ZAP’S COLUMN: THE YIN & YANG OF CYCLING

Those times when you gotta take the good with the bad

As I found myself staring at my computer screen with a deadline fast approaching, I was a bit more perplexed on what to write about—and, worse, how to write the ideas floating in my head. There was really no other way to describe a four-day span of my life than the yin and yang of cycling. 

THE YIN

Tommy’s text came late on a Saturday night: “Ride tomorrow? 10:00?” I was unsure. Between important and less important things on my honey-do list, like raking leaves, watching the Formula 1 race and typing captions for Mountain Bike Action that were overdue, it seemed like I might just be too busy to ride.

And then the new day dawned, and by 9 a.m. I was looking out at what could only be described as a “that kind of day.” Sure, my knee was still sore from the previous day’s ride; sure, there was much else I could get done; and sure, it was probably too late to let Tommy know that I was having second thoughts. But, I was. 

Luckily, having not heard back from me, Tommy had slept in, so by the time I would reach his house, he was ready to go. While the sun shone brightly overhead, there remained a slight chill in the air that can best be described as California winter. 

THE WAVE

As we rode along, I couldn’t help but shake my head in wild-eyed appreciation as each pedal stroke brought a sense of sheer elation. Again, it was just that kind of day. Although Tommy was riding his road bike, I was aboard a gravel bike and so was having the time of my life enjoying the type of antics that come with rolling on 40mm tires.

When we’d roll past other riders, it wasn’t just the usual short, quick (but requisite), hand-off-the-handlebar wave I offered, but instead a full-throated, full-fingered, full-gusto wave like the kind used by Robert Redford at the end of one of my favorite movies, Jeremiah Johnson. 

Of course, raining on the celebratory mood was an abundance of road geeks who didn’t seem to share my sense of exhilaration. There was the lady bedecked in a full Rapha kit riding a fixie who just stared me down as if I wasn’t there. And there were guys in their team kits barreling down the bike path with their noses pinned to their stems and who never bothered to even look up. Nice.

“Pretending that there is no inherent danger in mixing it up with cars by avoiding the topic is its own form of danger and dishonesty.” 

But all was not lost. When we rode past a family of cyclists, it was a kid sitting in what looked like a bike seat made out of a milk crate on the back of his dad’s Yuba cargo e-bike who responded with not just a wave but a high-energy, two-fisted wave. Awesome. Moments later, I was even waved at by two ladies riding their horses on a parallel bridle path. It was all good—all so very good. 

AND THE YANG

Although I can’t say for certain, I’m guessing that four days later on December 9th, a large group of cyclists in Las Vegas felt the same sort of enthusiasm to get out and ride. It, too, was a bright sunny day, the perfect kind of day for them to head out on Highway 95 for an annual 130-mile ride. 

Unfortunately, at just about 40 miles into the ride, disaster struck when an errant truck driver crashed into them and the sag car that was there for added security. The result was that we lost five family members. In the immediate days afterwards, I couldn’t help but fume over such a disastrous accident. If it had been a crazed gunman ending five lives, it would’ve been national news, but this was just a handful of cyclists doing their best to be safe and free. 

The highway disaster shook the cycling communities far and wide. Despite not knowing them personally, we knew who they were— they were us. And like us, they were cyclists who knew full well the day-in-and-day-out sense of vulnerability felt every time we click into our pedals. Yeah, riding on the road is inherently dangerous. 

Just as has occurred before, I have been both scolded and embraced for acknowledging that fact. To me, pretending that there is no inherent danger in mixing it up with cars by avoiding the topic is its own form of danger and dishonesty. I also know that it’s one reason many people are turning to gravel bikes. 

As hard as it is to rationalize our passion for pedaling when events like this occur, it’s even harder to confront when the concern comes from loved ones. Erin Ray, Gerrard Nieva, Michael Murray, Aksoy Ahmet, and Thomas Trauger were all part of the universal community of cyclists. They were us. We owe it to their memory and shared passion for cycling to say their names, click into our pedals and ride in their honor. Ride often, ride safe, ride for the five.

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