This One Time, I Rode a Bike in New York…

I did make it back alive from NYC – a while ago in fact. But it was my birthday, which was distracting, and there have been several other issues at play, keeping me away from here. But now, I’m back. When I’m not mired in Sign Language work. Hands get tired so fast!

my intrepid bike friend also makes truffles. she is not actually a Velociraptor, but don’t let her know it was me who told you.

The trip to NYC was wonderful – seeing old friends, connecting new friends to each other,  and more drinking than was strictly necessary. But, in between all of that fun, I did find time to ride a bike. It was not the experience I expected, but I was happy to have it all the same.

The bike I rode belonged to my friend’s roommate. It was too large for me, and was very old – which would be fine if it had been well kept up. Which it hadn’t. It is extremely rare that I ride a bike other than my own, which is heavy, upright, with wide tires and good

The French-made, Super Mirage.

shocks. This bike was a steel frame road bike, with drop bars and flat pedals. Frequently, while riding up any sort of hill, I felt like I had no legs at all. But it was free, and we weren’t riding any extraordinary distances, so I figured ‘what the hell?’.

After brunch on my first full day, my friend and I pulled out the tools and lube, and worked on her bike, and mine for a while. We checked things over, made sure I could at least ride it, and set things aside until the following day, when we would ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan via the Manhattan Bridge. The first few blocks were rough – I purchased bike pants for this trip, as I am used to a more comfortable seat than any road bike would ever even think of affording me. But even still, I was extremely uncomfortable. Potholes in New York and I are sworn enemies.

Two serious challenges, aside from the height of the bike, presented themselves very early

the impossibly foreign gearing system.

on. The first was with the brakes, which I could not use effectively from anywhere except the drops. I had, until this point, never ridden with drop bars before, and was intimidated for much of my experience with them. I was relegated most of the time to the suicide brakes on the tops, which I would have to revert back to from the hoods whenever I needed to stop. The second problem, was the gearing system. My bike has a trigger system, which is extremely easy to use. This bike, however, had levers near but not on the handlebars. The derailleurs, from lack of use or just age, did not shift completely, meaning I frequently had to jostle the levers to get the chain in place. In New York traffic.

Riding in New York is not the same animal as riding in the temperate Bay Area. Logic should have told me this, but logic didn’t fit in my bags, so I left it at home. Approaching the bridge into Manhattan, I took full advantage of having a bike substantially lighter than my own, and charged the incline, only to stop, gasping and heaving, moments later as the weight of humidity settled into my lungs. A grade I can easily tolerate at home bested me in moments in NYC. But I also discovered the subtle beauty of riding (opposed to walking) in humidity. When you are moving, you feel much cooler. Even at a very relaxed pace, it was the air conditioning I did not have. There is also something to be said for riding home through dark streets, late at night, as the air begins to explore the possibility of cooling off. It was during these trips that explored the drops, and learned to love them.

Just as I was getting comfortable in the traffic, and with the concept of riding to the left – which we in California simply do not attempt unless actually turning left – the bike decided for me that I was going to explore Brooklyn on foot for a day. While riding uphill on a street thankfully light on traffic, the cranks fell off the bike. I am really sure how I managed not to fall, but once I was safely off the bike, I could see that both cranks and the front chain rings had come completely separated from the bike. The experience was frighting – it was my fist major malfunction and while it was not life threatening, that may have been different if I had been moving at speed, or had traffic behind me.

maintenance day.

While this may sound like my experience of riding in New York was overwhelmingly negative, the truth is actually quite the opposite. I had a brilliant time riding with an old friend – a cyclist I had never been able to ride with until this trip. And while I wish I had been able to instill more confidence in the bike, the mishaps were (luckily) hilarious – including needing to ditch into a wall coming off the bridge, because the brakes were not strong enough to stop my momentum. New York traffic is a brilliant phenomenon to take part in – just be ready for the intensity. It is truly no country for old men.

Not to mention, if you are on a train, or in a car, you cannot stop to savor moments like these:

looking at the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan Bridge.

Look up.

All things being equal, NYC treated me well. It didn’t hit me with a car, it even cooled off for a few days here and there. I am one of very few in my social circles who does not pine to live in New York. But there is a part of me that misses riding through downtown Manhattan rush hour traffic.