My Cycling Origin Story 1

I received some emails this week from readers and one of them expressed an interest in finding out more about my cycling experience and how long I’ve been doing this. At first, I thought I may have covered this in a previous post but when I looked back, none of my posts really got into the fine details of how I got started with cycling and then eventually lead up to bicycle touring.

Like many blockbuster movie prequels out there, here is my cycling origin story. I think talking about all the bikes I’ve ever owned will give you a pretty good idea.

Me, between 3 and 4 years old.

Me, between 3 and 4 years old. Sadly, no photos with me on a bike.

My Childhood

Like so many other people, my dad was the one who taught me how to ride a bike. It all started with a small single speed, coaster brake, yellow bike that he bought at a swap meet. The wheels were made of a plastic rubber blend where you did not need to inflate them. They would chalk the floor black when you skid and slid on them. It had a banana seat and the top tube dipped down for a step-through format indicative of a girl’s bike.

I learned on training wheels for quite some time until my dad thought I was ready to be a big boy and did the typical lesson of just pushing the bike, running alongside. I picked it up really quick and got the hang of it. I used to ride this bike all over our house and neighboring sidewalks until I completely outgrew it.

The BMX Huffy

I eventually received a really cool metallic coated BMX Huffy. It had blue mag (plastic) wheels with matching blue tires with a coaster brake. It was exactly what I wanted after watching E.T. and seeing the bike chase scene where Elliot and his pals were riding their own BMX bikes. It was around that time that my next-door neighbor, who was much older me, was riding a BMX bike, too. His was a GT with the gyro headset where the wires would not be tangled even if you spun the handlebar 360 degrees. This allowed the rider to do all sorts of tricks and stunts. I eyed him with envy as he practiced his tricks in the backyard. My fondest moment on that bike was trick or treating during Halloween with my friends and their bikes.

Not my bike but you get the idea. Photo Credit: Laser Burners via Compfight cc

Not my bike but this was what it looked like. Photo Credit: Laser Burners via Compfight cc

The 10-Speed Schwinn

I eventually graduated to my first 10-speed bike. It was a red Schwinn, probably a Varsity. The bike was most likely too big for me, but I still rode it around. This was in my early highschool years.

I remembered that I pushed my boundaries and took several bike rides to far-away places like the mall (9 miles) and Toys R Us store (5 miles). At that age to be going somewhere that wasn’t school and unsupervised was a big deal.

I used to ride it over to my friend’s house down the road, leave it in his backyard, and caught a ride to school in the back of his brother’s pick-up truck. The laws were much more relaxed back then!

Unfortunately, the bike was stolen from his backyard one day. The bike was quickly forgotten as the pressure of high school started to push my attention away from biking to driving.

My College Years

When I got into college, one of the things I begged my dad for was a new bike. My justification was that the campus was so much bigger that it would take me forever to walk from one end to another (in reality, I lived on campus and if I needed to get to class, I had to wake up earlier).

The Hybrid Nishiki

He finally obliged and I got my first hybrid Nishiki bike from a local bike shop. It was green colored and had flat handlebars like a mountain bike. I rode the bike around campus and even did a trip out to the beach (4 miles) while enduring the toughest hills Newport Beach, California had to offer.

As the first year of my college life came to an end, I went out one day and saw my bike missing from the bike rack. Both bike and lock were missing. Without the lock, I couldn’t make any claims to recover the cost of the bike.

Specialized Rockhopper

The Specialized Rockhopper

During my third year in college, I had moved into an apartment building located 2 miles outside of campus. Naturally, I needed another bike to get between school and home. Instead of asking my dad for money to buy a bike, I did the next best thing: I paid for it using one of the many credit cards I got from the credit card companies (bad idea). I went to the bike store near school and picked out a shiny new Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike. It costed about $700.

It was my prized possession for a while as I did use it to ride between home and school for about 2 years. But when I moved closer to campus, it was no longer needed and I stopped riding it.

My Adulthood

8 years had passed when I finally dusted off the Rockhopper in hopes to train for my first triathlon. I was asked to join our work team while I was working for NBC Universal in 2008. Even with the tires swapped out for thinner road tires, I was having a tough time keeping up with the rest of my co-workers on their sleek road bikes.

Nishiki Fixed Gear

The Fixie Nishiki

While I searched for my own road bike, I was catapulted into the Los Angeles bicycling culture. I was gifted an old Nishiki road bike by a friend and I learned how to convert it to a fixed gear bike as that was the latest craze. The bike has since been sold after I gave it to Sang Hyun, my brother-in-law. It was then when my life began to diverge from home and work to biking. I had met so many good people during this time as I learned about biking in LA and fixing my own bikes at the local bicycle co-op, BikeOven (Facebook). It was the bike that had brought me new friends, took me out to see Los Angeles in a whole new way that I’ve never seen it, and questioned my own values in life. What I mean by that last point was that biking provides so many benefits without really using any natural resources. This realization created a good foundation for me.

LeMond Reno

My Stolen Bike

LeMond Reno

I eventually took the plunge and bought myself a proper road bike for my triathlon races. This was a super fun bike to ride during my training and the races. I raced one more triathlon the following year before I decided that racing wasn’t bringing me any joy and started to look into travel by bike. I had taken various social rides around the city and it reminded me how riding a bike to sight-see places is the best way to see the world. And thus, the beginning of my wanderlust on my bike. As for the Reno, you may have already read in the earlier post.  It was stolen in 2013 right off the front of the bus during my commute home.

Longtail touring bicycle.

Longtail touring bicycle.

The First Tour

The Xtracycle

During these formidable years, I got to know how to take apart and put bikes back together. I was so confident that I did my own tune-ups on my bike and decided I needed an Xtracycle attachment to haul cargo and groceries. This was attached to my old Specialized Rockhopper. There’s something about having a cargo bike that makes you happy to be able to transport so much stuff on your bicycle. I took advantage of this and bought car loads of stuff and was in pure delight to be able to haul it home. I even met other folks who had Xtracycles, and we started talking about taking tours with them.

These conversations became my first tour in 2009 when my buddy Jeremy and I took our first multi-day ride from Los Angeles to Cachuma Lake and back from December 28th to the 31st. It was a record-breaking trip. Many firsts and many tough situations. I practically collapsed on my bed when I got home New Years Eve. Read more about it on my earlier blog posts.

Even though I had a tough time during that trip, it didn’t deter me from continuing on with future trips. I eventually signed up for a longer ride from San Francisco to Santa Monica for the Arthritis Foundation on their California Coast Classic ride that they host every year. I had such a great time, I did it again the following year in 2011. After that trip ended, I wanted to go on more adventures. This time carrying all our belongings with us. That was the reason why I went out and bought my first touring bike and sold the Rockhopper Xtracycle.

Little did I know that this was just the beginning of my climbs.

Little did I know that this was just the beginning of my climbs.

Pivotal Moments in Life

There have been a few pivotal moments in my life that I turned to a passion and pursued it until I succeeded in it. The first was when I changed my major in college from Economics to Computer Science. The Internet was at its infancy and the IRC chat rooms were the latest craze. This fascinated me and in a matter of a few months, I bought and ripped apart computer systems and changed my major. It felt right and it paid off in huge dividends in terms of landing me a good paying job and laid out the foundation for a successful post graduation career.

The second pivotal moment was when I rediscovered biking. This changed my world around and lifted the veil away from my eyes. On the bike, I met genuine people, I got fit, I saw more of the world, I was self-reliant, and I was much happier. It had led me in directions I would have never thought it would. If you had told me that I would give up my car for 2 years, when I was in highschool, I wouldn’t have believed you; or that I would travel across Europe for the first time on a bicycle, I would have never believed you. All this became a reality because of the bicycle. It is probably the closest thing that comes to religion for me. The bicycle has made me a better person… a better human being.

Who Is Stealing My Bikes?


Final Thoughts

No other activity, whether it be hiking or running has had such a great impact on my life. That is why I’m committed to this blog. At the risk of sounding like a religion, I would like to convert people out there and see their lives change. Something that is so great in my life will also benefit others. I have been successful this past year as I have seen so many newcomers on my MeetUp rides embrace this new “religion” and come back for more. I couldn’t be more happy and have a small hint of respect for what religious zealots are trying to do.

Do you have a good cycling origin story that you would like to share? Please leave your comments below so we can discuss.

About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He's also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association's Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.

One thought on “My Cycling Origin Story

Comments are closed.