By ANDREW HERMANN
Blast Boston Bureau
Before I signed up to participate in the Boston->New York AIDS Ride
3 (Presented by Tanqueray), I had already made another commitment --
to spend three weeks house-sitting for my parents in their small
suburban split-level in Pennsylvania. This meant, unfortunately,
that for most of the month of May I would be 400 miles away from my
bike. And as my "Rider Rep" was quick to remind me, I was already
behind schedule if I was to train properly for the Ride.
The solution to this problem emerged, reluctantly and without
instructions for assembly, from a box in my parents' attic. It was
my mother's old exercycle, which had taken up space in my former
bedroom for several years, until Mom decided to join a health club
and the bike went up the treacherous attic steps to make room for
a sewing table.
While I set
the exercycle up in the study, my mother looked on and muttered vague
recollections of how the thing had fit together the first time. Then I began my training as my
parents set out to cut a swath of poorly composed snapshots across
My Rider Handbook, under its section labelled "How To Train,"
mentions exercycles in the same breath as swimming, rollerblading,
and cross-country skiing -- as "acceptable" alternatives to on-road
cycling but still no substitute for the real thing. This proved to
be especially true, I soon discovered, on my mother's exercycle,
which had apparently been designed by someone who had never laid
eyes on an actual bike. The principle was the same -- you sat, you
grasped handlebars, you pedaled -- but the seat was shaped like
a pregnant stingray, the handlebars were set at a vertiginous,
medieval-torture device angle, and the Bozo-sized pedals had pinching plastic straps that left bright purple
bruises across my insteps. Despite these challenges, I sat on that
damn thing for 20 minutes every morning, pedaling and reading
the morning's headlines to take my mind off the pain.
By the time I returned to Boston at the end of the month, I was in
no better shape and had not even begun my fund-raising. Fifteen hundred
dollars still loomed between me and the Ride. I resolved to address this
situation as soon as possible. The following week, perhaps.
Meanwhile, two of my friends, Greil and Lester, had been inspired
by my commitment and resolved to join me on the Ride. It would be
a blast, they assured me; we would be like the Three Musketeers.
I had to respect their decision, but secretly I was a little
disappointed. I had the reputation of being perhaps the least
athletic of my coordinated-challenged peer group, and had been
looking forward to the Ride as an opportunity not only to disprove
my doubters but actually set myself apart. Besides, the Ride was
supposed to be a way for me to meet people, especially women, and
it was clear that Greil and Lester's vision of training consisted
of only the three of us, Three Musketeer-like, male-bonding across
Perhaps sensing that they were crashing my party, Greil and Lester
reluctantly agreed to come along with me on one of the group
training jaunts listed in our AIDS Ride newsletter, Ride On! The
ride's starting point was an athletic field on my side of town so
we agreed to set out from my house.
Greil and Lester arrived late, of course. "Is there anywhere
around here we can get some Powerade?" they wanted to know,
standing on my front porch in bicycle shorts and toe-clip shoes and
already looking better-prepared for the ride than I would ever be.
By the time we got to the rendezvous point the training group was
long gone. "Don't worry," Greil and Lester proclaimed, "we'll
catch them!" If we'd had swords they would have crossed them, but
I was starting to feel less like Athos or Porthos and more like the
Moe of the Three Stooges, cursed with the comically futile task of
trying to maintain order. Greil and Lester rode with a reckless
abandon that startled me; for most of our route we were on a
crowded rail trail, and the two of them zipped full-tilt past baby
strollers and between rollerbladers, bobbing and weaving and
chattering merrily away in full ignorance of all the muttered oaths
and dirty looks we were engendering. When we got to the end of the
trail and entered traffic they were even worse, riding side-by-
side, running stop signs, never using hand signals. Someone, stuck
behind us for a long stretch of state road, finally zoomed past
with a long, vindictive honk, which Greil and Lester responded to
with incredulous outrage.
"You didn't leave him room to pass," I explained.
"So what?" one of them replied. "He can wait two seconds."
It suddenly occurred to me that I might be spending the summer
training with two of those rogue cyclists who give all bikers a bad
rap. I thought about explaining to Greil and Lester my theory that
obnoxious drivers are the product of obnoxious cyclists, rather
than the other way around, but I decided it was wiser to save it
for later, when we weren't in danger of being run down by some
testy suburbanite in a sport utility.
Remarkably, we did manage to catch up with the training group.
They had stopped for a rest break at their halfway point, a post-
modern sculpture garden in the charmingly rustic New England town
of Concord. There were about fifteen of them, lounging and
stretching amidst bikes and water bottles under a towering
sculpture of sloppily painted scrap metal.
I don't know what I expected my first pack of fellow AIDS Riders
to look like -- I hate to think I honestly thought they'd be just
like the smiling, attractive people in the Ride brochures, but I
suppose up until that moment I had been taken in by the romance of
it all. These were morally and physically vigorous people, after
all. They were dedicating their time and bodies and spirit to a
worthy cause. It stood to reason that they would be bright,
attractive, warm-hearted, a cut above the shuffling masses.
Instead, they were typical New Englanders in bicycle helmets -- not
unfriendly exactly, but politely aloof and mildly suspicious of
enthusiasm in any form. When Greil and Lester and I burst into
their midst, thrilled to have caught up with them, a few people
offered wan hellos, but most went on quietly munching granola bars
and doing hamstring extensions. There was nothing resembling a
group dynamic; most of the riders had obviously come in pairs and
met none of the others. There were a few individuals sitting
loosely grouped to one side, but their conversation seemed detached
and sporadic. Greil and Lester took one look at them and briskly
headed off in search of a place to refill our water bottles.
After a few moments, a tall, gray-haired but youthful-looking man came forward
and introduced himself to me as the ride leader. I gave him our
names and he gave me three copies of an indecipherably hand-
scrawled and badly Xeroxed route map. He was visibly annoyed by
our late arrival. "Try to keep up with the pack," he said. "I'm
not technically responsible for anyone's safety here, but the Ride
office still takes it out on me if anyone gets lost or injured."
Greil and Lester returned with our water and a few minutes later we
set out. The ride leader, on a lightweight touring bike, quickly
established a grueling pace and within minutes a few stragglers had
disappeared around the last bend. A few minutes later, we were
among the stragglers. Soon, with only the ride leader's chicken-
scratch map to guide us, we were hopelessly lost.
Several hours later, we finally stumbled across the athletic field
that had been the ride's starting point. There we found the ride
leader and a few other cyclists loitering in the parking
lot. "Thank God," said the ride leader when he saw us. "I was
beginning to think I'd have to wait here all night."
We explained that his map was rather hard to read, to which the
leader shrugged and said, "Well, you made it back, didn't you?" He
checked us off on his list, got into his Subaru station wagon, and
That was my last experience on a group training ride. I decided to
cast my lot with the Three Stooges.