy Bickerton

Thank you!

Skid
Guest
Skid

Can’t help but be suspicious when an experienced cyclist goes down all by themselves, especially on a daily commute.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

So many things can happen that being suspicious of anything is pure speculation. As is the case for motor vehicles, accidents often happen on daily commutes and single vehicle crashes are common.

Even the details supplied don’t necessarily tell us anything. For example, the brake cables could have slipped as a result of the crash and it’s very possible that the crash had absolutely nothing to do with being unable to stop.

It’s just a tragedy. He was taken too soon.

Skid
Guest
Skid

Somewhat disrespectful to suggest his bike was in a state of disrepair. I rode with him on numerous occasions and he was safe courteous and skilled rider with a well-maintained bike.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Bickerton said the Clackamas County Medical Examiner checked Dan’s Bike Friday folding e-bike and that, “It was obvious the brake cables slipped and would not stop the bike.” (She also noted he’d been moving the brake cables around recently after installing a front rack.)

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

It’s not at all disrespectful to suggest a mechanical failure might have led to this crash, less so even than suggesting operator error led to a car crashing into a tree. We should all welcome factual inquiry that can both help explain this tragedy and, hopefully, help avoid the next.

 
Guest
 

Baseless conspiracy theories like this help nothing and just end up discrediting cyclists as a whole when non-cyclists see them and incorrectly generalize that all cyclists are this way.

My heart goes out to Gebhart’s friends and family; what a tragic accident.

Skid
Guest
Skid

The chances of someone drifting into the bike lane down a left-curving hill are pretty good. As are the chances of someone deliberately crowding him in podunk Clackamas. Like what? Aware that sometimes people who drive cars are aggressive toward cyclists? Who hasn’t experienced it?

mran1984
Guest

The chances of your imagination having any idea of what occurred are zero. I drive a car. I ride a bicycle even more. What makes you an expert on Clackamas county activities? Are you aware?

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

There is no basis to try to make this tragedy into an anticar thing. For starters, vehicles that encroach on bike lanes on curves typically do so on the inside rather than the outside of the curve.

There are simply too many viable causes to pretend to know it was anything in particular without evidence.

Kristi Finney-dunn
Guest
Kristi Finney-dunn

Oh, no! I am so very sorry to learn of this. I met Dan numerous times at advocacy events, vigils, etc., and was always so grateful for his dedication and his kind heart. I just want to cry with sadness. I always was told to be thankful that my son died doing what he loved the most, and the same could be said for Dan, apparently. However,while that can be a smidgeon of comfort in the greater scheme of things, my heart just bleeds for his family, especially his mom, because of their enormous grief at the loss of this young man way too soon.

Cathy Bickerton
Guest
Cathy Bickerton

Thank you Kristi.
~Cathy(Dan’s mom)

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

Such a tragedy. Dan came on both of the Talking Heads pedalpalooza rides. Wish I had had the chance to talk with him more. I am sure he had an interesting prespective pumping people’s gas while riding a bike to get around himself. He will be missed!

Matt
Guest
Matt

Wow. If a problem with the brake cables was indeed the cause of this crash, then this is my absolute worst nightmare as a bike mechanic. Please note that I’m not trying to blame the victim (I see that concept was already broached in a previous comment about helmets), but I do try to take away valuable lessons whenever anything goes wrong.

mh
Subscriber

Thank you for saying this. I was going to write something about being ten times as perfectionistic the next time I adjust my brakes, but I could not think of a way that would not imply blame. There are so many ways for so many small things to go wrong

Ovid Boyd
Subscriber
Ovid Boyd

I remember when I first moved to Portland. I started going on group bike rides. Going by myself to the rides, and not knowing what each would be like… I would feel anxious!

But then, I would see this familiar face again and again and again. Dan would be just giving off this quiet, calm, kind level-headed energy. I learned who this person was. And soon, my rides would often start by going up to somebody, and say “hi Dan!” And that meant the little anxiousness of a new adventure would go away and I’d and be ready to ride!

I am so sad that won’t happen again. He was such a good person to have in the world. Quiet in the way that mattered and made people around him feel better. I am going to cry now.

Steve B
Guest
Steve B

Rest in Peace, Dan.

squareman
Subscriber

Jonathan, I 100% am not intending to be a pedantic annoyance here, and I especially do not intend his friends and family additional grief, but i’m more so wondering about consistency and accuracy of your language policy. Is the use of “accident” here because it was one person and we can attribute no malice, negligence, or design flaws? I 100% see this as tragic and unfortunate.

According to Dan’s mother, Cathy Bickerton, he was riding home from work on Tuesday September 22nd when the accident happened.

Like, wouldn’t it be better to say “crashed when he lost control due to suspected mechanical failure”?

What is the difference between a collision or crash involving one person whether they’re driving or riding? I suspect you’d not use “accident” automatically when talking about someone losing control of a motorized vehicle and crashing into a dwelling.

My condolences to you, his friends, and his family. This is horrible and frightening to think about.

Michael Andersen
Subscriber

Oh no, Dan.

I remember an earlier Twitter bio of Dan’s, too: “pedestrian by choice, biker by necessity.” One of my strongest memories of him was the time he showed up to a housing reform ride, panting and still merrily speckled in paint from his previous, completely different ride.

Dan was exactly the sort of Portlander we need many more of. The fight to make the city better will be a little harder without him, and the world will be a little less pleasant.

Benson Lee
Guest
Benson Lee

Rest in peace Dan! Portland bike community will miss you.

Emily Guise (Contributor)
Subscriber

So many memories of Dan from Bike Loud events. I think my favorite is the time he planned the route and helped lead the ride down to Salem to protest ODOT in 2016. He actually rode it before to test it out and he was a confident, calm leader even when we accidentally got a little off-course. I’m so sad he’s gone.

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

What a touching tribute Johnathan. Reminds me how connected we all are, even the quiet guy who pumps your gas.

I will forever remember to check and double check my brakes before riding. Often seem to forget to reengage one or the other after removing the wheel.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

Brake cables ‘slipped’…not quite sure what that means. I can’t recall the brand of a bike being mentioned in other reports on crashes. Not sure why it was done here. That said, I think Bike Friday should be given the opportunity to weigh in, since many will connect their brand with the crash. btw I am a former BF employee.

Cathy Bickerton
Guest
Cathy Bickerton

I did reach out to Bike Friday right away. Dan was a beta tester on their bikes and had actually gone down to Eugene in early September to look at an issue with the housing on the motor. They do take these things seriously and are always looking to troubleshoot potential issues.
No one really knows what happened. We know that he had moved his bike cables to go around a basket he had installed and for whatever reason may have gotten distracted and not tightened them down all the way…..who knows. We can only guess. But, the sad fact is that he is no longer with us.
Take care everyone and be safe.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I’m sorry for everyone’s loss. The guy was clearly very well liked / loved.

EricIvy
Subscriber

So sad to hear. I remember Dan always saying hi to me. It wasn’t always a vocal “hi” but a nod or a smile said it all for me. You will be missed

soren
Guest
soren

In the early years of BikeLoud I spent a lot of time with Dan and he was someone that I considered a friend and had/have enormous respect for. BikeLoud relied on Dan enormously because he was often ready to take on time intensives roles that others, including myself, were reluctant to commit to. Dan also made these commitments even though he attended meetings, actions, or rides after a long day of work and faced a very long ride back home to Clackamas. As Emily G mentioned, Dan played an essential role in planning BikeLoud’s lobbying rides to Salem as well as being a key organizer of some of BikeLoud’s most well-attended Pedalpalooza rides, including “No More Four Lane Roads” rides and “Jazz Funerals” for traffic violence.

I also want to note that when Dan said that he was a walker by choice and a bike rider by necessity he was not just making a metaphorical point. Dan had a chronic health condition that made it impossible for him to drive. When I developed a chronic condition that prevented me from cycling, Dan’s messages of support were one of the things that really helped me through a time of depression.

Dan was also a renter who struggled with landlord refusal to make basic repairs. At bike events and later at Portland Tenants United (PTU) events, we often discussed how a lack of affordable apartments in Portland pushed many tenants to the periphery. Dan told me that he joined PTU because he appreciated how the Relocation Assistance ordinance made it harder for his landlord to evict him. As a friend and PTU organizer, I was ecstatic that Dan was finally able to find an apartment in Portland. His death is a real loss to our community and I would like to express my deepest condolences to his family.

Cathy Bickerton
Guest
Cathy Bickerton

Soren, I am so glad that Dan was able to help you. I hope you will continue us to remember him as an example of how you can get through the tough stuff and emerge stronger.
Oh yes, he lived in some really dodgy apartments run by slum lords. He was so elated when he was able to move into 72Foster. He loved it there. Thank you for your condolences. I hope to meet many of you at the memorial get together being organized by Bike Loud.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Oh, how heartbreaking! I knew Dan fairly well from the early days of BikeLoudPDX. He was hardworking, devoted, and smart. He faced significant difficulties in his life without letting hopelessness or resentment stop him from advocating for systemic change. What a loss for us all. My thoughts are especially with his mother, his other family members, and others who had a close personal relationship with him.

Edward
Guest
Edward

This is painful news. It’s hard to comprehend. Dan was such a kind, generous, thoughtful person. I remember him from a number of rides (I’m sorry they kind of blend together). I think he organized a no more four lanes road in 2019 pedalpalooza. Route scared the dickens out of me but really showed what’s possible, especially when we went from four lanes to the new Foster (think it wasn’t quite finished).

Dan was a hero of the best sort. Just quietly humbly doing his part to make the world better and to save lives.

Betsy Reese
Guest
Betsy Reese

Oh no. This news is just heartbreaking. Dan was such a steady and generous contributor to the bicycling and pedestrian advocacy-and-fun community here in Portland. I am grateful to him for that, and comforted to hear that his family is glad that he had found his calling and his people here with us.

Dearest Cathy, Leonard, Rachel, Michael, and Timothy,

I was shocked and so very sorry to hear of the death of your beloved son and brother. Know that he will be grieved, remembered, and sorely missed by so many here in Portland.

In deepest sympathy,
Betsy Reese

Cathy Bickerton
Guest
Cathy Bickerton

Thank you Betsy

Roberta Robles
Guest
Roberta Robles

Are we doing a memorial ride for him? He was an absolute gem. Sorely missed, wow, this is terrible. He was an absolute hero Activist!!!

Betsy Reese
Guest
Betsy Reese

Bike Loud PDX is planning a COVID-safe memorial ride and small remembrance gathering for Dan on Sunday, October 18th from 1-3pm at Mt. Scott-Arleta park.

Tom McTighe
Guest

Early Puddlecycle rides were sometimes just Tom Howe and me and a few stalwarts. Dan was one of the regulars we loved to see who would come out in January to have a bike adventure in the rain with us. His spirit never seemed to sink, and I remembered being tired after a three-hour winter ride in Portland, and at the end watching him bike off toward Clackamas. Tough customer!

Phil Richman
Subscriber

I was very saddened to read this. Dan joined me and one other for a ride down to Salem in 2017 to view the solar eclipse. I am thankful for the time I was able to spend with Dan and always enjoyed seeing him riding around regularly. So sad. RIP Dan.