I know just enough about bikes to know that I don’t know s#*$ about bikes. And I don’t want the mountain of what I don’t know to ruin the truth of what I do know … which is I f*@%ing love riding my bike. I have ridden just enough to wonder why every single commuter is riding so slowly while the actual cyclists I occasionally ride with wonder why I’m breathing so hard. I have ridden just enough so that the end of every ride feels like both a relief to be done riding, and a disappointment that I have to stop riding. And, as the obsession grows, I just might spend slightly more time strategizing my next ride than I do actually riding.
I couldn’t tell you how many tooths are on any ring. I can’t tell you what diameter anything on the bike is. And I certainly couldn’t tell you the difference between Ultegra or Sumatra shifters. As a grown ass man, I’m unsure of how I feel wearing something called a “bib” that is actually skintight shorts with suspenders. And then calf high socks that are basically dress socks, and a silken t-shirt that fits tight enough for Mick Jagger in the 60s. Ya I’m just not sure how I feel in all that.
Here’s what I do know … when I make the bike GO, it makes it feel pretty damn OK to be a person in a human body. It still feels like I’m a kid and my dad just let go of the seat and I’m off on my own. And I can’t believe that going faster actually makes the balance feel easier! I still feel like Elliot from E.T. who has no idea how the hell he’s gonna save his dying alien friend from the bad scientists, so I don’t know, I guess I’ll just FLY INTO THE F&%$ING MOON WITH MY BIKE GANG. And Elliot wasn’t wearing a $400 cycling kit. He was riding a one speed BMX with a basket, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a hoodie over his committed 80s fashion choice of long johns even though he lives in friggin’ Southern California.
Let me start over.
In my adult life, I started riding bikes again, because I didn’t die from cancer.
The first time I had cancer, I was 28. When I finished treatment at 29, I took up the ways of childhood that I thought I had put behind me. Those things were hockey, snowboarding, and riding a bike. I bought a cheap road bike off Craigslist that I picked up from a Whole Foods parking lot. When my then girlfriend now wife asked me how it felt to be out on the road again, I said it was just like riding a bike.
The second time I had cancer, I was 38. I had a mortgage and a 3-year-old. It took a 5-and-a-half-hour surgery to yank a tumor out of my face. It took 38 years for me to be ok with the face I had, and then changed in one afternoon. The right side of my head was swollen for a year before it returned to some version of normal.
The day I got home from the hospital, despite my family’s warnings, I went out for a ride to remember that I was still alive and there were good feelings to live for. I zipped past a meadow not too far from where I live. The wind massaging the 3 layers of stitches on the right side of my head calmed the irritation from my numb ear rubbing against the helmet strap. The sky was perfect. “At least there’s this. … At least there’s this.”
Thus, began my practice to come up with a slogan for every ride. It was the last ride I would have for a while because truthfully, my family was right – I couldn’t move for like 5 days after from sheer exhaustion. In a few weeks, I would undergo 6 more weeks of radiation to that side of my head.
When I did come back to riding, it was just to be out there with my family. My wife on the big cushy seat. The kid in the trailer, … and then on the hitch, … and then on her own bike. Riding next to that kid was maybe one of the best rides I’ve ever had. We rode every day in the cemetery by our house because there are long stretches of asphalt and little to no traffic. I wanted to invent a bike designed to feel comfortable riding as slowly as possible with maximum wattage output to stave off dad-bod, but to do so I would have to find time in a schedule where there really wasn’t any. The most important thing was healing and rebuilding a career that had gotten hit by the cancer bus … AGAIN.
My bike didn’t matter as much. I’d been a musician, a meditation teacher, and a yoga teacher for almost 20 years, and those were the practices I had to rebuild and focus on. And, of course, showing up for my daughter. I had hospitalizations and complications for another two years after treatment. I was so drained from it all that anything cardiovascular just made me want to nap for days. Yes, even jumping on my bike.
Just as I started to recover from that second cancer bout, Covid hit. The Friday the 13th when schools shut down in Massachusetts, I told my wife that I felt like I had finally just gotten back on my feet, and now I was gonna be out of a career. I said, “Well, having a job was fun.” And she said, “Why don’t you try teaching on Zoom.”
I asked, “WHAT’S ZOOM?”
And then quite literally everyone and their mom thought, “Heeeyyyy, I’ve always wanted to learn to meditate. I’m stuck at home all day and stressed TF out. I might as well start now!! :D” and just like that, my teaching schedule tripled in a month. Who could’ve known that CoronaVirus would be good for business?? I was finally back on my feet.
“John Lewis. This is Fez. I need a new bike. I am putting the word out to see if anyone out there knows of someone who is getting rid of an old bike for a decent price. I would love to spend as little as possible for the best possible bike. Any of your expert thoughts would be helpful. Thank you, John Lewis!!!”
To which HE responded:
“Fez, this is John Lewis. I will ask around for you. I am sad to inform you that you are the 33rd person to ask me for help finding a bike. I will do my best for you, because I love and value you as a person. Yours very truly, John Lewis”
And then a mere 15 minutes later he wrote: “This is a bit more than you wanted to spend, but it is DOPE.” A Pro’s Closet link followed. It led me to one of these:
I bought it. John said it was the most amount of bike for the least amount of money. When I took it out, I could NOT believe that riding a bike could feel like that. I was like a valet who just got handed the keys to a Porsche and went out for a joy ride while the owner did some rich people stuff. Like I had only driven Corollas up until that point, and I didn’t know what was possible. My wife dubbed it the “mid-life crisis bike,” aka “The Porsche.”
When I’d ride by the stick thin lycra fashionistas, and see them eye my geometrically aesthetic titanium frame, and give me the nod of approval from across the road, frankly, I felt a little embarrassed. A little sheepish. Like an imposter to a club that actually cost WAY MORE MONEY than I could afford. The ones with some white in their beard gave me more of a nod because they can remember ‘97 when my indie-shop bike was made.
As I’ve lost the weight – the “Covid 19 pounds;” as I’ve gotten back in shape and rides go by faster and easier; as I’ve found some bike clothes that don’t look completely stupid; I’m working hard to hold on to one thought. The only thing that matters is that I like how living feels when I’m riding a bike. And regardless of all the shit that can furrow my brow, there’s something about the feeling of the perfect speed on the perfect surface that makes me grin just big enough to look like I’m nuts. I will never be a racer. And if I did, I wouldn’t be a winner. I’ve gone through too much to care, and it seems like if the post-cancer experience is a battle with the drive to win, that ambition just might backfire pretty hard. 😉 😉 I’m happy being perpetually in the middle. It’s a good place to live.
My metric for this practice is the joy. The joy IS the winning. Like when we were kids and the whole neighborhood was our oyster because with wheels you can go further and explore new things. We felt freer. Finding our town’s secret alleyways and cut-throughs that only the kids knew about. With the code names we made up for the paths not yet marked on a map.
What I can feel on a bike is so much bigger than trying to keep up with the trends of a culture that, from the outside, seems to be overly obsessed with who the badasses are. I’ve seen a family of four in Karachi riding one bike. Dad pedaling, mom on the top bar, one kid on the back and one on the handle bars. They could live for a month on what we might make in a day. They don’t give a shit about what components they’re riding. They’re just glad it goes. I mean if the thing can go, it can make you smile. And if it can’t can’t make you smile, it might not be the bike that’s the problem. I hope that as I progress in this practice that I may continue to view it as nothing more than the remembrance of the splendor that not being dead is a fantastic feeling. And THAT is good enough.
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