I'm a "climber," a guy determined and content when powering up Mt. Diablo or surmounting a formidable challenge at work or in life.

I never understood, nor embraced, my climbing tendencies until the day I bought and fell in love with my new bike.

Some people seek a sense of physical and mental accomplishment through running marathons. Others find it scaling huge boulders.

Mine happens whenever I'm in the saddle of my Orbea.

I wasn't always like that. Three years ago, I wouldn't qualify as even a fair-weather cyclist. Sure, I paid lip service about riding, fooling myself into thinking I wanted to take it up after writing stories about going carless for a week in the Bay Area. The strands of cobwebs decorating my old clunky bike — shunned to a lonely spot in a basement corner — told the real story.

Then, along came the AIDS LifeCycle Ride and soon began my transformation into a die-hard cyclist.

At that time, I was flirting with the saggy section of middle-age, and I realized I needed to get out of my comfort zone rut. The incredible seven-day charity ride, which traverses 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, seemed like a life-changing goal — and a crazy, unattainable one at that. Or so I led myself to believe.

By then I had already made significant life changes. I kicked a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit and finessed my diet so I ate healthier.

But evidence I needed to overhaul my life showed in my midsection and my blood work. Something had to be done about my alarming cholesterol levels and the Buddha-belly-in-training, which increasingly announced its unsightly presence whenever I wore a tight, and increasingly tighter, T-shirt.

"Just do it"

Every year, I came up with an excuse for not doing the AIDS Ride. My exasperated neighbor Leesa — someone who simply doesn't permit the word "no" to invade her vocabulary — called me out on my whiny ways.

"Just do it," the Yoda-ish Ride veteran said, sounding like a bad Nike commercial.

As I'd run out of lame excuses — "I don't bike," "It looks hard," "Are you crazy — 545 miles — on a bike!" — I signed up. (The bottle-and-a-half, perhaps two, of pinot noir four of us had shared might have factored into the decision-making process.)

From there, I bought a better bike, a repair kit, a helmet — don't leave home without it! And — drumroll, please — Lycra. I looked into the mirror when I put on my bike outfit and wasn't thrilled at what stared back at me. But who cares, I thought. It doesn't matter that I look like a gone-to-seed superhero in cling-on clothing. I am going to do this, no matter what.

Getting hooked

My passion for biking didn't happen instantly, but under the tutelage and support of friends and Downtown Berkeley YMCA spin instructors Marjorie and Darlene, I gained confidence and bike legs to venture out into the great outdoors.

Soon, I was insanely and totally hooked. Of course, I fell down a couple times and felt foolish, just like back in P.E. class when I was the last one picked for a team. But I got back on the bike and rode and rode and rode. I continue to do so today, my third AIDS Ride looming on the horizon. Since I've been riding, not only has my cholesterol level gotten better, that belly's gotten tighter.

On weekends, I love to ride with my posse — Claudia, Cammy, Anne, Hannah, Nate, Bill and Charlie. Their friendships, like so many I've formed in the biking community, are the strongest in my life. I've learned a lot about them and even more about myself.

On weekdays, I cherish every moment I bike-commute from Berkeley to Walnut Creek. Some think I'm nuts for doing it.

But if you join me for the ride up and over Tilden, don't be surprised if you too succumb to the contagious cycling bug.

Because once you're whistling down that pastoral Wildcat Canyon Road and a choir of birds start chirping and the dappled sunlight begins to warm your chilled face, you realize life on the bike is not just exhilarating, not merely grand: It is joyfully, blissfully profound.

Contact Randy Myers at rmyers@bayareanews- group.com.

Bike to work day
Get those tires pumped and those road rules down because the Bay Area Bike to Work Day is coming. On May 13, nine Bay Area counties will be participating in the annual celebration of bicycle commuting. Several spots will host free drinks, food and gifts. More info at www.youcanbikethere.com