By Christopher Cudworth
When Lance Armstrong was at the peak of his success winning the Tour de France seven times, he reportedly hung out with all sorts of A-List types including Robin Williams. An avid cyclist, Williams owned 50 or more bikes including some sweet Treks funneled through the tier-one connections he held with Lance Armstrong.
Like Jay Leno with his car collection or any other star able to afford symbols of their passion, Robin Williams’ penchant for bikes was nothing but a fantasy for the rest of us. It’s easy to envy such largesse because it’s easy to flip through a Bicycling magazine bike review edition and pine for the new bikes. My personal wish is for a bamboo frame Calfee someday. They just seem so fascinating. What would it be like to ride?
Because that’s the weird part about cycling. It’s not just about the bike, as Lance once wrote. Ultimately it’s all about the ride. Because for better or worse, we all have relationships with our bikes. Some of us own a bunch. Some of us own just one. In either case, we make the best of it.
It’s easy to see that true satisfaction doesn’t come from the bikes we own. It comes from the ride. The companionship. The difficulty. The fitness. The fun we have with our riding buddies.
Williams must have been one interesting cycling companion. His intelligence and humor would have made even the longest, potentially boring ride into an education on the human spirit. His irreverence surely would have been entertaining at times.
My favorite running and riding companions are those that like to riff on a subject for a while. The challenge of maintaining a running commentary, preferably humorous if possible, can make the miles go by quite merrily.
But it is often said that the best humor comes from dark places. In many ways the funniest jokes we share with each other call up the tragedy of existence as well. When something bad happens and someone cracks a joke about it, we shrug our shoulders at times and say, “What, too soon?”
If tragedy + time = comedy, then what are we to say about Robin Williams? He was able to irreverently joke about all manner of things. His comedy routines dealing with sex were bitingly funny. If that sort of thing offended you, well tough luck. Robin Williams found it funny to laugh at shit that happens, or could.
The fact that he had depression and was bipolar was likely no small factor in that ability to find the merit of dark comedy. Having depression requires real work to feel normal in any way. Mental illness produces pain as real as riding up a 12% grade against a forceful headwind. There are mornings and noons and evenings where nothing feels right. And then it can be hard to get to sleep. Just as hard to wake up.
Then imagine doing the work that Robin Williams did. Entering into the characters he created onscreen required even more emotional work. His ability to convey pathos, like the psychologist he played in Good Will Hunting, was impressive and comprehensive. He gave himself to the roles he played. It earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. So well deserved.
So perhaps we can understand how fun it must have been for Robin Williams to afford the bikes he loved. Coming home to 50 bikes must have been interesting. Which one to ride today? Were there favorites? Of course there must have been. There always seems to be one bike that takes you farther or fastest. Wherever you want to go. Need to go. Have to go.
It’s not just about the bike though. Remember that. It’s about the ride. Robin Williams had one helluva ride. And he took us along with him.
I have four (technically five) bikes and I have a hands-down favorite. It stays in the house and is cared for meticulously. I think, though, having come from an identical background as Williams and suffering many of those demons, that 50 bikes was the wrong way to go. You see, when I’m down the last thing I need is to choose between 50 bikes. I have to remember the golden rule: Keep it simple, stupid.
I hope he got to enjoy those bikes once in a while. I’m sure he worked a lot.
We all know how cathartic a good ride or run can be. For someone with his condition a ride must have been a wonderful release and relief. I cannot fathom what he went through, all i know is that it helps keep my head on strait.