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Beloved cyclist dies after motorist driving van strikes him from behind

Shawn Blumenfeld, 51, was struck in the area of Emmitsburg, Md., police said

Shawn Blumenfeld in Montreal in 2017. (Andy Zalan)
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The Washington region’s cycling community is mourning Shawn Blumenfeld, a beloved cyclist who Maryland State Police say died Monday after a motorist struck him with a van in Frederick County.

Blumenfeld, 51, was struck from behind on a road in the Emmitsburg area and died at the scene, police said.

After beginning his career as a bicycle courier in Washington, Blumenfeld became an advocate for the industry, a business owner and an organizer of races worldwide. “He did everything and anything” connected with bicycles and cycling, said his brother, Lane Blumenfeld.

When Lane Blumenfeld graduated from Yale Law School in 1993, for example, Shawn Blumenfeld built a bicycle for him to celebrate the achievement. Then he rode it from Washington to New Haven, Conn. — more than 300 miles — to give it to him, Lane Blumenfeld remembered.

Shawn Blumenfeld took pride in Washington and in his industry, said Rebecca “Lambchop” Reilly, who met Blumenfeld in 1990, when she was “a rookie courier at my wit’s end” because her bike was falling apart. Blumenfeld, by then a few years into the business, fixed it.

The two remained friends over their years, with Reilly describing Blumenfeld as fast-talking and brilliant, with a passion for improving the business. The two were some of the main organizers behind the 1998 cycle messenger championships in D.C.

“Bega was always about doing everything the best it could be done,” Reilly said, using Blumenfeld’s nickname.

She was one of the people he hired when he started his own bike messenger company in the late 1990s. He hired good couriers, insisted they ride safely — always stopping at red lights and stop signs — and charged higher fees for services so that he could pay his workers well, Reilly said.

“Of all people, it just infuriates me that he died this way,” said Reilly, who went on to write a book about the bike messenger industry. “He was so safe.”

Blumenfeld’s love for cycling was such that he cared about members of the community even before meeting them personally.

After Hans Ruppenthal in 2017 broke eight ribs in a crash that sent him to the shock trauma center in Baltimore, he received a message out of the blue from Blumenfeld — who he’d never met.

Blumenfeld wanted to know if he was okay, Ruppenthal remembered, and if there was anything he could do to help.

Blumenfeld’s crash occurred about 2:45 p.m. Monday in the 10000 block of Taneytown Pike, said state police, who were still working to determine why the motorist struck Blumenfeld while he and the van were headed west in the same lane on the pike.

Lane Blumenfeld said he assumed his brother was on his daily workout when he was struck. He said his brother was a careful cyclist who usually traveled on the shoulder when riding on roads and who credited a helmet for saving his life in an earlier serious crash.

Shawn Blumenfeld had lived in the District for years before moving to Emmitsburg. He was involved in a bicycle shop in D.C., was a USA Cycling-certified coach and specialized in race strategy and cycling mathematics, according to his blog. He was also the director of a women’s professional cycling team called Hub Racing.

He viewed himself, he said in one blog entry, as “one of the most successful unsuccessful bike racers of all time.”

Blumenfeld was an “experienced and skilled rider” whose love for the industry was evident to all, said Joe Hendry, a Toronto-based former bike messenger who met Blumenfeld at the world championships in 1998.

Both were interested in protecting the rights of bike messengers as the industry changed, with the increasing use of emails and e-signatures filling the role couriers had traditionally played.

Even after Blumenfeld retired from the courier industry, Hendry said, he rode his bike all the time.

“It gets in you,” he said of Blumenfeld’s passion for biking, “and it doesn’t ever leave you.”