In 2010, Kent Winberry wrote state legislators that he had recently been brushed by a passing SUV and wanted to highlight what he viewed as flaws in a proposed law aimed at forcing cyclists to the far right side of their lane.
After riding hundreds of thousands of miles on North Carolina roads, he wrote, he had come to a conclusion: “When I’m riding alone, I’m most vulnerable to passing vehicles and an accident.”
And he was probably right, but it was a truck turning in front of Winberry that killed him.
The 52-year-old Durham native died Monday night from injuries he had suffered Oct. 18 when struck while riding east on Duke University Road.
Winberry was a regular on some of the Triangle’s fastest and most brutal group bike rides, the so-called Tuesday Night Street Fights west of Durham and the “P-Ride” out of Carrboro on Saturday mornings. On Tuesday, friends recalled his quirky, irreverent wit – an often welcome distraction during the hard, hours-long rides – and an insatiable hunger for his chosen brands of fun.
While he might not have been the fastest on a ride, he could be the most aggressive, one of his dozens of riding buddies, Scott McAllister, said in a telephone interview.
“He was often the first one to liven up the ride, to attack, or just be the first guy to get things rolling to get out front and push the pace,” McAllister said.
In fact, Winberry pushed hard at much of what he did, be it riding his bike, mountain and ice climbing, cooking, or hunting good wine
He had somehow hunted down a bike rack that fit on the back of his BMW motorcycle, said another friend, Scott Gatherum.
“That meant he could actually be self-sustaining on a trip to, like Blowing Rock or Boone,” Gatherum said. “He would take his climbing gear in his saddlebags, and actually strap his bike to the back of his motorcycle and haul it up to the mountains, and rock climb one day, ride his bike the next and in between that take his motorcycle out and ride around the Blue Ridge Parkway.”
He, Gatherum and another friend, Cam Ingram, would ride in the day, then eat and drink in high style, often something French inflected that Winberry cooked.
Recently he had served them an eight-course meal with china, silverware and stemware he had inherited from his grandmother.
“It was as if we were at a three-star Michelin restaurant,” Gatherum said. “Each course had its own specific serving utensil – we had salt spoons for crying out loud – and we finished up the evening with port and listened to his jazz albums.
“He wanted to squeeze every bit of possible fun out of everything he did,” Gatherum said.
Riding without a helmet
Even Winberry’s sense of humor pushed the envelope.
“He was just coarse,” Gatherum said. “He rode hard, he lived hard, he drank and chased women and was quick with a dirty joke, but he was kind an enigma in that regard, in that he was so tenderhearted and a good friend.”
“He was just a tender-hearted man, despite his bluster and kind of hard outer shell,” he said. “It wasn’t like he was a crusty, grumpy old bird, he was the Fred Sanford kind of curmudgeon, not the Ebenezer Scrooge one.”
Winberry was somewhat less interested in work than play and startled his friends recently by quitting his IT job with Duke Medicine before lining up another position, Gatherum said.
“He was just impulsive,” he said. “ I think he just checked out immediately and headed for the mountains for a week.”
He had a hip joint replaced about a year and a half ago but had came back quickly, riding at racing level within a year, Gatherum said.
It wasn’t unusual for Winberry to put in 300 miles a week on the bike. On the day of the accident he had been riding with a woman he had been dating. They had separated to go to their respective homes, briefly before meeting for dinner. Winberry’s sister, Elizabeth, said his girlfriend was waiting for him at a restaurant when she saw a report about the accident on television.
The full-sized Dodge Ram pickup truck that struck him was driven by 84-year-old man who had been traveling in the opposite direction and tried to turn left in front of Winberry.
Winberry had been known to go out for more casual rides without a helmet, and his sister, Elizabeth, said Tuesday that a police officer had told her he wasn’t wearing one when he was hit.
A police spokeswoman said Tuesday no charges have been filed against the driver, Ernest Lipscomb of Durham, but the accident remains under investigation.
After the accident, he was taken to Duke Medical Center’s neurological intensive care unit.
Since Winberry was a strong rider, he likely would have been going perghaps 10 miles per hour faster than a typical recreational cyclist, McAllister said, and that may have caught the driver off guard.
Also, he was hit just before sunset and though there were trees along the road, the low sun behind him could have made him harder to see.
In addition to his sister, Winberry’s survivors include his mother, Betsy; his father, Larry, and a nephew, Michael Mangum Jr.
Second one this month
He was the second Durham cyclist to be killed this month after being struck by a car.
Pamela Lane, 57, of Coggins Mine Court in Durham was killed Oct. 3 in Chapel Hill while negotiating an tricky juncture of road, sidewalk and greenway near downtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Lane was traveling south on a sidewalk when she was run down by an SUV exiting a convenience store parking lot. The driver wasn’t charged after police determined that she hadn’t broken any laws, said a spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Several of Winberry’s friends already had been dealt personal lessons in the dangers posed by riding thousands of miles a year on roads dominated by cars and trucks.
McAllister said that he himself was hit hard in 2005, also by a pickup truck, and thrown 40 yards before he hit the ground, breaking a leg.
Ingram was hit by a car a year and a half ago and nearly died, suffering broken ribs, a broken shoulder, bruised lungs and a concussion, Gatherum said.
And Gatherum himself was hit two months ago while riding in a bike lane, something he thought about while he was rooting for Winberry to pull through.
“It was just goofy that here were two guys talking about their buddy in a coma, and both of them had been hit in the last year and a half, too,” he said. “It’s just not safe out there.”