Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New York City a great place to ride

For anyone who has never been to New York, I have a surprise. This city is actually an excellent place to bicycle. Wouldn’t seem to be possible, since every view of New York on television or in a photograph shows clogged streets full of maniac taxis ready to flatten the nearest cyclist. But New York has safe places for cyclists. Many of them. The west side bike path runs nearly the entire length of manhattan, along the Hudson river. The lined, two way path extends nearly 12 miles, is essentially free from car traffic. The only obstacles are people walking and roller bladders. I take the bike path on my ride to work. Without the path, I’d have to ride through the city and stop often since there are traffic lights at each block. And I’d have to dodge traffic, and breathe in smog directly from exhaust pipes. I wouldn’t commute by bike at all.

For fun, I ride around central park, which is a six mile loop. The park road is curvy and has some fairly substantial hills. It’s also lined by trees, ponds and meadows and feels a lot like a country road, especially on a quiet early morning ride. During the day, the park is full of cyclists and runners so its important to be careful not to run anyone over.

If you take the riverside bike path north you’ll eventually run into the Washington bridge, which has its own bike path. The bridge will take you across the Hudson and into New Jersey. There, you can take Route 9N along the New Jersey Palisades for fifty miles or more. 9N is fairly heavily trafficked, but the shoulders are wide. The road is also a favorite of local cyclists, so motorists are generally used to seeing bikes and drive cautiously.

There are many other rides possible. You can ride to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan and catch a ferry to Governor’s Island during the summer. I have yet to make the trip myself, but have heard that the island has an old new England, small town feel. Another ferry will take you to Staten Island. Admittedly, not my favorite place, but the borough is relatively less populated than Manhattan and may have more open roads suited to biking. Last year I even rode to Coney Island at the far end of Brooklyn. The 20 mile (each way) or so ride took two hours, a slow time due to the fact that the last few miles are along Atlantic (?) avenue in Brooklyn, which is a boulevard of seemingly never-ending intersections and traffic lights that are timed perfectly to slow a rider down.

New York is an excellent bicycling city. This does not mean that riding on city streets is pleasant. It isn’t, and it can be easily hazardous to your health. But the city has thankfully created paths for cyclists, and Central park is tuly biker heaven. Beats my home town of Cincinnati, even if the Midwest does have a much wider variety of wide open roads a relatively short distance from the major urban and suburan areas.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Looking up, not around

I’ve been involved in a number of near misses on my bike lately while riding to and from work. These have come when I’ve been distracted, suddenly look ahead at the road and find myself rapidly coming up on a slower rider, roller blader, or upon a pedestrian suddenly crossing the street that I almost run into. Many of these close encounters have come as I’ve ridden on the Hudson bike path. And, last week on 14th street I almost got whacked when a taxi door opened – luckily I had just passed the car.

I wondered if I’m getting old and my eyesight and reflexes are slowing, causing me to come upon potentially hazardous situations that I would normally well avoid. But, I don’t think this is really the problem (or, if it is, it isn’t the main problem).

I’ve been getting myself into near misses because I am so confident in my ability as a rider (I was a BMXer as a teen and have good bike handling skills, and have been riding city streets as an adult for years). I figure that I can react to the suddenly opening car door or the unexpected swerving bus. But, the reality is that I can only control these situations if I don’t allow myself to get into them in the first place. If I ride close to cars, no matter how capable a rider I think I am, I have no control over the person who suddenly swings a door open.

Because I’ve gotten so comfortable at weaving my way through the city, I don’t take the precautions that any other, justifiably terrified cyclist would take here. I watch the Hudson go by, read road signs, look down at my read derailleur to see what gear I’m in. But I don’t pay attention to the road. And the last few weeks I’ve had some scares.

So, I thought about one of the rules I learned in drivers education in high school: aim high. Meaning, always look up, and look well down the road instead of merely ten feet ahead. This gives a wide view of what is happening directly in my path, and off to either side, and plenty of time to react if something goes awry.

Rather than have another near miss, I’m going to try to aim high.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


this is New York Bike Commmuter, a place for every New Yorker who rides his/her bike to and from work, bars, or wherever to tell their daily story. Anything goes, the first posts will come soon....