In the middle of March Bike Hacks got an email from Matt B. who stated that he would be visiting NYC and was looking for advice. He asked a few questions, I offered a few answers, and then a light bulb went off in my head.
Each time a friend comes to New York City for the first time and stays with me, it's like I see the city for the first time again. Since I live here, crazy stuff like 6 foot high piles of stinking trash on the sidewalk seem normal to me. But when a friend visits, they point at things like the garbage and say something like, "Um, this system is pretty gross." Or they will ask, "How do you deal with all the noise?" Like many things in life, you tend to become immune to what surrounds you.
So I fired off an email to Matt B. and roped him into a project. I encouraged him to snap shots of bikes he saw in NYC and encouraged him t write up some of his thoughts. He graciously agreed and thus you have this entry. The black text and photos below are all Matt B. and the red text is me offering some random thoughts. Thanks Matt B.!
My wife and I are recreational cyclists and I read BikeHacks.com on a daily basis. We were planning a trip to New Jersey for a wedding. We had never been to New York so we added a few days to our trip to experience New York City.
Everyone I talked to advised against renting a car for this trip, because driving and parking in New York was so difficult (true that). I have always lived in Minnesota and because the Midwest is so disperse, I am very reliant on a car to get around (sad but true for most of our society). The idea of not having access to a vehicle made me very nervous. I reached out to Matt from BikeHacks.com for advice. I knew we had to cover a lot of ground and I figured the best way would be by bike. I asked Matt about renting bikes for multiple days. Matt was very helpful and suggested to simplify by renting bikes on a daily basis instead.
Our hotel in New Jersey was a 20 minute bus ride to New York. The route was pretty well traveled by buses and we never had to wait very long to catch a ride. The New York City Port Authority is where the adventure began (perhaps one of the #1 locations in the world to people watch).
I was trying to get an idea of the bike scene in New York
City. I hate to admit it but we acted
like typical tourists with our camera out most of the time. That made it easy to snap pictures of the
bikes that we found along the way.
Almost all the bikes were locked up with massive chain locks (I am surprised the front wheel was still on this bike).
I have seen chain locks at bike shops, but in the Midwest they are rarely used. In New York heavy chain locks were the most common type of lock by far, only a few owners dared use the U-lock (I like a chain lock because you never know what you might want to lock up to, and the chain offers more options).
We also discovered a primitive form of text messaging that
utilized the multi functional chain locks. On a few occasions the chains were used to
convey small notes or messages to the owners (strange, never seen something like this - perhaps a love connection?).
I noticed an unusually large number of bikes with front baskets. Even though the front basket is functional they are not very common where we are from. At first I thought this was a trend that the rest of the biking community has yet to catch on to. Eventually I came to understand most of the front basket bikes were used by stores and restaurants for deliveries.
The bikes of New York City were much more personalized than bikes in our area. Many of the cyclists went through great effort to disguise and protect their bikes in very creative ways. We saw bikes frames wrapped with a variety of materials and colors that made each bike very unique (most likely because the bikes were stolen, disguised, and resold).
The majority of people get around New York City on some form of public transportation, bus, subway or taxi. I did not see any taxis with bike racks (ahahahahahahaha), no bikes in the subway stations, and only one bike in the bus station heading back to New Jersey. We saw some bike lanes, and plenty of people riding around town on the streets, but cyclists had no aid from public transportation (partially because public transit is so well used. Most systems have room or time for assisting cyclists but our system is already overtaxed so one more thing would likely drive people to the brink). To keep the bikes safe cyclists have to carry around heavy chain locks that we noticed on most of the bikes. If you are biking in New York City, you are on your own, there appears to be little help from public transportation.
In my home town most (if not all) of the city buses have bike racks so you can take your bike with you on the bus ride. Minneapolis has bike lanes, and well maintained bike paths (that are plowed in the winter) that cross the city so getting around by bike is very easy.
Central Park seems to be THE place to be when the weather is
We saw cyclists, joggers, rollerskaters and all kinds of folks in Central Park. The cyclists were primarily using the bike lane to ride around the park. There were full spandexed roadies to casual riders and everything in between. The bike demographic was also more diverse than the tourist areas. There were some very high end bikes being pedaled through the park. That made me wonder how New Yorkers kept their expensive bikes safe. It must really be a drag to carry around those heavy chain locks every where you go. The weight savings of a carbon fiber frame is easily negated by a chain lock (dudes with nice bikes likely stay inside in the winter and spin - "Twinkied Out" cyclists are strangely absent from the city scape when temps drop below 50).
Due to our busy tourist schedule we were only rented bikes for one day. Central Park is really big and would be difficult to walk through the entire park. We pedaled one and one half laps around Central Park using the bike lane. Cycling was very good way to see all that Central Park had to offer. You just can not get the same experience being carted around the park in a carriage or cab.
When traveling on the subway everyone must buy a Metro Card to get access to the subway stations. The Metro Cards are made out of a flexible plastic like material have a magnetic strip but are thinner than a credit card. Many Metro Cards were discarded and littered all over the subway stations. We found the best use of Metro Cards that only a BikeHacks audience could appreciate (this dude lives somewhere near me cause I see his bike around my neighborhood a lot).
In our short visit I did not experience much of New York City's bike scene. I may have missed some bike trails or not noticed some things that only local New Yorkers would know about. I would have liked to ride with some locals, or taken some longer rides around the city, but our schedule did not allow these options (come back!). I will be interested in reading comments from locals or other visitor's experiences who have been to the Big Apple.