The community around bicycles in Portland is a strong, interwoven thread that runs through a vast network of people, events and organizations. The community has enjoyed one of its best summers ever — a comeback for Portland’s bike culture glory days of sorts — powered in large part by the hundreds of well-attended Pedalpalooza rides. People have been eager to shake off pandemic-induced social doldrums and embrace what makes Portland, Portland.
But there has also been substantial grief.
Since we heard the sad news about Aaron Tarfman’s suicide at the end of May, there have been four other folks with numerous and close ties to the bike scene who are now dead. Just a few weeks after Aaron left us, another friend, Rabbitt Fox, also died by suicide.
And now, with sadness, we acknowledge three more.
I first met Aaron in 2007 when he helped open A Better Cycle bike shop on Southeast Division. After that, I’d see him around a lot. A creative dude and master mechanic, he was big into Zoobomb and freak bikes. In 2008 I jumped in a car with him and a few others to find a big hill in Washington County. Aaron was into the nascent sport of gravity biking. He and other Zoobombers, Gabriel Amadeus and Chuck Bridge, needed to train for the Maryhill Festival of Speed where they competed as Team Zoobomb.
Whether it was a tiny bike in full leathers bombing down a windy road at 40+ mph or atop his penny farthing, Aaron was quite the character.
Aaron died July 12th. He was 46 years old. You can read more about him in the obituary that ran this week in The Oregonian.
I was never fortunate enough to meet Derek Johnson even though he was a regular at the Thursday Night Ride and many fun bike events all around town. When I saw him at the Thursday Night Ride last year (lead photo), it was his colorful bike tattoo and wide smile that caught my eyes.
According to a story from The Oregonian, Derek drowned in the Sandy River while paddleboarding on July 27th. He was 46 years old. Derek had many friends and admirers. They shared a huge collection of photos online of him doing things he loved with the people he cared about. There have also been several events where Derek’s friends and family were able to remember him and celebrate his life.
People gathered for a potluck in Oregon Park on August 1st and there was a “Derek Forever” Pedalpalooza ride this past Monday. Dozens of people came together for an evening ride to exchange stories and release candle lanterns in the river.
A memorial fund for Derek has been set up to help with funeral costs.
Also on Monday we heard the terrible news that Yohhei Sato has died. Details around how it happened haven’t been shared yet, but we know that he passed on August 13th.
You might recall seeing Yohhei on Pedalpalooza rides or most recently as one of the stars of Bike Play: Beyond Velodrome. I saw that production twice this year and Yohhei was such a standout! He played Dwayne “U-lock” Johnson and had such a powerful presence that was funny and endearing at the same time. His crew at Bike Play are understandably crushed and they are helping the community remember his life. You can follow them on Instagram for updates.
Yohhei ran a knife sharpening business and would regular visit restaurants to ply his craft, as his trusty dog Spiky waited by his side.
Friends who’ve launched a memorial fund for Yohhei say he was a “catalyst for adventure.” He was, “A colossal spirit, an indomitable charisma monster, a wild child, a sensitive boy, kind, generous, talented, beautiful, with an open and honest heart,” they wrote.
This post also feels strange to me. In 17 years, I’ve covered way more death than anyone should. But it’s almost always layered with frustration and anger about road designs, drivers, our dysfunctional traffic culture, and so on. But that’s absent this time. None of these five folks above died in traffic crashes. That’s new for me, and I assume for many of you. I just wanted to acknowledge that.
I share all this with a very heavy heart for these wonderful humans and the people who loved them. May they all rest in peace.