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Cyclists Raise $1,000 for Injured Bike Messenger

By Erica Demarest | February 24, 2013 8:28am

LOGAN SQUARE—The key to good health?

For one Lakeview bike messenger, it might just be cookies, marshmallows and cheddar-bay biscuits.

Dustin Valenta, 27, was critically injured Feb. 8 in a Wicker Park hit-and-run while riding his bike home from yoga. His injuries—which include a punctured lung, 23 broken ribs and a cracked skull—have kept him in the intensive care unit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital since the accident.

Valenta doesn’t have health insurance.

On Saturday, the all-female cycling group Tiny Fix Bike Gang raised more than $1,000 for Valenta with a good, old-fashioned bake sale at The Bike Lane in Logan Square.

“As soon as I heard about the accident, I put the word out,” said Lorena Cupcake, 26, who helped organize the event. “We can help him pay rent while he’s in the hospital. This money is a dip in the bucket compared to the medical bills he’ll have, but it helps.”

Cyclists across the city whipped up cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods. Those who couldn’t attend made online donations.

The Chicago Diner, Valenta’s former employer, made an unsolicited cookie donation; Chicago Vegan Foods dropped off marshmallows; and The Bike Lane offered a 15 percent store discount to anyone who bought bake sale items.

“A lot of people would give us a twenty and say, ‘Keep the change,’” Cupcake said.

None of the women organizing the event knew Valenta personally. Chicago has a tight-knit cycling community, they said. People take care of each other.

“It could’ve been any of us,” explained Karen Altes, 36, of West Rogers Park. “[Valenta] wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was riding in the right part of the street. He was wearing a helmet.”

“It’s f--ked up that in America, people making cookies is your secondary form of insurance," Cupcake said. "But we have a great community behind us."

According to Valenta's family, a parked car "doored" him on Milwaukee Avenue near Wood Street - that is, the car opened its door into Valenta's path, knocking him into the street. A truck then ran over him and fled the scene.

Despite Valenta's injuries, the Tiny Fix members still call Chicago a "very safe" cycling city. They advised knowing which roads are safer or wider than others and taking steps to remain visible at night or in bad weather.

“I still feel like riding by bike to work is better for me, for my health and mental health, than taking the CTA or driving,” Altes said.

The women urged anyone involved in a bike crash, however minor, to take photos and report the incident.

“If one person had gotten that truck’s license plate,” Altes said, “we would know who it was, and his insurance would be paying for Dustin’s bill.”

“We would kill for a blurry Instagram photo right now,” Cupcake added.