Saturday, July 09, 2011

You know, it really is just like riding a bike

I have wanted a bike for years. I kept putting off getting one because, I suppose, I was just plain scared. Bicycles and I have had... let's say an interesting relationship.

Growing up in the 'burbs, you know where kids get to 'play outside' and 'ride their bikes' and so forth, you'd think I was riding a bike my entire childhood. Not so. So very not so. With bizarrely overprotective yet uninterested parents I finally taught myself to ride a 'two-wheeler' at the tender age of twelve; on the sly and with many mishaps. The whole sad story is here, should anyone want the details.

In spite of a fairly non-biking life in the land of 'safe for kids', I really WANTED to ride. I despise stationary bikes and rarely will deign to use them at the gym (unless I want to knit while I'm doing it). But a real bike? Oh yes, please!

Of course as with most everything I've done, and will likely continue to do in my life, I've been ass-backwards. When it was relatively safe to have and ride a bike I was not allowed to, now that I'm approaching 50.... O.M.G. FIFTY!!!! I finally bought a bike, to ride in the not-so-safe streets of New York City. Yup. Well played Joy, well played!

I got the bike about a month ago, a Schwinn cruiser, single speed, coaster brakes thank you (I can't rely on my hands for the brakes so it's the safest choice for me). Picked this little beauty up at Target (of all places!) for a steal. The lock cost as much as the bike did.

A lot of people asked how I got it home. Well... um... I rode it. Which seems obvious, but given that it had been at least 15 years since I last rode a bike it's really not that strange a question. Target is a good 40+ blocks from my apartment (translation about 2 miles) and riding a bike for the first time in more than a decade in city traffic does indeed sound daunting, if not foolhardy. But I plotted out my trip before I bought it and there is a very lovely, very safe little thing called the NYC Greenway which runs around the island of Manhattan and just happens to be a convenient route from Target to me! This is a shot from the 120th Street overpass leading to the Greenway.I did actually walk the bike on the sidewalks when I got off the Greenway, which felt wimpy but I think given my shaky bike skillz (hey, I nearly ran down a pigeon... poor thing looked as scared as I was) walking it part of the way seemed a wise decision.

The other thing, aside from abject terror, that kept me from getting a bike for so long was, and I know this is such a holdover from my childhood, the 'dorky' helmet. There is no way I would ride without one, I'm far too clumsy to risk that kind of insanity. I walk into walls on a regular basis... actually, wearing a helmet all the time might be a good ... no, I'm not going there. But seriously I did kind of worry about looking silly - total jr. high taunting memories. Finally I just said the hell with it, and got a helmet - so I could get the bike and ride it home without splitting my skull.

Typically I think I worried for nothing. A helmet is just a hat really, and I've always done well with hats. I got a blue one because the advert for the bike at Target showed a blue one. Ended up being red. Ah well, there's a symmetry there as the first bike I ever rode was also red. Everything old is new again, as they say.

The first few rides were extremely tentative and either on the Greenway or in Central Park with much sidewalk bike walking when I didn't feel confident. But as I get braver I'm hitting the streets more and more frequently and feeling more at ease about it. Buses however can frighten me right up onto the sidewalks again. They be BIG those buses!

Yesterday I decided I needed running socks. Yes, there are such things and they are a huge help when running more than a few miles. Cotton socks just invite blisters. I got the bike out and headed to The Running Company which meant I needed to use Streets and Avenues. Big scary avenues. And I did it! Yes, I still walked the sidewalks a bit but wouldn't you if you were on a bike going down Lexington Avenue when a car decided to barrel through - the wrong way? Not a half-hearted "whoopsie wrong way" - which does happen from time to time, the mistaken drivers sheepishly turning around - but a full on "YAHOO I'm crazy and driving the wrong way on a one-way 4 lane Avenue - and I'm heading straight for that clumsy chick on the red bike!!!" And he really was gunning for me. Nice.

Yeah, the sidewalk seemed safer... though given crazy-man's driving I don't know if safer was actual safe. But it was the best alternative.

Despite that little scare, I got to the store, got my Body Glide and fancy-pants new socks in under 4 minutes and when I went out to my bike (which was still there-hurray!) there were five people standing around it... whaaaa? Seems they were admiring it. Go figure. As I got it unlocked a man passed and looking at it longingly said, "really nice bike." Again, go figure. But of course I was pleased, it is kind of cute. (It was also crazy cheap, always a plus.)

Going home I had planned to take the Greenway from 63rd Street home, but since there is construction blocking the section I would need to go through, and exit, I ended up coming off the Greenway early and taking First Avenue home. There's a bike lane on First and it seriously takes the pressure off in terms of having to ride close to parked cars and risk being doored. A long-time bike riding friend advised me strongly to avoid riding near cabs for the same reason. Good advice - people fling their doors open without looking. I'm surprised there aren't more cabs with doors missing because of it.

All this is a long way around to show off some pictures I took on the Greenway/esplanade, shots of a place I've never seen before and I was thrilled by the view. This city is a never-ending surprise. I just love it. I think I'm going to love it all the more from my perch on two wheels.


Gary said...

Body glide?! Fantastic.

I think we should get you a little flowered basket for the front of the bike instead of the plastic bag look you got going. It just screams "50!"

Great pictures! You are so cute (not to mention naked and happy). xo

Joy Keaton said...

Gracias!!! I've been looking for a basket, just haven't found one I like enough yet. The little ziplock bag on the handlebars held the owners manual and price tag, but I left it on because it's really handy to carry little things until I get a basket (plus I think of it as an homage to Minnie Pearl). Unless you mean the shopping bag? Ohhhh. Nevermind. ;)

Salty Miss Jill said...

You are a brave, brave woman for riding a bike in NYC!
And yes, I think you do need a flowered basket fro the front. I will be on the lookout. ;)