Many people in our community are mourning Aaron Tarfman today. In the past 24 hours news has spread that he died by suicide on April 29th.
Friends had hoped Aaron was just on another one of his sojourns, like the one he took in 2009. Sadly, this time, he won’t return.
Aaron knew many people in the bike scene and was a dedicated activist who volunteered with many cycling, environmental, and social justice organizations over the years. He was a person wholly devoted to the health of our planet and spent his years doing everything he could to make it better. But while he felt every ounce of the heavy weight of our world, he also had a lightness about him.
Looking back through my photos of him, his bright smile pierces through every single one (click for captions).
“He was a shining beacon of hugs and puns,” said a friend of his, during a phone call this morning. Aaron was known for his punny sense of humor (which you can get a taste of scrolling through his Twitter posts) and very solid and lengthy hugs.
I used to see him around bike events a lot between 2005 and 2010 or so. He was a fixture at bike moves, which were in many ways a perfect example of the type of world Aaron dreamed of: people coming together to help each other move all their belongings entirely by bike.
He loved photography and we’d often talk about gear and techniques for our strange niche of bike-related journalism. Aaron and I also shared a love of the internet and its vast potential to spread ideas. A self-described “transportation diplomat,” he would excitedly tell me about his progress on various website projects and would the fill pages with images and information intended to inspire change. One was called YourBodyPower.org (now defunct) and his most recent one was TowardZeroImpact.net.
During Bridge Pedal in 2006 I recall biking across the Ross Island Bridge when all of the sudden, at the I-5 off-ramp there was Aaron, smiling and waving while sitting on a couch in the middle of the freeway! He had set it up with table and a sign that read: “Public Roads for Public People: Drive Less.”
In 2009 he wrote a guest article for us about his work planting street trees by bike.
One of Aaron’s favorite topics was human-powered transportation. In 2007, Google and Specialized held a contest for the best pedal-powered invention. Aaron’s entry was an amazing creation he called the Transformation Trike — a pedal-powered vehicle that could be ridden by one to three people and could haul 350 pounds.
Hear Aaron describe the Trike in the video below:
In recent years, I fell out of touch with Aaron as he spent more time in Food Not Bombs, tiny home construction, sustainable gardening, and other Portland spheres that don’t always intersect with cycling.
As I see people remembering Aaron, it’s clear his friendship and the way he lived his life had a positive impact on many people. He was so loved and appreciated. I asked people to share a remembrance or story about what Aaron meant to them…
Jay Monk (a close friend who’s organizing a memorial ride soon):
In the time that I’ve known Aaron, he demonstrated a compassionate attitude of caring for many people he came in contact with. Knowing the example Aaron set led to changes in my behavior for biking more, growing food at home, peeing in a bucket and giving generously to Warm Springs Reservation which was a community of concern for Aaron. He did many things to help people facing barriers to resources and connecting those folks with resources he had collected.
I have many memories of us cooking food together for Food not Bombs and the Portland Free Fridge. We would deliver this food by bicycle with trailers to feed people needing the support. We went camping together in 2020 and rode our bikes up to Mt Hood to camp on the PCT, hiking around the forest. This is one of the hardest climbs found within a day’s ride of Portland and I could not have asked for a better friend to be with me on the ride.
Aaron was afflicted by mental illness all his life. I want everyone reading this to know that suicide is not going to change the world in the way we need it; to adapt to the changing climate in crisis, we need everyone to come alive with vigor for the multi-faceted adaptations that are needed to survive the brewing disaster. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please reach out. Asking for help, lets your community support you and grow deeper in the relationship from that place of hurting.
I met Aaron in 2005 during Pedalpalooza. He was one of the first Shift folks who welcomed me into the community, and I remember feeling very cool that this Aaron guy would talk to newbie me. Aaron loved puns in such a strong way that Aaron and puns are inextricably linked in my mind. I once found a board game called “Punonyms” in a free box and picked it up without thinking, knowing who it needed to go to. He led a Puntastic Ride for Pedalpalooza one year that was exactly what it sounds like. He gave epic hugs.
He helped me start my bike videography career, working patiently with me on my first videos. I will forever be in debt to him. Whatever I achieved in the last few years would have been nearly impossible without his ingenuity, his help and his care.
When my keys went missing and I didn’t have a spare key for my U-lock, it was Aaron who came out with an angle grinder to free my bike from the rack so I could ride it home. When Steven Kung decided to add an addition to his house, where Aaron was living, Aaron wanted to save the huge, beautiful ferns that had to be uprooted. I volunteered to plant them in my garden and he helped transport them via bike trailer. He was a wealth of information on a wide variety of subjects. Whenever I thought I was doing my best to walk lightly upon mother earth he would share something he was doing along the same lines that would inspire me to do better for the planet. He encouraged me to go car-free, which I finally did in 2016.
Aaron lived his life in abundance and generosity, and he did this with the goal of making the least negative impact possible on our planet. We spoke often about cars being a major problem in our society and I always felt understood and seen by him on that topic. Just one example of Aaron’s generosity – he went out of his way to remember my favorite produce and whenever he had extra, which was often, he’d bring it by my house. I’d often return from a long day riding to find grapefruit, beets, sweet potatoes and quince on my doorstep.
I went to a Jewish Seder dinner that Aaron hosted a few years ago. He shared a slideshow and honked a horn every time he made a joke, which was often. He laid an abundant table and taught us the traditions, all with his tongue firmly in cheek.
I am heartbroken at the loss of a friend, a humanitarian, a passionate environmentalist and a person who lived a life of loving kindness. I will miss him terribly.
I’m heartbroken to hear this. An Aaron Appreciation ride during pedalpalooza must happen. Aaron brought a smile to my face at every bike move, bike ride, and with his constant pun replies on Twitter. He was deeply committed to living a low impact life, and his generousity in thinking of others always awed me. He will be so so missed.
Izarra Varela Moore
He was one of the most selfless people I have ever known. We met in 2005 at a bike event; he was eager to share his knowledge about the Portland bike-activism scene. He was at every bike move I ever attended, always shouldering more than his share; tonight, that fact doubles as a blunt metaphor for the battles he fought on behalf of us all. Aaron Tarfman was greatly loved, and will be deeply missed.
I really respect Aaron for his choices to live by his own principles and be the change he wanted to see in the world. But he was also always having fun while he did it! Several of my favorite pictures from the past 15 years of bike moves and other group rides were taken by him and also captioned by him with fun cartoon style thought bubbles.
There was a year where I was pondering how to put together a bunch of bamboo poles to make my sukkah [Hebrew word for a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot], and he turned up with a bucket of dead bike tubes and helped me get it put up. Just a sweet, delightful, helpful human being. I’m sad that he’s left us.
Rest in peace Aaron.
There will be a community remembrance ride and a fundraising effort soon to help with funeral expenses. Please stay tuned for details. UPDATE: A vigil bike ride is set for this Saturday, 5/28. Details here.
Many of us are feeling anxious, hopeless, angry and sad in these very hard times. Please take care of yourself and your friends. If you’re down, please know you are not alone. I love you, our community loves you, and there are places where you can get help.
There are listeners standing by at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text HELLO to 741741 for 24/7, free, confidential support. A great local resource for help is the Multnomah County Crisis Line at 503-988-4888.