Tuesday’s typical bike around Traverse City turn took a decidedly different turn.
The weekly gathering of Traverse City area cyclists for a competitive ride became a time to remember, reflect and look back at a fallen friend.
Braiden Voss, 19, died in a fiery car accident Aug. 7 when the car he was driving crashed into Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor Township. The Suttons Bay teenager and aspiring professional racer was fondly remembered by those who knew him.
Nick Wierzba put the idea forward to slow down Tuesday’s ride in honor of Voss, who regularly participated in the event when in the area. The popular teenager also kept up with seasoned veterans from the start and turned into a force on his own.
“It just kind of took off,” said Hagerty Cycling vice president Austin Johnson. “It was a very somber moment. Everybody standing around in the TC Central parking lot, reflecting on Braiden.”
The Tuesday Night Ride — or TNR, as avid cyclists call it — instead became a slow ride.
Voss started attending TNR at the age of 14. He was gregarious, friendly and at the front of the pack from the start, friends and teammates recall.
“It turned from his dad dropping him off to him riding his bike in from Suttons Bay,” Johnson said. “He was one of the nicest, most humble people you’ll ever meet in your life. The whole family is that way. It was a joy to be around him. His character and personality outweighed his biking ability tenfold.”
Voss would often ride from his home in Suttons Bay just to get to the 40-mile ride, adding 20 miles to each end of his Tuesday journey.
Wierzba, owner of Suttons Bay Bikes and a frequent TNR participant, suggested they alter the ride’s format for Voss. The distance of 40 miles didn’t change, but instead of the typical waiting for no one, the bikers took a more leisurely ride, stopping periodically to share stories and memories about Voss.
“The ride was one of the community things where we got to watch Braiden grow and advance as a rider,” Wierzba said. “He was an amazing kid in every aspect of life. If you met the kid, you were like, ‘I want to raise my kids to be Braiden Voss.’”
The event that normally brings together about 20 riders attracted more than 100 this time.
“It was a horrible tragedy,” Wierzba said. “There’s a lot of broken hearts and tears and pain being felt with the loss of Braiden Voss. We all hope to live in his likeness and keep his kindness going.”
Jason Johnson, who also participates in TNR and also competed against Voss in the Iceman Cometh Challenge’s pro division the last two times the event was held, said Voss’ talent became evident quickly.
“That’s where Braiden made his mark as a kid,” said Jason Johnson, unrelated to Austin Johnson. “He’s 14 or 15 years old and hanging on with people who have been biking 30 years.”
Voss started racing in pro divisions of events such as the Iceman at the age of 16.
“He’s a great, grounded kid,” Jason Johnson said. “Never had a bad thing to say about anyone. Just a good soul. It’s good to see a kid that young to have that drive on a bike. He could destroy any of us, but never boasted about his success. Everybody that me him just liked him. It was a given.”
Voss attended Traverse City West Middle School and then West Senior High School before going to The Miller School of Albermarle in Virginia and eventually to Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, where he was on the cycling team.
Simon Jones, a professional cyclist for Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling in Spain who was a year ahead of Voss at Miller School of Albermarle and recommended him to the team there, said Voss was a perfect fit.
“He was like a little brother when we were there,” Jones said. “The most time I’d see him after graduating was at races. I could immediately tell how talented Braiden was. People don’t think of cycling as a team sports, but it really is. You need someone to keep you positive and tell you to harden up because he’s from Traverse City and biked in the winter all the time.”
Jones, a Wisconsin native who now lives in Spain when not training in Colorado, said the rest of Voss’ teammates on the Hot Tubes team felt the same way.
“The universal fact in all the people is how much the loved Braiden and his family,” Jones said. “Because of his personality type, I know a lot of people feel the same way.”