Essay: The ride that hooked me for life

By Jeffrey Stern

I remember the day well, boarding the number four bus in Mill Valley destined for San Francisco and there were actual seats available. It’s common to find yourself standing for 90-minutes during this commute. Luckily, I grabbed a window on the east side of the bus for a guaranteed picturesque view of the City during the Bridge crossing. Now if only I could stay awake long enough through the rush hour traffic to enjoy the view. Within minutes I was snoozing, using the glass as my pillow. I likely day dreamt about not being on the bus and doing something else. I’m sure I hated my job and I was scheming of a way out, but I don’t remember the details. The gentle hum of hundreds of engines slowly creeping forward lulling me to sleep is the prevailing memory today.

As I half-woke from the feeling of the sleep-drool starting to pool in the left corner of my mouth and drip onto my khakis, pulling my cheek off the frigid window pane to wipe my mess away and hit the proverbial snooze button for another 30-minutes, a different type of sound came whizzing by – that of a small peloton of cyclists commuting to work, hooting and hollering. The image of them grinning from ear to ear and shouting in excitement as they blew by the hoards of traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge at Mach speed is seared into my memory. Growing up mountain biking, I never gave the skinny tired sibling much of a chance. That day my perception of the road bike, and how exciting it could be, changed forever.

A few weeks later I sold my rusty ‘89 Jeep Cherokee and bought my first road bike–a used, jet black, ‘76 Raleigh Competition with downtube shifters built in Nottingham, England and still adorning the head badge to prove it. It was older than my Jeep and over a decade older than me. That made me smile. I pocketed a couple thousand in cash, that made me smile too.

RaleighComp

I rode my Raleigh into the city everyday after the drooling incident, attempting to join that fast group only to get dropped on the climb up from Sausalito, but hanging on longer and longer each day. Within in a month, I was tail gunning all the way into the City by the Bay and having more fun road riding than in my wildest dreams. The smiles just kept getting bigger.

Then I started riding the Raleigh up Mt. Tamalpais on my days off or long summer nights and fell back to getting passed on the climbs; not only by cars, but other riders with proper equipment. I didn’t care, I was challenging myself, immersed into a whole new world. It was a bit risky, scary at times when the cars came within inches (I swear a few even touched my baggy mountain biking shorts) and I clearly remember a few near death experiences (that’s a whole other story), but damn it was such a blast.

On the weekends, I began venturing farther north towards Sonoma County on the Competition, into the Redwood groves and along the Pacific Ocean, down the coast for as long as the daylight would allow or as far as I thought I could go without having to call for help (I never had to). For a few months, my mountain bike got dusty just sitting in the garage, not out riding the sinuous trails on Tam. Then the tires went flat from non-use. It didn’t matter though; I was hooked on a new fix. The roadie had stolen my heart.

I’d turned a new leaf on life, my pursuits and adventure; no longer a couch potato, but reinvigorated for pursuing outdoor endeavors and improving my health. The road bike, and that first ride across the Golden Gate, launching me on a new path, a self-defined trajectory against the norms and on my own terms. It was precisely what I needed.

A decade past and the swoosh of the peloton that chilly morning from my window seat on the route 4 Golden Gate Transit bus is still as vivid as the day it happened.

Such a wild ride it’s been that I’m still drooling, except for all the right reasons – the road ahead is just as vast and promising and I can’t wait to continue to roll down it on my ‘76 Competition. This time with proper shoes and comfortable shorts, but the smile is just as big and grows every day in a new way.


Do you remember when you got hooked on riding? We’d love to hear your story! Send us an email at web@dirtragmag.com and we’ll publish our favorites! 

 

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