Originally published on LeanOnWe.com, Nov 27, 2020
Peloton, the definition: “A pack of bicyclists saving energy by riding close to other riders. The reduction in drag is dramatic. In the middle of a well-developed group, drag can be reduced to as little as 5-10 percent.”
My family has been making good use of the pandemic quarantine to focus on fitness and we have a Peloton in the basement to help do that. That’s Peloton, the stationary bike — not peloton, the group of cyclists.
The timing is, of course, more than coincidental. If we are all going to be cooped up together, we may as well have something to do. But it also brings a sense of community with other indoor cyclists, which is hard to come by with virtual engagement.
I’m of two minds on the Peloton. I can’t ride one as a paraplegic, but I have always been into fitness, so anything that gets you moving and sweating is good in my book. You see, I used to be an avid outdoor bicyclist. To me, working out exclusively indoors with an online instructor just doesn’t feel right.
Yes, I had done some cycling at home and some spinning classes at the gym. But what I really loved was being outdoors and riding on the road with a group of friends.
I relished the sensation of getting in a paceline on a Saturday morning, experiencing the brisk early morning air, and pushing myself to keep up with other cyclists who were invariably stronger.
I rationalized that away by telling myself they were stronger because I worked longer hours and commuted to the city, and couldn’t get out for a weekday suburban ride the way those non-commuters did. To make sure I kept up with the pack, I had to make do with cycling at home, spinning in the gym, and weight training.
For me, stationary cycling was a means to an end. That end wasn’t measuring me against the others in a virtual class. Spinning classes were competitive but it was just me, myself, and I pushing to improve my fitness. It was my own virtual competition getting me tuned up for the real competition on the road.
My entire focus was about not getting dropped on the road during the next time I was in the peloton — the pack, not the bike.
Then disaster struck.
While cycling on a beautiful Saturday afternoon during Thanksgiving weekend nine years ago, an oncoming SUV veered into me. At that moment, I was doing exactly what I was usually doing. My legs were pumping for all they were worth and my eyes were glued to the rear wheel of the rider in front of me.
As always, I was focused on just one thought: Ron, don’t get dropped.
My buddy ahead of me was pulling me home. Then I heard him scream. I looked up and saw an oncoming SUV from the other side of the road barreling towards us — without braking. All I could focus on was sitting up tall so my head wouldn’t bear the brunt of what was sure to be a debilitating impact.
The accident was one of those one-in-a-million occurrences — I mean what are the odds that at the very moment I was riding by, a driver would fall asleep on a sunny afternoon and lose control of her SUV?
I woke up from an induced coma a few weeks later in the ICU, permanently paralyzed with a spinal cord injury.
I had tried sharing my love of outdoor cycling with my daughters but alas they had minds of their own. They found many competitive interests to keep them moving — soccer, basketball, dance, gymnastics, and lacrosse to name a few. That was great, since I was really trying to demonstrate the value of getting out and getting moving, and that they did.
I am now thankful my daughters chose not to take up road cycling. It would have been one more thing for a dad to worry about.
But now riding a Peloton has taken a life of its own. It’s not about riding at home to improve endurance on the road. Now it’s just about the Peloton.
Last year, our eldest took to Peloton cycling, using a generous corporate perk that gave employees a stipend for fitness pursuits. I was happy to see she found cycling in her own way. When the pandemic hit, she, her fiance´, and our youngest moved back home. As the inexorable quarantine continued, they decided the only way to survive was having a Peloton to ride. But the Peloton was stuck in their unused apartment. They mutually decided that a pandemic is no time to be without a stationary bike and brought it to the suburbs.
Even my 97-year-old father-in-law regularly rides the Peloton. Unbelievable. Possibly the eldest Peloton rider in the world.
Perhaps Peloton was particularly prescient. The company tapped into a thirst for a virtual tour de force along with companionship, camaraderie, and competition, well before we imagined a virus snuffing out our ability to join the pack on the road. And though I can no longer ride as part of either the outdoor or indoor Peloton, harnessing the power of both never ceases to intrigue me.