Remembering Aaron Tarfman

Aaron Tarfman in 2021, working on a trailer hitch for a cargo bike project. (Photo: Amit Zinman)

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.


Steph Routh

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.


Amit Zinman

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.


Lisa Gorlin

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.


Maria Schur

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.


Lilian Karabaic

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.


 

Chris Mccraw

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.


Katie Pryde

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.

Also…

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.

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Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
30 days ago

Yes rest, rest in peace Aaron. And pedal on!
And thanks for all the positive bike energy you brought to the Portland. [That I remember well pre 2010.]

Jessica Roberts
30 days ago

This news hits hard, Jonathan. The Portland bike community (such as it was/is) owes so much to Aaron and his spark. My heart is full today.

hamiramani
30 days ago

I only met Aaron a few times since moving to Portland in 2020. Each time he was so gentle and kind. It’s amazing the sadness I feel for a person I barely knew. But from the others’ accounts of his existence I can see that he touched many people’s lives. Thank you for the inspiration and love, Aaron.

Amit Zinman
30 days ago

We’re doing a vigil bike ride on Saturday.
https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-15320

soren
soren
30 days ago

Aaron was a founding BikLoudPDX member and an enthusiastic supporter of all things bike-related — especially from a sustainability perspective. Later, I met him most often as he was ferrying food or supplies on large cargo trailers in support of houseless people living outside.

Aaron was a kind human being with huge amounts of empathy for others. This sucks.

Viv
Viv
30 days ago

He was my friend and a great man. Thank you for compiling all these photos and stories about Aaron. We miss and love him.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
30 days ago

Thank you for this beautiful tribute.

Jeme
Jeme
30 days ago

I moved away for grad school in 2007 and maintained contact with Aaron and a few others for the first couple of years, but had lost track of nearly everyone. I came back to Portland with my family four years ago and Aaron was one of the people I was really hoping to run across in town. I won’t now and that recognition is crushing.

9watts
30 days ago

A powerful and moving tribute. Thank you Jonathan, and everyone.
Aaron and I bonded over bike trailers, their design and limits, years ago. I hadn’t seen him in a good many years. Dreadful. But perhaps he is now at peace.

Ted Buehler
30 days ago

Aaron and I were chums from about ’08 to ’11. He was one of the first folks I met in Portland, he and I travelled to Vancouver BC together, and were housemates for a few months in 2010. And as Rabbi Aaron in the Bike Temple. Always good times with Aaron. So many puns, so many projects. And pulling his SuperSchlepper around town.

Best wishes for sunshine and tailwinds.

Ted Buehler

MC
MC
30 days ago

Aaron opened the door for me to the Wonderland of Biking in Portland. He introduced me to Food Not Bombs, Shifty Bike Fun, Cyclewild bike tours, Bikes For Humanity and to many wonderful, interesting, brilliant & fun “weirdos” who cared deeply about community, our city and our planet.

I clung to his coattails as I tried to make sense & navigate “Portlandia.” A Wonderland to a person who moved here from white corporate suburbia.

I’ll never forget the absolute epic battle of a bike ride to Eugene & back for the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. So much rain, headwind, flats.

I wouldn’t have made the ride to Crater Lake if not for Aaron telling me that I had a window of good weather to make it.

He offered me a free living situation when I was struggling.

I learned some wonderful things about Aaron reading this article & comments that I didn’t know. I’m sure there’s so much more. It’s clear to me that Aaron gladly gave a lot more than he received or asked for.

The last time I saw Aaron, Summer ’21, he was schlepping an Adam George bamboo trailer down a street in outer SE. It made me smile.

Clarence Eckerson
30 days ago

I was struck very hard by this. As some of you may know, Aaron was first a frequent rider in NYC Advocacy and I’d see him on nearly every ride there was. He was on bikeTV quite a few times.

Then when I visited Portland in 2005 to see the best biking in the USA and I was invited to come out to ride a BIKE MOVE, and one of the first faces I saw was Aaron (I had heard he had moved away and knew he was likely in PDX so it was nice to see him.) I had my camera to cover the event for the bikeTV cable-access show I produced and talked him on-camera and off. He made it in this now classic video which was seen in 5 cities and played on social media nearly 70,000 times, but the copy of it on Youtube became corrupted years ago.

Tonight I decided to find the piece and re-post it in his memory. He can be seen and talking in fun moments at 1:37 and again at 4:15, but also sprinkled throughout.

Rest my friend Aaron. You were so kind and giving. If we had millions more Aarons the World would be in much better shape.

VIDEO HERE: https://youtu.be/UGBFdJYqFTE

Amit Zinman
29 days ago

He was definitely consistent, pivotal in our last bike move.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iplvuYemU4g

Matt Picio
30 days ago

Aaron Tarfman was one of the most caring, conscientious, and generous people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. I met Aaron in 2006 at a Shift meeting, worked with him closely during the year I was involved with Exchange Cycle Tours, and socialized with him at countless bicycle events. Aaron’s involvement in the bicycle community was widespread, and his efforts greatly impacted the early days of Cycle Wild and other Portland area bike groups. I lost contact with him several years ago after moving to the Puget Sound region, and I’m very sad that I’ll never have another opportunity to speak to him, or to get his input or outlook on the world.

Wherever you find yourself, Aaron, I hope that you have good food, good fellowship, reliable transportation and a spare patch kit. I miss you, my friend.

EP
EP
30 days ago

I remember showing up to some random mid week, morning Pedalpalooza bike ride in 2010(?) that met at the goat field. Aaron was the leader, but he never showed up. Eventually a bunch of the people on the ride just gave up on “a leader” and decided to kind of lead our own little mini adventure around inner Southeast.

About a week later, I ended up on the redo of that same ride of “secret connections” or something like that through the SE. The ride kept going further east and people were dropping off until finally it was just the two of us. He asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping him move some supplies for his tiny house project, which was just a trailer at the time. So we moved a bunch of things around, and then he was headed out again with his bike trailer to get more supplies. I asked him why he hadn’t made it to the previous ride, and had flaked on everyone and he said “oh, I had to bail because I was busy getting some supplies for this project and had to ride a long ways away.” I asked him why he didn’t just rent a van or drive or something and I think he said he didn’t have a license.

At any rate, it was one of those situations where your initial frustration with someone ends up leading to an admiration and respect for their values and dedication to their ideals. Not sure why this memory has stuck with me for so long, but this seemed like the time to share it.

Marina Mont'Ros
Marina Mont'Ros
29 days ago

I met Aaron in 2009 after he had been away for a bit. I was hopeful for a similar outcome this time, but it was not to be. We did a ton of bike moves together, often being some of the few people available for something mid-week or willing to schlep out to Beaverton for a move. See what I did there, Aaron, I used SCHLEP! I loved cracking him up with my surprising extensive knowledge of Yiddish. I helped him work on his tiny house a few times because I enjoyed his company and gentle spirit. Even though I moved away from Portland, we stayed in touch via Twitter. I will miss the puns, no matter how bad. I am sad that I will never get another one of his awesome hugs. He was an epic hugger. His memory will forever be a blessing.

Lindsay Caron Epstein
Lindsay Caron Epstein
29 days ago

Aaron!!! Oh goodness. I was at his house in 2009 the first time he disappeared and left a suicide note. By the time I arrived, he had been found and returned to his house moments later. A group of us discussed what should be the action plan to support him going forward. I wish that concern had been maintained and his care had continued. Poor soul.Hope the after life gifts him beauty.

Robert Burchett
Robert Burchett
29 days ago

Aaron I hardly knew you but I love you. I have to do more in your example. Last night I burned a candle for you, it was beautiful but it went out. I live for Aaron and all the children.

Bill Stites
29 days ago

I’m sure this will be the toughest comment I’ve ever written – typing through tears. Aaron was truly an amazing person. It feels harshly ironic that he would take his own life when he was so positive, upbeat, caring, smiling … we all have ups and downs, and I suppose his were at the extremes.
Food Not Bombs was something he embodied every day – always collecting extra food from restaurants and groceries and redistributing it – you didn’t have to go to him, he brought it to you. Every Saturday he and Zane and others were set up in Laurelhurst Park – and many other places – giving away food to hungry people. What a generous soul.
We worked on the Transformation Trike together. He did the design (he was an expert with CAD), and I did the build. I was so impressed with the design that I built a ‘twin’ at the same time. Mine was a bit shorter, and didn’t actually transform (no removable section), but I still have it today. At some point, his Transformation Trike was stolen from his backyard, and it was never recovered. When I had to move the Truck Trike shop in 2019, I offered my version to him as a gift … and was very surprised that he turned it down. Not sure why, but that’s the way it rolled.
What an inspiring person. He will be very sadly missed.

Jackie Wayman
Jackie Wayman
27 days ago

I’ve never met Aaron, but I wish I had. What a beautiful memorial to Aaron. RIP Aaron.

Athena Romero
Athena Romero
5 days ago

This is really heartbreaking to read. I attended elementary and middle school with Aaron and was witness to the extensive bullying he suffered through. As an adult, I tracked him down and was happy to see the positive impact he had on so many others-that despite the trauma of his formative years, he turned into such a compassionate, empathetic, loving and much loved person. He was too good for this world.