As the date for this year’s Hub On Wheels charity ride approached I realized I was having second thoughts tagging along. Don’t get me wrong: Hub On Wheels is a great event. It gets people out on their bikes to explore parts of the city they might never see. Plus it raises funds for a worthy cause.
It was just that I had already participated in two previous Hub On Wheels. “Been there, done that,” I thought. Besides, I was more interested in a hard training ride rather than a casual loop around town at this point in the season.
On Saturday night, less than 24 hours before Hub On Wheels, I dreamed I had overslept and missed the start of the ride. But come Sunday morning no such luck: the sound of early birds catching worms woke me up before 6 am.
Still, even as I pumped up my tires I was ambivalent: “Perhaps I’d be better off going out for a ride by myself. That way I could get in some hills and not have to be on anyone else’s schedule.”
I had almost convinced myself to skip the ride when my friend Richard texted me: “Are you still in?” he asked. I paused and stared at my phone: yes would mean slow but fun. No would mean fast but alone. “Fun or fast?” I thought. I figured it was one or the other.
It wasn’t even close.
“Yes,” I responded. You see, fast is good, but friends are better. “See you downtown,” I added.
My first two Hub On Wheels had not gone smoothly: one year a park bench in City Hall toppled over and crushed my wheel before I’d even gotten started. Fortunately I was able to borrow a wheel from a local bike shop. Thankfully the City of Boston reimbursed me for the cost of that repair.
My second Hub On Wheels was less eventful, though my wife and I did lock handlebars on the ramp leading onto Storrow Drive. Somehow we managed to disentangle ourselves and avoid launching ourselves over the side of the overpass, though for a moment there it was touch and go.
As long as I didn’t have an accident or a major mechanical I figured today’s ride would be a success, though secretly I was hoping I could race a lap of the Mayor’s Cup. Until there’s a category for what my friend Lane calls MAMIL’s (middle-aged men in Lycra) that was just not going to happen. The guys who race the Mayor’s Cup go almost as fast as the pace car that lurches in front of them. Still, a guy can dream, can’t he?
A little before 8 am, Richard and I met up downtown. A few minutes later his cousin Toffer, hard to miss in his bright blue Vancouver Canucks jersey, ambled over to join us. I knew Toffer was a strong rider. I just hadn’t known how brave he was, too.
A moment later the cowbells rang and we took off.
For the first few miles I remembered why I had been so reluctant to do Hub On Wheels: we went slow, then fast, then slow again. But as I pedaled along Storrow Drive I began to smile: what could be better than riding along with no cars in my way, hanging with my friends instead of riding by myself? Right then and there I stopped caring about my speed, my wattage, or my lactate threshold (all of the things that the average bike geek cares so much about).
Fast is good but friends truly are best.
A few miles later Michael (most cyclists don’t seem to have a last name: your first name and the bike you ride suffices for identification) asked if he could join our trio. That’s when our stroll became a hammerfest as we rocketed along at a 20+mph clip.
Friends are best, but fast friends are even better.
“What should we call our team?” I asked. “In before 11,” Michael replied. That was ambitious given that we’d need to stop at some point and we’d hit a bottleneck at the end of the ride. Plus we were doing the 50-mile route. But why not, I thought.
Our route took us through trails, along bike paths, near the harbor, and through sections of the city I did not recall seeing the last time I did Hub On Wheels. At times we were a block away from a busy avenue and yet we were sheltered by shrubs and trees as we pedaled along dirt paths. My only regret is that there wasn’t a longer route: I could have wandered around these streets and byways all day.
One section of the ride brought us down a long, narrow, winding trail, with deep forest on either side of us. It seemed like we had passed through some kind of Harry Potter portal and been dropped into the woods of Maine, only to emerge at the other side in the ethnically rich and diverse neighborhoods of Boston.
Those cartographers at Hub On Wheels knew how to plan the perfect ride. Even though I’d done this ride before, today it was fresh. But that’s how it is on a bicycle: riding around has a way of opening up your eyes so you can see the world in a whole new light.
After we made our way back through Government Center, past the volunteers cheering us on and ringing cowbells, I stopped by to visit Grady, the nicest bike fitter and mechanic in town. We chatted about the usual stuff-bikes, gear, and food- as he made me a chocolate milkshake in a blender powered by his stationary bicycle. It was even sweeter than I had expected. Well fed, I headed home for a shower and a nap.
Been there, done that? I don’t think so.
I was sad when it was over. The good news? Only 364 days until next year’s Hub On Wheels. I just hope we can be in before 11 again.
Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published next spring by Cadence Press.
Jonathan Simmons has donated to the Hub On Wheels charity.