Opening the Door: Onur Reflects on How His Single Speed MTB Saved His Life

John first met Onur through the Land Cruiser world. He’s a legend in that community. Then, scary life stuff happened, and suddenly, Onur realized his lifestyle needed to change. He had a heart attack and had to get into shape… fast!  His life depended on it. Read on for a heartfelt story about how Onur reconnected with the bicycle, thanks to his supportive friends, and how he’s addicted to his trusty single-speed mountain bike!

“I just opened the door for you… You walked through it.” – Emily Kachorek

I’m sitting here with a fractured right scapula, getting over a concussion I suffered in the first 250 feet of a single-track trail high above Bisbee, Arizona (thanks for taking care of me, Dirty, Andy, and Amanda), staring at pictures of bicycles.

I can’t get enough of the different designs, styles, colors, and the humans attached to them. And then I pause to think about my bicycle, the one I love very much, more than pretty much everything else in my life: what about this object is creating in me a vision of a future world? A different possible world of human life and engagement?

I wonder if I am living an alternate version of myself. One that was infused into my heart when the cardiologist stuffed two titanium stents into my blood veins, leading to my ticker?

Transformation has come to my mind often since moving to deep, southern Arizona (on the border) in October 2021 from the quaint Catskill Mountains of NY, where my suburban, nuclearized life had disintegrated in a maelstrom of corporate layoff, heart attack, and, finally, divorce.

2021 was a tough year to be an average, overweight and overworked, middle-aged dude fully overleveraged by obligations and a completely fucked-up view of one’s self and one’s place in the world. I get it: first-world problems, but they are my problems

Enter the Bicycle

I had a 1987 GT Pro Performer in Washington, DC, during college in the early 1990’s. I used it to get around town, go to class, go get food, go to my girlfriend’s apartment, and even rode it all the way across DC from Foggy Bottom to RFK Stadium to go see Grateful Dead shows… It was my main mode of transportation for four years of undergrad. I moved to Arcata, CA, in the mid-1990s to go to graduate school, and I brought my GT with me. It lasted all of two weeks when I traded it for some of Humboldt’s finest as well as a sheet of pyramid gel caps.

That was the last time I rode a bike until I moved to Arizona in 2021.

Moving to Arizona shape-shifted my daily, lived reality in a way that no other place has and I’ve lived all over the world. Of course, I had moved here to take a job–that was how I got here; I was recruited to come down and work. But what I have experienced has fundamentally changed the course of my life and all of it is due to re-attaching myself to a bicycle. Riding a fucking bike.

There are, of course, the people associated with bikes. Bicycles do not exist in a vacuum. They are objects created by humans for the purpose of mobility at their foundation. It is the same with what I engage with professionally– restoring old Toyota Land Cruisers; they are also mobility devices to get from point A to point B for whatever human function is at hand.

But what occurred here, deep in the Sky Islands, was something altogether different than other places I have lived and other people I have been with in my life; I witnessed this intense connection between people and bicycles and, more importantly, people constructing their lives around and through their interactions with bicycles. That was a new and radical idea to me, one that had not been placed on my mental radar and one that piqued my interest.

Emily Kachorek on a gravel ride with John

Patagonia’s Community

Concurrently, a group of others moved to the Sky Islands at the same time– about 10-12 of us from all parts of the United States for what seemed like an escape to all of them as well. Some were younger, transient folks, bouncing from one small town to another; some were drawn here due to changes in their lives (one new friend here lived 7 miles away from me in NY– we shopped at the same grocery store, bought our gas at the same gas station, etc., and didn’t meet until we landed on the border. True story.), and some were here to ride bikes professionally in Arizona and decided to stay. But all of them were bicycle riders.

In contrast, I was a 47-year-old, 220lb, overweight, chain-smoking, corporate vagabond getting over a heart attack and a divorce brought in to run a business operation. My connection with bikes was absolutely zero.

I found myself fascinated with the cultural aspects of riding bicycles, the camaraderie, the happiness it brought my new friends, the storytelling, the depth of conversation they had about their most recent rides, past rides and adventures, and other experiences that painted a completely new and alien mosaic of human experience.

Emily and Onur’s first ride…

Then my friend Emily took me out for a ride up the rail trail heading out of town. I felt completely stupid on the bike– overweight, out-of-breath, legs burning, ass hurting, sweat pouring down my face and into my eyes; I could barely see Emily blasting away up the trail, her strong legs effortlessly spinning in the most logical circles I had ever seen. Every time she looked back, she had a smile on her face. I guess that was a good sign.

Alessandra and Emily

My friend Alessandra was selling her bike because she had just bought a Squid Gravtron. She sold me her bike (I still have this bike– it’s my loaner for when friends come into town; the bike has a sticker that says “Mansplain me harder, Daddy” on the top tube) for $500 and my friend Zach traded me a spare helmet for some beer at the local pub.

We got to a gate and went through onto the Arizona Trail. We started climbing. My hands and wrists started to get numb; I could see the trail winding its way farther and higher up, and I began to worry about falling off the edge; I began to wonder what the fuck I was actually doing? Snot and sweat, heavy breathing, and pain. That’s all I can recall of my physical experience of riding this bike up that singletrack on the Arizona Trail. Emily, of course, was a good sport. I think just being on bikes outside brought her great happiness, and being able to present it to someone like myself made it even more enjoyable, regardless of my complete lack of biking abilities.

Transformation. That’s what began to percolate into my mind, hour after hour, day after day, month after month living on the border, being drenched by intense sun, expansive skies, mountains that grew from nothing to encompass the entire skyline, and the smell of rain in the desert during August monsoons– these were all transforming me into a new human. Along with these influences was the bicycle etching itself into my daydreams and my thoughts of a different possible future.

The Gift

Emily gifted me a bike one day. I cried. It was an incredible gesture from an incredible person with no reciprocity needed in return beyond riding the fucking bike. But it was no ordinary bike. It was a Squid Fuck Off Johnny frame which was followed a few days later when a big box arrived at my shop in Sonoita from my good friend John with all of the other bits and pieces needed to build a bicycle. My friend Dave built this bike for me and these three people forever changed my life’s direction.

It was a geared bike. I rode it until my hands grew callouses; I rode it every day when the sun was still high after work to watch the sunset, drink a beer with my friends, and enjoy another day alive in this world; I would ride it in the morning when the heat of the sun hadn’t baked the day; I rode it every moment I had available to me.

Then, in April of 2023, for giggles, I thought, why not ride it single speed? Take a bit of the complexity out of this thing, and distill this fucker down to its bones. So, I got with my friend Hayden, and we converted the FOJ into a single speed. And then shit got real, as real as it could get. I became addicted to this object more than I had any other object in my life, save my addiction to Toyota Land Cruisers.

I rode as hard as I could as often as I could. The feeling of pushing as hard as I could up hills was exhilarating and mind-bending; the idea of slowly pedaling up a mountain one stroke at a time distilled everything about riding a bike into rotational meaning. I was lucky to be aided immensely by my friend Sean, with whom I had been training for a better part of a year and a half at that point. Sean pushed my addiction with bicycles by assisting in also transforming my body at the same time– machine and body, gears and mind. All of this started to make sense in a way that was both novel and felt exactly how it was supposed to be.

On my recent 49th birthday, sitting after midnight by the fire on the Cienega Ranch out by the Chiricahuas, I finally quit smoking after 37 years of smoking over a pack a day of Camel non-filters; in the meantime, I had also brought my weight down to a healthy 145 lbs or so and am riding between 75-100 miles per week on both my single speed Squid FOJ as well as a new bike I recently built, a Squid Gravton V.2 (with assistance from Emily, Cameron and Noe).

It’s actually taken quite a bit to get used to the new bike– fast, agile, light, and geometrically quite different from my single-speed FOJ, which acts more like a Land Cruiser. Both bikes now play radically different roles in their performance and what I want to do with bikes; but both are equally personal to me, and both have shown me very interesting ways in which I can explore this beautiful land, with deepening friendships, experiencing life which, for the first time in a long time, seems to mean something authentic and extraordinary.

The door was opened for me, and I walked through. I hope everyone gets a door opened for them that they then walk through to another way of living life.