The Angry Singlespeeder: A comic tragedy – thoughts on Robin Williams

Comedian’s passing causes reflection on the bigger picture and the cleansing power of riding a bike


Robin Williams

Photo courtesy of Team Sky

We live in a modern world where death, destruction and doom permeate every line of communication, from print and radio to television and the Internet. I’ve chosen to tune most of it out by no longer reading newspapers, not watching television and not listening to the radio. I just don’t give a shit anymore about religious wars, planes being shot down and mass school shootings. It only has a negative effect on my life, so I no longer give it any cranial bandwidth. Life is too short to be wasted on the ugly side of humanity.

I still have the Internet though, and the recent news of Robin Williams’ death really made me stop in my tracks and think for a spell about the bigger picture. Here was a guy that many consider to be one of the funniest comedians in history, a man that made everyone’s life better by prescribing the ultimate antidote to depression and anger – laughter. It’s a travesty that he was immune to his own prescription.

Next to laughter, for me, the only thing more therapeutic is riding a mountain bike. Robin was an avid cyclist, which made me even more confused about his passing. How could a guy who loved to ride his bike so much, make so many people laugh and give hope to those with absolutely none, end his own life in such a tragically sad way?

Clearly his demons ran deep, and it seems that often times the most talented artists in society—the ones who truly stand out as all-time greats—are the ones with the most ravaging inner demons that bring them to an untimely demise.

Hunter Lake

After hearing of Robin’s death, while in the midst of a gloriously beautiful five-hour mountain bike ride, my mind was racing, thinking of life, nature and my time here on planet Earth. Big rides like these are the times when I have unclouded vision, where thoughts and ideas come almost as rapidly as the pain from my legs and lungs.

In a society where people are popping multiple prescription pills for a variety of entirely preventable illnesses, riding a mountain bike is my medication. It is my medication against depression, sadness, anxiety, jealously, obesity, needless consumption, poor health, and yes, even anger. I might start out a ride on my singlespeed angry, but by the time I get home, the fury inside has been released and I am at peace. And I try to take my medication at least five times every single week in varying doses.

There have been times when I contemplated why I’m even here in this world. A couple years ago when I was going through a rather rough patch in life, I watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, which really put things into perspective. Think you’re insignificant as a human now? Just watch Cosmos and you’ll get a new appreciation for insignificance.

But it’s not insignificance in a depressive, why-bother-living sort of way, it’s insignificance in a strangely inspiring and empowering “nothing really matters” sort of way. So why not just go out into the world, enjoy yourself and do whatever the hell you please? We’re here on this planet such a short time as it is. Why make it shorter?

I would be lying if I said I never thought about yanking that steering wheel straight into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler, not because my life is bad, but well, just because. What would happen? What would it feel like? Would I survive? Would I accidentally kill anyone else in the process? Then the 18-wheeler passes me in a gust of speed and energy, a chill goes down my spine and my daydreaming moves on to more productive topics. The mind can be a complex and twisted organism sometimes.

Big Meadow

But when I get on my mountain bike, pedal away from society into the middle of nowhere and experience the power of nature in all its grandeur, beauty and even harsh indifference to my existence, everything is right in the world. Nothing else at that moment exists beyond the bike, the self and the environment surrounding both. I pedal. I eat. I sleep. Then I do it again. I am an animal in balance with itself, its machine and its surroundings. Everything else in those moments is insignificant. Those are the moments I live for. That is the reason why I want to live.

I only wish that Robin could have drawn the same therapeutic, cleansing power of the bike to keep his inner demons at bay. Thankfully his legacy will live on forever, bringing smiles and laughter to millions of people around the world for generations to come. Godspeed Robin. You were one of the best.

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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  • NSBM says:

    Riding has been my antidote to depression for a long time. I recommend it to anyone and everyone. Scary to think that it might not always be enough though.

  • cobi says:

    I like your articles but I find it a lot sadder that you could care less about school shootings, plane crashes & wars than a actor/comedian you only ever saw on the TV.

    Frankly it’s disturbing to see the attention celebrity deaths bring in the news and social media in comparison to actual world events.

    God forbid a Kardashian dies, the US will descend into chaos.

    • PatT says:

      See that you don’t get how Robin Williams’ death has touch so many so deeply, but that is ok. You are probably saving yourself from a lot of grief that the rest of us are experiencing.
      Just please don’t compare Williams to a Kardashian. Sure both were/are celebrities. But the similarities stop there. Williams was able to reach literally hundreds of thousands of people not only through his manic comedy and brillant acting, but also through his generosity and compassion. Williams spent untold hours volunteering for hosts of causes. He visited children’s hospitals, went overseas on a regular basis to entertain the troops, spent hours on his sets getting to know everyone going out of his way to try to fix their problems and make their lives better. It is the fact that this wonderful, giving, brillant man died which gives us pause to grieve, not merely the fact that another celebrity has passed from us. Knowing that someone who could make everyone so happy died in such a lonely, ugly way should give us all reason to truly understand the demons which plagued not only him, but many folks around us.

    • clarkrw3 says:

      Why? Can you change those things? Can you control those things? Dwelling on those things in your day to day life, allowing them to fill your subconscious with negative thoughts will only bring you down and temper what you can accomplish.

      Focus ONLY on the things within your control and do them to you utmost, then you can have a truly positive effect on the world.

      I fully agree with the ASS!

    • AllMountaineer says:

      @cobi – Apparently you don’t realize it’s all relative. School shootings, plane crashes & wars are a product of a lack of human education and self-understanding. Many great tragedies could be avoided in more subscribed to the intelligence shared in this article about science, philosophy, exercise and our role in the universe. This context is why biking helps us be even keeled in the face of a cruel world… If the human race better understood itself then activities like running/biking/exercise would probably be much more prevalent if not mandatory… at least until we evolve from the physical needs that keep us chemically/emotionally balanced in our current context.

  • m says:

    Fantastic thoughts and writing on this one. It’s events like Robin Williams’ suicide that I think SHOULD provoke this kind of reflection, and that’s the silver lining. There are no answers, no reasons, and we’re all pieces of dust on a rock spinning through the galaxy. Our insignificance can be freeing if you look at it that way. Consider yourself lucky to bea ble to draw the next breath, put wheels to dirt, find inspiration in the world, and be aware you aren’t taking if for granted – because we all have demons and get the blues and cross the street in front of buses driven by other fallible humans. The only thing you are guaranteed is the moment you are living right now.
    Thanks ASS. Keep the good words and bike flowing.

  • Old Gringo says:

    Just do me a favor. Don’t yank that bad boy in front of my semi, as I’ll be looking forward to my next ride, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to keep me from that.

  • Gregg Kato says:

    I believe Robin DID know the power of a bicycle (just in this case, it wasn’t enough). In this video, Conan O’Brien talks about the time Robin gave him a bicycle to cheer him up.

  • DPB says:

    May Mr. Williams R.I.P.

    Personally, I think that all the publicity he has got is wrong. Sure he was a great entertainer, but his illness, because that is what depressions is, is shared by millions of Americans that do not have the financial resource to secure even the most basic care to help them cope with this problem. The fact is, that these people suffer and other people are sometimes not aware. Just saying, “pull yourself together”, isn’t a solution for those unfortunate souls that are affected. I just hope this sad affair sheds light on the subject so as to make people better understand this disorder. I used to be that guy that said get it together, but now having seen people endure this sad existence I can have empathy for what he went through.

  • John says:

    I was caught up in the vibe ASS was putting out until the shock of thinking of taking your own life by maybe taking someone else with you via the 18 wheeler daydream. I’ve thought about a lot of things, but never that I’d take an innocent person with me. “Would I accidentally kill anyone else in the process”? No. You would do so deliberately.

    Re Robin Williams, I believe it is impossible for people in a sane state of mind to truly understand what is happening in the mind of a person that is suffering from mental illness. The best you can do is mourn the tragedy in whatever way works best for you, and be thankful that you do not suffer from mental illness.

  • Shawn says:

    Uugh… seriously ASS. Robin Williams was clinically depressed, and likely manic. This is not the equivalent of someone with normal brain chemistry ‘having a bad day’. He probably actually DID need the meds you so unilaterally dismissed. Williams had during many stretches of his life heavily used and abused cocaine and other substances, and this messes up the dopamine receptors in your brain so they don’t function correctly. You cannot just ‘ride away’ this condition. He had a disease, not ‘demons’. Let’s just stop pretending that bicycles have magical powers and make it seem like Williams’ fatal mistake was just not understanding this. Certainly biking can be a positive way to relieve stress, have fun, stay in shape. And it can be a good for someone who lacks direction in their life to find focus and something to care about, but no more so than any other sport or hobby or charity or relationship that someone can get excited about. But neither biking nor any of these other things are going to cure mental illness, and suggesting this sounds plain ignorant. It’s like a fundamentalist Christian saying, ‘If he had only prayed to Jesus those demons would have been excorcized from his brain.’ Just replace ‘prayed to Jesus’ with ‘ridden his bike’. And if you truthfully contemplate turning your car into an on-coming semi just to see what happens, maybe your ‘biking cures all ills’ hypothesis isn’t working quite as well as you think, because that’s messed up.

  • Niven says:

    Good day ASS,
    Would you ever have imagined that your thought provoking and heartfelt observation of a tragic event, would elicit the response that it got? Obviously, there was always going to be a response of a religious nature. A response intolerant of the viewpoint of others, who do not believe in a god or divine intervention. Yes, as wrong as we may be, we do not believe, but for us there is no need to be militant about it.(This statement alone will elicit a hefty reply, no doubt.) Sadly, as humans, we have no tolerance for the different viewpoints of others. I get what you were trying to say, ASS and happen to agree. Perhaps if your article is read again without a literal interpretation, we would all agree that you are not saying that riding a bicycle is a cure for AIDS, depression, cancer, Penile Erectile Dysfunction and the like, but merely a figurative observation and a way to express our feelings of despair at a talent lost unnecessarily.
    The fact that Robin could not find a solution in religion, riding a bicycle, his family or the laughter that he brought to others, is what disturbs me. I hope I never have to experience that feeling of helplessness. To all the people of all the different religious persuasions, I have no beef to grind about your beliefs. Please allow us the same luxury.
    Kind regards

  • luis says:

    Being a believer in the intelligent design of our being, I take refuge in the fact that even the most perfect man that ever lived came and suffered deeply. I’m far from perfect and know that I too will suffer deeply. Taking refuge in Gods wisdom gets me through most my strugless. If I was a none believer I could take the scientific route and try to find slutions to my problems. Unfortunately their in lies the folly of our circumstances. Thinking we are wise enough to find a solution. We have been trying this to our own demise for millenea. I hope we are wise enough to realize we should try new and wiser avenues!

  • luis says:

    Would like to add that I’m not against science or scientific advancement. This is all beneficial. Our innerselves though requires more. Even when we seemingly have everything!!!!If we dig deep enough and long enough we could all realize this. Just what do you all think we are missing?

  • Catmando says:

    @ Angry SS, I understand where you are coming from. Yes, it’s great to have time to yourself and to be able to ride whenever and where ever you want. Yes, the world is full of bad things but you can’t change that fact nor can you be fully at peace by sticking your head in the ground and ignoring the bad stuff. Nope, the bad stuff doesn’t go away. That said we all handle the bad things in life in different ways. Just the other day I watched a show on the life of Stephan Hawking. Being trapped in a body that can’t move is something I don’t even want to think about. Even though I’m a Christian it doesn’t change the fact that I can only handle so much bad crap. If I had to live my life in a body that didn’t work I really wouldn’t want to live because it would drive me insane and I’d rather be dead than insane. As a man entering my senior years I have my own demons and I understand that people ( in general ) have limitations. Robin apparently had his own demons and his own limitations. For whatever reason he couldn’t cope with life any longer. Perhaps if he had ever had the chance to meet Stephan Hawking he might have found that with the right perspective on life he might have been able to continue and perhaps find a way to live his life in peace. I’m not judging Robin Williams. I’m not going to do that because I believe Someone else has that job and knows more about Robin than I ( or anyone else ) ever could. CAt

  • Craig DeGroot says:

    I totally agree with ASS 100%, especially true how insignificant we are in the overall scheme of the universe. I too find the onslaugt of negative reporting in the news media to be non-productive to my well being. Having suffered from depression all of my life, I was fortunate enough to find that exercise and especially mountain biking was the antidote to offsetting my depression. Having said that, I must also say that when depression takes a turn for the worse, seek help! I live to ride my bike because doing so replenishes my spirituality in no other way possible.

  • Jim says:

    If a person is so depressed that they are definitely considering suicide, I would recommend getting down to the ER and tell them what you plan to do. They can administer anti-anxiety meds that can bring a person back to a non-suicidal state.
    If a person can just reach out and ask for help that’s a big step. Part of the problem of mental illness is needless shame, Most cases of clinical depression are treatable to enable a person to live a normal life.

  • Damo says:

    Thoughtful piece, thanks. I know exactly what you are saying, get on your bike, step into the moment and come back a couple of hours later with the sun setting and the feeling of being at peace with the world. I’ve suffered from depression before and the feeling of utter hopelesness is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Leading a simple life involving lots of family, friends and excercise works for me.

  • Scotch Hennessy says:

    You couldn’t be more spot on regarding our minor existance on this planet. I feel very much the same way. Ignore the negative and focus on the fun and positive aspects of life while were here. one gets out alive anyway.

  • Gator says:

    I truly believe we are all here to help one another and in a way his death has helped me realize how even the most money in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t love yourself. God for me comes first, through him I can do anything. I don’t even go to church, but I believe!! My conversation with him is what I believe. I also feel drugs were the start of Williams problems, its been 25 years for me.

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