Cycling And…Hockey? (And Happy New Year!)

Cycling And...Hockey? (And Happy New Year!)

This is a new pair for me: cycling and hockey. But there we were face to face, the bike and the icy pond with its hard surface and three skaters. Along this favorite route of mine, water is usually mixing with air above it; sky and pond reaching for each other. Today a trio of hockey players were carving out skating sounds of metal scrapes and exhilarating breath, hearts pumping, cold air and the fire of that kind of play coursing through them as they hit the puck and raced each other. And there was my own breathing pulling in the cold but warming it as it ran first through my lungs and heart, and then my blood. This is a pleasure of cycling: it is warming, it does make life course through one’s veins in that warm way.

Life around the pond today was these skaters as water birds of winter skittering along, pausing in their different ways to guess at where more sunlight might come from, but mainly pre-occupied with moving. And me pausing from my bicycle flight to look at these other birds in the distance. Today we chose not to hibernate, and decided to move to keep alive, migrating in very small ways but not for any real change of location, just to keep moving…from one end of the pond to another, one riding loop out and back.

And what better day to return to my blog–New Year’s Day–after having spent far too much time away from it. Migrating back. Writing is warming me, too. Thoughts to paper, fingers to keyboard…mind to hand, as the beautiful bicycle builder Dario Pegoretti would say. Here’s to a New Year of many rides, more writing, and warmth in everyday. Emily Gresh

Time and Time Lapse

Time, timing, movement, the body. There are very few elements to ballet, just the body moving through time. Here is a short video from Studio 7 at Boston Ballet. Shot in the course of a day and with varying rhythms of time sped up and slowed down, it does beautifully encapsulate what a day of dancing at the highest levels can be, behind the scenes, day in and day out, over hours in one day in the video, but those days add up to years and years. To lapse in time back into those memories does remind me that I do miss it very much.

Dancing with people at such a level of technique and ability was something unto itself, unrepeatable. But in cycling there has been at least the smallest echo of that experience. The slight familiarity of dancing hard with others around and dancing over hours and days is there. The gatherings collide in my mind on occasion…the early in the day light, the speeds, the near constant motion punctuated by rest. Empty spaces getting filled like roads ahead that become travelled. Emily Gresh

Pieces and Wholeness: The Bike As the Perfect Timekeeper

As promised, I have been working here and there, with help and advice, putting together two wheels, a frame, handle bars, cranks, brakes, tires, tubes, pedals, seat post, saddle and pieces of bicycle to create and know a new bike.  The frame arrived on my birthday; yes, truly and unforgettably on the actual day-made-even-lovelier-day of my birthday, in the very early part of summer.  As the summer has been ticking by I have been living with the frame in various parts of my house.  I have been eying it after road rides and more than eying it after work.  The other bike parts, the same.  Before I started building, I admired the different pieces day after day, took them out of boxes and moved them around on different tables, all with anticipation.  Admittedly, it has been slow finding the time, and even more importantly the right sense of time, to begin putting it together.  But here it is, coming together weekend-like at last.

Sweetpea side frame

Sweetpea progress so far

Sweetpea handlebar detail

This is a project not to be rushed. In putting it together, there has to be time to just love it, in every minute.  Unlike my road bikes, the Sweetpea is a leisurely bike.  I am experiencing it coming together with the same generous amounts of time I hope to spend riding it around my town.  With this bike, I will not be counting miles or miles per hour– although there is endless fun in ticking off and beating time, in knowing the push of time and the tautness of body needed to lose the slowness of office weeks and boring commutes that require a car.  The light speed of my road bikes are incredible machines in and of themselves.  And a dirt and gravel road ride that will be gritty and tough is just ahead, a week from now.  That ride on hilly and rocky terrain–at a good speed given the amount miles that will have to be covered–will not be for the Sweetpea.

But the Sweetpea is a perfect counter point.   A bike in which there is all of time. In the stand as it is now, I walk by it everyday in my basement.  As much as I am looking forward to finishing the build and that first ride, knowing it piece by piece for the time being is exactly what an eye needing the sight of beautiful lines embodied in anything craves.  The repetition of seeing it again and again, creating and re-creating the sight of it with daily visits up and down the basement stairs is a way of enjoying it timelessly for awhile.  It is a wonderful creation there.  Each piece.  And the whole beautiful machine together soon. Emily Gresh

From Inspire Bike to Heavenly Bike: Carbon Fiber Avail Advanced 0 from Liv/giant

Spring and Summer 2013

Without question, I love my Inspire bike–the one pictured here is actually not my familiar looking Inspire.  A few months ago, I was fortunate to be encouraged to keep riding and keep progressing by the wonderful people at Liv/giant and received a carbon fiber Avail Advanced 0 with electronic shifting.  I can’t stop riding this bike.  It is light but still very smoothly connected to the road, absorbing bumps but not numb to them, an easy ride but not so easy that one doesn’t still feel the challenge of many miles and looming hills.  It is as life should be.  Inspiration comes in so many forms.  The Advanced itself is such a beauty; the faces and people who brought it to me and champion women’s biking–and all biking–have done so much to simply make life on the bike peaceful, exhilarating, comforting, and joyous, including mine.  Emily Gresh

Knowing the Bike, However Briefly One Can


Within each of us is the handmade and unstoppable.  Within each of us are the qualities that can deliver beyond compare, powerful beyond even what we believe is possible within ourselves.  The right conditions, and the right people around us, are everything.  How we come to those moments is a great deal of luck, a blind hope in the face of everything, and unbelievable inner strength.  Every now and then, we get there.  Every now and then we are the right cyclist for the bicycle we have come to own.  Every now and then we get the maximum out of it and understand where to let up and where to dig deep, what is possible, best and good, and what is simply wear and tear on a perfectly wonderful machine.  If we only know the handmade and unstoppable within us briefly, it is almost enough.  It is best to find it and ride for as long as one can.

We each come to these moments and conditions in different ways.  Cycling has been important to me, freeing up a great deal, giving me plenty to enjoy within myself not so much based in speed or physical accomplishment but a different experience of myself that is related to dancing and tapped so much there, but also a release from dancing, and though a completely different experience, cycling is likewise related to surviving cancer at young age, and also similarly a complete release from surviving cancer at a young age.

In each cyclist, in each person, we have to applaud these things, the ability to know however briefly what we are capable of and how much we can find in life, to see these moments and know them in others so that we can continue to find them in ourselves.  To thrive post-cancer is a tremendous accomplishment, to find one’s way back to health through cycling is admirable in anyone.  To thrive in life, with or without the turmoil and shock of serious illness, is a greater accomplishment than we all sometimes admit and so worthy of our recognition. 

It is with the most heartiest congratulations that I admire and applaud cancer survivor and cyclist Barb Greenlee and the next iteration of the Inspire bike pictured above and launched recently, and the many beautiful moments I know she will find on the bike and in life.  Designed by Barb and beautifully brought to reality by Liv/Giant, I can’t wait to have the bike open more doors to cycling for women, cancer survivors, and the handmade and unstoppable in riders everywhere.  Emily Gresh

Sweetness and Light: Bike Build

I let myself forget that being away from the discipline of consistent riding would mean having to start over again. But did I say that it only really feels bad starting over for the first ten miles and then I remember that within all that effort is a reliable strength in my body that hasn’t been tested too badly over the winter? I remember that winter is an easy thing from which one recovers. And on those winter days when I wasn’t riding…sure, I missed my bike, but I have no complaints about the time spent with my dog on the couch.

This being out of shape is old news though.  There is an off season to dancing and, just like cyclists, there is a fair amount of stealth training going on then.  Injuries sometimes have to get healed, surgeries happen. The body of a dancer is constantly being built up, refined, and re-tooled, off season or not.  A class heavy on turns prepares a dancer for one ballet, a class heavy on big jumps for another.  It really is an incredible machine, the dancer’s body; not just sleek-looking in terms of athleticism, but created and truly tuned for the purpose of movement of any and every kind.  Then further refined for each particular show.

If the bike is an extension of body, a way to get that much more strength and speed out of it through the benefits of real mechanics, then there is familiarity to be found in building and tuning it.  There is familiarity to be found in putting one together, at least once.  It is possible that it is not so much speed or racing that I am in love with on the bike but the mechanics that I know nothing or very little about, just as when I was dancing I could not tell you one tendon in my hip from the next.  I knew broken, sore, and strained.  I knew flexible, strong, and loose.  But intuitively, or more precisely intuitiveness achieved through years of ballet training, I knew how to build my body and had people around me, coaches and teachers, always helping me refine it and I liked that the machine worked smoothly and predictably, almost one hundred percent of the time.  I enjoy the larger mechanics of my bike with a much greater vagueness.

So the newness of putting a two wheeled machine together, knowing the kind of rides that I am putting that bike together for and how it will be built with specific purposes, lines, and details in mind hits an irresistible intersection.   Repetitive as seasons can seem, my spring has this much anticipated first in it, the first bike I will somewhat put together, somewhat in that there will be a great deal of help of course, and I think mainly I will have the bike components in my hands for a moment or two, then someone else will do the cabling and bolting together. The various parts are arriving in boxes.  The frame, a really wonderful one, will arrive around my birthday in May, just in time for summer. And there is an old tandem bike that has come to me and I am thinking about refurbishing that, as well. Those are my new hill climbs. Unfamiliar, yet exceptionally inviting.

There will be an added kinship with the new bike; not quite handmade by me, not quite the shaping of the body that is dancing, but a building and putting together by hand that is mechanical and function-driven on the surface of it, but at heart, complete sweetness and light.  Emily Gresh

Love Belated: What Is It About Cycling?

IMG_2085Did you know that ballet technique is one of constant tension?  It is a vocabulary of seeming effortlessness born of pushing into the floor while pulling up out of one’s entire body.  Is this one side against the other or an ideal and sustainable harmony?  Both, either, many formulations of each possibility at different times.  We have all read the “this is war” accounts of bike races. Similar can be written about ballet and here is likely where, for me, my love of cycling began; this line where struggle and perfection meet.

In a recent photo essay on New York City Ballet, there was a reference to covering the backstage life of ballet as being similar to covering war (  How this is so is confounding at first but makes sense as more a reference to how similarly the scenes unfold in the covering of them than actual war–the comaraderie, the daily travails and the constant vigilant focus.

I wonder what it is that makes us watch these battles?  Cycling shows us crashes and injuries.  It shows us the dilemmas of training and competing at all costs.  Ballet shows us athletic prowess but only under the face of gracefulness, a less visible battle.  For me, dancing is far less interesting on stage than backstage.  In the backstage version, the “I am covering war now” we do see all sides of the battle.  The best side being laughter among a very close knit and unusually focused group of people.  The worst, wrecked up bodies waiting to heal and emotional fraying over endlessly high standards of performance.  There are no damaged bikes along side dancers though to give us a true visual of the toughness of ballet and the extremes of what is accomplished there.

In cycling, I fell in love when I heard a phrase on a Rapha video that is similar to the one in the recent photo essay on City Ballet, “It’s war all day long.”  The Rapha video is black and white, a mini-homage to the Paris-Roubais (  And in it, there is the idea of struggle made very visible, struggle that is less about winning an actual race and more about simply going for it.  It ends, like the ballet photo essay, with a close knit group of determined and focused people laughing.  I could watch it all day long, this pushing and pulling of technique that is cycling, that is making oneself press onwards, for the love of it. It’s possible, that the three minutes or so of that video made me fall in love with cycling.  Everything there is to love about the battles in cycling–the peace of winning one’s own private races, of finishing a ride, of mind over body, of body over mind–is all well captured there.  It is a backstage view, more interior, and maybe more telling then the wreckage of bikes and crashes.  Emily Gresh