Nik's Yay Bikes! Journey

Yay Bikes! Journeys recount how Yay Bikes! is transforming lives and communities, from the perspective of those we’ve impacted. In this installment, we hear from Nik Olah about how the Yay Bikes! community has rallied around him during his time of need.

 The man, the myth, the legend: Nik Olah. Photo: Ray George

The man, the myth, the legend: Nik Olah. Photo: Ray George

Biking, for me, is fundamentally a social experience. I ride with people to soak up life with them. It’s the time we’ve spent just being together, talking or silently taking in the scenery, that has forged some of the friendships I’ve relied on most since my cancer diagnosis. 
— Nik Olah

COMING UNDONE: ‘Humbling’ doesn’t even come close to capturing the outpouring of love I’ve received from this community over the past 12 months.”

Shortly after the Year of Yay! ride in July 2017, Nik Olah walked from his apartment in Downtown Columbus to the emergency room at Grant Hospital. Though he had trouble convincing the doctors there of it, he knew something wasn't right. He knew this because after the Year of Yay! ride someone had offered to drive him home from Whole Foods Market at Easton and, too tired to ride the 10 extra miles, he accepted. This was weird. He had just returned from an epic bicycle camping trip through Glacier National Park, so 10 miles? Pshaw! He finally convinced the doctors to run some tests, and one week later he got the devastating diagnosis: stage IV pancreatic cancer. Nik would be lucky to live another few months. 

 Nik, shortly before his cancer diagnosis.

Nik, shortly before his cancer diagnosis.

His world fell apart at that point, as anyone's would. Suddenly the guy known to everyone in the Yay Bikes! community as "the ultimate sweep"—the one who'd stay behind to ride with anyone who was struggling—found himself in need of the support he'd offered to so many for so long. And indeed, in the months following his diagnosis, it was often his bicycle community that buoyed both his spirits and his health. “People have helped me clean and cook, sat with me as I cried, traveled and ridden with me, joined me at doctor’s visits…I couldn’t ask for better friends,” said Nik, tears in his eyes.  

MAKING COLUMBUS HOME: "I came to Columbus for the opportunity to earn more money, but my heart was elsewhere for a long time. I stopped driving back to Toledo every weekend when I finally began going on Yay Bikes! rides."

In 2008, Nik moved to the Columbus area from Toledo, where he’d lived his entire life. With his new, better-paying job, he replaced the bicycle he’d had stolen 10 years before and began riding the paths and parks of Westerville. He attempted a ride with the Westerville Bike Club but…it did not go well; Nik couldn’t keep up with the group. Eventually he decided to move to downtown Columbus, where he met folks who enjoyed the more leisurely, sociable style of riding that suited him. As best as we can figure, Nik found his way to a Year of Yay! ride sometime in 2014. He still didn’t have many friends in Columbus, so he returned to Toledo most weekends. But as he began attending more Yay Bikes! events, and Ray George pulled him into other rides, he started to form a community here. Columbus finally began to feel like home. Along with board games, curling and rum connoisseur-ing, bicycling became his life—he sold his car when he determined it’d be cheaper and easier to live without it, and he has never turned back. 

 Nik being Nik on a holiday Year of Yay! ride!

Nik being Nik on a holiday Year of Yay! ride!

BEING YAY BIKES!: "You can do it. There's only Nik (i.e., five) miles left to go*..."

Nik turned out to be the perfect embodiment of Yay Bikes! According to our theory of change, “We facilitate a caring community of cyclists because we believe that changing transportation behaviors is difficult when attempted in isolation.” And Nik’s ability to create meaningful relationships in a very short time is unparalleled. He hangs back with new riders, sharing his knowledge with them, distracting them with conversation, nudging them to just. keep. pedaling. And, with him, they find it within themselves to keep at it, long enough to gain the confidence of someone who’s done something previously unimaginable. They are able to move from fear into a bicycling lifestyle because Nik took the time to support them at a critical juncture on their journey.

(*Nik is known by friends to answer "five" whenever they ask how many miles are left to ride. Because anyone can ride just another five miles!)

 Nik, Joel and Kathleen being cheered on during the 2018 Pan-Ohio Hope Ride. Photo: Darrell McGrath

Nik, Joel and Kathleen being cheered on during the 2018 Pan-Ohio Hope Ride. Photo: Darrell McGrath

ROLLING ONWARD: "Keep pedaling, find your tribe and locate your joy.”

Recently Nik has been sporting an electric bike, too weak to continue riding the steed he bought 10 years ago upon moving to Columbus. He was able to complete the American Cancer Society’s 2018 Pan Ohio Hope Ride, but realistically there won’t be another; he has accepted comfort care and expects to have passed by the end of the year. But, in typical Nik fashion, he wants his story to be told, and exploited for Good any way possible: "Anything I can do to turn this into a positive, I will gladly do," he says. He wants people know the magic of riding a bike. He wants them to know how profoundly their mental and physical health can be impacted by riding a bike. Most of all, he wants people to know that riding bikes is a way to know and be known, to develop “bike friends” that become “real friends” who will be there for you when things get rough. 

Yay Bikes! is forever grateful to Nik for his loving, joyful, generous presence. We will always treasure the many gifts he has bestowed on our community. 

Helmets off to you, friend. You are loved. 

Click here to give to Yay Bikes! in honor of Nik Olah.


Loving tributes to our friend:

>>To add your bike-themed tribute, send a picture and a brief paragraph to Meredith.<<