Non Sequitur Fridays

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Mercer Smith is a Customer Champion at Wistia.

Let me preface this: I have never been athletic. When I was a kid playing soccer, I was the goalie that let all the balls through because I was too busy waving at my family. In fact, the only "sport" I've been good at was crew, and that was probably because, when it came down to it, it didn't require running. So, I don't count biking as "being athletic"—to me it is more of a test, a challenge to be won each day, a meditation, and a way of life.

It was not always this way. My father taught me to bike on the suburban streets of East Hampton, New York, and with him it was always trial by fire. One second I would be peddling furiously and talking to him about how great it was to go fast, and the next I'd be looking behind me to see him some twenty feet back, jumping up and down with triumph as if he had just won some kind of award. Always, as soon as I realized that he'd let go, I tumbled toward the hard cement and came up crying. I looked up and pushed away the helmet and a few stray hairs that had fallen in my face as he ran toward me with arms outstretched.

"Merce!" He grabbed the bike up by the back tire. I sniffled in response. "Are those tears? What for? You're fine!" "I fell off my bike. And you let me go. You tricked me into thinking you were there." "Oh, Mercer. Really? That's all you're upset about? I just knew that you'd be okay on your own. You probably just threw off your balance." He pulled the helmet back onto my head, and pushed it down so it stuck.

"Now, let's try again." "I don't want to try again. I'm never going to get it. I'm awful at this." I stomped my shoes into the gravel and pushed the bike away from me. "Are you going to be the only one who doesn't know how to ride a bike because you were too proud to fall off a few times?" I glared at him as he walked away. "Well, all right. If you're sure." He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes slightly. Silence as I walked back to him and my bike, and got on. "That's my girl."

I never had friends to ride bikes with, so mostly I just rode back and forth between the Farmer's Market at the end of the street and our backyard, and even then, it was only to accompany Daddy on the premise that he told me I'd get half of his cinnamon roll.

In fact, I never rode a bike again until I moved to Boston for graduate school at Emerson in 2010. Originally this part of the story talked about how urbanite-hipster Mercer got her biking-wings—but I cut that in favor of a more real truth: biking in Boston is hard. When I started riding at first, it was on an old Huffy that was too small for me, and popped the chain off every time I went into second gear.

It was an endless bummer. All I wanted to do was be able to look like the cool skinny girls with black hair and thick-rimmed glasses that always looked fabulous as they soared past me on their custom rides. I imagine that I always looked like a manatee that had been brought out of the water and forced to try to make its way on a treadmill. I'm not sure what that would look like, but probably not nearly as sweaty, gross, and flabby as I did whenever I got off my bike.

"That's fine. If you're going to be a bicyclist you need to kiss the pavement—you've gotta pay tribute to that cement God."

The first bike that I bought for myself was a white Peugeot that came pretty close to fulfilling my fantasies of color-coding my tires, frame, and helmet all together. But, even then, I wasn't really that hardcore. I didn't ride in the winter, if it was too hot I declined, I was never into the night rides that all of my friends went on through the quiet-er streets of the city. The bicycling was just a farce, at first, to try to make me look cool.

That changed when I got into my first accident. In August of 2011, I was hit by a car in Packard's Corner, and completely totaled the bike and myself. After coming to a few days after the accident, I was unsure whether I would be able to keep riding again. Every time I thought about biking, I had flashbacks and felt that every single car on the road was about to swerve towards me, just because of some strange anti-bike impetus.

About a week after my accident, two broken ribs, busted up face, road-rash and all, I fixed the front end of my bike, and started riding again—not even tentatively, but with a fervor that I hadn't really had before. I started going faster, pushing myself harder. Almost everyone told me I was insane, but eyed me shyly with a sense of awe—Yeah, I thought to myself, That's right. I'm a badass. My father, in true Murray Smith fashion, said "That's fine. If you're going to be a bicyclist you need to kiss the pavement—you've gotta pay tribute to that cement God."

It took a while, but the itch to bike came back. The afternoons on the sweaty Boston T made me feel like I was in a giant sardine can that smelled like year-old body-odor and poor decisions. I missed the feeling of the wind on my skin, and the excitement that accelerating past another bicyclist gave me. I even bought a brand-spanking-new bike (see left).

That being said, I still wasn't as hardcore as others—you wouldn't catch me swerving through stop signs, cussing out pedestrians, tailgating cars. Leave that to the bike messengers and movie stars (I'm looking at you, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you fine piece of man).

I think that my second accident is what changed that. Really, I think that once you've had two accidents on a bike, it's a make-or-break situation. I went into the back of a car going 16 mph, according to the speedometer on my iPhone, and shattered my front teeth, broke my nose, and my chin. My dad didn't have anything funny to say about this one, just said that he was sorry about my teeth, especially because my smile had once been so nice.

Yeah, that was an effing bummer—looking in the mirror and not recognizing yourself is scary and exhilarating all at once. I couldn't eat solid food for a month plus—thank god juice diets were popular. But, again, a week after the accident, I found myself getting on my bike and tooling around.

I even got a tattoo to commemorate my second "deathproof" accident on my steel-animal. The tattoo artist said I should probably give the biking a rest—another point given to Mercer's Badassery, thank you very much. You can still see my galaxy-like bruises in this picture—I got the tattoo right over them!

My coworkers thought I was crazy, my fiancé said I needed to take better care of myself, but in my head all I could hear was RIDE RIDE RIDE. Like some kind of crazy chant from Indiana Jones, or something.

I know, I know. You're probably thinking, what the french toast does this have to do with being athletic? You are just nuts! Two accidents, several broken bones (and bikes) later, you should probably just throw in the towel, girl. But that's exactly it—biking in Boston is scary, there aren't bike lanes everywhere, people drive like jerks, other bicyclists bike like jerks, and you are kind of just putting yourself out there and praying to whatever deity you believe in that you will make it to your appointment on time.

I love it. I love it so much that I rode through last winter, through that god-awful blizzard that we had, and through the negative 10-degree weather. I suited up every day from top to toe in all weather gear and rode my bike about nine miles every day. Even further, when people are just starting to bike, I want to encourage them—to help plant the seed of biking positivity in them so that they, too, can experience this awesome lifestyle.

I guess this isn't so much about athleticism as it is about commitment. Biking in Boston—hell, biking in general—is a scary thing. But it's important. It's important because it gives you an independent method of travel, it allows you to go wherever you need to go, whether there are streets or not, and it's important because it can help people like me (read: non-athletes who are more inclined to read about biking, or play video games that involve biking) care about and love something whole-heartedly and purely. It taught me how to take pride in myself, too; something that I had struggled with in the past as I floundered around trying to find things to identify with. If anything, I might be a little bit more battered now, but I have one million times more heart, courage, and pride.

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