Ghost Riders

In Houston, bicycling is known as a killer sport.

Cisco Rios lived to ride his bike. The 25-year-old waiter longed to ditch his job and make that passion his livelihood. His buddy Matt Wurth, owner of Heights-area bike shop I Cycle, said that Rios told him that he wanted to take up Wurth's trade and move with his Australian fiancée to Seattle. There the two young lovers wanted to start a new life together in a cyclist's paradise.

But in the meantime, Rios was couch-surfing, running out the string of his life in Houston. He often stayed at the apartment of his friend and fellow cyclist Ricky Jiminez. Cisco's car had died, so his bike was his sole means of transport. "He would take it on the bus with him," remembers his close friend and riding partner Ahmad Cherry. "Wherever his day would take him, he went on a bike."

Often, those days would take him past Wurth's shop at West 18th and T.C. Jester, where he got most of his repairs. Wurth says his bike mechanics loved to see Rios come in, because Rios always insisted on tipping them extra. His friends always loved to see him too. Ask him how he was doing and he would tell people he was glad to be alive; his motto was "Hakuna matata," a Swahili phrase he likely nicked from Disney's The Lion King that translates as "There are no worries."

When Cisco Rios failed to make it to a big game, Cherry knew something was badly wrong.
Photos courtesy of Ahmad Cherry
When Cisco Rios failed to make it to a big game, Cherry knew something was badly wrong.
Houston Texans games were a highlight for Night Rider All Stars Cisco Rios and Ahmad Cherry.
Photos courtesy of Ahmad Cherry
Houston Texans games were a highlight for Night Rider All Stars Cisco Rios and Ahmad Cherry.

Cherry and Jiminez often joined Rios on adventures all over town, often on the Terry Hershey bike trails in West Houston by day, or night-riding from the Heights to downtown. Cherry remembers a fun night they shared at a Denny's on Washington Avenue. "The waitress noticed we were all on our bikes, and she asked us if we had a name for our group," he says. "Francisco said, 'Yeah, we're the Night Rider All Stars.' We burst into uproarious laughter. At the time, I thought it was the dorkiest, uncoolest thing anybody had ever said. But ever since then we've been the Night Rider All Stars."

In 2007, they took part in the annual Shipley-sponsored, 28-mile Tour de Donut. An odd charity race that matches endurance cycling with unhealthy eating, it offers riders as many doughnuts as they can consume at rest stations, with time credits awarded for each pastry consumed. Rios was highly competitive, Cherry remembers, and over the course of the day, he consumed a huge amount of doughnuts, a dozen at one station alone, by one account. [Cherry claims Rios ate 28 that day; the official Tour de Donut results page has him down for a mere 15, still enough to place him seventh out of about 400 riders.] Jiminez recalled that Rios had brought along some milk to wash the doughnuts down, and he made the mistake of drinking it after it had ripened in his bike bag. "He never touched another doughnut again," chuckles Jiminez.

Rios was sick for about a week afterwards, Cherry recalls, and his illness brought on an epiphany. Not only did Cisco forsake doughnuts, but also alcohol and junk food of all kinds. His love of cycling had squeezed out most of his vices.

But not all, as he did retain his passion for the Houston Texans. Along with other friends, Cherry and Rios were in the habit of packing a van full of bikes, parking off Main and then pedaling the rest of the way up to the gates at Reliant. After the final gun, the better to dodge parking-lot traffic, the friends would race back to their bikes, mount up and speed off to a sports bar to catch the rest of the day's gridiron action.

On December 30, 2007, Sunday's kickoff for the season finale against Jacksonville came and went with no sign of Cisco. Cherry was worried — it was not like Cisco to miss a game, ever, and his whereabouts had been unknown since Friday evening, when he had been headed to a party. "It was like, 'Hmm, I wonder where he is, but I know he went to the party on Friday, so he probably met somebody cool,'" Cherry says. "But when he wasn't at the game, I was like, 'Okay, something's wrong.'"

From the grandstands at Reliant, he called a mutual friend. Not yet fearing the absolute worst, he asked her to check for Rios in the hospitals and the jailhouses. She found Rios in the morgue. As Cherry heard the devastating news, the Texans scored a touchdown. "There were 70,000 people cheering and I had just found out my best friend died and I'm crying," Cherry says.

Friends later pieced together Cisco's last ride. That Friday night, Rios had been en route from Jiminez's apartment to Cherry's place. From there, he was heading out to the holiday party. At some point before arriving at Jiminez's, he stopped in I Cycle one last time, and dropped about $150. "His drive-train was all wore out," remembers Wurth. "He got new sprockets, a new chain, a total tune-up, an upgrade of all his running gear."

Rios wouldn't get to enjoy his revved-up bike for long. Pedaling down — or near, as accounts vary — the shoulder in the 7000 block Old Katy Road near the Hempstead Road fork at around seven in the dark winter evening, Cisco was rear-ended by a beer delivery van. He suffered massive head trauma and died at the scene — the 11th and last Houston-area bicycle fatality of 2007. "It was terrible," says Wurth. "I saw pictures of the accident scene. It threw him like several hundred feet. He just nailed him. There wasn't much left."

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