Our Stories: Downhill Cycling: A Metaphor for Life

Marin Headlands-60For some of us, cycling is a chance to distance ourselves from our daily lives. Jon and I are exceptionally lucky to cycle in one of the most beautiful places in America which we’ve taken pride in sharing.

As cyclists we connect to the beauty of our surroundings, attend to the obstacles in our path, absorb the bumps in the road, feel the burn of each pedal stroke pushing us forward, and hear our breath get harder and deeper. We become more present and I think that’s one of the reasons we chose to clip in for the day to tune out the rest of the world. (Words of advice: don’t check your email, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter on a ride. You don’t need to hear from your boss or see what your college roommate is having for brunch. It CAN wait.)


Not every moment of cycling is a blissful. Nothing makes my life more miserable than CLIMBING. All I think about is how pained, exhausted and out of breath I feel. My thoughts turn to doubts of whether I can make it up the hill, or worse, make it home before dark. I am always focused on getting to the top, the finish, the future. (Or I’m saying to myself “What the heck was I thinking when I agreed to do this in the first place!”) If this was my metaphor for life, it would be a recipe for misery: completely immersed in my unpleasant thoughts and only living in the past – for my choices and the future – for my expectations. It’s only when I’m aided by my hybrid of a motivational speaker, athletic coach and cheerleading squad inside my head championing me to get up the hill that I can do it. I need to be told constantly that the effort alone makes me a “Rockstar”, even as the elderly man or tourist on a creaky comfort bike passes me like I’m standing still.

I do it all for the downhill.

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They (namely my endlessly fascinated husband who records these endeavors – see videos – and his friend – see Three Amigos) call me the “Pink Bomber”: after my hot pink helmet and propensity to leave the men behind, pass Porsches (true story) and the genuine euphoria I get from attacking the downhill that eludes most cyclists. My husband calls it “intestinal fortitude” but I know it be the one time in my life that I feel entirely immersed in “The Moment.”

The most natural reaction to downhill cycling is fear. The instinct that tells us “Don’t crash!” is what has kept our ancestors alive throughout evolution. As is often the case in life, people want to grab the brakes to stop the bike from going down to ease their fears, but using your bike handling skills to attend to your brakes is not only less enjoyable, but is a less effective, more dangerous way to get down the hill. When all your attention is paid to your fears and all your your efforts devoted to braking, where is your concentration for the car coming in the opposite direction that’s swerving into your lane? (Or as I like to call them: Sunday Drivers.) Your bike was designed to handle the downhill and coast through corners, not deal with your emotional baggage.

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The key to downhill cycling is looking forward. From moment to moment I must evaluate what my needs are and what the appropriate response is: when to angle my knee, aim for the apex of a corner, get down into my drops, tip, and always look towards where I’m going. And yes, my brakes are there to serve me, like thoughts: not to hold me back but move me forward to the perfect speed for attacking the corner ahead. I touch them gently, like holding the hand of a good friend, I don’t arm wrestle them! Making an enemy of your brakes is your worst mistake on a downhill. They press against your rims, heating up your tires which explode in anger! That’s how I envision it – your fears make your otherwise happy bike have a nervous breakdown. Just like ruminating will make a mess of your mind.


Conquering the downhill necessitates freeing up your mind to make one judgement call after another. Yes, there will be scary moments. The “Oh crap, I almost became roadkill.” But there’s no time to think about that last hairy corner when the next corner is rapidly approaching because you need to attend to “What’s next?” And you can NEVER turn and look back to admire the horror of what might have been. You would most certainly crash. Instead, with every moment you glide with a sense of confidence, forget that your are not crashing, let go of everything except the sensations you need to let your bike do what it was designed to. For every descent you feared, you experience a sense of mastery for handling that complex and fearsome task, the willingness to embrace what you can versus what you cannot do.

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At the end of a descent my mind feels cleansed and all that’s left is the adrenaline and a sense of pride. If only we could go through life attending to each situation as it arises, tackling each problem with the information in front of us and honoring our solution before moving directly on to the next. And if at the end of each day, before we went to sleep, could feel a deep sense of satisfaction for having survived our day’s struggles and for accomplishing so much. To feel that same sense of joy for having lived our lives.

When you figure out how to do this please email me at WeLikeToBike@bikerider.com. I will send you a sweet bike jersey.

In the meantime, attack the downhill with the wisdom we wish we could apply to every part of our lives, as we strive to get there, one corner at a time.

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Author and cyclist, Miko Laube, was a psychology major at Brown University that decided not to become a shrink. She is a published fashion, beauty and men’s magazine photographer (check out her work here) and editor of the photo-fashion-art publication Gleam Magazine which features cycling photography in its November 2014 issue. She has, and always will, hate the uphill. Follow Miko on Instagram @MikoPhotoFashion.

Our Stories: DOG GONE IT! What Every Dog Owner Needs to Know About Cycling

Getting hit by a car was one thing. For starters, I felt like I could claim membership to that group of hardcore, veteran, city cyclists who ride-on in spite of motorist madness – just to get their bike on. It was different trying to explain why my bike needed repairs after getting run down by a couple of dogs. A car is one thing, but dogs?

As I watched Stage One of the Tour de France, where an off-leash dog attacked the entire pelaton (def.: main group of cyclists in a race) and wiped out some of the major contenders, I realized I was NOT alone.


Stage One Tour de France : Dog Takes Out The Pack

Read more about it . . . Stage 1 Dog Incident Article

Perhaps it was just me and that one dumb dog? But no, in fact there have been numerous accidents on the Tour de France caused by dogs. Apparently the paw extended as MAN’s best friend doesn’t apply to cyclists.


Note the crushed wheel . . . and the unscathed dog.


Signs lining the multi-use path in Marin where I was struck by dogs alone include . . .



And Elsewhere . . .



Alas, but what? The owners with their dogs off leashes can’t claim to be blind – blind people need their dogs on leashes! Perhaps dog owners without bike riding experience don’t understand the severity of a dog-on-bike collision. 

Kindly pass this on to any dog owner you know. They may have no idea.

Even though Tour de France riders are professionals with “falling experience” common accidents include fractured collar bones, broken or dislocated limbs, along with yards of bloody road rash – injuries all within the realm of possibility in any bike crash. While riders on the tour have access to immediate medical attention, an ambulance costs upwards of two thousand dollars with emergency medical care ranging in the thousands as well. If the accident was caused by your dog, your legal obligation may exceed a ticket and fine. An egregiously injured cyclist could sue you for negligence for not retaining control of your dog – especially if the sign was right there.

Another thing unbeknownst to dog owners is the ridiculous amount of money road cyclists will spend on their precious steeds. The cost of Lance’s Armsrtong’s Trek bike is $8714.99 – roughly the price of this used 2008 Chevy Cobalt. Unless your dog has excellent personal liability insurance, you could be looking at some hefty repair or replacement costs if your pooch is responsible for crashing a bike. The cost of the time honored dog accessory, the leash, is $12.77.

Even if you can live guilt-free for causing grievous bodily harm and scoff at the destruction of personal property . . . how will you explain yourself to your dependent, unprotected pet when they get run over by a bike? You gave your dog some freedom and now it walks around on three legs. “Thanks man!”

So, until your dog SPEAKS to me in English I will not believe they understand your verbal commands well enough to protect us both. Would you take a cab if the cabbie didn’t speak your language? Exactly. Cyclists have thrown everything from water bottles to bike pumps at attacking dogs. Bicycling Magazine suggests yelling “Get off the couch!”, a unanimously familiar command that when used totally out of context will baffle the dog and stop it in it’s tracks.

Not all animals are necessarily out to get us. Some believe they are just like us cyclists. The following clip shows just how far a horse will go when he identifies with a stampede of cyclists on the Tour de France.

Animals are clearly fascinated with something about our spinning wheels the world over. They may come at us because they want in on the action. But until they build bicycles for dogs we’d prefer pet owners to have them admire us from a distance. PLEASE keep your dog on a leash! 

Our Stories: My Rise and Fall as a Biker

I remember seeing the head of the black Beetle nip into the middle of the street, not at the corner, not while signaling, but while I was passing in the bike lane.  I heard my own shriek, the squeal of the tires, the crunching of the bike against the car and the thud of my own weight hitting the ground. Then for a brief moment: silence.

As I began to hear the worried sounds of inquiry around me, familiar and not, for a brief moment I contemplated whether I should just get right up and stop being a baby. Then the fact that a car had just hit me registered and I felt like I never wanted to get up, like I wanted to pass out into a sound sleep and wake up somewhere better, anywhere but lying face down in the middle of the street hit by a car.

But reality is as impatient as traffic blocked by a human barricade. “Am I OK?” I couldn’t breath. I felt terrified. I truthfully had no idea whether my head, torso or limbs were in tact – everything hurt. I had no idea how I’d fallen or landed just that I had: my eyes were open for part and closed right around the time I knew I wasn’t going to make it staying on my bike – the blood and guts part of the movie. Pass. If I had lost consciousness it would have been an indication of a more serious injury, but without this consequence I wish I had no memory of the crash.

Without the memory I wouldn’t constantly relive the experience asking myself if I could have somehow avoided the car, which I’ve been reassured tenfold by my riding partner, who gave a statement to the police, that there was absolutely nothing I could do. If the crash was inevitable what does this mean about cycling and how will I ever get on a bicycle again?

I admit it’s the first thing I thought of when the EMT’s put the neck brace on me, then strapped me to the board and put me in the ambulance. I felt unsettled as I rattled off an embarrassingly lengthy medical history to the doctors who prodded and pulled at me, while nurses stripped me naked in a room full of people. To preserve the integrity of the neck brace I had to urinate horizontal into a bedpan, like I was wetting the bed. Try unlearning that tradition. The whole time I was unsettled by thoughts not so much of “Why did this happen to me?” but “This happened to me, so is this going to happen to me again?” with fear and a loss of hope.

Biking has brought so much joy to my life. It’s not just good exercise but it has helped me considerably in shedding some difficult to lose pounds that wouldn’t budge with other regular exercise and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the results. After losing my business and finding out my mother had a brain tumor my long rides through Marin and soothing ferry rides home were immensely therapeutic and swelled me with pride compared to my first fumbling attempt in heels only 5 months before. Being outdoors, feeling so connected to nature was so new and enlightening for a city girl. There’s never been a time in my life where I spent so much of my days around tall trees, green grass, unobstructed sky and calm water. To be writing and photographing this blog reignited a talent I thought would die as I left my career as a fashion editor. My fiance and I bonded over the shared time we spent together in this new healthy weekend lifestyle. But was it worth this?

My neck and head hurt like the hangover from a night of a dozen mojitos AND a bottle of champagne. And in what felt like the chokehold from one of Lady Gaga’s concert headpieces I sensed soreness in my neck like the night I was rear-ended by a drunk driver and later found I had whiplash. When Morphine doesn’t make you feel better, you worry. My fiancé stood looking down at me and all I could do was stare back up at him. I wasn’t sure if I had succeeded in getting away unscathed because of the obviously unbroken bones. The lingering question in my heart was whether I was if I was ever going to be safe if I ever climbed on top of another bicycle.  I saw the urgency with which the medical professionals treated me. What were they expecting, I wondered?

Demo riding my dream bike in the same protective gear that saved me from bloody scrapes and scratches.

I wanted to tell him to find a way to cancel my $3000 dream road bike I’d gone to incredible lengths to get my hands on. I was afraid to tell him I never wanted to get on a bicycle in my life ever again. So I didn’t speak. I just looked up at him and let the tears roll down the sides of my face while the thoughts circled the drain inside my mind.

My self and skin (aside from my face) were unscathed as a result of this protective clothing that remained in tact - a North Face jacket, Specialized pants, Fox gloves and a Giro helmet.

Anything that involves spending six hours in an emergency room sucks (unless it’s where you work. Bless your hearts, I saw the other patients screaming there – whoah!) I have insulation from riding gloves, full-length riding pants, a long sleeve coat and a GIRO helmet, I would bet my life on, to thank for suffering no serious injuries other than strain to my neck, head pain and some bruising and scratches to my face (that aren’t too ugly). Whether you are religious or not, believe me that God blesses bikers with helmets on. Those riding without helmets (or as I call them “organ donors”) might as well tape their organ donor cards to their foreheads – dingbats!


(The helmet AFTER the head-first landing onto the street – minor scratches! Talk about a lifesaver. However, according to Bicycling Magazine June 2010’s article ‘Post-Crash Checklist’ you should replace your helmet after one hit unless you own a multi-impact helmet. “Even if there’s no visible damage to the shell the foam layer’s ability to protect your noggin from future hits has been compromised.” Although you can check whether your helmet has a replacement policy.

As for my relationship with cars and bikes I would be lying if I told you we’re all good now that I know I’m in the clear . . . this time. This time was my first fall.  Recognizing that the incident was not my fault and I had no way of preventing it means coming to the conclusion that the fall was inevitable and unlikely to be my last. The bike accident in your future is inevitable too. It would seem that throwing the unpredictability of bad drivers, unforeseen obstacles, lousy road work, even other overly aggressive cyclists into the mix, and like riding horses, ride for long enough and as probability will have it you will fall off your bike. The difference between a few minor scratches you might just peddle away from and a Christopher Reeves like fate (Duh (a.) helmet), riding less aggressively with greater care and caution could save you from a grizzlier fate. After all, just how much of a hurry are you really in? In which case six hours at the hospital will certainly slow you down.

Another cyclist approaching the scene of my accident.

I sincerely hope my relationship with my bike, love of biking and ability to ride will not change from this experience. As soon as my bike and I are medically able, I plan to get back on the horse. (I also call my bike Horsey. And Horsey ripped the side-view mirror off the Beetle that hit me because Horsey fights back. Not to worry the owner will paying for her damages, mine and my medical expenses. Let that be a lesson to you drivers.) Only when I ride I will do so with a newfound appreciation that in a face-off between car and bike, car always wins. Cars, like teenage girls, behave erratically, irrationally and more often than not are unremorseful for their actions. Car still wins. So in my newly formed rapport with this beast I will not just look out for oncoming traffic but keep an eye out for those “girls behaving badly” too. I’ll let you know how it feels getting back on the road.

Our Stories: “Mommy what’s a bike douche?”

You’ve heard us refer to the “bike douche” constantly along our travels because this particular brand of biker never ceases to amaze us with their lack of common decency, concept of acceptable social behavior (or lack thereof), and fundamentally warped spatial awareness and mathematical understanding (i.e. when a line of eight people are trying to cross through a narrow passage on the bridge does it make sense to try and pass them when there’s oncoming traffic in the other direction?)

How do you define a bike douche? They come in all shapes and sizes, (racing) colors and ages and they’re EVERYWHERE. . . so I suppose the more important question to ask yourself is:

Am I a bike douche?

1.) Do you bark out “On your left!” with hostility to put fear into every person you pass even when there is ample passing space and reverberate with a secret sense of joy every time you do because being faster makes you a better person?

2.) Do you have more than one matching helmet to shoe-cover “bike couture” outfit that you wear out on ordinary weekends for no other reason than for people to infer that your matchy-matchy glory makes you “bigger, better, faster, stronger” . . . or are you just primed for that chance side-by-side picture opp with Lance Armstrong that you dream about at night?

3.) Did you invest more money in the carbon fiber goddess that you affectionate call “Baby” (a.k.a. your bike) than your car . . . that you drive to work? (Assuming that you do work and don’t just terrorize cyclists.)

4.) When another cyclist or pedestrian smiles at you on a multi-use path do you think the socially acceptable convention and appropriate response is to growl, grimace or grunt at them . . . because in an ideal world they wouldn’t even exist on your path?

5.) When another cyclist is attempting to pass you do you think the most productive and logical solution is to speed up to make it more difficult for them to do so? Do you think they are covertly trying to drag race you? Therefore would letting someone pass you make you less of a person?

6.) Is biking at your fastest anytime, all the time more important than anything else? Is it paramount to causing traffic accidents, forcing bikers into fences, stationary objects or OFF THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, causing people to be thrown off their bikes, resulting breaking of bikes, injuring someone or otherwise ruining their day, putting people off biking altogether, making people lose faith in humanity, etc.? Is not caring about other bikers what gets you through the day?

7.) Do you consider your “training” of the utmost importance even though it is for no particular reason or goal except simply a hope that someday you’ll qualify for some currently unknown event that will make it all worthwhile – or as we like to call it ‘Le Tour de Douche’?

8.) Do you joy in offering mock encouragement to others such as “Oh keep going, don’t worry you’ll make it!” on minor obstacles such as small hills to reinforce your superiority? (And did that biker reply with “Bite me!”? Nice to meet you.)

9) Does reading this make you feel guilty, defensive or uncomfortable? Do you feel like you need a drink, cigarette or shower right now?

If you answered YES to one or more of these questions you could be a BIKE DOUCHE. But fret not for therapy comes as cheap as $40 by renting a comfort hybrid, complete with front saddle bag and brightly colored helmet. Put on your jeans and a t-shirt to look like a cycling tourist and witness bike douches behaving at their worst to the fine people visiting our fair city. It just might change your life.

On a serious note Jon and I had completely different experiences riding different rentals that cemented our belief in this bike culture. When we rented the comfort bikes and even on our current hybrids we’ve been yelled at and taken advantage of by bikers who think they’re better than us and try to take advantage of the situation without realizing that it’s more dangerous to do so around people with less experience. On a $3000 road bike I was blatantly given more respect and treated with courtesy. It was an appalling double standard considering I was no better of a biker that day than the day before or the day after. We too get frustrated by tourists with less experience but we have patience. While we might make fun, in the end you are a bike douche if your biking puts other people’s safety in jeopardy, you frighten or terrorize people with your voice or riding, you make other’s riding less enjoyable for the sake of your own or you’re just plain douchey.

We like to bike, so don’t be a bike douche.