On January 5, 2006, 50-year-old Isai Medina was on his way home from work when he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking his bike along the sidewalk on Western Avenue in Chicago.
Anyone who'd ever ridden on Chicago Critical Mass, along the lakefront bike trail in the summer, or through the streets of the Near West Side recognized Isai for his hand-built custom choppers; held together with bolts, painted in chrome, and tricked out with a dazzling array of sirens and lights. Isai traveled from one end of Chicago to the other on his choppers, and only on choppers, for which he was particularly revered as a true "Freak Biker for Life" by local freakbike clubs the Rat Patrol and the Scallywags.
Isai's death was by no means the first casualty of its sort - especially on wide, heavily trafficked Western, which drivers treat like an expressway, ignoring the presence of pedestrians and cyclists. But it was the first time in recent memory that someone so widely beloved across Chicago's bike community fell prey to the city's dangerous car traffic. The loss of Isai was enough to bring a broad cross-section of this community, from CCM organizers to freakbikers to bike lobbyists, together to start a long-overdue Ghost Bike project. It also brought together cyclists and members of the local Latino community, in which Isai was equally beloved.
Thus did Chicago's first Ghost Bike come to be a ghost chopper. On the January Critical Mass ride, the spectral white chopper was mounted on a bike trailer and towed through Chicago streets, ending up at the site of Isai's death at the northeast corner of Western and Cortez. Here the 400-rider Mass stopped for a few minutes, blocking traffic on Western while the Ghost Bike was installed, candles lit, and a moment of silence observed. But it wasn't long before police confronted the mourners. Despite our insistences that this was a memorial service, not a protest, and that we'd be moving on soon, four people were arrested for blocking traffic- even though they were standing on the sidewalk!