Traffic signs in Raleigh have stirred up controversy ahead of this weekend’s Ironman 70.3 Raleigh event.
Gene Caffrey was just starting to hit his groove about 20 miles into an 80-mile bike ride on Sunday, May 27 when the two-time Ironman finisher saw a disturbing message that he couldn’t ignore.
While riding along the shoulder of Old US-1 near Moncure, N.C., the 50-year-old sales executive saw a temporary electronic traffic advisory board light up with the phrase “Expect Delays … A**holes on Bikes.”
Meanwhile, another sign a few miles away on U.S. Highway 64 near Raleigh flashed: “6/3/18 Right Lane Closed … Due to Idiots on Bikes.”
The message boards were put in place by the Ironman 70.3 Raleigh organization to advise local motorists of the upcoming 70.3 race in Raleigh on June 3. But the signs had been hacked by a yet-unknown culprit.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it, so I took a video of it,” Caffrey said. “There’s a lot of angst out there about cyclists on the road, and it can be pretty crazy. We have had cyclists hit by cars and injured, put into a coma and killed in this area. I brought attention to it because the longer those messages were out there, the more people would see it and that might create unsafe conditions.”
The 70.3 race includes a 1.2-mile swim in Jordan Lake about 30 miles west of the city, then a point-to-point bike course through rural Chatham and Wake counties before finishing with a 13.1-mile run through downtown Raleigh.
North Carolina Department of Transportation officials said via Twitter they have been investigating the matter. It said the signs do not belong to the NCDOT or any of its contractors.
“As a cyclist, this is NOT acceptable,” said Beci Markijohn Beasley, a Raleigh resident who is volunteering at the race. “This is NOT funny, it’s NOT a joke, and it’’s NOT okay to do this. I don’t care what your personal opinions are, you should leave them out of your job. You are putting peoples lives in danger by encouraging a mindset of intolerance to share the road.”
After Caffrey posted the video on a few social media outlets, he was interviewed by a local television crew and preached a message of safety for everyone. But some of the responses were shockingly adversarily, including “send them back to the sidewalks” and “put them in the woods,” he said.
In addition to his full Ironman finishes in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 2008 and Panama City Beach, Fla., in 2009, Caffrey has also completed several half marathons, marathons and 70.3 races—including the Raleigh event in 2014. He was diagnosed with MS in 2010 and found it difficult to continue running after finishing that race four years ago.
But he still rides his bike a lot—he is planning five big mountain rides across the U.S. this year to celebrate his 50th birthday and raise money for Can Do MS—and understands the value of safety and positive messaging within local communities.
“We want everyone to be as safe as possible out there—the cyclists, the triathletes and the drivers,” Caffrey said. “Who knows what could happen? That’s not to say anyone would do anything malicious, but what if someone was late to go somewhere on Sunday morning and just decided to drive through the course?”
“I feel bad for Ironman and the local race organization,” he added. “Ironman does a lot of good for the local community and sometimes people fail to see that.”
We’ve reached out to Ironman for comment and will update when we hear back.