I walk into the Steelers’ weight room, and I look for Antonio Brown among the mass of players. Brown, who has proven himself to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL this season, and is an integral part of the Steelers' offense, is nowhere to be found. Suddenly, he comes up behind me and passes me by. On his bike. Fully kitted up, and smiling broadly. “Come on!” he says, waving me on as he makes his way to the team's practice field. His friendly demeanor and enthusiasm are obvious, even as a few teammates make passing remarks about his clipless pedals and cycling jersey.
The moment we get to the practice field, Brown turns to me, smiles, and asks, “wanna' to see me pop a wheelie?” I tell him that I absolutely do. And with that, Brown begins to ride his bike in circles as he pops a wheelie, and laughs like a kid that is riding his bike for the first time.
Hey may very well be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, but it's also clear that Antonio Brown is a cyclist.
What was your first bike like growing up?
I remember it well. My mom took me to get my first bike in Toys R’ Us, and it was a pretty nice bike. It was a BMX one, it had the pegs on it. It was a Mongoose, I remember that. It was a cool bike, I was eleven years old, and I learned to ride it right away.
When did you begin riding a bike again as an adult?
I started to incorporate riding a bike into my workout regimen last year. For me, it was first about keeping the legs strong, working on the muscles around my knees. So I was able to buy a couple of bikes with the clipless pedals, which really help add to my leg workouts and my training.
Was cycling something that was suggested to you by a trainer within the team?
It was just something I thought about in the off-season, something to give me a boost in my training. Right when the season ends, you don’t want to just hit the weights and bang yourself up early on. So I was looking for something that was low impact, but would keep my legs strong and also give me good cardio. So riding a bike is just perfect for me.
You ride a road bike, but you have a mountain bike as well.
Yeah, I like both. It depends on the scenery. Here in Pittsburgh we have a lot of hills, but we also have a lot of mountain bike trails, so I have a bike for that. So I get to have the best of both worlds.
How often do you ride, and what days of the week do you normally ride, since your schedule is so set due to games and practices?
I try to go out a couple of times a week. Saturdays and Mondays are my big days to ride, it allows me to flush out my legs, and get them warmed back up after a long weekend. I think it gives me a good little spark when I come back to practice.
Does cycling do anything else for you mentally that you were unable to find in other forms of physical activity?
It gives me a chance go out and challenge myself, but also it’s a chance to free myself, to be out there riding. It gives me time to think, to contemplate things, while working hard at something. To me, that’s really unique. It’s especially fun when you’re riding in a group, accomplishing tasks along the way, and working hard together. It’s also fun when I ride around the neighborhood with my kids, so it’s always fun and special to be out there riding in any way you can.
So you ride during the season as well?
Yeah, of course. It’s nice to get out, get the legs going, and work up a sweat.
Do you follow professional cycling at all?
Yeah, to me it’s amazing how they ride a bike for that long, and how they’re able to endure such pain. It’s great to see their abilities, and also the mentality it takes to go through that pain.
In cycling, the pain is drawn out and very much line with other endurance sports. But do you see a relationship between that kind of pain, and the kind that is common within football?
Definitely. You have to have endurance in life, and in any kind of sport. So it’s pain. When you ride a bike, you’re challenging yourself. Your legs start to burn, your heart’s going. When you ride in groups, you have to work to keep up. There’s that constant repetition of struggling to keep up, and there’s a real discipline there too, which is really something that can help you in other aspects of life.
Do any of your teammates ride?
Troy [Polamalu, seven-time Pro-Bowler] has a bike, but I haven’t gone out riding with him yet.
What do your teammates make of you riding, especially on a day like today when you’re all kitted up?
They like it. I mean, they support anything that helps someone better themselves as individuals, but also anything that is good for thenteam collectively.
Do you have any goals in regards to cycling that you hope to accomplish?
Longer distances. I hope to increase my distances as I ride more and more and improve. You have to keep challenging yourself.