CLEARWATER — Robert Lemon had only lived in Clearwater for about a year, but news that the 25-year-old was hit and killed by a car on Labor Day while riding his tandem bike with his girlfriend inspired hundreds to ride in his memory Sunday morning.
Lemon worked at the Ride N Roll Cyclery for about a year, said owner Frank Lopez, and his kind spirit touched hundreds in that short time. Lopez estimated about 800 cyclists formed a group that traveled down the same route Lemon usually took on his Saturday morning rides — a 45 mile trek from the Ride N Roll store on West Bay Drive in Largo to Sand Key to Tarpon Springs and back.
Lemon and Hilary Michalak, 27, usually stuck to trails during their early morning rides, but were traveling east on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway just before sunrise when they were hit by a car, shattering their tandem bike to pieces and killing Lemon. Michalak was critically injured in the crash and remained in a coma on Sunday.
The cyclists laid a blue wreath at the site of the crash in Lemon's memory.
“We stopped at the site and Frank said, 'Let's take a slow ride, show the drivers that we're here supporting each other and let's just show them how much we all love to ride and that we're going to continue doing it no matter what,'” said Bob Accardi, who came from Oldsmar to ride a tandem bicycle with his wife Diane in honor of the fellow cyclist he had never met. “The cycling community is very tight knit, and he was one of our own.”
Seeing how much support the ride got in such little time, forming a group Diane Accardi likened to a “swarm of bees,” was a testament to how quickly Lemon made an impression on everyone that passed through the store, said Jermaine Jenkins, who rode with Lemon on the Ride N Roll cycling team. Once an announcement for the ride was put on the shop's Facebook page, it reached more than 4,800 page views in only two days and attracted cyclists from across the state.
“It was a personal ride for me, and the best way for me to remember him,” Jenkins said. “He was a very down-to-earth, straight-shooting guy that would do anything for anybody and he loved cycling.”
It was that love of cycling that brought Lemon to Clearwater, Lopez said. Lemon took a vacation from his home in Michigan to visit Michalak, a regular customer at Ride N Roll, when he fell in love with the weather and the cycling community. He asked Lopez for a part-time job for his extended vacation that turned into a year-long stay, where every free moment was spent riding his bicycle. It was a brief amount of time, but it was long enough to make him “not just a friend, but family,” Lopez said.
“It wasn't just a huge part of his life, it was the main part, and every day he came to work to do what he loved,” Lopez said. “He was such a fun-loving guy, and as sad as it is, it's comforting to know he died doing what he loved with the one he loved.”
Lopez said he would like to make “Rob's Ride” an annual event, and is collecting donations for Lemon's and Michalak's families. But most of all, Lopez said he would like drivers to obey the rules of the road. Florida law states that the minimum clearance for a car passing a bicyclist is three feet.
“Think about if that cyclist on the side of the road was your wife or your brother, how would you feel if you saw a car buzz past them?,” Lopez said. “I hope this made drivers stop and take notice. It just takes a few seconds to slow down for cyclists and give them some space, but it could save a life.”