Allen Brumm was hit by a car and killed on Sunday. I arrived home from watching the World Championships in Richmond and called a friend to talk about the race. He told me about Allen.
First there were the words. I heard them and my first experience was “That cannot be right.” Allen was not a risk taker. He was a safe wheel. He had Midwestern roots and was grounded in reality. He did not put in 20 hour weeks training in hopes of winning a national championship. He rode to be part of a family and somehow ended up in mine.
Then I felt a string of denial and hope course through me. I thought, “It’s a mistake. They got it wrong, it’s not him.”
After I hung up I ran to the computer, and searched through Facebook and Google. Nothing on Facebook, excellent. Then I found an article on Sacramento news site with Allen’s name and background info. All the energy drained out of my body. It took a while but after about 20 minutes, out of nowhere, I started crying. The burning feeling in my eyes has not left since that point.
I first met Allen when I was part of the Alto Velo cycling club. Alto Velo is an open club. No invite or social requirements were needed to to join and and its base was close to my home in the SF Peninsula. The club has heavy engineering bent and Allen was a prototypical member – a masters racer with a decent job at a well established technology company.
Allen worked for Oracle as a database guru. We occasionally talked about work but I could not really follow what he did. Hearing Allen talk about work gave me the sense that he was really smart and hid it by being friendly and goofy. When I look up his name in a patent search website he appears on on half a dozen projects. They are all for database innovations which I do not understand. Yeah, Allen was intelligent.
Allen and I shared the same coach and both of us raced the Beat the Clock Time Trials. I don’t know if he felt the same way about me but he was my nemesis. Our start times were always right next to each other. I’m not sure if it was our names, Burns/Brumm, or that our historical times were so close. I recall, probably incorrectly, I was usually up by 10-15 seconds except for when Allen would blow me away by a minute or so.
I found listening to Allen talk about road racing difficult. I knew he was better than his results, but he did not seem to be bothered by it much. I think he had what many cyclists, myself included, lack – perspective. I do not recall Allen talking about his racing aspirations. It’s not that he didn’t care. I think showing up, being with his friends and feeling fit was the priority. It took me about 25 years to learn that race results were less important than the community and relationships you form while riding and racing. I wonder how Allen got there. I never asked him. It is a lost story now.
I first started writing for NorCal Cycling News as a way to promote a track race held in memory of another Alto Velo teammate, John Peckham, that was killed by an impaired driver. It is how I ended up with the Hellyer (Hellyer Velodrome) handle, which I have been too lazy to change all these years. At the event I would set up a tent with drinks and food. Allen came with his girlfriend one year and they were both dressed up. Allen was wearing a light colored summer suit and looked ridiculously good. Seeing people in their day clothes, “people clothes” I call them, is always trip. You get so used to seeing people in their cycling kits that seeing them dressed up can be jarring. That will be the image I remember when I think of Allen. Allen and his girlfriend looking all fancy like they should be attending the Kentucky Derby, not some crazy keirin track race in south San Jose. You forget that outside of the races and cycling gear people have this whole other life and history they have not shared with you. If anybody has a photo of Allen is his suit please send it, I’d love to have it here.
Allen was originally from Nebraska. When I moved to the Midwest in 2011 he would annually send me a message on Facebook about the Nebraska-Wisconsin game. It was not easy to leave the Bay Area and I appreciated any time friends called, texted, or messaged me. Those notes from Allen and others meant a lot, more than any of them will ever know. Little gestures, like Allen’s notes about Big 10 football games, kept me connected to the family I had created in California. I remember Allen with love and fondness even though I only saw him once or twice a year since I moved. His death makes me sad and angry.
Let me tell you about the anger part.
I am not sure how other cyclists feel, but I leave the house for each ride with a thought in the back of my head, “Yeah, this could be it.” A simple mistake by a driver, or by me, will have dire consequences. The scariest thing is that you can be in your own lane and a truck, a car, even a police car, may not see you and the resulting catastrophe will be chalked up as an accident. It is the risk we take and it is a lot of trust to put in other people. It is even worse now with additional distractions like mobile phones, GPS, and TVs in cars.
Allen was a good rider. I always speculated that his results racing on the road suffered because he was conservative and not willing to risk any skin to get on the podium. Allen was accidentally hit by a driver at the Esparto Time Trial that had moved into his lane in an attempt to move around another cyclist on her own side of the road. It is a tragic accident. Maybe I am reading it wrong, but I am uncomfortable with how responsibility is distributed between the driver and Allen. Initial reports from authorities are often conservative and lacking in direct assignment of responsibility. The comments from the CHP officer quoted in the CBS 13 report on the accident is no exception.
“CHP says the driver was following the “move over law” for bicycles when she went around one cyclist on her side of the road, but didn’t see Brumm in front of her.
“He was actually riding right up against the center line. So when she moved over, she moved over at his path of travel,” said [the] CHP Sgt. [commenting on the case.] “At the very last second, the rider looked up, saw the car coming [and] tried to avoid it by laying his bicycle on his far right side.”
I get it. It was an accident. I am sure she didn’t see him. She was driving in a manner beyond her capability and Allen tried to avoid her at the last minute. I do not know the road, I do not know where Allen was riding. The editorial the Sergeant provides like Allen was ‘right up against the center line,’ and ‘looked up at the last second’ seem contrived to disavow the driver’s responsibility. I suspect that the only person that would have been able to provide such details was the driver who apparently did not see him. Most likely the full report will find the driver at fault with no criminal charges. I do not even know if they are necessary. Her life will be forever altered as it is. She ended the life of a good man and that has to stick with you.
Here is an alternative version for the CHP to consider releasing.
“In an attempt to avoid a cyclist on the road the driver moved into the oncoming lane in compliance with the “move over law.” The driver was not paying appropriate attention to the road in front of her and failed to see a cyclist riding in her direction. The cyclist attempted to avoid a collision but the rate of speed of the car was too fast for the road conditions. The driver was unable to avoid the cyclist. The resulting injuries from being hit by a car, in his correct lane of traffic, resulted in Allen Brumm’s death.”
I understand the concept of an accident. There will be times when a cyclist makes a mistake but do not gloss over a driver’s responsibility and blame the victim. Get it right. Phrase these incidents with clarity so people approach driving with the caution and care that is required.
One of the projects I have had on my to do list was to put up a memorial page on NCCN. We lose members of our community much too frequently. The thought sickens me so I have avoided it. With Allen’s death I feel I should put it together. I need a reminder of Allen, John Peckham, and everybody else. Something to keep me vigilant about my own safety and angry at the carelessness of others. Something to remind me of the friends I lost and friends I will never meet.
Nebraska plays Wisconsin on October 10th. I will be thinking of Allen and rooting for the Cornhuskers that day.
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