And the Winner Is...

Here, read the winning essay from Outside's Seven Cycles contest as well as the four other finalists

Nov 6, 2007
Outside Magazine

Thomas Ryan, Brooklyn Heights, NYOn the morning of 9/11/2001, I got on my old mountain bike and started riding from my Brooklyn Heights apartment over the Brooklyn Bridge to my firehouse on South Street a few blocks over from the World Trade Center. It was a perfect day and so I stopped at the farmers' market on the Brooklyn side and called my mom with my new cell phone. My mom was recovering from a stroke in a nearby rehab center and it was her hope to leave and return to her apartment and my concern was that I was being told that she had completed my PT and OT assignments and yet she wasn't interested in "going outside," so the point of my call was to tell her that it was a great day and if she really wanted to go home, she should get outside and walk around. I finished the call by saying that I was off to work on my bike and that I would stop by later that night after work.

With that, I started over the bridge and off to work arriving just before eightish. Firefighters are trained to come to work an hour before their tour starts at 9 A.M. and the call to my mom delayed me perhaps 5 or 6 minutes at most. Upon my arrival at the firehouse, the engine and ladder company were preparing to respond to a minor call and I offered to take in the run but the captain I was relieving said no, he would take the run and that I could shower instead. Those two units never returned to the firehouse; they responded to the minor alarm and then directly to the WTC at 8:55 and all the men died. I responded with Chief Matty Ryan (no relation) and got there just before the second plane hit. To make a very long story short, that morning I interacted with 54 members of the FDNY; 5 of us are alive . . .

Of course, surviving both collapses didn't come without issues—as a result of the dust and whatever else was in the air, I lost over 40% of my lung capacity and was forced to retire in 2005.

I'm not complaining too much since I lived but before all this, I was a big biker, having completed many, many week-long tours like Ride the Rockies, the BTC, Cycle Oregon, and even RAGBRAI many time along with a large group of FDNY guys, many of whom were lost that day.

Since my retirement, I've been trying to ride and have completed the BTC, Ride the Rockies, a few Adventure Cycling rides, and also quite a few weeks of Cycle America. I also went to the Tour two years ago and even rode in South Africa last year. The problem is that while I'm doing as much as I can, I'm not the same. People like to talk about Lance having an extra quart or two of oil in his motor; well, I have two less than even all the Outside editors reading this and that's why I can use the best bike out there. If I get this Seven road bike, all I can promise is that I will ride it and ride it a lot and try and do as many tours and as many climbs as I can and I promise to tell everyone why and how I got it. In fact, I'm out on the West Coast now and getting ready to try the Death Ride on 7/14. I'm riding my ten-year old Litespeed and it (or me) is somewhat shaky on the fast downhills but I'm going to try and get all five passes on the Death Ride, even if it means finishing in the dark. I did the Triple Bypass in Colorado last year and finished on my Litespeed and before it got dark but most people are saying that the Death Ride is harder. We'll see.

My lung doc keeps asking me why I keep trying to do these rides—do I feel guilt in surviving 9/11?—but my answer is not that I feel guilt but rather that when I'm on my bike and pushing hard, it sometimes feels like the days before 9/11 when the world and my world was a better place and when my mom was alive (she passed away in 2002) and I was in the firehouse joking with all the guys we lost that day. In closing, what more can I say? I would love to have a new Seven. My lungs need it and there are many passes I want to get to the top of because it's there that I'm closest to some really special people.