I suppose perfecting sourdough would have been a safer pandemic hobby, but it wasn’t mine. No, I took up cycling — the fast kind with a feather-light bike and clip-in pedals. I certainly wasn’t alone. Bikes were flying off shelves as people looked for ways to stay active outside. But this was about more than just looking for a way to exercise. With the world on lockdown, biking felt like a form of rebellion.
COVID-19 infected everything. My job was spent telling the stories of the virus and when I wasn’t working, life was spent managing it. But not on a bike. I chose how long I rode, where I went and how fast I got there. The only limit was my own fitness and I could control that, too.
There are some real barriers to entry. You need a bike and then you need to know how to ride clipped in. Doing it for the first time is scary, because it’s risky. The risk is part of the thrill. It also can lead to some embarrassment. There was that Saturday morning that I unclipped my right foot, preparing to stop. Then when the bike stopped, I tried to stand on my left foot, still securely attached to the pedal. In slow motion, in front of (what felt like) thousands of people, I toppled over in the middle of the street. Thankfully, I guess, the humiliation was worse than the fall.
I chose how long I rode, where I went and how fast I got there. The only limit was my own fitness and I could control that, too.
With some practice, I gained confidence and started venturing farther. In New York City, the best place to ride is outside of New York City. Cyclists in the dozens, and even hundreds on the weekend, bike over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. From there the world opens up. My rides went from 20 to 30 to even 100 miles (just that once).
I spent the first COVID summer in Connecticut and the riding just got better and better. My brother has been cycling for years and with him as my guide I cruised through beautiful country roads nearly every day. I was hooked. There was a fleeting moment when moving out of the city permanently felt like a good idea. Fleeting.
Instead, I went back to Manhattan and joined the New York Cycle Club. Riding in a group is a lot more fun than riding alone. After a cold and snowy winter, I was thrilled to get back out there this spring. I signed up for my first ride in March, 65 miles over the bridge with about 50 riders.
Overly eager that morning, I took off with the lead group. I had no business riding with them. By the time we hit eight miles, I was getting dropped. It was in that moment, tearing down a hill, looking at the riders up ahead and not paying attention to the road, that I hit it — a pothole grabbed the front wheel and threw the bike, with me on it, down hard. I slid along the pavement. My head hit and my face dragged.
I crashed in front of a house in suburban New Jersey. The owners thankfully saw the whole thing and called 911. Tenafly police officers got there fast, followed by an ambulance. The scene was grim. My face was a mess and so were my hands. My helmet was cracked clear through in two different places. When I got to the emergency room the doctor said to me in the kind of casual tone you would expect from a guy who sees dozens of people like me over the course of the biking season, “Your helmet looks like this so your head doesn’t have to.”
The injuries looked gruesome but what’s most important is what didn’t happen to me. I didn’t break any bones. I didn’t lose any teeth. I didn’t get a concussion. That’s the big one. The helmet did its job.
I did get nine stitches above my left eye and three in my left hand. My thumb needed surgery because I tore a ligament. I looked like a prize fighter for a couple weeks. On the street people stared with a mix of disgust, curiosity and a touch of admiration. It’s not a good look in my line of work.
My 8-year-old daughter was pretty candid. “Mommy,” she said, “Maybe you should stick to the Peloton.” I have since picked up the bike from the police department and it is in remarkably good shape. I need a new helmet. The daughter has wisdom beyond her years, but the chances of me not getting back on that bike are about as good as me perfecting sourdough.
CORRECTION (April 27, 2022, 8:30 a.m.): An earlier headline on this story incorrectly stated that Gosk had been in an accident while on a bridge. The accident was not on a bridge.