By Kelly McCord
“What enjoyment to a cramped and warped woman’s life is the whirl of the wheel, bringing back as it does God’s gift of health. and the memories of childhoods delight in out of door activity. With a sense also of rest to the brain, and by raising the thoughts in gratitude above the household cares and drudgery, it gives a woman for one brief while the chance to rejoice in the feeling of liberty and delight in her own strength.” –From “Wheelwoman” (1896)
Four years ago I woke up and realized I was in a horrible marriage. I had to get out—my life depended on it. Mentally, I was at an all time low and sticking my head in the oven seemed like a good idea. My weight was at an all time high at 235. Without warning I made my move and spent the next year living in battered women’s shelters with my two young daughters. We finally settled down in Austin, Texas, the music capital of the world.
Our time began to run out at the shelter, and I had to get my shit together. I wanted to stay in Austin, and if you’ve ever been here you know why. Everyday I took the bus from one end of the city to the other trying to find a job. As you probably know, there are an awful lot of Fruitloops who use public transportation and I seem to attract them all. I’ve been told I have a kind face and open demeanor, but this was getting real old, real quick.
Then I remembered I once had a friend who worked at a bike shop in town. The first thing he did when we reunited was begin to build me a bike. It was a 1987 Mongoose Hilltopper. I thought at the time, “Great, I’ll use the bike until I save enough money to buy a car...”
The first ride my friend took me on was a lesson on how to ride in traffic. It was the middle of summer, maybe 100° F or more, and I thought I was going to die. He really did a number on me, and thinking back I never would have chosen a 15-mile ride in traffic as a maiden voyage. That night, after I tucked my girls into bed at the shelter, I took a moment to reflect. With my new bike propped against the wall, a sense of peace and renewed optimism came over me.
The next day I found a job. I was hired on the spot at Jamba Juice right in the middle of downtown. I soon found out that my store was a hub for bike messengers—a place where they rested and waited for calls. I became fast friends with most of them. They worried about me and my bad habits in traffic, and would flinch watching me ride downtown. The first time I rode in with my headphones on you would have thought I had kicked a whole litter of puppies. The messengers chastised me, but they began to school me in bike culture, too. Knowing that I could actually live, work and play from the seat of a bike was mind altering. I didn’t even want a car anymore! After a few months of drinking all my meals at Jamba Juice and commuting 10 miles a day, I was down to 165—less than I weighed in high school. I became addicted to cycling, and the only days i felt depressed were the days I didn’t ride. Living in the shelter was full of grief and despair.
Soon my kids and I moved into our own apartment that I carefully selected within five miles of work, school and the grocery store. I bought a used bike-trailer and trekked the girls, the groceries, the cats—you name it—all around Austin.
These days the girls are too big for the bike trailer and sometimes they ask, “Mom, when are we going to get a car?”
I always respond, “When you’re old enough to get a job and buy your own.” But the joke’s on them—by that time there won’t be any fossil fuels left to burn. So they might as well get used to a car-free life.
What started with that 87-Mongoose has grown into a fleet. The Mongoose eventually got custom paint, whitewall tires and a spiffy retro seat. She’s a real pretty city-bike now. Another wonderful friend of mine gave me a Cannondale mountain bike that I lovingly refer to as My Boy, Blue. I made him into a sort of hybrid with skinny tires and cushy seat. Then there’s My Precious—The Gitane.
One day the girls and I were in Goodwill and they called, “Come look, Mom, we found you a bike!”
They do this all the time when we go to thrift stores, but its never a worthy find. But this time we scored big. I bought the 1976 Gitane Tour De France and I took her back to my friend, the mechanic. He easily brought the 30-year-old bike back to life, and when he was done even the original Houston registration tag was intact. And now I know the joys of vintage steel road bike with a Brooks saddle.
Today I’m the manager of the very same Jamba Juice that I walked into as a homeless person three years ago, and my interest in cycling has manifested into a monthly column in Austin’s WHOOPSY magazine called BIKE CITY. Plus, how many moms do you know that can pull a decent trackstand?
Cycling saved my life. It’s given me a healthy addiction and a new lease on life. My greatest ambition, besides raising my beautiful daughters, is to let other people know that, “YES, you CAN completely reverse your life for the better.” Just get on a bike and go!