How biking gave me back my groove after divorce

A few months ago I got my mountain bike tuned up, and after a five-year hiatus I’ve been riding it on the weekends. Riding a bike reminds me of the best version of me.

See, I grew up a gawky awkward kid. I was 8 before I learned to ride a bike – a delay that can be explained by genuine lack of coordination compounded by my self-image of being uncoordinated. Gym glass was hell and I always felt disconnected from my body. Then as a junior in high school I escaped my home and small town and studied abroad in France. I gained 40 pounds on pain au chocolat and brie. It was a miserable year.

The next summer my mom bought me a Schwinn mountain bike and I started taking long rides in the Illinois countryside where I grew up. I’d bike for miles and miles along the long, flat, straight roads that bordered the long straight, flat green corn fields that met with clear skies. All the while I dreamed of going away to college, of being a writer, of falling in love. On and on I’d go, feeling free and physically strong– not at all fat or awkward or miserable. In a few months I lost the weight and then I left for school.

After that, I pretty much always owned a bike. In college I’d commute on that black Schwinn to class, the school newspaper and to visit my boyfriend who worked at the library. I loved that that I could go faster than pedestrians, yet break all the traffic rules that applied to the cars. Later, when I moved to Arizona I’d take the trails, marveling at the bizarre and beautiful landscape while nursing a broken heart or worrying about layoffs at my newspaper job. When I moved to New York City, I’d scramble to survive traffic and dodge opening car doors, feeling dangerous and powerful and invincible. Sometimes my husband would join me and we’d speed along, sometimes side-by-side as we’d chat about our media jobs and plans for our new life together. No matter where I lived, I could always turn to the childlike thrill of going fast down a hill.

It all stopped when I got pregnant five years ago. Suddenly, this freedom and danger seemed self-indulgent. I was a mom now. Time to be safe.

But a few months ago I started to itch for my bike mounted high on a wall in my apartment. All the yoga and running I’d been doing were well and good. But in the ongoing process of rebuilding my life after my divorce, I was peeling away ideas of who I thought I was and returning to who I had always been. I missed biking.

For the past few months I’ve been riding again. Usually this involves a 12-mile loop from my neighborhood in Queens, over the 59th Street Bridge, around Central Park and back. The bridge is a real butt-burner — I can always measure my fitness level by my heart rate on the ascent.

But on the descent, I bask in what has carried me for 20 years. Those seconds before I will ride into harrowing midtown Manhattan traffic and when I’m cruising faster than feels real are the moments when I am the girl who shook free of her limiting self-image, found thrill in risk and started to live in her body and life. That is when I sit up straight, let the wind hit my face and gravity pull me forward, and I get that familiar feeling — the feeling of being at once a kid and a woman, and knowing that I will be OK.

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

3 thoughts on “How biking gave me back my groove after divorce

  1. You are right. I love this. It is very much what happened to me. I turned my life around because of a mountain bike. There’s spiritual power coming from those two wheels. ;-)

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. I love this line: “when I am the girl who shook free of her limiting self-image, found thrill in risk and started to live in her body and life”

    Biking doesn’t do it for me (although it is fun, and I do enjoy biking from time to time). But that sentence above is kind of how I feel about running. I’m just getting started again — and by “again,” I mean I’m resuming where I was before my divorce. I was never an athlete of any kind. The fact that I was running at all was a huge step forward. But now, I’m reclaiming me, and now, running gives me that feeling that you describe, of shaking off my limiting self-image.

    I may not be the fastest or the best, but I feel strong and I feel like me.

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