On the last morning that he rode, William “Rob” Oakes, 70, powered his Specialized bicycle up the hill out of Silver City and passed other cyclists years his junior with his signature smile and wave.
His fellow riders in the New Mexico Touring Society bike club kidded him about his lean frame saying he could climb like a goat and descend like a feather.
A resident of Placitas, Oakes died May 11 of injuries after he was struck by a pickup truck on N.M. 15 below White Horse Mesa, a few miles outside of Silver City. He was one of 54 cyclists from the club on their annual two-day Gila Inner Loop Tour. State Police are investigating the case.
A service held Saturday in Albuquerque to celebrate his life drew about 150 family members, friends, former co-workers, neighbors and cycling friends. His four sisters and others who spoke at the service recalled his warm smile, the way he played the trombone, his love of trains and butterflies and his 1965 Mustang.
“He loved to go fast. He loved anything with wheels,” said Maureen Oakes, his wife of 45 years.
Already an avid mountain biker, Rob Oakes took up road biking around 2005 when he moved to Placitas after retiring from a career as a computer programmer, including 27 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Over the next eight years, he rode almost daily, including about 27,000 miles with the bike club. He also toured Germany and Austria and completed several 100-mile “century” rides and endurance events like the 111-mile Tour de Tucson and the Iron Horse Classic on a 50-mile route from Durango to Silverton, Colo.
“The biking became his second family,” Maureen Oakes said, “We laughed that it was his job, it kept him out of my hair.”
In the past year, he had overcome a hernia operation and a broken femur to return to cycling and was planning a multiday trip in Colorado with club members in July.
His accident occurred just days before the Ride of Silence, organized annually nationwide in honor of cyclists who have been killed or injured in accidents with motor vehicles.
Duke City Wheelmen, a local cycling advocacy group, arranges the event in Albuquerque. This year, around 100 cyclists, including about two dozen of Oakes’ fellow club members wearing photos of him, rode a six-mile route in Albuquerque, honoring him and other cyclists.
The group also installs white-painted “ghost bikes” as memorials at sites where cyclists have been killed. Organization president Jennifer Buntz said she has been contacted by cycling groups from Silver City interested in erecting a ghost bike at the site of Oakes’ accident, but it depends on the family’s wishes.
“If any of those things make people stop and think and slow down, I’m all for it,” Maureen Oakes said.