For the first time in a year and a half, I mounted a bicycle today with the purpose of traveling to my place of work instead of for recreation. With the Dead 2 Red just around the corner and a week and a half away, I want to make sure that I’m in the best shape possible. I’ve just finished making a new version of Cycling Jordan’s website, which I will probably unveil in about a week, or whenever Sa’ad tells me to do so. In return, Sa’ad is allowing me to borrow one of his road bikes for my training purposes until the Dead 2 Red, something that I plan on using extensively as often as I can!

Why not make your breathing mask fun? You're going to get stared and hollered at anyway; might as well go all the way.

Why not make your breathing mask fun? You're going to get stared and hollered at anyway; might as well go all the way.

Biking in the streets of Amman is nothing like biking back when I was in college in Madison. For one thing, you fear for your life a lot more, either from being pancaked into the grille of a Hummer or from being asphyxiated by vehicle fumes. It’s a common joke here in Jordan that most of the heavy transport trucks seen around the city were purchased on the cheap by local companies from Europe because they simply wouldn’t pass European emissions laws. Well, Europe’s garbage is our treasure here in Jordan, I guess, because these smog-belching vehicles from the last century are quite prevalent. Whether you’re on a bicycle or in a car with an open window, you can always tell when one of these beasts is coming up behind you, because somehow they’re so foul that their pollution actually precedes them, causing eyes to water and vision to blur.

Ironically, the opposite quality of vehicle is proportionally just as prevalent in Jordan. There are Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Hummer dealerships all within a few kilometers of each other near Mecca Street where Cycling Jordan has its shops, and it seems as if drivers here have a mindset that the nicer their car is, the more right they have to crush you like a bug if you do something as foolish as obey common traffic etiquette rules.

So yes, fearing for my life was how I started out the morning. I had successfully made it back from choir to my house last night, even without my helmet, a light, or any reflective clothes. But that was a 3 minute drive at 10:00 at night when the roads were comparatively empty. My heart sank at the thought of biking 22 KM to work, all the way in Ayn al Basha, and then coming back up the hill. I left home at 10:25 in the morning, but immediately ran into problems when I discovered I couldn’t shift into the lowest gear on my front set. Not a huge deal in the Jebel Amman area with its moderate hills, but there’s a 350 meter climb from Ayn al Basha back into Amman and I knew that would be impossible without that low gear. I decided to head to the shop first to have the specialists look at it.

It was an interesting trip, just like I knew it would be. Amman during the work week is much busier than the silent Friday holy day, and my colorful yellow and green jersey, helmet, and facemask got a lot of stares and calls from peanut gallery. “HELLO WHAT THIS? WHERE YOU GO?” was a frequent phrase bellowed at me from the sidewalk. Bikers here just learn to smile, wave, and ignore everything else… “Polite Indifference” is the best way to deal with gawking hecklers. Then there are the busloads of soldiers who whoop uncontrollably at you, the drivers that play chicken with you, and the aforementioned black smoke following behind 15% of the vehicles on the road. But of course there are the fun parts, like when little children stare at you from their driveways, awestruck, and rush out to the edge of the road, jumping up and down with huge smiles, waving and crying “HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!”

Hussein, the lanky young Egyptian man who manages the shop for Sa’ad, looked me up and down and chuckled as I entered. He’s a wizard with bike maintenance and had the gears readjusted and a new water bottle holder installed in 5 minutes. He asked me where I was heading, and raised his bushy eyebrow when I said I was going down into the Ayn al Basha region. And you’re going to go back up the hill then, too? he asked, to which I merely replied, “insha’allah!”

Of course, the ride down that magnificent hill wasn’t without problems. A hidden pothole got me as I was only a few hundred meters from the bottom of the hill, causing the handlebars to slide downwards a little bit. The bike itself was completely undamaged (although I almost had a heart attack after narrowly avoiding being struck by a manure truck) but I knew that before I would attempt to return up this hill, the handlebars would need to be re-aligned. My coworkers found my getup to be hilarious, especially the mask and shorts. Shorts are an article of clothing that just isn’t worn in Jordan unless you’re a child or on the beach. One of the other teachers asked to buy the bike from me for reasons I can’t fathom (Taher’s never biked a day in his life) and our janitor, Wusam, wanted to know if he could join the Dead 2 Red team.

Khalil drove me back up to the top of the hill in his truck, after Wajih and Aaron derided me for not biking the behemoth instead. “Next time!” I told them, “when the whole bike is working in perfect condition!” The sun was going down by now, and I suddenly realized that just because I was in a desert country in February didn’t mean that it wasn’t February. I was wearing a biking jersey and shorts, and I was cold. Jordan doesn’t usually have much wind chill (or wind for that matter, except for about 50 days in April and May) but that becomes moot when you’re biking down a highway at 30 km/h.

Honestly, regardless of the small mishaps of the day, I really enjoyed re-introducing myself to the practicality of a bike. I joke about how terrifying the drivers can be, but actually they were a lot better than I was dreading. I’ve never biked in New York City, but I imagine that this is how New York would be for bikers if they didn’t have nice things like emissions laws and biking lanes. And the time saving! It normally takes me 50 minutes to walk from 6th Circle back to my house, but on the bike going along the same route I’m able to do it in 15-20 minutes. I’m going to be sad to give the bike back to Sa’ad after the Dead 2 Red is over…but maybe this experience will be the thing that pushes me in the bike-owners category!