Lately, my gear shift hasn't been working properly. I'd be pedaling my heart out on the busy downtown streets, and my gears would grind and shift without warning. It was an uneasy sensation to say the least. Not only did it sound terrible but it felt very unsafe. So, I took my bike into Indy Bike Hub for a look-over.
As it turns out, I made a rookie mistake when throwing my bicycle into the back of a friend's car months ago. Shoving it in a tiny back seat, derailer side down, had put my gear-shift out of alignment. The friendly bicycle mechanic asked me if that was the case and explained that I should "Never, ever do that again."
I watched him take apart and put back together my gear shift mechanism in a matter of minutes. To my right, a skinny-jean clad gal touched the flipped brim of her cycling cap and threw her head back in laughter as her companion re-wrapped the handle bars of his fixie. I watched them and felt out of place in my gray slacks and pink floral trench. I felt apart from their world and the world of the bicycle mechanic.
As I paid the nominal repair fee of $10, I thanked him for fixing my bike and teaching me a little something about gear shifts. He told me to come back in a month to get my chain cleaned, that it was all "gummed up." And I left with a vague sense of dejection.
A year ago, when I started this blog it was because I felt intimidated by zooming cyclists on bustling streets. The same thing that pushed me to go boldly beyond my comfort zone last year was now creeping over me without warning and in a crippling way.
In the past year that I've been biking and blogging, I've learned a lot and changed a lot. I don't smoke. I buy less gas. I feel more "in" my body. Yet the more I change and learn, the more I realize how little I know of the ways of the two-wheeled world. When I got home from the bike shop, I re-read a few of my early blogs, searching the words for inspiration. And as I read, I pondered: would I ever achieve mastery of my two wheels?
A year is a natural time for retrospection. When I began this blog, I wanted to grow and encourage others to grow with me. Bicycling is an integral part of our cities growth, and I want to experience that. But sometimes growth comes with pain. I'm no expert, and 52 weeks of riding and writing doesn't make me one. I guess the jolt of insecurity I felt in the bike shop is exactly what I needed to remember why I started riding and what I want from it.
Tell me, why do you ride?
The Spring Equinox is come and gone, yet the weather outside is still, for lack of a better term, shit cold. Those riders who didn't stick it out all winter are listening eagerly to the weatherman's forecast, hoping in vain for a hint of warmer weather. Soon enough they'll be dusting off their bicycle seats, airing up those tires and oiling their chains in anticipation of a weekend tour in the sun.
Honestly, I, myself am ready to do more than just commute back and forth to work. A long Saturday cycle up the Monon, a sunny ride along White River or a brunch-time tour to Broad Ripple are what I crave. Even a little jaunt around White River State Park would break my cabin fever. In anticipation of the glorious days of in-season cycling to come, here are my thoughts on my favorite touring trails.
1.Monon Trail: The Monon is good for straight shot north or south. Coming from downtown, I dread riding through the industrial (read: smelly) blocks of the Monon between 16th and Fall Creek. But once past Broad Ripple, the trail becomes shaded and cool, albeit packed to the hilt with dog-walkers, strollers and runners. Regardless, a ride up to Broad Ripple for brunch is just long enough to stretch my legs. If I'm feeling particularly bold, I'll push further north on the trail: past the Indianapolis Art Center, 86th Street, the Monon Community Center, the Center for the Performing Arts and beyond. The farthest I've trekked on the Monon is up to 146th Street from 13th. Maybe this summer I'll even make it to Westfield.
2.Indianapolis Cultural Trail: I ride the Indianapolis Cultural Trail daily to get to and from work, but I cannot wait to start exploring the new additions toward Fountain Square and beyond. Plus, I love a leisurely people-watching spin through downtown. If you're looking to stay downtown, but want to get some good exercise, I recommend doing a few laps around this lovely urban feature.
3.White River Trail: By far the White River Trail was my favorite discovery last summer. While riding it, I had my best wildlife encounters including a family of muskrats, a beaver, a bale of turtles and a flock of young goslings. With actual spring just days away, I'm wondering what creatures I'll chance upon this year.
4.Central Canal Towpath: The Central Canal Towpath offers access to two of the most stunning garden spaces in Indianapolis and passes through Indianapolis landmarks like Butler University, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the 100 Acres and Broad Ripple Village. This is a good trail for a picnic ride with friends or a solo meditation on nature. Beware though: it's a bit bumpy on the gravel path.
5.Fall Creek Trail: An offshoot on the Monon, the Fall Creek Trail is a winding path that follows along none other than Fall Creek (pretty obvious right?). This beautiful bikeway keeps me focused as I twist and turn my way through the cities' Northeast side. While riders must be careful of joggers on the narrow path, in general, Fall Creek is a relaxing and easy ride.
As I dream of the perfect riding day, I imagine a meditative ride up the White River, along the Canal Towpath and home on the Monon. Now if only the weather would cooperate.
How will you spend you're first perfect riding day? Share tips about your favorite touring trails below!
Forgive me while I rant.
Scorned cyclists everywhere reacted
harshly to the words of Washington state legislator Ed Orcutt
in regard to a transportation spending bill currently being considered by the
Washington state. The bill proposed a $25 tax on new bicycles $500 and up, as a
"symbolic" means of asking cyclists to help pay for the roads on
which they ride.
In a reply email to one constituent who voiced his concerns over the bicycle tax, Orcutt responded, "You claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider. Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride." Read the full email exchange here.
Yes, you read that right. By Orcutt's logic, we are all constantly polluting the atmosphere, putting us in an odd series of catch-22s. Don't use the elevator, which burns more electricity than walking up the stairs, but also try not to increase your heart rate and respiration as you climb step-by-step to the next floor. The next time your lover shoots you that come hither stare, be sure to explain to him/her that a roll in the hay just isn't good for the environment these days. And don't even think about going to the CO2 factory we know as the gym.
I'll pause for a moment to let your disbelief and rage subside over such ignorance.
The GOP lawmaker later apologized for the insane notion that bicyclists pollute while they ride by simply breathing, saying, "It was not a point worthy of mentioning."
It's plain to see that the amount of carbon-dioxide released as one burns physical energy in no way compares to the greenhouse gases emitted from idling cars at stop lights. Any idiot knows the difference between exercise and pollution.
While Orcutt did make the point that cyclists need to help pay for the road systems they utilize, the tax suggested in the proposed bill is nearly 5% the cost of a bicycle, compared to the .7% excise tax on automobile purchases in Washington state. But what I find most discouraging about the whole situation is a lack of compassion for individuals motivated to not only reduce their carbon footprint by driving less, but who are doing their best to stay fit in a world inclined toward stasis.
It's this kind of un-informed attitude about bicycling and, in general, efforts to live a "greener" lifestyle that really rubs me the wrong way.
Now for a shameless plug: if you want to learn more about living a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, join me at the Going Green Festival (March 15th and 16th), which I helped plan during my day job at the Indiana State Museum. Bonus: Saturday, NUVO managing editor, Jim Poyser, will give his Climate Reality Project presentation and you can get $2.00 off admission by bringing recyclables (including old electronics, broken down bicycles and more) to RecycleForce, who will be on hand to haul away your junk.
Taking the lane is an important step for any commuter, but like anything, doing so is a process, easier said than done. I think most commuters would agree that they prefer trails to busy streets where drivers rush to the next red light. Trail riding allows me to take my alert level down a notch and just enjoy the ride. But street riding forces me into a state of hyper-awareness and fear that at any moment a motorist who is not alert will come flying from behind to knock me off my two wheels.
I'm lucky to live close enough to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail that I can take it for most of my ride. And as I begin to scout out a new place to live, proximity to bikeways and roads with bike lanes has taken a higher spot on my list of "musts" than ever before. While I'm lucky to live near one of our city's most beautiful urban bike paths, I'm not lucky enough to live directly on said bike path. To get there, I have to navigate some pretty harried rush-hour roads filled with crazed motorists doing their best to slurp down coffee or apply mascara before they arrive at work.
When I first began biking, I opted to stay on the sidewalk rather than use the road at all. Before I had any real concept of laws as they apply to bikes, I would jump on and off the cement pedestrian paths, making people on foot feel as fearful as I was when I was on the road with cars. Eventually, I womaned-up and made the transition to riding on streets, using the sidewalks sparingly and mostly as a short cut.
When I did first start riding the road, I stayed as far to the right as possible - I'm talking in the gutter. I did this so that rushed cars wouldn't be bothered by my slackened pace. In trying to make myself visible but not "in-the-way," I left myself vulnerable on the road.
My spacing and body language essentially signaled to motorists: "Go ahead, you're more important than me and it's right that you feel the need to speed past me. The closer you get to me the further I will move over to let you zoom by in all too close proximity."
But as I've gained more experience, talked to other cyclists and read more bicycle blogs, I've started to position myself with confidence on our urban streets. By fully taking the lane and waiting my turn behind cars at stoplights, I've started to act more like a vehicle that belongs on the streets and thus I feel I'm being treated (in part, anyway) as a vehicle that belongs on the streets.
Part of this statement is important to note. As tempting as it is, we as cyclists cannot run through a red light ahead of a line of cars. If we want to enjoy all of the rights of the road, we have to follow all of the rules as well.
While the odd rush-hour-warrior will honk at me from behind and fly by at the first chance nearly nicking my front wheel as they pull in front of me, I truly believe that as more cyclists make their presence known on the streets by taking the lane and following the rules, all Indianapolis motorists will adjust to seeing us as equal street vehicles.
Oh, and by the way. If you are looking for help planning your commute, here is a great resource from IndyCog that breaks down urban streets and bikeways by "most bikeable" to "least bikeable."
There's been a shift in my bicycle life. And like many of my posts, this involves first and foremost a confession. Come to think of it, I've made a lot of confessions in this little sphere of the inter-webs. Perhaps this is the biggest of them all.
I started riding a bike not for any of the noble reasons I would have you think: to save gas, to be healthier, to reduce my carbon footprint, to try something new, and so on. Instead, dear friends, I must confess that after a year of sharing my little adventures, in the question of which came first--the bike or the blog--I must assure you it was the blog.
Which brings me to my next point--the shift. A few weeks ago, after riding nearly every day to work, my fiancé asked me, "So, what'd you write about this week for the bicycle crowd?"
It was a Thursday night and I had completely forgotten to write a post, due the next morning. I whined a bit, after having already poured myself a tequila sunrise. "But I don't want to write..."
And why not? I had to stop and ask myself before sitting down to tap-tap-tap on my keyboard. After all, I've been pretty religious about riding this Winter, by far the biggest challenge I've set and met (no mention of the 50-mile-epic-fail please, dear friends). Yet somewhere along the way, the bicycle, not the blog, became the thing.
Instead of being a writer who bikes, I can now with all confidence pronounce: I am a bicyclist who writes. It's a very subtle but important difference. Like most things, and in view of Hammer's big announcement about his regular column for NUVO, I realize that this blog about bicycling will not go on forever. But I can with certainty say I will bike long after I stop writing.
Barring some unforeseen catastrophe and with exception to an inevitable lazy slump here and there, I feel that as long as I live in Indianapolis, or any bicycle-friendly area for that matter, I will do my best to bike for fun, for exercise and for transportation. After nearly a year of chronicling my beginner's experience at bicycling, I know what kind of cyclist I am now. I no longer consider myself a newbie.
Thus begins the next chapter of my bicycle life. And who knows what I'll learn about myself or how I'll change next?
Winter biking wardrobe has become quite the conundrum for me lately. Admittedly, I punked out on riding on the coldest day of Winter so far. The weather man's forecast of 4 degrees with a negative 12 windchill convinced me that driving to work for just one day was not such a bad idea. But as the cold weather refuses to relent this week, I've been gearing up to get back on the banana seat.
I've been doing pretty well up until now. Last week I biked to work a majority of days, and I'm having some luck defining my own personal winter weather riding style. The norm for me on very cold days is tights under my pants, a shirt, a sweater, a winter coat, double gloves, a scarf, ear muffs and a bandana that I wrap around my nose and mouth. However, I've been having some trouble with the last item in my list.
Dropping temperatures, like we've seen, create serious a cold-burn on my face. In addition my eyes tear up for the first two or three blocks of any given ride. Sometimes I fear the tears might turn to icicles on my frost-bitten cheeks, but so far my tear ducts have forgiven me within a few minutes of each early morning ride.
Regardless, my rosy cheeks are evidence of cold wind whipping past my skin. So I've implemented the bandana tactic in an attempt to combat this freeze. It seems to work for the most part, but I have the misfortune of bad eye-sight, and when I'm breathing heavy under the fabric, the glass I look through can't help but fog up.
As you can imagine, this presents serious visibility issues on rush-hour roads. And as I fight my way through traffic and exhaust fumes, I'm sometimes forced to reveal my masked orifices in order to simply see. Perhaps, this is a sign that I should invest in a proper face mask of sorts, rather than wrapping my face as an Old West bank-robber would.
In all, I'm realizing that winter weather riding isn't as difficult as non-cyclists might think. In reality, the most challenging aspect is not the cold, but finding the perfect balance of bundle and mobility. I'm guessing that by the frozen days of February, I'll have it all figured out--just in time for the bloom of warm weather in March.
It's been an adventuresome week of bicycle maintenance in the Coyne household. I finally took my bike into a shop to consult an expert about brakes. Thanks to Jamie from Bicycle Garage Indy at the Indy Bike Hub downtown. It only cost me $4 and 20 minutes of time; what a tremendous deal!
Bonus, I told him about my new year's resolution to learn more about bicycle maintenance, so he took me through the mechanics of my brake issue step by step. Now my front brakes are as good as new, and I know how to take them apart and put them back together.
Jamie also tipped me off to thread lock. I mentioned I was planning to attach a rack to my bike that afternoon (hoping he would give me a few pointers). I stopped by TruValue on my way home, utilizing my now perfectly working front brakes, and bought a tube of thread lock blue. Apparently, the crossover between the steel bolts for the rack and my aluminum bicycle frame can cause problems, according to Jaimie. He also explained to me that over time, placing weight on the back rack can cause the bolts to rattle loose. Thread lock ensures not only a seal between the steel and the aluminum, but also that the bolts won't rattle.
I attached the rack all by my lonesome, and reveled in my small victory at bicycle competency. I guess I can't take total credit because I asked my fiance to use his man hands to tighten the bolts all the way. I know it sound anti-feminist, but I really needed his help. Perhaps recognizing my limitations and asking for help can also be counted as a small victory.
In addition, I attached a basket to the rack, and now I'm completely equipped to carry more stuff than I probably actually need on my daily journey to and from work. I am grateful for the added capacity, but didn't expect to encounter one major issue: Now the weight is distributed much differently on my bike, making it much more cumbersome to drag the thing up and down two flights of stairs to my apartment. I'm sure I'll adjust to the extra weight soon enough, and that my guns (read: biceps) will be the real beneficiary of said challenge.
With all this snow lately, fewer and fewer cyclists are on the roads, myself included. But I'm afraid to admit that it isn't the snow that has kept me out of commission. In a delusional moment of bicycle triumph, I was over taken by hubris and messed up my front brakes.
I always think it's such a good, easy idea to pop the front wheel off my bike, and throw it in a friend's car en route to holiday shopping or post work drinks. I'll just pop the thing back on after a little social rendezvous and head on my merry way home. I've got quick release tires after all, I'll think, forgetting that the ease of my bicycle's design is no match for my shortcomings when it comes to assembling even the simplest of machines.
So it was when I agreed to do a little holiday shopping with a coworker at the City Market a few weeks back. I rode into work, so my friend offered to drive us there with my bike in tow. I easily detached the wheel and in no time slid it into his back seat, peacocking about my bicycle prowess. On arrival, I hopped out of the car while he looked for parking, giving me ample time to reattach the wheel and lock it up.
Fifteen minutes later, a fellow cyclist found me at the rack fiddling with my brakes as my friend loomed over me. The cyclist gallantly offered his assistance. And I made some embarrassing reference to Gone With The Wind and the kindness of strangers, turning scarlet at the thought of the last three times this happened to me and the other charitable souls that took pity on my lack of skills. It was dark and the cyclist did his best but the brake pad still rubbed the wheel as I rode home later on.
Cut to the snow day this past week, and I still haven't gotten the brakes fixed. I've pulled my bike inside my apartment to tinker with it several times. Learning by doing has gotten me far in the past. Surely I'll fix the problem by loosening and tightening bolts at random. Wrong! Now the brake cable is loose rendering the brake leaver useless, and the pad is still too tight for the wheel to spin properly.
In my tinkering (a misguided attempt show off my bicycle badass-ery to my fiancé) I'm sure I've cocked it up worse. I really need to take it to a shop, maybe Bikes on Mass Ave or BGI at the Indy Bike Hub and have an expert look at it. But now with all this snow, I'm procrastinating that walk of shame. Perhaps my New Year's resolution for 2013 should be to learn more about bicycle mechanics.
It's been a big two weeks of bicycling now that the cold weather is finally settling into Indianapolis. Here are a few snap-shots of my time on the saddle.
1.) On evening commute home, I sailed out the front door of the State Museum deciding in a split second to follow the Cultural Trail through the city rather than the canal underneath it. I maneuvered my way down Washington Street, cursing the difficult path by the Conrad Hotel, as always. (Why do they park cars in the middle of the bike path flow?) When I turned North on Alabama, I found myself in a herd of three other bike commuters.
We kept pace with each other as we pedaled our way toward Mass Ave. I drafted behind one of the more experience cyclists, and in turn found someone riding rather close to my back wheel. I wondered briefly at the etiquette of drafting behind strangers, but shrugged the thought away as my brief companions turned to go their separate ways on the Avenue. For a delicious moment I felt as if it was the height of riding season on the busiest of trail days. And in the next split second, as the cold swept through my lungs, I felt part of an elite group of hardcore cyclists sticking it through until next season.
2.) I also learned about "Moose knuckles" this week. I pulled up beside a well-dressed rider one morning on the corner of Mass Ave and Michigan Street. We said a cheery good morning to one another, a normal occurrence on bike but one that's rare by car. I pried my frozen hands in their homemade mittens from my handlebars and marveled at pockets attached to his handlebars--inside them his hands were cozy and warm.
"Moose-knuckles," he said noticing my gaze and added with a knowing smile. "Just Google moose-knuckles online and you'll find a pair."
I thanked him as I turned onto Michigan Street and he continued down Mass Ave.
"Moose-knuckles, moose-knuckles, moose-knuckles," I repeated to myself so as not to forget.
3.) I thought I might upchuck for the first time because of riding. In my entire search for advice, this little secret was not revealed. On a morning ride to work at a normal pace, I felt my lungs fill with icy air. The first very cold day I rode and my heavy intake of arctic breath made my stomach churn. When I finally arrived at work, I swung my leg over my bike and doubled-over panting. I've since invested in a bandana to wear over my nose and mouth for very cold days.
4.) I turned 27 this week, on 12/12/12. But I got an early birthday present the weekend prior. I was doing the annual Christmas decorating with my sweetheart; I'm a softy for Christmas decorating and have been slowly collecting my own tiny Christmas village with fake snow, tiny people and light-up houses. As I was setting up my village, my honey presented me with "Comet's Bike Shop." It's a tiny brick front building with a light-up display window and a few bikes parked out front. I put it in-between my greenhouse and my vegan bakery. And with that I wish you all a Happy Hipster Christmas!!!
I'm back on the banana seat again! For two months, I was lost in the dregs of directing a play. But now that I no longer have to rush off to rehearsal in the evening straight from work, I am able to commute by bike again. With no excuse not to ride, I've bundled up and hit the Cultural Trail every day for the past week. Riding in the cold and dark (thanks a lot daylight savings time) isn't as difficult as I thought. However there are a few marked differences from the days of regular season riding.
1) Bundling up: It's been a pretty mild week in terms of temperatures. So on my first day back on the bike, I dressed lightly, wearing a coat and my helmet. After all, most winter riders suggest that if you're warm enough when you first go outside, you'll be too hot by the time you arrive at your destination. I, however, froze through the whole ride. All week I've been struggling to find the right balance of clothes, scarves, mittens and ear muffs. The upside: I hate bone chilling cold. You know the kind of cold that permeates your being until Spring. Winter riding and resulting elevated heart rates turn out to be a great way to exorcise said chill.
2) A hefty dose of peace and quiet: With cold weather comes quiet. I've never known downtown to be so quiet. The canal after dark, though not necessarily safe, is a pristine palace of peace. By bike, as the light reflects on the water and the crisp air whips past my face, I understand the reward of serenity brought by Winter riding.
3) Bike lights: Because of earlier sunsets, I find myself riding in the dark more frequently now than ever. I'm thrilled to finally make regular use of the bike lights I invested in during the Summer. I know it's silly, but I especially love their blinking patterns. The little things, right?
4) Beautiful moon views: Marveling at a beautiful Winter moon as I pedal my way East through downtown is another big perk. In addition, if I leave work with hefts of extra energy, I can even take in the Circle of Lights and other holiday displays on an ambling route home.
5) Mysterious gusts of warm air: This is no perk. I find myself wafting into pockets of warm air throughout the city. They're actually not so mysterious. Rather, they are the after effects of exhaust pouring from a line of cars as I wait at an intersection or cross a busy street. I did notice them during warm weather, but not as much. And they are totally gross.
6) Biking boots: So as not to get oil on the nice pants I wear to work, I've been tucking my pants into my boots during my rides. Berry boots that match my berry bike make me berry happy.
Like everything else in this blog, I don't know much about Winter bike riding. I guess I've thrown that "write what you know" adage entirely out the window. In an attempt to prepare myself for the cold weather, which seems to have snapped upon me out of nowhere, I've done some research about the best way to deal with bicycling in the cold.
Before I get to the goods, I have an admission to make. I've not been biking very regularly. My excuse: a little play I directed made it impossible for me to bike to work and the rehearsal/performance space. I would never have been on time. Now that I've gotten out of practice and the play is about to close, I'm facing the difficult prospect of bicycle commuting once more in dropping temperatures. If you've read this blog at all, you know I have to work myself up to things. For me, this means doing plenty of hypothetical research before jumping into the deep end of (in this case) an extremely cold pool.
Thus far these are the tips I plan to employ as I gear up for the cool down:
1.) Don't dress too warmly: This one, though counter-intuitive, makes perfect sense. As we bike, we generate excess heat. One blogger suggested, "If you are warm for the first ten minutes of riding, you are overdressed." (He also gives a really awesome visual temperature scale of what to wear) But there are certain precautions to be addressed. I've learned. In cold weather, it is important to make sure you skin is entirely covered. Tuck in your shirt, wear gloves that cover your wrists, and if you are really ninja-like consider investing in a face mask.
2.) Leave yourself plenty of time: It's no new idea that bicycle commuting takes a tad more time than car commuting. But it is important to account for the time it takes to don and drop your added layers before departure and on arrival. The upside to this one, as far as I can figure, is that there is no idling time and no extra time needed to scrap ice from a windshield. That's a big check mark in the pro column for me.
3.) Watch out for Black Ice: Okay, this one is really scary, but thank goodness I have plenty of time before really bad conditions set in. Regardless, apparently if I see a patch of black ice, you're suppose to ride straight over it. Don't turn; don't brake; don't peddle.
4.) Don't Feel Bad if you Wimp Out: This one I'm taking to heart... every article about winter riding speaks to the rewards and merits of making it through the season. I will most likely wimp out on the coldest, wettest or snowiest days... and as long as I get on the next day it's all right.
Honestly, there was a lot of advice out there. Too much to process at once. I guess the only thing left to do is stop being hypothetical about this whole thing and get down to it.
Share your Winter riding tips with me as I embark on the next frontier of bicycle culture in Indianapolis.
By now the news of Lance Armstrong's doping scandal is old hat. He's been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins, stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation and is no longer admired as one of the greatest successes in sporting history. It's not necessary to kick a man while he's down, but Armstrong's amazing (though now false) journey taught me something in my youth and brought me closer to someone I love.
I didn't know that cycling was anything adults did when I was in high school, let alone an international sport with an American at its center. In 2001, it was my brother Brendan, home for the Summer from college, who introduced me to the Tour de France. Searching for an entry point into the enigmatic world of big brothers, I plopped down on the couch next to him and watched as he cheered on a bunch of men wearing spandex and cycling through the French countryside.
Honestly, I was bored to tears, but contented to spend time with him. Gradually, I began to catch on. The man in the red-polka dot jersey is the "King of the Mountains;" the green jersey is worn by the leader in over-all points, and the most prestigious yellow jersey is worn by the general classification leader (the overall front-man). Once I understood the color-coded clothing, I opened up. I cheered breakaways from the peleton, gasped in horror at deliciously dangerous wrecks and most importantly felt pride in the American who wore the yellow jersey day after day.
When my brother told me the amazing story of Armstrong's recovery from testicular cancer and about his underdog comeback to win the previous two tours, I was delighted at the drama it added to the sport. Against all odds, I thought, he's conquered cancer. Of course, pedaling to multiple Tour de France victories would be easier than fighting and beating cancer. Perhaps there was something in the chemotherapy. I suggested this often to Brendan. It must be some super-human mutation like the genetically mutated spider that bit Peter Parker making him a super hero.
Armstrong was America's cancer superhero. And as he soared into the winners circle, drinking a flute of champagne, I remember jumping up and down, hugging my brother and believing that anything was possible.
Later that Summer, I helped my brother build his own road bike. The next Summer, I was the one to turn on the Tour de France, insisting that Brendan and I watch Lance go for a fourth victory. And when I was home from college for the Summer, I took the bike my brother built for spins around the neighborhood as I followed the results of the Tour online.
More than anything, thinking back on that time, I feel naïve. But so was the rest of America, unwilling to see our hero fall from grace. I believed that he stood for something more than just victories. That he stood as an example of thriving in the face of adversity. It saddens me to have lost a symbol of possibility in a cynical country that could use an injection of hope. But regardless of recent events, I'm still thankful to have found an entry point into my brothers world that Summer, to have believed in something bigger than ourselves. We learned to be hopeful, and just because the truth shatters the legend, my hope in triumph and possibility is ever ingrained into my memory.