Gut Instinct: Belly Up to the Bike

Look at me riding a bike! Photo: Jenene Chesbrough

Like a bear chunking up before a winter slumber, I spent the last several months filling my furry hide with fattening foods such as Defonte's roast beef–and-mozzarella heroes, homemade cheese-vegetable chowder and, in moments of hungover weakness, General Tso's chicken.

Yet gaining blubber was not my stated goal. Typically, I can withstand a caloric onslaught—and not turn into a stumpy Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man—thanks to my rigorous exercise regimen. I'm an avid cyclist, regularly cranking out 70 or 80 miles a week. This fosters a caloric equilibrium: food enters my mouth, and the calories leave via my thick, pumping thighs. It's a system that's kept my stomach in check for much of the past 32 years. But this frigid, snowy, rainy, neverending winter has kept me from bicycling.

I've tumbled from my dietary tightrope, and my belly expanded like one of those toy dinosaurs dipped in water.

"Maybe you should go up a pants size?" my fiancée suggests, examining yet another pair of my jeans that have eroded in the crotch. The hole is as wide as my mouth when I scream these words. "Never! That's just a stress point in jeans. It's common for the crotch to wear out," I explain. "Just look at my thighs!" She averts her eyes, then puts the jeans on our bed and saunters away from the situation.

A simple solution would be visiting a sports club. But readers, I'm allergic to gyms: The sight of stretchy clothes, combined with animalistic grunts and that sweat stench, makes me break out in hives. A gym is like hell with Spandex. Or maybe wearing Spandex is hell. Either way, a gym is out of the question. As is overhauling my diet. I'm conscious of my high cholesterol. Hell, it's not like I double-fist hot dogs dipped in foie gras and lard. Much. When I embark on a food adventure, my goal is not uncovering Queens' finest quinoa salad. It's to source gluttonous eats worth your time and waistline expansion.

My bike permits me to pedal to delicious lands underserved by subways and buses—given the MTA's cutbacks, that's most of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. By bike I venture to the distant reaches of Staten Island to dine on bratwurst at Killmeyer's Old Bavarian Inn. A bicycle helped me reach the Bronx's City Island, home to Johnny's Famous Reef and other seafaring eateries. Come summer, I cruise to Rockaway Taco for the city's crispest fish tacos. Thanks to biking, I can dine without consequences. Without biking, my fat thighs chafe holes in my crotch. Not even hookers should strut around town with air-conditioned nether regions.

Happily, after months of gray skies and nipple-hardening temperatures, Mother Nature has begun doling out spring weather. On the first sunny Saturday in heaven knows how long, I dragged my bike from storage. I plumped the tires. I greased the chain like a tender lover. I slung the bike over my shoulders and— "Where are you going?" my fiancée asked. "Uh, Brighton Beach." I had my sights set on Georgian Bread (265 Neptune Ave. betw. Brighton 5th & 6th Sts., Brooklyn, 718-332-8082), a bakery specializing in a cheese bread called khachapuri.

"I want to come, too," she said. "Are you willing to eat cheese bread?" My fiancée has a different take on exercise. To her, working out is for toning muscles and burning fat, not an excuse to OD on edibles. "Fine, I'll have a piece of cheese bread." "That's my girl," I said, heading to the hallway to grab her bike.

We departed our apartment and steered through Prospect Park to Coney Island Avenue. During weekdays, bicycling this screwball stretch of auto-body shops, Indian restaurants and Jewish grocers is a death wish. But on the synagogue-going Sabbath, the street is calm. We breezily pedaled to Georgian Bread, a blink-and-you-miss-it nook a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean.

I ordered a $6 khachapuri. I received a fluffy, steaming hubcap of bread. "Should we eat it at the beach?" my fiancée asked, motioning to the nearby surf. "No time. It's hot now," I said, biting into the bread encasing a gooey layer of salty, slightly sour suluguni cheese—a calzone by way of the Caucasus Mountains. I gobbled up a third of the bread in two giant bites. My fiancée nibbled. "Do you like it?" I asked her. "It's good, but it's…so much cheese," she said, tabulating the calories, the miles required to bike off the gut bomb.

"Don't worry," I told her, passing her another cheesy chunk. "We'll take the long way home."

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