A Lakewood Biker’s Memoir: Of 50 Pounds And 2,200 Miles

bikingBy: Aaron Joseph. Last year I hit a new milestone. No, it was not a proud one, nor one that I wanted to show off. I had no choice however and could not hide it. I had hit the 230 pound milestone. For anybody under six feet tall, like myself, 230 pounds is hefty. It is certainly unseemly, and as all are aware, quite unhealthy. With each forkful of food pressure mounted, quite literally, to do something about it. With family and close friends seemingly out to try and shrink me with choice words, I realized that I must take the initiative. And so I did.
On May 30th, 2010, I went to Wal-Mart and bought a bike for $89.00. (Plus tax)
2200 miles, three bike tubes and one back tire later (+1 year); I’m down at 180 pounds.
Think about it. I mean there was last year’s Shevuos cheesecake, which I ate of generously; after all, I was planning on biking. There was Milichig meals all throughout the 9 days. There was Rosh Hashona and Sukkos, and of course Chanuka parties galore. Did I mention Shabbos? I held back from nothing. O.K. its true I didn’t go overboard. But I did not feel bad or guilty eating like a Mentch- Azoy Men Daf Tzu Ziyn. And of course those with choice words- well ran out of them!
Although nearly a year of biking had gone by with this past Pesach’s arrival, I was a bit apprehensive. An unusual Pesach diet, and well you know, all that Matzah, created a “new” biker’s unknown factor. But in retrospect there was nothing to worry about. I cannot honestly say that I actually lost any weight over Yom Tov, but I certainly did not noticeably gain any. And yes- I ate galore; chocolate, a good few bars. And of course my favorite: Rainbow Cookies; a whole box on my own, although not in one sitting. Naturally there was the universal obligation and founding Pesach staple of Matzah; all it’s required Shiurim, and then some.
Fifty pounds in the course of a year is a feat. It does require near consistent dedication and scheduling, but think about the benefits. I feel well, B”H, look a bit more fit, and occasionally chew a bit loudly so as to harass those whose choice words a year ago should have been recorded so as to benefit them now! I also came to realize and befriend a few more of G-d’s creations along the way, this, perhaps, the greatest achievement.
I can vividly recall my first bike ride. It was short and bittersweet.Yes I needed to stay healthy- but good heavens, I thought I was having a heart attack. I had purchased a speedometer/odometer and so noticed that after about a third of a mile I was sufficiently out of breath. By around a half-mile I was sweating profusely, and mind you it was not a very hot day. I definitely stopped to rest before a full mile passed, and was back home before the small gadget registered 2 miles. My first bike ride was complete. I was ache all over, was exhausted and needed a shower and a rest, which if I remember correctly happened in the reverse order.
Three days later, and still very much charley-horse I ventured out again. I did not log each of those first trips, yet recall that for about two weeks or so I did not do more then about 3 miles a day. It was not easy. One great benefit is however, that when your body is not used to exercise and you actually do some, you suddenly drop weight quite quickly. In those first two weeks I lost over five pounds. I was ecstatic. The sense of accomplishment was “universally” acknowledged, and the impetus to bike a bit longer was kindled.
With a renewed vigor, I extended my 20 minute and seemingly lengthy bike ride to a half an hour and nearly 5 miles. I was no longer panting after five minutes, and actually began to enjoy those moments of personal investment and contemplation. My fear of cars within a half mile of me decreased enough that I was for the first time able to appreciate the scenery around me, and my average speed moved up from about 8 miles an hour to about 10.
Soon enough I realized that I had stopped looking down at the speed gadget every few seconds. One reason being, that as my bike passed 100 miles the thousandths decimal point, my very own personal “accomplishment” meter, disappeared into posterity; so as to make room for the 1 in the hundreds column. But hey- no sweat- as 100 miles was something. So was 7 pounds.
As July began and the accompanying ever-hot weather, I occasionally opted for some cautionary and prepared night rides. Extreme heat (95+) coupled with even moderate humidity is a serious detracting factor while biking. In fact- some warned me it was downright dangerous. I wanted to conserve on water as well. While the extreme heat saw me opt for night rides, there were plenty of beautiful 4 bottles of water days that I was able to ride as well.
I cannot extol the gorgeous creations of our creator enough. Suffice it to say that if a cloudless deep blue sky amid dark green shades of summer, with an all-the-while gentle cascade of warm air rushing your face would be rated as a 10+, even a cloudy day in the 70’s would cast a new gardener spell with each peddle, and earn a resounding 7.5. This mind you- all in Lakewood, or its outer and beautiful rural realm. The scenery is simply splendid as is the magnificent aura of tweeting birds and the sweet cut grass scent of the surrounding outdoors environment.
Farmlands framed golden amongst sunshine casting a blaze through endless rainbows of serene foliage. Parks abounding with manicured venues. A simple trip around the lake’s gleaming waters vividly mirroring “nature” in all its majestic glory. One is certain to be consciously embraced by G-D and His charming wonders.
This of course while fortified with countless bottles of Poland Spring water; a mainstay and necessity. I personally require about one 16oz bottle per about 7 miles on an average summer’s day.   
With the beauty of the days dawning upon each ride, and the personal satisfaction of watching my belt gain notches and my clothes grow like Jack’s beanstalk, I simply could not curtail my drive and eagerly extended my bike rides. 45 minutes very quickly turned into an hour. Ever so soon I was “getting lost” for nearly an hour and a half at a time, although admittedly, not every day. However, I biked at least three, and for most of the summer-, four times a week.
By the end of August, and without anymore consciously invested effort, I had already dropped 25 pounds. This was by doing something that at first was surely suicidal, and of which I had originally held in contempt. I mean, aside for the actual physical workout- which for the first few weeks left me exhausted- there was always the time factor.
Psychologically time is important. Who in their right mind can afford to squander time as a ten year old would? It is no secret that there are always a million and one really important things encroaching on every sane second a responsible person must tend to. Yet soon enough I realized that those preciously invested moments in healthy exercise allowed for the remainder of my schedule to seemingly feel a lot better and fulfilling. And so, as if in full-circle, those moments balancing on two wheels garnered an ever more appreciative, and may I say rarified quality.
As a vividly colorful and scenic fall gave way to winter, my  simple zip up sweater was joined by a twin, and then soon enough reinforced by a pore-less windbreaker. Gloves helped the intensely cold days as well as a scarf and ski mask. I found the icy air invigorating, but far from ideal. The bitter strong winds, which are far more intense between December and March, as well as the difficulty breathing iced-air, reduced my once twenty-five mile rides to just six or seven miles. I discovered though, that the challenge and exertion during those winter months far offset the curtailed distance and limited time spent riding.
So I labored during those momentous snowy weeks. I did miss nearly two weeks during the blizzard days. Safety is always paramount. It dawned on me then, after just a few days of being unable to wheel about, just how much bike riding had become a vital part of my routine. I was simply not feeling well without the biking. Not that I was putting on weight outright, nor was I actually sick, yet my body simply require that adventurous outlet. This by now special activity was something that it had already happily participated in and peddled for over 1,500 happy miles; and now was sorely missing. Biking was something I had come to expect with anticipation.
This- something that at first seemed suicidal- now turned to something I had grown to truly enjoy.
Now as my happy first anniversary together with my well-used bike approaches, I would like to encourage all readers to shake a leg. Go out and buy a bike. A good new bike like mine and one which thus far has rolled 2,200 miles, can be purchased for under $100. That’s less then 5 cents a mile per year. Which by-the-way creates the happy economic scenario of: the more you use your bike the more value you get for your money! I am told that cheaper used and perhaps better bikes can be found each Sunday at the local Lakewood flea market.
While bike routes have yet to be formally established in this ever flourishing city, surely the tremendous benefits of biking, promotes cause for at least a try at the sport, and the original challenge of creating your own route.
It is true one cannot very well give a lift to people waiting on 7th street. (Although I have faith that somebody will come up with an Aitza for that as well!) Yet blood pressure would surely drop just by avoiding the traffic and parking scene altogether. And if too many biking spots should just so happen to challenge the Hanhala of Yeshiva, or the Clifton Avenue Merchants Association, – nu, so they’ll have another challenge to figure out.
Biking is healthy, very much so, and would surely have you feeling much better in days. I recommend wearing a helmet as well. Not so much for your own personal safety, which it can increase. But so as to provide a rolling example to all those younger amateurs whom are less experienced and perhaps more hard headed!
Get a bike. Give the phenomenon a try. You will benefit from and surely appreciate it.
PS. Training wheels can still be purchased!

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  1. It’s not fair! I also used to love bike riding, but, being a woman, it would very unseemly for me to be riding my bike around town. It would save lots of gas if I could commute to work and shopping this way as well as benefit my health. What do other readers have to say about this?

  2. Congratulations! I’ve been contemplating getting a bike and going riding for fitness and enjoyment purposes for a long time but just haven’t done it. Thanks for sharing your success story. I’m wondering what time of day you dedicated to this. Also what kind of schedule are you on overall? Are you in yeshiva….are you an employee….are you self employed…what’s you story? How do you fit in those long bike rides?

  3. A great story and a lesson everyone in this town should take.

    Sadly, getting out and exercising, be it walking, running or biking is mostly considered “modern” and no acceptable in this town. I run around the lake every day and I have so much nachas when I see the few brave frum men and women who walk/run/bike. After all, before there were mitzvos, before there were halachos, there was the statement from hashem that we were made in his image. What more important deed could we have than to protect our bodies and preserve his holy image with healthy eating and exercise.

    Enjoy your day!

  4. Walking and Running are beneficial as well. In fact, running has shown to be the most effective exercise.

    Congratulations to the author for his very inspiring journey to health and happiness.

  5. Your self discipline is truly amazing! We are in awe of what u have accomplished. Would u consider challenging yourself to the next level and joining our group of seasoned cyclists on an invigorating 150 uphill ride to Camp Simcha to benefit Chai Lifeline campers? Visit us @ bike4chai today for the ultimate biking experience. Thank you!

  6. I echo the words of #6.

    I have a bike and wanted to begin biking(maybe not as “seriously” as the writer) but if I did I likely would be going up and down the roads near my home. I’d love some more scenic routes. Please post-Thanks.

  7. saves quite a bit on parking spaces, parking tickets, etc.
    Also, biking and losing weight makes you feel a sense of control of your life

  8. The bike man that comes every Wednesday from Monsey told me that he loves the Walmart bikes because they’re a piece of junk and people always come to have them repaired! I bought a Schwinn bicycle in Target. Its an excellent bike. (Target will service the bike for 90 days at no charge)

  9. I too being a women would love to bike ride. I feel it is better tznius wise than some of these women that walk very fast. I grew up out of town and rode a bike till I got married.

  10. Your dedication is so admirable – I am really amazed at what you accomplished – I have been trying to exercise daily, and it is such a struggle!!!

  11. You should really join us, your story reminds me of myself. I (try to) bike 60 miles a week and I so far lost 10 pounds and counting. A good ride is to Brielle Cyclery in Brielle, NJ. It’s about 15 miles each way and they have discounts for bike4chai riders! They are very nice and will help u find a bike that suits u. There is one downside though… The entry level road bike is about $750…

  12. I am also a woman and love bike riding and I feel for a tzniusdik woman, riding a bike is more tzniusdik than the way some people look altogether. I think it is a bit extreme.

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