By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Something happens when bicycles come together. Watch and you'll see it: The riders' legs begin to move in sync, and then their bodies follow. The more bikes, the stronger the effect. A dozen riding together move as single unit, shifting direction like a school of fish, a single entity stretching and contracting like an amoeba. The effect is almost hypnotic.
Leaning against a white Ford pickup, facing the bike lane that loops around the Miccosukee Golf Course in Kendale Lakes, Carlos Salazar looks mesmerized as the pack, at least two dozen strong, passes by. The bikes, expensive and well maintained, collectively produce a long, soft purr. The group rides every day, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays — today is Tuesday — the riders go fast, 25 or 30 miles per hour, sprinting the last half-hour in an informal race. Despite the speed, Salazar can pick out each individual rider. With a mix of sadness and vicarious excitement, he watches to see who's leading.
Eight weeks ago Salazar was pedaling. On August 28 the 38-year-old Colombian native was near the front of the pack ("I was number two!" he says) when, without warning, an SUV pulled into the bikers' path. Salazar tried to maneuver sideways, but there was no avoiding the collision. When he hit, his bike flew over the truck — 10 meters, he says — and crashed on the other side, breaking in two. He went under the SUV as dozens of bikes behind him plowed into it and bounced off each other like birds in a turbine.
It was one of the most spectacular accidents in Miami-Dade County, although amazingly no one died. Of about 40 riders, 11 were seriously injured. Salazar and another cyclist, Andres LaGuardia, were airlifted to Jackson's Ryder Trauma Center. Emergency medics triaged patients, sorting through the dozens of lesser injuries.
"I never saw the car," says Mario Alfonso, who was just ahead of Salazar in glorious first place. "I just stopped all of a sudden — boomp — and then I'm flying through the air, talking to God. He said, 'No, I don't want you up here!' and — bam — I fell down." An ambulance removed Alfonso from the scene. He had a broken pelvis, damage to his leg muscles, and a severed right index finger. His knee is still so swollen and disfigured that his leg looks like a gnarled tree trunk. "It was like hitting a wall you never saw," he says.
Cops ticketed the driver, Juan Tanaka, age 62, who they say had violated the bikers' right of way. But Tanaka's view, it turned out, was obstructed by cars parked in the bike lane. Condo residents say the owners told them to park there while the lot was being resurfaced.
Most gravely injured was LaGuardia, a young Cuban-born racer who lives nearby. The impact broke his wrist and cervical vertebrae, the bones in his neck. Eight weeks later he's still in a neck brace, unable to turn his head. LaGuardia, who came to the United States from the island five years ago, works as a handyman and carpenter. He's the breadwinner for his wife and two children. The accident has put him out of work and is symptomatic of a bigger problem: lack of respect for bicyclists in Miami. "In Cuba there are no lights, and people don't respect bicycles. They are muy agresivo," he says. "But here — they are super agresivo."
Hector Mesa, whose nephew Fabricio broke his shoulder and hip in the accident, agrees. "We come here because this place is supposed to be safe," says the truck driver by day and after-hours bike fanatic. Mesa says there simply isn't anywhere else for serious riders to go. "On weekends we go to Flamingo — okay, it's a little safer. But on weekdays, this is it.... I drive a truck. In Broward, Naples, they have bike lanes, but here — pffft."
If people thought the accident would deter bikers from using the area, they were dead wrong. "The next day we were out here double," says Roger Cadiz. "To let them know that we will ride, we will keep riding."
The route around the Miccosukee Golf Course is four miles of unbroken, gently winding, scenic biking. Every day of the week, from dawn to dusk, bicycles wind around the course. The group that crashed in August has no name, no organization, no formal membership, and no leader. But one man, almost everyone acknowledges, is the guru: Miguel Corrales.
Corrales is 55 years old with a fit body and a big-toothed smile. He also has a tumor the size of a small melon growing from the side of his neck. Born in Colombia, Corrales has been building and fixing bikes since he was five years old. He moved to the States October 12, 1969, and took up residence in Miami a year later.
He went almost immediately to work for Big Wheel Bikes, a well-known store in Kendall, where he started the Big Wheel Bicycle Club. It was with this group that he began coming to the golf course every day. "We lobbied the county for five years to get them to put that bike lane in," he says proudly. The lane was finally completed in the mid-Nineties. Since then, it has become a second home to Corrales.