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September 10, 2015

Ride in Peace, Jerry Baker

Everywhere in Seattle today, people who ride bicycles were quietly talking about it.

Even Jim, the homeless vet who lives with his humongous bike and trailer rig and sleeps on a bench on the Burke-Gilman Trail knew.

"That dude, Jerry Baker, died today."

I'd already heard. If you lived in the Northwest and rode a bike seriously for very long, you knew Jerry. I had been lucky to grow up a couple miles from his home on Mercer Island in the late 60's, and when I became enamored of bikes as a middle schooler my friends and I would spend long hours hanging out in the house where he ran a small retail business, Baker's Bikes. Under Jerry's tutelage we learned the fine points of breaking down derailleurs, bottom brackets, hubs and headsets, as well as the art of wheelbuilding and gluing tubular tires.

Later, when Jerry ran a bike clothing company called Baleno and I was attending college and exploring new career avenues, he invariably called me to work his booth at the industry trade shows in New York City and Long Beach, California.

Over the years, Jerry's influence expanded to nearly every aspect of cycling in the Seattle area. Instrumental in the creation of the Cascade Bicycle Club, the Marymoor Velodrome, and the Seattle cyclocross scene, he was mentor, teacher and inspiration to hundreds of cyclists of all persuasions, but especially racers.

Famous locally for participating in every marathon Seattle-to-Portland ride since its inception in 1979 (he finished first in that one), Jerry confided to me three days before the 2015 edition that, "You know, this doesn't get any easier. I can foresee a time when I might not want to do it any longer. I figure another three years would make it an even 40, and that might be a good time to quit."

He didn't quite make it to "40," but at the ripe age of 73 he did finish this year's 202 miles in a single day. The leukemia that overtook Jerry today was a little tougher adversary, but somewhere I know he's still training for the next big event. Ride on in peace, Jerry Baker, and thanks for everything.

Jerry lines up at the Volunteer Park Crit, May 1972  Gary Louie photo

Jerry, circa 1977, building a wheel in his basement  Ambrose Salmini photo

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