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Last spring, Rob Lipic was looking forward to trying a new route for an 80-mile bicycle trip from his Forsyth home to his parents’ house at Lake Bloomington.

An avid cyclist, Lipic rides every chance he gets — usually three or four times a week.

“This was my first time on this route,” he said.

He was riding north on the LeRoy-Lexington blacktop when he came to an intersection. He stopped behind a van and remembers looking left and right and thinking he would go straight when it was his turn.

“My next memory is the EMTs standing over me,” said Lipic, a Bloomington-Normal native who is a State Farm Insurance Cos. agent in Decatur.

What Lipic doesn’t remember is being hit from behind by an SUV. The McLean County sheriff’s report said the driver didn’t even slow down. Lipic was thrown onto the hood of the SUV and his head hit the windshield. His body then flew into the air before becoming lodged under the vehicle.  

“One wheel was over my thigh and the car was leaking antifreeze onto my leg causing burns,” he said, adding he had to have surgery for a herniated disk; some injuries that required stitches and got road rash.

But, he said, “I’ve been very blessed.  I’m back on my bike. I’ve been released to do all activities.  I’m doing really, really well.  My helmet saved my life.”

The driver of the SUV was charged with aggravated driving under the influence in an accident that caused bodily harm.

With the arrival of warmer weather, avid cyclists like Lipic are attracted to rural roads for a variety reasons, said Erik Rankin, a McLean County Board member and head trainer and owner of Grim Reaper Fitness that offers triathlon coaching and training.

“County roads for the most part are wide open and have the least amount of traffic,” said Rankin.  “They also have the least amount of stop signs so you can actually ride.”

But he also knows there are drawbacks.

“Vehicles drive at higher speeds and if somebody does get hit, it’s almost always catastrophic,” Rankin said. “A lot of motorists have a sense of entitlement — that they own the streets and runners and cyclists shouldn’t be on the street.”

McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery said it’s actually the opposite — vehicles must share the road with cyclists and there are state laws that specify distances that must be obeyed.

“Cars are required to keep a 3-foot distance between the cyclist and the car when passing,” Emery said. “It’s their (the vehicle driver’s) responsibility to slow down.”

But cyclists also must follow the rules of the road.

“County roads weren’t constructed for this massive surge of bikes,” Emery said. “Most county blacktops are two lanes and there are no shoulders.”

When you mix that with impatient motorists, it can end up getting nasty. Twin City cyclist Alfonso Reyes has first-hand knowledge of that.

Reyes, a member of the Bloomington Cycle racing team, was riding with about six others on a country road east of the Twin Cities recently when a vehicle traveling more than 50 mph drove by.

“He was honking his horn and got really, really close,” he said.  “It scared the heck out of us.”

Reyes said some in his group made an obscene gesture directed at the driver, and about four or five miles later near the LeRoy/Lexington blacktop, the driver was in the middle of the road waiting for the cyclists. An argument started. The driver maintained the cyclists shouldn’t ride two abreast; the group said not only did they have that right, the driver was required to leave the 3-foot distance when passing them.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” Reyes said. “I’m 52; I know the rules of the road.”

Cyclist Axel Jimenez was obeying the rules of the road when his bicycle was clipped by a car last fall on Old Route 66.

“I was as far right as you could go,” he said.  

The car came from behind and was so close to Jimenez, his arm broke the passenger side window.  Jimenez was thrown and his head hit the pavement.

“My helmet nearly cracked,” he said.

He spent six days in the hospital and had to have back surgery.  He said the first month was horrible; the second, awful.  Then it went to bad, decent and finally OK.

“I’m doing much better,” he said, adding he still has a lot of tightness in his back.  While he used do a weekly, 14-mile bicycle ride, he’s only been on a bike about 60 seconds since the accident.

Jimenez said his group of cyclists traveled about 20 mph, “So you don’t want us on the (Constitution) trail. It’s very reasonable for the road to be shared. Cyclists have the right to the road.”

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