A Year of Reunions

“It’s been the year of reunions,” I said to Adam, over omurice. It was his last day in Tokyo and we’d spent it wandering around Shinjuku and Harajuku and indulging in my favorite pastime of eating too much food. I was referring to a few friends I’d reconnected with (a friend from high school and a roommate from college, both of which I hadn’t spoken to in at least a decade) as well as to seeing Adam in Tokyo again (we’d lost touch for about a year). Though the origins of each of those friendships were vastly different, it seemed that cycling – like an embarrassing moment that you play over and over in your head, reliving it to react differently – always lingered in the background. My old college roommate had gotten addicted to cycling some years back, and my friend from high school was now a hardcore endurance athlete. New friends brought memories of training rides and red-lining my way up mountain passes, too. “Do you do sports?,” a gym buddy asked as I got under the barbell for some squats.

While I currently spend more time in the gym than on my bike, the past weekend spent at Cycle Mode with Adam Hansen and the exceptionally welcoming people at Ridley was really bringing back that lovin’ feeling for bikes.

Incredibly, this was my first ever visit to Cycle Mode. Held at Makuhari Messe in Chiba prefecture, it took up two separate convention hall spaces, which were connected by a small passageway. Unlike Interbike, Cycle Mode is focused on presenting new products directly to consumers. To that end, most bike brands offered free test rides of almost all of their bikes, and this didn’t mean a simple loop around the building. Cycle Mode organizers had set up a winding 1.2km course exclusively for testing the bikes, which came in an impressively wide range of sizes.

As Adam did sign and meet sessions at the Ridley booth, then talks at the main stage of Cycle Mode, I wandered around taking pictures of people touching stuff. Ridley was kind enough to invite me along to Adam’s signing event at Y’s Road in Ochanomizu, as well as a talk and private party hosted by Cycle Terrace in the Aeon Mall where I became the unofficial interpreter

Between events and after the whirlwind of a day was done, Adam and I did what old friends do: drink lots of coffee and catch up on recent life events. There was a whisky bar in Ginza, Scramble Crossing and eel in Shibuya, Din Tai Fung in Shinjuku and wandering around Harajuku. There was lots of laughing and a lot more teasing and sarcasm and giving each other shit. There were promises made to do it again next year.

I opened iTunes this morning for the first time in four days and noticed that I’d had Eminem’s “Die Alone” on repeat. Not because I’m mourning an ex, but because it seemed to reflect my feelings after I’d lost cycling. Cycling had been an answer to everything until a few years ago, when it began to bring with it a heaviness and a sense of permanent ostracization. “Why aren’t I good enough?” I used to cry to my best friend, “why does the bike industry hate me?”

It had felt like a betrayal. I’d poured my soul into cycling. I knew the races, I knew most of the riders, I knew I could write and copyedit better than whatever Cycling News was publishing. And it still wasn’t good enough. It broke my heart, and in retaliation, I had resolved to move away and past cycling, onto bigger and better things.

Predictably, I struggled. Bikes seemed to be all I knew. No other spectator sport is nearly as fulfilling, emotional, or rewarding. I still watched roadies pass enviously and continually reminded myself to do something about my currently nonexistent aerobic capacity. I looked at my hopelessly scarred knees and tried to convince myself that I was in it for the long haul, there was no going back. And yet, there was still the hurt and the fear. Could I ride solo again for years without unraveling? Will the risk of bringing back all the baggage and negativity be worth it? Was it healthy for me mentally to get back into cycling?

Releasing my iPhone from looping “Die Alone” this morning, the beats eventually slid into “Guts Over Fear” and I realized how I’d come full circle. When I had said to Adam that this year was one of reunions, I’d been more right than I’d known. It wasn’t just a year of reconnecting with old friends who’d known me before I started to ride, of hanging out with a professional cyclist who doesn’t judge me for not riding for over a year, but also one of getting back into cycling and the bike.

It’s taken a while, but I think I’m back.

[A big thank you to Kawataki-san, Haruki-san, and Edward V. at Ridley, and Glenn L. at Vittoria!]