Montreal

Cyclist who died in Seattle cougar attack remembered in Montreal as pioneer for inclusive biking

SJ Brooks, 32, who earned an MA at McGill University, had a passion for cycling that began during those student years, according to Marissa Plamondon-Lu, the owner of Montreal's Bikurious bike shop.

McGill grad SJ Brooks' love of cycling started during student years in Montreal and Boston, says friend

SJ Brooks, who died May 19 after being attacked by a cougar near Seattle, Wash., got into cycling while working towards an MA at McGill University a decade ago. (Friends on Bikes/Instagram)

A Seattle cyclist who died in a rare cougar attack last Saturday was known as a pioneer for more inclusive biking — a passion that grew while living in Montreal and completing an MA at McGill University.

SJ Brooks, 32, died after a cougar attack while mountain biking in a remote area near North Bend, Wash., about 50 kilometres east of Seattle.

Brooks was cycling with Issac Sederbaum, a fellow advocate for inclusive cycling. Sederbaum was also attacked by the cougar and was released from hospital Wednesday after suffering lacerations and other injuries.

Brooks, who identified as gender non-binary and used the pronoun they, grew to love cycling while a student in Montreal and later in Boston, according to Marissa Plamondon-Lu, the owner of the Montreal bicycle shop Bikurious.

"They would come to the shop, ask small questions," Plamondon-Lu told CBC News. "They were slowly getting into bikes, partly in Boston and partly here."

Brooks became an avid cyclist and a bicycle mechanic, Plamondon-Lu said, finding Bikurious to be a safe space.

"I could really see it in their eyes, how special the space was for them."

Plamondon-Lu, who has owned her shop for 10 years, said she actively tried to hire women and open up the "intimidating" and "super white" world of bikes to a more diverse community.

According to a LinkedIn profile, Brooks earned a master's of arts from McGill University in 2009.

All about inclusivity

Brooks, who was originally from Topeka, Kan., went on to complete a PhD in history of art and architecture at Boston University while working as a bike mechanic.

After moving to Seattle, Brooks founded a local chapter of Friends on Bikes, an organization that aims to "foster a community of women of colour who ride bikes."

Friends on Bikes is open to everyone but especially welcomes women, queer people and people of colour.

"I loved their approach to the whole thing — just encouraging more queer, P.O.C. women to feel empowered by bike mechanicking," Plamondon-Lu said.

A post on Seattle Bike Blog commemorating Brooks' life and influence called for people to reach out with stories about the late cyclist.

"While media outlets are fascinated by the rare circumstances of Brooks' tragic death, Seattle needs space to talk about SJ's life," the post reads.

Plamondon-Lu said she hopes everyone in Brooks' circle of cyclists can continue the advocacy work that was so important to her old friend.

"The cycling community and industry, we can take the time to reflect on what SJ was passionate about."

About the Author

Claire Loewen

Journalist

Claire can be reached at claire.loewen@cbc.ca

With files from Associated Press