Debra Clary’s piercing cheers had always been among the loudest when her only child, Jason, crossed the finish line.
But last year, Debra’s voice fell silent.
“You can’t be weak in life and strong on the bike,” Jason Clary said. “It just don’t work like that.”
A month after he got married and a month before he was to compete in the fixed-gear Red Bull Ride + Style race at Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco, Jason’s mother, Debra — a former competitive motorcycle rider in her own day and one of the fiercest supporters of her son’s chosen profession — died.
Clary contemplated bailing on the race, and the bike, for good. “I was just kind of over it,” the 31-year-old said.
But at the urging of his friends and father, Ken — the former American Motorcycle Association rider who put a 2-year-old Jason still in diapers on a motorcycle — he raced. And won.
“I had my friends in tears last year,” the Walnut Creek native and Oakland-based rider said, who returns on Saturday to Justin Herman Plaza in an attempt to defend the Red Bull race title he claimed a year ago, the one Debra didn’t get to see. “I felt like she was there with me that day.”
But despite a fixed-gear racing career already a decade in the making and another Red Bull race title in 2011, Clary still feels the nerves.
“Brakeless fixed-gear riding is one of the most dangerous things that I do,” he said. But the broken shoulder, torn ACLs, five concussions and two broken jaws isn’t what fuels his anxiety.
“I’d probably rather snap my arm or break my leg than lose,” he said. “Emotional pain and that fear of losing is a bigger fear to me than getting hurt.”
But for Clary’s fixed-gear buddy Josh Boothby — the Hayward cyclist whose first ride without training wheels at 9-years-old saw him crash into a garage door — his injuries are too severe to compete this weekend.
Boothby, 28, was hoping to reclaim his 2012 freestyle title this year. But during a promotional visit to Thailand in mid-April, Boothby was rear ended by another motorist while on a rented motorbike.
The crash left Boothby with a broken right leg, a level 4 concussion, facial scars and internal wounds that had him sneezing and coughing up blood. He’ll be announcing and guest judging the premier fixed-gear event Saturday.
“I’m looking at a full recovery,” Boothby said, “besides being a little marked up and having some Thailand tattoos permanently now — I literally mean from the cement and asphalt.”
Red Bull Ride + Style
WHAT: Features fixed-gear riders facing off in both track and freestyle competitions
WHEN: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
WHERE: Justin Herman Plaza