This is part II in the series of a coworker purchasing a bike in NYC. Part I can be found here.
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8 days ago I picked up my bike from the shop after having drop bars installed. Cost: $250. Being able to ride down the street without having people snicker at me: priceless. So yes, the circle is now complete. I have my drop bars and I feel much better. Physically better, as I am able to adjust my arms and wrists in various positions to avoid soreness and to posture myself for the type of riding that the situation calls for. I can definitely ride faster if need be, and need often be. But of course, I also feel psychologically better. I feel like a real biker. Or do I?
Last weekend, my indispensable biking resource and friend, A., invited me on a trip with his wife, A2, and fellow cycling enthusiast , J. I was told to meet my friends at Riverside Drive and 122nd Street at 8am on a Saturday morning. As I approached this quiet intersection, across from Grant’s tomb, I noticed a large group of cyclists, all decked out in cycling gear, all with top-of-the-line bikes. Thank god I had my drop bars, but even so, my bike was still not quite up to racing snuff. Also, I wore mesh shorts, a t-shirt, Skechers sneakers, and no helmet. To say the least, I looked a bit out of place. I was wondering if my friend had invited me to some group ride, so I approached the cyclists and asked if they were going to Nyack and if they knew my friend A. Indeed they were going to Nyack, but they had no idea who A. was. I sheepishly said “thanks” and moved away from these “real” bikers.
A few minutes later A. and A2 showed up. They informed me that Nyack is a popular cycling destination, and that many cyclists meet at Riverside Drive and 122nd Street before embarking uptown to cross the G.W. Bridge. To be sure, as we made our way uptown, cyclists whizzed by, all on some apparent biking exodus. I already felt like I was connected to some weird alternate universe. On our way north A2 got a flat, and my friend A. masterfully assessed the situation and began changing the tube (he had brought a portable pump and spare tube). Soon, J. caught up with us and began consulting. It was absolutely fascinating to watch these two biking geniuses change a tire. It was almost like watching open heart surgery, in fact.
Soon we were on our way and soon we were on the G.W. Bridge into New Jersey. I yelped in sheer excitement and joy as we crosses the majestic Hudson River. I was born anew. I also caught on to quite an excellent biking term: when you’re in front of the pack and you turn a corner, you yell “clear” to let the bikers know that the coast is clear. Biking around, yelling out “clear!” I almost felt like I was a member of the Bicycle SWAT team. CLEAR!!!!
We made our way onto 9W and headed north. We continued to see bikers, and I felt that I was glimpsing a world of excitement and adventure. But, dear lord, I was the only one not wearing spandex. One half of me was in the door, the other half outside. I couldn’t quite feel like I was a part of this elite community.
We made it to Nyack and visited a coffee shop that is popular with bikers from NYC. The shop has rows of bike racks in front, and from what my friends told me, it’s usually packed. The day we were there it wasn’t so busy, perhaps because it was unseasonably cool and also rainy, but there were still quite a few bikers. We ate some food and headed back, all-in-all a 50 mile trip. I enjoyed this adventure, but it raised some philosophical questions: what kind of a biker am I? Can you only be one type of biker? What is the nature of biking reality?
I continue to wrestle with these questions. I will be honest: I am young, strong, in decent shape, will continue to get into better shape as I bike more, I’m powerful, handsome and smart. If I really wanted to, I could wear spandex and become a pretty decent road cyclist. But is that me? Perhaps I am more of an urban cyclist, one who rides a fixed gear bike and wears American apparel and crosses the Williamsburgh Bridge on my way to some Cambodian poetry slam.
As I write this, the evening of Friday, June 20, I have just returned from a great urban biking adventure. I had decided I wanted to try a cream-filled pastry from a new French bakery in Greenwich Village, a distance of 7 miles from where I was. I realized, however, I had less than an hour to get there before it closed. I took my trusty bike and headed down. It was raining, but I could handle it. As I entered Central Park the clouds broke and I could see sections of blue sky. It seemed as if there was a cosmic struggle between rain and sun, good and evil, taking place, much like the struggle in my soul between road biker and urban biker. I sped down the loop, feeling happy but unsure of who I was.
Eventually I made my way into the Times Sqaure region and started feeling annoyed with all of the oblivious pedestrians. So many Europeans and Texans in one place is never a good thing. The sky was getting darker. Even though you always get slowed down in Midtown, I was still making good time. I was going to make it to the bakery! The sky got darker. It started raining. And then it happened: I got a flat tire. And then it started pouring. The heavens unleashed their fury. People everywhere began running for cover. With my broken bike, I also had no choice but to seek refuge.
With my trusty smartphone I looked up the closest bikeshop - it was only several blocks away! The rain got worse. I looked at the time. The minutes were slipping away. God how I wanted my pastry. And then the rain started to let up and I walked as fast as I could to Zen Bikes on West 24th Street. They changed my tube in about 10 minutes, and I was back on my way. The sun was out. I actually still had a chance to make it to the bakery.
I pushed as hard as I could, but having to more or less obey traffic laws, I couldn’t quite make it. I pulled up to the bakery at 7:02pm and they had closed. I could have banged on the window and begged for a cream puff, but I decided to retain my dignity. I ended up going to get an ice cream sundae from a popular New York establishment, the Shake Shack. I stood outside, my bike wedged between my legs, and ate my sundae. The sun, or what was now left of it as the Earth rotated away, reflected off the skyscrapers of Manhattan. What an exciting hour I had as I raced against time to get my pastry. And even though I missed the pastry, there was at least Shake Shack. I can always go back for the pastry. And I can always go back to road biking up to Nyack. Perhaps this is the beauty of biking and life.