Zen and the Art of Stationary-Bicycle Maintenance

If it weren't for the Earth's gravitational pull, a Phoenix grandfather claims he'd have pedaled his stationary-exercise bicycle a fifth of the way to the moon by now.

Punching some figures into his pocket calculator, the robust retiree amends the progress report on his hypothetical bike ride through space.

"Actually, I'd be a lot closer than a fifth of the way," he says. "According to these numbers, I'd be closing in on a quarter."

So who's counting?
George Aboud, that's who--a retired engineer/chemist who hopes his long, strange trip to nowhere will cause others to follow in his path.

"I didn't do this just for myself," says Aboud of his self-described "herculean feat"--a 50,000-mile stationary-bike ride. "I did this to inspire other older people to take an interest in life. See, a lot of people retire and they just sit home and die."

Since hopping on his Schwinn Air-Dyne Model Ad-3 stationary-exercise bike in September 1986, the 69-year-old Aboud has racked up eight major surgeries--including two colon-cancer operations, two knee replacements, a heart procedure, a tummy tuck and a breast reduction. In the process, he's also amassed an overwhelming set of statistics that would tax the mental powers of Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man.

A framed poster-size spreadsheet on the family-room wall of his east-Phoenix home tells the story of his decadelong back-bedroom "odyssey," the equivalent of two and a half passes around the equator.

Total days required? 3,329. Number of days did not ride? 857. Revolutions of the bike sprocket per minute? 175. Total revolutions of bike sprocket? 8.75 million. Produced at a cost of more than $200, the elaborate chart also includes plenty of anecdotal information, such as that Aboud timed the equivalent of his first trip around the world to coincide with his 64th birthday.

Since reaching his goal last fall, Aboud has spent an additional $800 preparing a detailed dossier on his accomplishments. In addition to mission statements, box scores and acknowledgments (including his wife, who endured 5,000 hours of "widowhood"), the 17-page report contains numerous notarized affidavits from acquaintances--ranging from a doctor to a car-wash employee--who swear they'd been "kept informed" of Aboud's pedaling progress. ("This is definitely not the norm," says Bike Barn manager Mary Halfmann, whose store serviced Aboud's "vehicle" several times during his trek.)

Not included in the report, but available for perusal, are graph-filled notebooks documenting Aboud's day-to-day progress, as well as records of what music he listened to as he pedaled.

A big bear of a man who currently weighs in at 334 pounds (amazingly, he lost no weight en route), the gregarious grandfather thwacks the report with his thumb. "The answer to every question you could ever ask about what I've done is right here," he says.

Well, almost every question.
Asked why he feels compelled to document his exercise program in such detail--much less share it with the world--he smiles knowingly.

"Otherwise, everyone thinks this is a physical impossibility," answers Aboud. "If I missed one day, I'd have to do 30 miles to make it up the next day. If I missed two days, 45 miles and so on." Following vacations or one of his surgeries, Aboud claims he'd often have to ride the bike six or seven hours to make up for lost time. "When I tell people I pedaled that thing eight million times, they just can't believe it."

Although he's contacted USA Today, Oprah, 60 Minutes and Montel Williams, Aboud is puzzled that no one has taken him up on his offer to share his inspirational tale--even if it means submitting to a polygraph test.

But a Schwinn spokeswoman suggests one reason Aboud hasn't attracted more media attention: "What he has done is really not that unusual, at least not to us," says Angela Miller. While characterizing Aboud's 50,000-mile milestone as "serious dedication," Miller reports that the company frequently receives letters from other senior citizens "raving and ranting" about their exercise-bicycle achievements, including someone who passed the 100,000-mile mark.

"It seems to be a very motivational thing with older people," concludes Miller. "We think it's fabulous--I can't tell you the number of people who buy fitness equipment and it winds up sitting in the corner of the house, unused."

George Aboud, meanwhile, remains unfazed as he gears up for yet another crack at the Guinness Book of Records. During his initial communication with the publisher, he received a "thanks, but no thanks" letter that indicated that, in the unlikely event that a stationary-bike-riding category was added, he'd need independent documentation.

"I just don't get it," grouses Aboud. "Some asshole bakes the world's largest chocolate cake and they'll include that--yet they won't recognize something that has taken me almost a tenth of my life to accomplish? It doesn't make sense."

The stationary-cycling enthusiast shakes his head. "I really don't give a damn what Guinness does with this. I know what I've accomplished. I don't need to prove anything to anybody.

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Dewey Webb