CycleSafe pedals for bike safety

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — At the August 2005 Hanes Park Classic, a criterium event promoted for the first time by the nonprofit N.C. Cycling Promotions formed that year by Winston-Salem entrepreneur James Bennett, a young man sustained a life-long brain injury when the bicycle he was riding crashed into a pole.

In the wake of that accident, Bennett, an avid cyclist and president of Budget Development Partners, converted his race-promotion organization into CycleSafe, a charitable nonprofit that has the mission of promoting a healthy lifestyle for bike riders of all ages and abilities, and promoting cycling safety and education.

CycleSafe sponsors youth bike rodeos and adult safety clinics, sells bike helmets at a nominal price, and provides safety equipment to buffer poles, fire hydrants, curbs and other potential hazards during bicycle races and events.

Since it was formed in July 2006, CycleSafe has sponsored 80 bike rodeos in 10 states, with each event attracting 80 to 100 participants on average, plus roughly 10 adult clinics in the Winston-Salem area, with each event attracting 15 to 20 participants.

Rodeos consist of obstacle courses with four to eight “stations” that consist of cones or signs that represent obstacles young riders might encounter while in a race or on the street.

The adult clinics feature group rides, at sites such as Tanglewood Park, that are designed to help adult riders improve skills such as braking and “drafting,” or piggy-backing on the velocity of groups of riders.

The goal of the helmet program at CycleSafe is to ensure that “no child rides a bike without wearing a helmet,” says Kerri Taimanglo, executive director.

CycleSafe buys the helmets, worth $15 to $20 each, at a deeply discounted rate from Bell Helmets, an Ohio firm, and sells them for $5 each.

Now, the firm soon will begin buying Lazer Helmets, branded for CycleSafe, that are manufactured in Belgium and distributed by Quality Bike Products in New Hampshire.

Taimanglo says CycleSafe’s safety-equipment program is the only one of its kind in the U.S. for cycling and uses equipment similar to that used in motorcycle races in Europe.

Cycling events typically insulate potential hazards with hay bales, which suffer progressive loss of their buffering capacity when riders crash into them, Taimanglo says.

CycleSafe buys foam-filled material from TrackCare, a company based in Ireland, and wraps the material around obstacles that are potential hazards for cyclists.

In return for lending the material to groups promoting cycling events, CycleSafe asks the promoters to involve children in their events, and to promote healthy lifestyles and bike safety in their communities.

The nonprofit charges a small fee to transport the foam material to cycling events, and sometimes charges a small fee at its bike rodeos to cover operating costs.

But if it can secure contributions to cover those costs, Taimanglo says, the group eventually would like to drop any charges for the safety equipment or bike rodeos.

Operating with an annual budget of $300,000 and a staff that also includes an assistant director and an equipment coordinator, CycleSafe receives most of its financial support from corporate sponsors and community sponsors, grants and contributions.

Bennett and his company both have made contributions, while Thomas Built Buses has supported CycleSafe’s helmet program, and the law firm Bell Davis & Pitt has provided the nonprofit with pro-bono legal assistance.

On “The Ride of Silence” on May 21, a free event, participants rode in silence on a loop in Winston-Salem to honor cyclists injured or killed in accidents with motorists.

Sponsored by CycleSafe, the event coincided with similar events throughout the world and was to be held in Winston-Salem for the first time.

And on August 3, CycleSafe will sponsor the Hanes Park Classic, a criterium that last year attracted over 750 participants and 3,000 spectators.

“Our aim,” says Taimanglo, “is for everyone to sustain a healthy lifestyle through safe bicycle riding.”

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