"Mitzvah cyclists" raise funds and awareness for Bikur Cholim of Greater Washington.
On Sunday, September 10, over 100 hundred cyclists headed out to Riley’s Lock in Poolesville, Maryland, to ride in MitzvahCycle 2017, Bikur Cholim of Greater Washington’s (BCGW) second annual bike-a-thon. Routes of varying distances and intensities allowed all to participate, from the most experienced cyclist to the newbie rider.
The MitzvahCycle event had a dual purpose: to encourage people to fulfill the command, “Watch out for yourself and guard your life very well” (Deuteronomy 4:15), which is understood to mean to care for one’s health; and to raise funds for BCGW, a community organization dedicated to helping the sick and nurturing their recovery.
Biking is a powerful cardio workout that does not put too much stress on one’s joints. It is also a fun activity that can be shared with others. Additionally, biking actually gets you somewhere; it is an inexpensive form of transportation with the added benefit of giving you a physical and emotional boost.
The pack of mitzvah cyclists was led by Jason Pearlman, Amy Subar, and Hirsh Komarow.
Pearlman has been riding for years. He has a background in competitive cycling, and has raced road, mountain, and cyclocross. Many people have seen Pearlman riding enthusiastically around the streets of Kemp Mill. Now that he has work and family responsibilities, he can’t keep up the intense training schedule he used to, but he still tries to get out once or twice a week.
Even though he was never a distance or endurance rider, friends still ask Pearlman about the furthest distance he has ever ridden. To settle the question, Pearlman decided to go out and ride a century (100 miles). He spent a good deal of time training, but on the day of the ride, the temperature was grueling, in the high 90s.
Pearlman described it as "all fun and games until 75 miles in, when I started to cramp up. The last 15 miles were torture, the last 10 miles my legs were in mutiny and ready to explode." Pearlman ultimately rode 107 miles that day. “I did the whole ride in just under six hours, at an average speed of 16.9 mph,” he said.
Subar is an experienced cyclist who rides for pleasure and as part of her triathlon training. She usually rides three times a week in the spring, summer, and fall. During biking season, she usually gets together with friends from her synagogue —Beth Sholom in Potomac, Maryland — and rides between 40-80 miles on Sunday mornings.
One of Subar’s fondest biking memories is when she, her husband, and a group of friends from Beth Sholom rode from Estes Park to the Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
“The climb was difficult,” recalled Subar. “Steep and windy and at high altitude. It was beautiful! The camaraderie in the group was incredible and everyone made it to the top. We all cheered and took pictures as the last rider among us finished. We have a great group picture of all of us with a snowy backdrop above the tree line.”
Komarow, chair of MitzvahCycle 2017, is also an avid cyclist. He frequently rides to work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, from his home in the White Oak section of Silver Spring, Maryland. He loves the opportunity to take in his surroundings and appreciate the beauty of G-d’s creation.
“Every day I ride is a better day,” said Komarow.
One day in particular stood out for him. He recalled being at work on 9/11 and feeling under attack. Cars were backed up as people rushed to get home. His bicycle, he realized, offered him a certain sense of freedom.
“I jumped on my bike and road home, bypassing many hours of traffic,” he said. “It was like I was escaping on a bike from our enemy and I was very thankful that I arrived home safely.”
Pearlman advised anyone considering taking up road riding “to get in your car, and drive on the busiest Sunday morning cycling route you can find, such as Beach Drive or Jones Mill Road. Seeing cycling from this vantage point will give you a better idea of how cars see you as a cyclist, and how you can sharpen your own personal cycling and road safety skills.”
Special thank you to BCGW intern Shira Gottlieb for her help interviewing mitzvah cyclists.
By Audrey Siegel
Audrey Siegel is the executive director of Bikur Cholim of Greater Washington. She is a former New Yorker who has enjoyed living in Silver Spring with her family for the past 27 years. Audrey hopes to hike or bike every nature trail in Montgomery County, so wave if you see her along the way.