How to bike with no hands

Feb. 2, 2023, 10:48 p.m.

It must have been 40 degrees out. My hands were cold and numb and felt like they were about to fall off. My cousins would have laughed. They’re from New England and I haven’t been there in a decade. The last I went it was summer, and we went to the beach. It was a rocky beach, and I stood there with the pebbles digging into the soles of my feet, and I wondered why anybody would live here. At least the water was warm. Back in LA, the ocean is freezing and I can barely dip a toe in. But the waves are nice and the sand is nice and the sky is nice.

Would that I could go home. I’m biking back to my dorm and I’ve made the error of not bringing gloves. I’m coming from my friend’s place way over in GovCo and again, I wonder why anybody would live there. Every time I visit them it’s a pilgrimage. I pack my bags and head out into the cold. Bike a good long mile. By the time I get there, it’s half the journey.

It’s not the first time, and it’s not the last time. But each time I wonder why I keep forgetting to bring gloves. I have gloves. They’re at my house way back down the coast. I’ve flown there and back like twice this year. It takes about an hour so pretty much the same as going to GovCo. I’ve used them plenty. I go hiking a lot. Tall mountains and lots of snow and big cliffs. Maybe a crevasse. Could fall in.

This is an essay about how to bike with no hands. That’s it. That’s the entire premise. It’s easier than it looks, so don’t worry. The point is to not to be too scared. If you’re too scared then you’re going to lean one way or another and then you’re going to fall. 

Falling is obviously bad. The last time I fell, I got stitches and had to go to the emergency room. Terrible timing. It was an hour before my chemistry midterm, and I was rushing home. While the doctor was stitching me up I kept asking him if he thought I’d be back in time to take my midterm. He kept shaking his head and he must have thought I was crazy. Since then, I’ve always been a little scared to ride my bike.

So, given this, you have to wonder why I would ever try to bike with no hands. Two reasons. One is that my hands get cold. Like really cold. I think I have poor circulation or something because other people’s hands don’t look like they’re about to fall off. And the second reason is that it looks pretty cool when I see someone biking down the street with their hands in their pockets. 

That’s it, really. Not really sure what else to say.

About GovCo: my friend doesn’t live there anymore because they moved with their partner into EVGR. Which is hardly better to be honest. To get there you have to bike around two roundabouts and that’s two roundabouts too many.

I haven’t died yet. Thankfully. But what’s annoying about the roundabouts is that you’ve got to be really cautious because otherwise you might slip and fall and get run over by a car. So I don’t dare try to bike with no hands around the roundabouts. I don’t think I’m that confident yet. 

I could take a different route. But that would be admitting defeat. I’m not supposed to do that anymore. So I keep cycling around the roundabouts praying that a car doesn’t decide that I’m going too slowly and ram into me. 

There’s a morbid fantasy. Or an intrusive thought. I go biking at full speed. No hands, of course. Either I slip by all the cars or one of them smashes into my bike and I go flying into the air with my hands still in my pockets. 

I am always careful, very careful. So no need to worry about me.

The purpose of telling this, of telling all of this: it’s hard to explain. When I went back home over summer break I met my friends from high school and we talked about college and life and many other things besides. It was a long summer. But we managed to see each other once or twice and pretended to be surprised by how much we had changed and how long it had been since we last sat in the same classroom. There was a sense of longing, I thought. Of wanting to be a new person.

And yet, here we still were, sitting in a udon restaurant somewhere in Sawtelle like nothing had ever changed. We talked about college and we talked about life but in the end we could only talk about that for so long. In the end everything turned back inward, back toward high school and teachers and classes we hadn’t taken in years. We talked and we talked and when we finally said our goodbyes it felt like we hadn’t moved an inch.

The point, I think, is that there is no point. We are all who we have always been, cycling in place over and over until all collapses and we are left with nothing but ourselves. 

Let me try again. Let’s return to the beach. This time, it’s my cousins who are visiting me and we’re all at the beach. It’s winter, but it’s LA, so it’s only seventy degrees. The sand extends for ages and the sun looks like a pineapple. 

We splash about in the water, and I nearly bump into someone holding a piña colada. The water is freezing of course and I spend the first ten minutes hopping up and down because my feet hurt so much. But it’s alright, because I’m having fun.

After we emerge soaking wet from the water, there is the question of what we should do. I look toward the south and there stretching down is a long bit of road. There are bikes zipping to and fro, and I yell excitedly that we should go for a bike ride.

Everyone considers it, conjures up the image of going for a bike ride on the beach in the land of movies and dreams. But we’re still soaked and the temperature has dipped to 65 degrees and there’s a light breeze. Too cold, everyone says, and of course the bike rental would have been some 30 dollars besides.

We decide to walk through the city until we find a park. We buy an ice cream. We eat it, and I wonder at the irony. We sit talking in the grass until sunset.

At this point even metaphor collapses. One more try, a third try; what I am trying to say, I think, is that sometimes, in the midst of all of this nonsense, you learn something you’ve never learned before and for an instant you feel like your age. 

The first time I biked with no hands it felt like a miracle. It was a cold day like always and by this point, I had tried and failed maybe a hundred times. I took my hands off the handlebars and wobbled and clutched them tight again. I took my hands off again and this time, I nearly fell and held on for dear life. 

But every now and then, there would be the indication of flight. When you lift your hands and you wobble but you don’t fall and all of a sudden you’re zooming forward too fast and you put your hands back on, but it’s not because you failed, it’s because you succeeded. 

It is the strangest feeling, the strangest feeling in the world, to wake up one day and realize that you can be a better person. To wake up and think that there is a point where you get better. To wake up and think that not every day will be like this, that not every day will be the same and that there will be a day when you go back home and everyone oohs and ahs and says well look at the Stanford boy. We have only ever wanted to be better.

I have said that this is an essay about how to bike with no hands, and I will deliver. The first step is to begin biking. Then every now and then, try to remove your hands from the bike handles. Balance, even if only for those two seconds. Keep doing it for longer and longer.

The second thing is to imagine. There is this image of those clowns who balance atop those unicycles and I always think that they move their legs like this, in oblique circles. Like you’re on a spinning top and you’re trying not to fall off. Like spinning a hula hoop about the ankles or like you’re about to pass out because you’re so dizzy or something like that.

Do this again and again. At some point, probably, you will be locked in. Maybe it is after one week. Maybe it is a month. Maybe it is a few days. But you keep doing this and soon you realize that you can do this forever. 

The final image: it’s my frosh year, and I’m biking with my roommate to Walmart. It’s a 10 mile round trip, and now we’re biking back, and my legs are getting tired.

Somewhere in the distance my roommate speeds ahead and I think about how nice it would be to have an electric bike too. But I keep pedaling forward, and at some point, I think I see God. 

It comes upon me suddenly. The sun falls off its hinge and everything is too bright. The trees seem too large and the sky too blue and the ground too close. 

I stand and without thinking I am raising my arms to the sky. It lasts for a second, maybe two. By this point, I haven’t learned the trick: how to balance without using your hands. 

But in that moment, it feels like an eternity. I am doing it, all of it, and I am flying and I am flying and for that one moment I feel a little better than I did before. 

Brandon Kim '25 is a Managing Editor for The Grind and a staff writer for News. He is majoring in Philosophy with a minor in Creative Writing. Ask him about baseball, hiking very tall mountains and old-school Korean pop.

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