Recently at a rehearsal for NoExit Performance's Oedipal play cycle, in which I play a chorus member, I busted ass. I was standing on a park bench and acting like the Jerk (read: Steve Martin), when I fell through a plank in the bench that wasn't screwed down. The result: a swollen right foot, a black-and-blue ankle and a bruise the size (and shape) of Florida on my calf. Between icing and elevating my injury, I have to be honest: biking wasn't a priority for me this week.
Cut to a couple days ago: I was on my second day of a sixth attempt to quit smoking, when a craving hit. I decided my ankle was well enough to bike, and I needed a distraction from the perpetual jonesing that is nicotine withdrawal. A joyride was my only antidote.
For me, bicycling, at its most basic, is an activity designed to inject my life with joy. Forget economic efficiency and lower carbon emissions; forget the rising price of gas; forget the exercise benefits; forget the amazing community of people who welcome new bicyclists into the fold. Above all else, I am a joyrider.
And though joyriding is my intention, I often find myself rushing to get here or there by bike. Or worse, when I do have time set aside to just bike (not to commute), I set an exercise goal and push myself to reach it or exceed it. But pushing too hard would inevitably mean a swollen and painful foot. I needed a change to my approach.
The art of the joyride is simple. Pick a direction: north, south, east, west or any combination thereof. Set off with no goals or preconceived notions about reaching someplace. Just meander your way through the city (or country) until you discover a new sight, a new park, a new trail, a new perspective on the land around you.
My direction: southeast. Soon, I arrived in Fountain Square and started filling with joy. The awesomely safe bike lanes on Shelby Street, complete with barriers to car traffic, were extremely wonderful. As was the feeling of passing into the cold shadow of an interstate overpass — something I'll be sure to remember during hot Summer rides.
I was elated when I discovered the Pleasant Run Trail for the first time and loved that it was empty on a Tuesday afternoon. I could weave from side to side, take my time looking at the babbling brook running parallel and not have to worry about pacing around other cyclists or pedestrians.
I was glad to pedal into Garfield Park, a destination I'd only previously driven to. It was satisfying to wind my way through the maze of trails in the park, discovering the best hills for coasting. With a light heart, I passed the Sunken Garden, a closed pool with what looked like an amazing water slide, and several of Garfield Park's mangy-yet-adorable squirrels.
I was even satisfied when my ankle started to get stiff and my ass hurt, knowing I could easily make it home by hopping on the Cultural Trail. And most of all, I felt joy when I lifted my bike above my shoulder to climb the stairs of my apartment building. Endorphins pulsed through my body, allowing the euphoric elation of joyriding to gently fade as I cooled down with a glass of water. My ankle throbbed a bit, but I didn't even think about smoking a cigarette. Pure joy.
Whether you bike or not, I encourage you to find an activity without any purpose but to inject your own life with joy. Then tell me about! If you've already found something like this, let us know in the comments.
I spent an afternoon this week at Freewheelin' Community Bikes, a progressive not-for-profit bike shop on 34th and Central. When I read Angela Herrmann's NUVO article last year about Freewheelin' Community Bikes, I was inspired. This donation-based community organization mentors neighborhood kids, who enroll in a course to earn a bike of their own.
I was in the market for a little advice on bike maintenance and thought, if they can teach a bunch of kids about bicycle repair and maintenance, surely they could teach an mechanically-challenged person like me a thing or two.
Enter Doug Friedenson: a long-time volunteer at Freewheelin' who took a position as operations manager last October. With 11 years of bicycle mechanics under his belt, and a career in auto-garages before that, Doug is yet another member of the bicycling community who has turned his passion into a full-time focus.
"If you're not happy going to work and doing what you're doing, it's time to find something else to do," says Doug. "It requires money to live, but you don't need exorbitant amounts of it. Also, on the flip side of that, behind every successful bicycle mechanic is a wife who makes three times more money."
I could tell, from his sarcastic wit and his no-nonsense attitude, that I liked Doug right away. I asked him to give me a few pointers as a beginner bicyclist.
"I want to know," I said introducing myself with a gusto of confidence, "what any idiot needs to know before they hop on a bike - i.e. me, I am that idiot."
The most necessary skill: changing a flat tire.
"Okay, so what side of town do you live on?" asked Doug.
"Downtown, on the Old Northside."
"Old Northside? So, you're in Fountain Square and just had a flat tire and Joe Cox's shop is closed."
"Damn!" I said, "I knew I shouldn't have gone on that dusk ride."
"I know. So you're on South Shelby. The sun has gone down, and you got some lady pushing a cart asking for a dollar. What are you going to do?"
"Give her a dollar?" I ask meekly.
Pleasantries aside, Doug, who also has several years experience teaching professionals about bicycle maintenance, took me through the process step by step and even had me try it on my own.
Here is a break down of my new skillz. (Jealous, ya'll?)
1. Unhook your breaks. This involves removing something called a "nipple" from inside its cage. Sounds like S&M to me, but when in Rome...
2. Shift the shifter so the chain is on the small ring. "Why?" you ask. Doug, the mystical mechanic mentor, will reveal all in due time.
Doug says, "I prefer the term guru."
3. Pull the quick release lever, and the wheel drops right out of the bike. Sounds easy because it is.
4. Use two tire levers to pop the tire off the rim. Doug's Tip: "Start opposite the valve stem."
"This is called the bead," he said pointing to the edge of the rubber tire. "You hook the tire lever on the bead and then you hook it on the rim. Take your second tire lever and grab hold of the bead again, near the other one. Just pop it out."
5. Pull the tube out of the tire, valve stem last.
6. Check the tire. This is the part where you might get tetanus.
Doug says: "You want to make sure that whatever popped the tube is not still jammed in the tire. Very carefully run your fingers around the inside of the tire. Now, you might get cut. If it went through the tire and popped a hole in it, it's probably sharp."
Doug also suggests checking the rim strip, to make sure none of the spoke nipples are exposed. Who knew changing a flat would involve so many nipples?
7. Using your inflation device, inflate the new tube just enough so it takes its shape.
Doug says: "Now we want to put a new tube in the tire and be on our way, because the lady with the cart is coming back and she wants another dollar."
8. Insert the tube into the tire, valve stem first. Doug's Tip: "Make sure it's inside the trough of the rim — that it's not floating up on top."
9. Squeeze the bead of the tire back into the rim of the wheel and re-inflate the tube the rest of the way. Doug says: "Make sure the bead area is seated inside the rim."
10. Place the chain back on the small ring and pop the tire onto the bike frame.
Doug reveals the mystery: "Remember when I told you we had to shift the chain down to the small ring? That was solely for reinstallation. If you don't put the chain on the small ring, you don't know which ring the chain is suppose to be on. The wheel actually fights you going into the chain if you don't do that."
And voila! My tire is as good as new, and I can bid a fond farewell to the cart lady, whom I'm sure was nice enough to keep me company while I was working. And I did bid a fond farewell to Doug and to Freewheelin' Community Bikes, put not before perusing their shop for a few accessories.
Note: If you're looking for a new bike but need to make space in your garage first, consider donating your old one to Freewheelin'. Also, Doug is ready and willing to help customers at this downtown shop with any of their bike repair and maintenance needs. Your donations and business keep this Indianapolis non-for-profit going.
The bicycling gods have smiled on me, but they work in mysterious ways: by killing my car battery, to be exact. They say it takes two weeks to form a new habit. After challenging myself last week to ride anywhere I went alone, the challenge unexpectedly continues this week.
With my car out of commission, the principle challenge to ride everywhere became one of necessity. I've found the real obstacles to my success are the excuses I make not to ride. Now, with no car to lean on, my excuses simply don't matter. I view this as a gift, an opportunity to debunk my irrational reasoning:
1. Weather: "I can't ride today - it's too windy... too rainy...too hot... too cold."
It's an unavoidable fact: bicycle riding pits man against nature. Since I started riding, I've become compulsive about checking the weather. Even the slightest chance of rain is reason enough for me to jump behind the wheel rather than hop behind the handle bars. Lately, the wind has become my biggest weather nemesis. When faced with stiff gusts, tears involuntarily stream from my eyes. As air rips through my jacket and my marrow, I pedal in the lowest gear, going so slowly that retired couples pass me on foot. I try to focus on the benefits of resistance training, but instead I regret having to ride at all.
However, the bout isn't always bad. The fragrance of spring flowers doesn't make it through my car's AC, but by bike any blooming bush becomes an odoriferous feast. It's all a matter of mindset.
2. The Aches: No bones about it, I'm out of shape.
Cycling uses parts of my body I had forgotten existed. But there's a price to pay for prodding my muscles into existence. So far, my lower back has given out, I've pulled muscles in both of my thighs and my left knee feels chronically stiff. According to WebMD (the cheapest way to avoid healthcare), this is a normal bodily reaction to new physical activity called "micro damage." But I'm not completely sold. I took a few days off to nurse my stiff knee, but then once I had reasonably recovered, I kept using the possibility of pain as an excuse not to ride.
If I can't work through "micro damage", does that make me a macro weenie? I guess I have no choice but to keep pushing.
3. Hot-mess syndrome: "I can't ride my bike to meet friends for dinner; I'll turn up a hot mess."
From helmet hair and the unseemly red line left on my forehead by the helmet, to sweat-drenched armpits, its easy to feel unsure. But NUVO photography intern Brandon Knapp changed my perspective entirely when he said, "Wear the red line on your forehead as a badge of intelligence."
Which leads me to the question: Can I wear hot-mess syndrome as a badge of self-improvement?
4. Traffic: "I can't ride right now: It's rush hour, and drivers are crazy."
Many an afternoon/early evening, when I've finished my work for the day, I'll head to the grocery for dinner ingredients. But the thought of facing down rush-hour craziness has me choosing to join auto-mania instead of biking the short distance. I've got no way to get around rush-hour insanity as a lone beginner bicyclist, but INDYCOG does.
Their Courteous Mass Bicycle Ride "emphasizes being a part of traffic instead of apart from it - to be a visible positive example of the cooperation that can exist between cars and bicycles." This mass bike ride, starting at the American Legion Mall at 5:45 p.m. every second Friday of the month, lets cyclists who care lead by example. There really is strength in numbers when it comes to cycling.