How Numb Hands Nearly Ended My Cycling Lifestyle

I wasn’t careful with how I rode, and my body rebelled

Clive Thompson


A photo of a man's left hand, reaching down to grasp the left handlebar of a bicycle. The handlebars are black, and we only see the left-hand side of the handlebars, with the front wheel of the bicycle out of focus in the background of the picture.
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

In the summer of 2022 my teenage son and I cycled from Brooklyn to Montreal.

It was a sort of a capstone project. For almost a decade, we’d been going on rides of increasingly epic lengths. When he was eight, we did a 14-mile trip; the next year, 28 miles. We kept on bumping it up and up until he was a freshman in high school and we did our first “century”, 100 miles in a day.

By that summer of 2022, we dared ourselves to go further, longer, and more intensely than ever. So we picked Montreal as an ambitious destination — it’s about 450 miles from our house in Brooklyn. We plotted a route where we’d go 100 miles a day for four days in a row, then top it off with a 50-mile day, which would feel like a wafer-thin mint by comparison to the previous days’ slogs.

It was fun! And pulling off these sweat-soaked feats of endurance — this was new territory for me. I’m a nerd from the 80s, a weary veteran of gym-class jock bullying that was sniggeringly endorsed by the chain-smoking coaches of the day. I came away from it loathing all athletics and everyone who brayed in the bleachers. From high-school onwards I’d not avoided not only watching any pro sports, but mostly managed to even avoid a single conversation about them.

But cycling? For some reason, cycling got its talons into my soul and swept me away. It broke through my carapace. As I wrote in an essay last year …

… once I started doing big multi-city trips, it was clear that I was no longer just cycling for mobility. I was evidently deriving some deep spiritual and emotional nourishment out of engaging in what is, quite obviously, a deeply athletic activity, and one that’s also clearly a sport. Somehow I’d become an athlete. [snip]

Long-distance cycling finally helped me figure out what motivated all these sporty folks, who I’d regarded for decades with such dank suspicion. I now understood them, a little. Specifically, I felt the pleasure of figuring out what my body — and what my willpower — was capable of.

By the summer of 2022 and that big ride, I’d actually become the sort of person who craves regular, intense exercise…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.