With its extensive network of bike lanes and trails, Minneapolis has long been considered one of America’s best cities for cycling. Ambassadors like Jeremy Werst made it better.
Werst was the founder of Mpls Bike Love, a wildly popular online forum where cycling enthusiasts gathered to talk about everything from bike gear to safety issues, and most importantly, to plan group rides and meet each other.
Fed up with bicyclists being attacked on the Midtown Greenway in the mid-2000s, Werst teamed with Bike Love members to start a volunteer citizen patrol. The efforts morphed into Trail Watch, a program now administered by the Midtown Greenway Coalition with teams of riders reporting suspicious activity and unsafe conditions to police.
In the late 2000s, Werst was instrumental in starting the Ghost Bike Minneapolis project, which preserved the memory of cyclists who were killed in crashes with motor vehicles by placing a white bicycle at the scene. He led a memorial ride after four cyclists were killed in a span of a few weeks in 2008.
“He was the person in the community who brought everybody together,” said longtime friend Andrew Paule.
Werst, 43, was found dead April 20 in his Minneapolis home after he had not been seen for a few days.
The medical examiner ruled his death resulted from complications from alcoholism, something he had struggled with, said his brother, Phil Velo, of Minneapolis.
It was no surprise to friends and family that a few hundred cyclists clad in Mpls Bike Love T-shirts and jerseys turned out April 29 for a bike ride in Powerhorn Park and across the Sabo Bridge to remember the man who many said was a legend in the biking community.
Werst grew up in Montana and was “wicked smart,” his brother said. School came easily for him and he was named a National Merit Scholar semifinalist.
He took a few courses at the University of Montana, but never earned a degree. Instead, he was a self-taught web developer and considered an expert in Concrete5, an open-source content management system for publishing on the internet, Velo said.
Werst’s foray into biking came after he moved to Minneapolis around 2000. He spent time on the internet researching bikes and met other cycling aficionados. He felt a need to have a website dedicated to biking locally.
One night, he and a friend put a page online, and by morning Mpls Bike Love had its first few members. From there it grew and even led to marriages among its members.
“He never knew it was going to be so popular,” said his sister, Kim Werst, of Boulder, Colo. “I remember how excited he was when the 1,000th, 5,000th members signed up.”
The forum was a lifeline for Jeremy as he struggled with alcoholism and mental illness, she said.
“Gathering with people and socializing around bikes brought him that light to keep going,” his sister said. “I wish he could have had affordable and accessible addiction treatment available to allow him to get back to that era and enjoy it once again.”
Jeremy often volunteered to build websites for various nonprofits. He was an artist and musician who played the guitar and violin, liked to cook, and enjoyed science fiction and homemade chai, family members said.
Besides his brother and sister, Werst is survived by his mother, Leslie Lemieux, of Bozeman, Mont., father Richard Werst, of Alberton, Mont., sister Karen Riojas, of Bozeman, Mont., and two brothers, David Werst, of Billings, Mont., and Jay Jones, of Bozeman, Mont.