Jody Adams (at left), a 56-year-old Brookline resident, stopped biking 24 years ago. At the time, she was not yet a James Beard Award-winning chef, just a cook trying to get a little bit of exercise by pedaling to work.
Until one very bad night, her commute between Cambridge and the South End had been manageable, even in a Boston that had not yet become a bicycle-friendly, hub-on-wheels-loving city. And then came that very bad night, the one in which a car attempted to run Adams off the road.
“I was pregnant and biking home after work, and these drunk guys tried to knock me off of my bike as they drove by,” she recalled.
After that, Adams stopped biking to work. Still, somewhere tucked away in the back of her head was an itch that was just waiting to be scratched, a voice that gently called out this simple word: Ride.
Over the next two decades, Adams steadily moved up the food chain in the cooking world: Food & Wine magazine named her “one of America’s 10 best new chefs,” and her restaurant in Harvard Square, Rialto, earned four stars from the Globe, its highest rating.
All of which led, in 2007, to Adams being invited by BikeRiders (a now-defunct touring company) to serve as a master chef on a trip to Italy. Adams agreed; after all, that itch was still just waiting to be scratched. And though the prospect of riding 25 very hilly miles was daunting, Adams was game.
Adams was also hooked. Over the course of the next several years, she became steadily more involved with biking. “I realized that riding was a great way to see the world,” she said. “It made me feel young.”
Adams is quick to point out that she came to cycling later in life.
“I started riding (seriously) in my mid-50s,” she said. “I’d never done anything like this before. I was never a competitive athlete. But if you have two legs you can ride a bike. It’s a wonderful way to be in the world as you move through life. It makes you feel powerful.”
Her interest in cycling coincided with its rise in Boston. Adams is quick to point out that in the past, “cyclists were kind of crazy,” though perhaps that was a rational response to a dangerous world. But where there was once a war on wheels, two vs. four, Adams now sees “a community on wheels: bike lanes, a collective respect between cyclists and drivers, and more adherence to traffic laws by cyclists.”
As a chef, Adams said, her goal is not to create fancy food, but food that really tastes good. Cooking is, for Adams, “a way to produce something incredibly beautiful with your hands that you share. If you really love life, how can you not really love good food?”
Both cooking and biking allow her to feel focused and immersed with the task at hand, Adams said, noting that they are both “simple and about action, about making things go.” Still, Adams feels that cycling is less complicated than cooking: “You just put your body in the right position, move your legs, and then you go.”
Adams uses her deep knowledge about food to power her pedaling. “You have to make sure you drink enough water and get enough fuel,” she said. “I tend to eat things that taste good and are low in refined sugar. Things that are satisfying.”
And simple: instead of prepackaged protein bars, Adams gravitates toward home-made peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and a midride cup of coffee.
For Adams, there’s something magical about the process of cooking, of taking raw ingredients and creating something to share with others.
Cycling is, in its own way, magical as well.
“The bike is just a beautiful machine that I can move with my body,” she said. “It’s just so incredibly compelling. Riding, like cooking, is also about pleasure, about long conversations, and being part of a community.”
Adams realizes that getting started riding a bicycle might seem challenging, though she’s convinced it’s worth the challenge.
“For one, you get to be part of a community. And you also develop incredible calf muscles that you get to show off.”Jonathan Simmons is the author of “Here For The Ride: A Tale of Obsession on Two Wheels.”