'Riding bikes can change people’s lives': Widow of London cyclist killed by drunk driver hopes to change the track for youngsters

Fund set up after Jonathan Gales was killed by a drunk driver in Los Angeles in 2022

Jonathan Gales
(Image credit: supplied by family)

A woman from south London is in the process of setting up a charitable fund to benefit the local cycling community and boost the sports accessibility in the area for young people. 

Claire Pepper's husband, Jonathan Gales, was a well known figure in the south London cycling scene but was tragically killed by a drunk driver during a work visit to Los Angeles in November 2022, aged 36.

Working closely with Herne Hill Velodrome, Pepper is looking to set up a fund which will then be used to purchase a fleet of racing bikes to help make racing more accessible to young people within the local community which, she says, will be “something that celebrates Jono’s life”. 

“I wanted to do this as it is something that celebrates Jono’s life, and everything that he loved. And I do believe that riding bikes can change people’s lives,” Pepper told Cycling Weekly, adding: “I don’t know much about the man that killed Jono but I do know that his life was on a pretty negative track, and it strikes me that sometimes that is a very fine line between a young life going one way or another.

“Maybe getting young people into cycling can help change that track.”

A regular at Herne Hill, Gales held a Cat 1 racing licence and rode the British national championships in 2019. 

Pepper told Cycling Weekly that purchasing the bikes in her husband’s name would provide extensive opportunities for local people to access Herne Hill’s outreach programmes.

She said: “The Velodrome has a lot of amazing outreach programs to make cycling accessible to the local community and up-and-coming talent, like kids cycling sessions, schools sessions, disabled cycling sessions and so I wanted to contribute to this. 

“We decided to set up a dedicated fund in Jono’s name with the aim of purchasing a small fleet of road bikes to help make it easier to get into road/circuit racing and training. 

“This was something that was close to Jono’s heart as road racing was his first love before track. And the velodrome runs road bike training sessions which are a great resource for local racers particularly if it’s too dark and dangerous for going out on a chain gang in the winter.”

Pepper explained that the bikes wouldn’t just be available for use in sessions associated with Herne Hill, they could also potentially be used to help pursue racing opportunities further afield. 

“The bikes could be borrowed by young riders who don’t have their own road bike and used at these sessions,” she said. “Or for crit races such as Crystal Palace Crits or London Youth Games. Alternatively, if someone with the need comes along they could be issued out on a season long loan so that riders can regularly train and race elsewhere on them.”

Jonathan Gales

(Image credit: supplied by family)

Affectionately known as “Jono” by his friends and those that knew him, Gales was also a talented visual effects director. His company - Factory Fifteen - won a BAFTA for its work producing the trailer for the BBC Tokyo Olympics coverage. 

As well as being involved in events at Herne Hill, Gales raced outside of London with his crowning moment being victory in a national B race, the Tour of the Hopfields, in which he beat a young Ethan Hayter on the finishing straight. 

Pepper described Herne Hill as “Jono’s happy place, where he came to push himself competitively but also enjoy a beer with friends.”

“I would love it if anyone who feels like they can contribute made a donation to the fund,” she added. “But the other thing I am looking for is anyone in the bike industry who may be able to help me actually source the bikes.

“Anyone with trade contacts who might be able to help us would be super helpful. It’s important to me (because it would be important to Jono) that the bikes are high level, decent bikes, and also that they look good!”

You can make a donation to the Jonathan Gales fund via the Friends of Herne Hill Velodrome website.

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