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The Cyclist on the Bike Goes Round and Round

Pandemic negatunity: finding sanity and stability in cycling during the time of COVID-19
Author: Matthew St. Amand
Photographer: Dave Hunter & Zishan Ali
3 years ago
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Riding down Naylor Sideroad on a bright, sunny May morning in 2020, part of me wondered if I was crazy.  I was more than 30 kilometers from home, embarking on my first metric century (100 km ride).  For a moment, the spell had faltered. 

“Why am I doing this?”  I thought.  It was the fear, the doubt that plagued mountaineers, deep sea divers, and astronauts: “I’m working so hard to get myself ‘out there’, how in the world am I going to get back home?”

Then I focused on my breath, on the cadence of my legs pumping the pedals, and the crisp coolness of the late spring morning, and the simple enjoyment of riding a bike reasserted itself.  The spell remained intact.

The madness began for me when it began for the whole world: the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic in March 2020.  As humanity collectively sheltered in place, avoiding all possible physical contact with COVID-19, the mental pall cast by the coronavirus enveloped most of us immediately.  I dealt with it by taking to the road.  Up to then, I had been a casual bicyclist who rode for an hour most mornings.  Following the first lockdown, I downloaded a cycling app to track my calories burned and kilometers traveled, and soon found my rides ballooning from 20 km a day to 30 and 40 km a day.  A few strenuous forays of 50 and 60 km took me deep into the rural routes and concession roads of Essex County.  Then, one morning ride, my department store bicycle broke beneath me.

On the advice of other cyclists, I went to see Mark Long at Infinity Cycle, who hooked me up with a sturdy new mountain bike.  The difference between it and my broken bike was like comparing a modern jet to the Wright Brothers’ first heavier-than-air plane.  Little did I know that I scored my new bike just as the Great Bicycle Rush of 2020 was about to hit.

“Prior to COVID, cycling was already hitting a high note in Windsor-Essex County,” says Mark at Infinity Cycle.  “After the pandemic came, spring sales were through the roof.”

Mark points out that pre-pandemic cycling had a significant social aspect, describing the popularity of the Friday Night Lights ride through Windsor—where riders make stops at various local restaurants—and the Detroit Slow Ride that stopped at watering holes around the Motor City.

“Now, the bikes are boredom busters,” Mark says.  “They’re a way for people to get outside during the lockdowns, get some exercise.”

Soon after purchasing my sleek and fleet new bike, I embarked on my first metric century.  Cycling was a socially acceptable form of self-medication.  The kilometers wore out the engines of my anxiety.

It seems, I wasn’t alone in turning to a bicycle in the time of crisis.

Adam McClounie, owner of Cycle Culture says: “The vast majority of customers coming through the shop were new, getting into cycling.  With the gyms being closed, there was a need for exercise and recreation.  People remembered: ‘I’ve got this old bike in the garage!’  Parents are looking for ways to get their kids outside.”

The Great Bicycle Rush was windfall for bike shops—for a while.  The global pandemic interrupted supply chains, which soon made it difficult obtaining new stock.  The limping, tripping way the world is coming out of the pandemic—with multiple lockdowns, Ontario in its third wave—has not helped.  There is also a dearth of parts and supplies, now, though cycle shops continue to find ways to keep us all on the road.

The Bike Kitchen at Bike Windsor-Essex is one oasis that has bikes and parts available.  Executive director, Lori Newton says: “We have both new and refurbished bikes on the floor for sale, as well as new and used parts and accessories.”  Located at 628 Monmouth Road in Walkerville, the Bike Kitchen is a place where cyclists can learn to repair their own bicycles using the Bike Kitchen’s tools.  Donations are always welcome.

As COVID-19 showed few signs of abating in late fall, I continued riding.  During the cold weather, some Internet research and a moderate outlay of cash clad me in winter gear that helped me bear with the falling temperatures.  No longer did I wear three days’ worth of laundry to bundle up against the cold.  By the end of 2020, I had lost 40 lbs and had cycled 11,200 km.

During the pandemic, cycling has improved my physical health and definitely saved my sanity, but it seems, cycling has the potential to do even more than that.  In 2003, The Drive’s Dave Hunter decided: “I wanted to ride across parts of Ontario in honour of my buddy, Todd Robinson, who had lost his mother to cancer.  Thinking I might need support, I called my friend Rob Pula at Kinetic Konnection.  Before I had the chance to ask for his help, he said: ‘Can I come too?’”

They rode from Windsor to Chatham, London, Grand Bend, to Sarnia and back for a total of 600 km.

Following epic rides in 2004 and 2005, approximately $75,000 was raised for cancer charities.  Then, life happened and the Ride to Survive went into hiatus.  Fifteen years later, in the pandemic year of 2020, Windsor’s Transition to Betterness was the beneficiary.

“It was in the middle of a pandemic,” Dave remembers, “and every hiccup and glitch you could imagine happened—adhering to health protocols, social distancing, a new lockdown was announced the day of the event—and still, the community turned out in force.”

When the dust cleared, over the course of 45 days—from the time the event was first announced, until the ride occurred—the 2020 Ride to Survive raised a mind-blowing $184,000.

The 2021 Ride to Survive is set to take place on the weekend of September 18 – 19.  The route, this year, will have riders leaving Malden Park, venturing through Windsor, up through Lakeshore and cutting across to Leamington, totalling 100 km.  The riders will spend the night at the Quality Suites on Erie Street, and then depart from Point Pelee the following morning, riding through Kingsville, Harrow, Amherstburg, and finishing at the Blooming Garden in LaSalle, for a second 100 km total.

As the latest lockdown trudges toward its inevitable end, and COVID-19’s time with us diminishes with every vaccination given, the challenge of the pandemic will be retaining the left-field negatunities—new skills acquired, new hobbies learned, newly gained fitness—that helped us pass the time.

For more information about bicycles and the benefits of cycling, check out Infinity Cycle’s page on Facebook, visit Cycle Culture online at www.cycle-culture-shop.com, and Bike Windsor-Essex at www.bikewindsoressex.com.  To learn more about the 2021 Ride to Survive, visit the event’s Facebook page.

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