Monday, April 11, 2011

Jim Swarzman, RIP: My Kind of Guy, and Cyclist

Above: Jim Swarzman and Nicole Honda at the 2009 Furnace Creek 508 finish line, and then Jim a year later in 2010 with his "classic bike" of choice (which will appear as a full-page in the next issue of American Randonneur and in Bicycle Quarterly.) Look at how happy, fit, and fresh he looked after those grueling races! That's testimony to Jim living life to the fullest, embracing all it has to offer, training seriously, seeking out adventure and fun, AND enjoying the ride with his great friend and love of his life.

Fellow cyclist Jim Swarzman, age 47, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in blue or dark color pick-up truck*, possibly intentionally, while cycling in an unsupported 600km long-distance cycling event called a "brevet" early yesterday morning (April 10, 2011) in Leucadia (part of Encinitas, in San Diego County). Here are three media reports about this tragic incident which was no "accident":

NBC San Diego

10 News San Diego

Fox 5 San Diego

Biking in LA Blog

North County Times: Nicole's Words

Memories of Jim, posted by the San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club

Jim Swarzman was a really great guy, and recently engaged to another brevet rider / Furnace Creek 508 racer, Nicole Honda. They were to be moving into their new home together next weekend and were going to ride Paris-Brest-Paris this summer on their honeymoon. They have both raced The 508 on a two person team, and solo, including in the classic bike divisions. I really, really like Jim and we connected on many levels. We talked about all kinds of things while cycling, but never about work. I don't even know what his career was; we were friends beyond those mundane things. (I did think it was very cool that he had been president of a Porsche Car Club for many years. I believe he told me that he had owned as many as six Porsches at one time. But nowadays he had become a much bigger fan of collecting, and riding, bikes.)

Jim had been a bike racer back in the 80s, had got away from cycling for about twenty years, then recently rediscovered it with a passion, meeting Nicole in the process. When I first rode with him, I could tell that he had old school, classic style, because of his position on the bike and form. I loved watching him ride and had the pleasure of riding the San Diego 200km brevet with him earlier this year, plus a few hours of the LA 300km brevet a few weeks later. Even after 20 years away from the sport, he truly rode like a pro, gracefully, strongly, with a relaxed, but precise style and posture. He had really gotten into cycling with a vengeance at this point in his life, riding brevets, double centuries, Furnace Creek 508, plus creating epic rides to go do with friends. He was 100% my kind of guy, on and off the bike.

Jim was living life to the fullest, was very fit, good looking, and in Nicole Honda had found an amazing cyclist, and lovely, bubbly, outgoing, and extremely positive life partner. They were a match made in heaven, truly.

Jim was riding with Nicole, along with fellow distance cyclist Chris Hanson, when he was struck by the hit-and-run driver. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, but passed away a few hours later.

Thursday, April 14th 2011 at 12 Noon, there was a memorial for Jim at Mount Sinai memorial Park. I was there, along with a great crowd of family, friends, and fellow cyclists. An image from the occasion:

UPDATE, April 12, 2011: Jim's killer has turned himself in. Story here. We will need to follow this closely and see what kind of "justice" is served. For any court event that is public, I hope there is a large contingent of cyclists, and friends and family of Jim's, in attendance.

*"Investigators originally described the pickup as a blue, late model Ford F150. Monday afternoon, after further investigation, they said that the vehicle that hit Swarzman was a 2007-8 Dodge Ram 1500 or a 2007-9 Dodge Ram 2500 or 3500." PLEASE call the Sheriff at 760-966-3500 if you saw anything or have any information.

Here is Jim's Facebook page.

Jim's athletic resumé, as submitted with his Furnace Creek 508 applications:

2009 FC508: 2x Mixed Classic Bike, Team Golden Gyrfalcon, 1st place in division
2010 FC508: Solo Classic Bike, Gyrfalcon, 2nd in division to overall winner, 17th overall

- 5x Super Randonneur since 2009
- First to finish at PCH Randos' 200K & 300K in 2010 and 2011
- 2009 Gold Rush 1200K finisher
- 2010 Central Coast 1000K finisher
- 12 double centuries in 2009 and 2010 incl. Devil Mtn and Alta Alpina 8-Pass
- Top ten at Central Coast DC and Heartbreak DC in 2010
- Cat 3 racer for Velo Club La Grange in mid-late '80's. Finisher at Death Valley - Mt. Whitney Road Race, Whiskey Creek Stage Race, and Tour of the Gila.
- UCLA Cycling "A" Team member in college. Golden Hammer winner (UCLA Cycling TT champion)
- 4x finisher L.A. Triathlon and a number of other Olympic and sprint distance triathlons
- 800 meter runner as junior. Junior Olympic champion and #1 ranking nationally in age group.

- Realize that none of this is particularly impressive other than finishing the 11/09 Rough Rider ride!!!!!

- I am determined, always prepared, and am very fortunate to never have any "show-stopper" problems. Oh, and I am unfazed by extreme heat or cold, and maintain complete mental clarity when sleep deprived! I HAVE NEVER "DNF'd" ANYTHING!!!

Here are Jim and Nicole from the 2009 Furnace Creek 508, which they raced in the two-person classic bike division (Their 2009 Time Splits):

Here is Jim from the 2010 Furnace Creek 508, which he raced in the solo classic bike division (Here as his 2010 Time Splits):

Jim also joined some of our Rough Rider adventures in the Santa Monica mountains. He's in the Rough Riders jersey below and in this report.
I've been saying for years now that these Los Angeles / Orange County / San Diego brevets, especially the longer ones, are just too dangerous, with too much traffic, little or no shoulders. and routes which pass too many Indian casinos, bars, and such. There literally are not enough "good miles" in this part of the state for rides this long. Add in relentless "development," increasing numbers of cars on often dilapidated roads, and seemingly more and and more impatient, self-important drivers in over-size, overly powerful vehicles and you end up with an extremely dangerous mix in which a death like Jim's was sadly inevitable.

I'm going to Montana for my 400km brevet and mostly like to Seattle for my 600km. if I even do those rides. I also intend to start lobbying RUSA (Randonneurs USA, the governing body of this type of long-distance, unsupported cycling) to much more carefully scrutinize the routes for the various events around the country, especially those in and near metropolitan areas.

Jim's is not the first death during the brevet; tracking of accidents and deaths needs to be done to learn what truly makes a route "safe," or dangerous, and guidelines need to be created to require brevet organizers to createdroutes which are as safe as possible. Several brevet organizers have literally told me that they only organize brevets because they don't want to travel somewhere else to ride them, and that they just route them from, or from near, their own home, because that is most convenient. The recent brevets which toured all over Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and/or San Diego counties are perfect examples of the types of routes which should never have been created.

Jim Swarzman with Chris Kostman during the 2011 200km San Diego Brevet.

L-R, four Furnace Creek 508 veterans: Jim Gyrfalcon Swarzman, Andi Butterfly Ramer, George Red-Eyed Vireo Vargas, and Adam Rock Rabbit Bickett at the conclusion of the 2011 200km Brevet in San Diego.


The trial for the hit-and-run driver who killed Furnace Creek 508 veteran and close friend Jim Swarzman starts Tuesday, July 12 in Vista, CA and should last until the end of that week. It is really important to have a very strong cyclist presence to send a message to the judge and jury this type of killing cannot be tolerated any longer.

If you live anywhere in Southern California, please consider attending even one day of the trial. Be sure to wear a Furnace Creek 508 or other cycling jersey, vest, or jacket, so that your identity as a supporter of cyclists' rights is visible. Location:

North County Courthouse

325 S Melrose Dr

Vista, CA 92801

It is the 5 story building and you will need to check for the actual courtroom upon arrival.

Officially it starts at 8:45AM, but they tend to start late.

Jim's fiancé, Nicole Honda, says "Even if people can only come for a few hours, it would be appreciated." Please support Nicole, Jim's memory, and our right to ride safely on our roads.


Errin said...

Great post Chris. I didn't realize that Jim was on that Rough Riders ride. That was before I knew him. We are standing next to each other in one of the pics though.

He was very enthusiastic and supportive of every cyclist. He will be missed.

lou frankel said...

this article re Jim Swarzman, really hit home. I ride many 50-100 miles alone in south jersey. I never think it could happen to me, well that is wrong, i very well could and here it did. I am so sorry. God Bless this soul. may he rest in peace. my deepest sympathy goes out to his loved ones, fiance, etc. i wear 6-8lights blinking at night but even that apparently doesn't help in a situation like this with a disturbed driver loose.

unwell ultra said...

I totally agree it's time to look at night time routes for brevets and other distance events. For instance the 2009(?) Grand Tour where the cyclist was struck and killed by a drunk driver and his son was injured. A lot of routes are designed for convenience and don't take into consideration holidays, road conditions, traffic, etc.

Kitty G said...

Chris--I totally agree with you about the crowed, narrow roads. Riding the JMO back in '83-84, the roads were still narrow, but it was much more quiet. Flash forward to riding the Borrego Double in '09.. busy casinos, same narrow roads, all in all too many dangerous miles. I am simply heartbroken about Jim. We rode many great miles together.

Dog said...

This is very, very sad. What's most sad it that we are so helpless to prevent these things. Don't know what to think. All I can think is that we must really have a passion for this to take these risks. Thanks for the info.

Justice is going to be very difficult to realize. Police and prosecuting attorneys' offices are short staffed. Jails are underfunded and overcrowded. In some areas only severe felonies are actually prosecuted and result in serving substantial time. On top of that, these kinds of cases go to juries who may not understand or sympathize with cyclists, and may be more likely to identify with the drunk driver. Money doesn't do any good, either. I think we need to emphasize that despite this, we can't let it get us down too much or deter us from doing what we love to do.


Bob Paxson said...

I just read Chris’ account of Jim’s accident. So unfair and so unjust. I am really, truly, and deeply sorry that this has happened. My most sincere condolences to Nicole, and Jim's family and friends. Everybody who knows Nicole/Jim and who is involved in cycling feels some degree of pain as a result of this tragic incident.

I’m not a religious person but I do have faith, and will pray for Nicole and the rest of Jim’s family and friends during this time of loss and suffering.

PaulS said...

I didn't know Jim, but he was a cyclist, and I'm a cyclist, and that alone is a strong bond.

We are all diminished by his loss.

Now is a good time to channel some of the energy generated by this tragedy into making the roads safer for all cyclists.

What Chris has done here is outstanding. But even something as little as a letter to a local newspaper and your congressional representatives lamenting the senseless loss of cyclists' lives on the roads will have an effect.

The website has great advice about what to do next time a hit-and-run happens. It is terrible to think that this will be very soon.

Anonymous said...

I was introduced to cycling when Jim and I first lived together in 2000, after 2 back surgeries, he got us a tandem and off we went every weekend. That's when he returned to cycling, after finishing his MBA and rediscovering his passion. He spent hours in front of the computer figuring out routes and by accident he came across something callet "brevets" and the "PCH Randos.". The rest is history. I know how much I am hurting so I know Nicole must be devestated. I am glad the man that hit Jim has turned himself in but am shocked his bail is only $50,000. I will definitely be following this case and fighting for the rights of cyclists. Thank you Chris for your kind words. I know his parents appreciate it.

Vic Cooper said...

Chris, I'd just like to say that this tribute is a class act ... I think Jim would have liked it. He was proud of his accomplishments on some of your events, and justly so.

AO said...

Wow, I'm completely blown away by this news. I met Jim last year while riding the Devil Mountain Double. We just happened to be hitting the same pace, so we rode together for a good while on the road to Mt. Hamilton. I saw him again at the Central Coast Double a few weeks later.

What a terrible tragedy. He was riding one of his old-school bikes at DMD, I can't remember exactly what it was but it was clear he was happy with it, despite it's difficult gearing and weight. It was NOT his climbing bike.

We had to cross a stream and he slowed way down and said something about protecting the property, something like that. I thought he was talking about the bike. Turns out he was talking about his Furnace Creek 508 jersey that he didn't want to mess up. We talked a little bit about that experience.

He had no real reason to remember me, but at Central Coast he was at the finish when I rode up and he gave me a hearty "hello", remembered me from DMD.

This is so sad. My heart goes out to all that grieve for him.

Willy in Pacifica said...

Thanks for letting me ride your wheel on so many Brevets and Nicole we are all thinking of you.

Jim you will be with me in my heart on all my rides.

RIP Jim.

Willy, Long Eared Jerboa, Nevin

Anonymous said...

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