I never wanted to call myself a cyclist. I felt like it would put me in some group of elite nobodies with self-important goals and aspirations. But a few years ago, I started cycling. It came about innocently enough. My friend Jimmy showed up at my place on his bike (a vintage pink Diamondback) and told me to saddle up. At the time, I was riding a crappy old steel Nishiki single speed. We cruised around neighborhoods looking for shortcuts to our favorite bars, peeping in people’s front yards and windows along the way. The city is vastly different from a bike, and you start to find pockets of weirdness beyond the already collected pockets of weirdness. For example, a lot of people like to sit in their cars, late at night, in neighborhoods.
After that, two or three times a week we hit the streets, the later the better. We cruised up and down 3rd avenue, East and West along both Phoenix canals, and eventually tore through Papago Park behind the zoo. At first, ten miles was enough to kill my legs. But the rides went on and on, longer and more frequent, until we were pulling thirty to forty miles on a school night. We just picked a direction and tried to find the most bike friendly way to navigate to it. In addition to the weirdness of late night in a medium sized city, Phoenix has a ton of paths that are only available to bikes. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to saying “it made me feel like a kid again” when we would rip down a street, cut the corner of someone’s front yard, and bomb through an alley just to avoid crossing a major street.
But even with all of the late night excursions into the middle of nowhere, I still didn’t call myself a cyclist. Last July or so we signed up for El Tour de Tucson in November. Which is a 106 mile ride up and around all of the classiest areas of Tucson (which are mostly outside of the city). At this point, we had to start really training, through the harshest months of the summer in Phoenix. Most training days, I would go to sleep at 6PM and wake up at 9PM to ride while the sun was down until about 1 or 2 in the morning. Things become even weirder when you’re riding in pure darkness and its still almost 100 degrees.
Before El Tour de Tucson, we did the Tour de Bosa as a warmup, which involves riding about 50 miles to each of the Bosa Donuts in the Phoenix area. You get a donut at each one, and the pace is capped at about 16 mph. This is where we met real cyclists for the first time. Most of them were really awesome people that just wanted to cruise. The riders at the front of the line, pushing the 16 mph envelope whenever they could, were those elitist cyclist douchebags that I didn’t want to be associated with. They were straight out of an 80’s coming-of-age sports movie. They had the best gear, most expensive bikes, probably the hottest chicks, and they couldn’t wait to tell you how fast they went up South Mountain this morning. If I can get my montage workout together, someday maybe I’ll beat them.
El Tour de Tucson was brutal. It was warm that day in Tucson, in the high 80’s. Luckily, I’d trained through the brutal hell of Phoenix summer. The real tough part was the wind, which kicked me down a few times and I had to walk my bike up a couple of hills. One of my favorite parts of riding is the solitude of it. Cycling is an individual sport, one where you just crank along and sit there thinking to yourself. I get most of my best idea generation for writing either on the bike, in the shower, or sitting on the toilet. Around hour seven, I started running out of things to think about though.
But I finished, at around 9 hours 16 minutes, crossing the finish line as most other riders were chugging beers at the vendor tents. I felt victorious, and at the same time ready to crumble into myself. The two other riders I’d gone with, Jimmy and Paul, smoked me by 15 and 30 minutes respectively. So I had to wander around on these sober baby giraffe legs, screaming their names until I could find them, like some lost kid at the mall.
Back on Super Bowl Sunday, I was talking at my friend Larue about cycling while his eyes were rolling back into his head with boredom. Although this moment still didn’t make me feel like a cyclist, it made me realize the exact moment that I was.
A week before El Tour de Tucson, one of my new neighbors came by to introduce herself. A little bit of an older, thicker lady from down the road.
“People drive down our street too fast,” she said, “I’ll flag ’em down and yell at ’em. I don’t care.”
“Yeah, people haul ass because there’s no speed bumps on this street,” I replied. “I’m glad you yell at them. Because I’m a biker.”
“Oh? So are my husband and I.”
I took another look at her, and without being judgmental, thought that she didn’t look like the cycling type. Later that week, I was out on my bike in full gear; jersey, tight little biker shorts, high heels, dumb helmet, the works. I start down the road, and see this neighbor out in front of her house, so I decide I should stop and say hello before I go out on my ride. So I stop, she gives me a sideways glance and a half-hearted hello. I take off.
Weeks later, talking to Larue, it hit me. Biker… I’m an idiot. I’ve since looked closer into that neighbor’s driveway and seen a couple of giant Harley Davidsons. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a cyclist.