IT was a path to fitness that became a passion, but Wallsend cyclist Neil Smith usually made sure he was off the bike and back with his girls by nightfall.
So when the doting Wallsend grandfather, 57, was still missing after dark last week, his family knew something was wrong.
Sadly the fears of his wife Ruth and daughters Alex, 25, and Shauna, 23, proved well-founded.
The dedicated family man was tragically killed cycling on the Tarro rail overpass last week after a collision sent him down an embankment. Crash investigators are still examining the circumstances of the accident.
Mr Smith had set out for his ride about 4pm after playing with granddaughter Olivia.
‘‘The last thing he said before he left was ‘You’ll laugh for nanny but you won’t laugh for me, but I still love you anyway’,’’ Alex said.
‘‘He was a great dad and a great granddad.’’
Mr Smith’s wife Ruth said her husband had been fiercely loyal and affectionate during their 35 years together, willing to go to any lengths for his family or close group of friends.
He had maintained a close link with his mother Mavis, 84, and visited her Mayfield home often.
‘‘He was very family-minded ... he was a beautiful person,’’ Ms Smith said.
‘‘The guys from work said that was all he ever really talked about, the bike and his family.’’
Mr Smith’s daughter Shauna said he had the same approach when he became a grandfather.
‘‘He didn’t want to be called granddad because it made him sound old,’’ she said. ‘‘He didn’t act or look his age – he was a big kid at heart.’’
Ruth Smith said her husband had also been dedicated to safety on his bike, a major factor in why he was home before dark each night.
She said he had reported several near-misses riding through the Hunter, with the Tarro rail bridge a regular inclusion on his list of black spots.
The Newcastle Herald has previously reported that the Roads and Maritime Services is completing a $7million concept design for a roadside barrier and cycle path adjacent to the bridge.
Ms Smith said her husband would want the area made safer for other cyclists, a wish her family shared.
‘‘If it could save someone else’s life, yes, definitely [it should be upgraded],’’ she said.