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When I think back to my childhood, back to some of the very first moments I can remember there are a few things that stand out. Above all else one of the most powerful memories I have is the first time I rode my little red bike. Maybe I was 3, maybe I was 6, I’m sure my parents know, but it’s late as I write this and don’t think it’s something I need to call and ask about. And second, I feel the memory is best if I don’t tamper with it, the ambiguity of my early childhood memory time line is in part what makes it enjoyable to think about. I’m sure it’s not a unique thing, an american child getting their first bike is generally accepted fact of life, like losing your first tooth. And while I’m perfectly aware not all kids get bikes, and my previous sentence expressed a bit of an inherent bias in the outdoor community, this post isn’t about that. It’s about riding my bike, in NYC.
“You’re crazy” or “That’s scary” or “Isn’t that really dangerous” are among the many first reactions I hear when I talk about riding my bike around NYC. Reactions which frankly I’m really just absolutely sick of hearing. NYC is among the top 5 most bike-friendly cities in the US according to bicycling.com and has one of the largest bike share programs in the world. So let’s dispel the notion right up front that NYC is not a city for bikes. It wasn’t always though and residents have fought tooth and nail to make positive change happen. I know because I was among those fighting to make NYC a more bike-friendly place, check out this article that nods to my emotional outtake at a community board meeting discussing the implementation of bike lanes in queens:
You’ll most often find me on my bike commuting to work, which I attempt as often as possible though chilly mornings, rainy days, and lethargic moods sometimes win over my conviction to travel by 2 wheels. I ride around town to run errands, and go for a spin on days I’m not in the woods. There is a sense of freedom and exhilaration that I get from being on my bike. The ability to move faster than my feet can carry me but yet still only utilizing the energy my body can produce. The bike becomes and extension of me. I couldn’t live without that feeling, I’m hopelessly forever addicted to it, and I don’t ever want to quit the drug, I’ll let it kill me before I give it up. Plus, assuming there are no train problems (which there are every day) my hour-long commute becomes 35 minutes, and I get a workout in twice a day.
So you want to become a city cyclist, here’s my advice:
It does take time to get comfortable riding in the city, because of those reactions and that negativity that’s projected onto riding a bike in NYC, it sticks with you in the back of your mind. It influences how you perceive things whether or not you want it to. So before all else, you’ll need to get confident. Even if you’re not, fake it until you make it right? A 40,000lbs city bus is super intimidating, and yes it will likely kill you if it runs you over, but you need to remember that you have the same rights and privileges on the road as that bus, or any other car for that matter, so you need to act like it. If there is no bike lane take a car lane, the WHOLE car lane, it’s yours by law so ride like it and make sure the cars around you know it. Timid riding, hugging the right side of the road and parked cars is a good way to get yourself clipped by a passing car or doored. The vast majority of the accidents I have witnessed were because the rider was being timid or insecure and got pushed off the road or cut off for taking too long to make a decision and not making their presence and intentions known.
Be safe! I don’t care how much you paid for that haircut or how good you think you are. There is absolutely no excuse what-so-ever to not wear a bike helmet. NONE! I don’t even so much as put my foot on the pedal without a helmet on, even if I’m only riding around the corner. You want to know why? Because I’ve had 3 major crashes in the last 10 years (all my own fault), 2 of which were bad enough to destroy my bike and split my helmet. But you know what, I didn’t crack open my skull and spill my brain onto the street like a big brown egg, which surely would have happened had I not had a helmet on. And if it’s dark, use front and rear lights. It’s amazing how difficult it is to spot a cyclist among the other visual noise at night in NYC, the lights help.
A bike is a bike is a bike. You don’t need to go out and spend a thousand dollars on something fancy, just pick something you feel comfortable on and as long as you keep it in good working order with an occasional tune up. It will serve you well for years. Check out the Recycle-A-Bicycle facebook page for some deals on sweet used rides. You can get your hands on something road worthy as well as support an awesome organization.
Lastly, have fun, give a nod to your fellow cyclist, lend a helping hand when you can. Every time someone becomes a member of this community it’s made stronger and better.
I‘ll leave you with this: