A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 47: First Avenue on Two Wheels

August 12th · 2 Comments

Today I walked into my first New York bike shop, Toga Bikes on East 63rd, after a month of mulling it over and curiously looking into store windows. Not that they would have what I’m looking for.

The salesman, Jonathan, approached me with the blue-eyed, yo-brah enthusiasm of a mountain biker and an incongruous Queens accent. “Whaddaya lookin’ fwah?”

“I’d like to check out one of those single speeds people are riding these days. I want something that can handle the city but doesn’t draw a lot of attention to itself so it won’t get stolen.” I’d never actually seen anything off the rack like this; usually a bike comes in eye-catching colors that you have to cover and scar, making it ugly enough that no one would want to steal it.

“Check this out ovah heah.”

He pointed me toward the Specialized Centrum, which I hadn’t noticed because it really doesn’t draw attention: It’s matte black, without a sticker or bit of flash. Just one gear, just like the bikes that messengers use. And disc brakes.

In a few moments later I was released for a test ride, my very first time on two wheels on the New York streets. Look sharp! I rode south on First Avenue like I was being pursued by a pride of lions. Four lanes of one-way traffic were coming up behind me. However, I immediately discovered that the right lane is the de facto bike lane – that’s where all the delivery trucks and vans are blocking traffic.

The Centrum was nimble and quick. I resisted the urge to jump up onto the sidewalk. (“If he sees ya a cop’ll summons ya,” Jonathan had told me.)

The cars swooshed by without honking or swerving. As long as I paid as much attention to what was behind me as to what was in front, everything was fine. I turned right on 61st, bumped through a pothole and approached the intersection at 2nd Avenue. Pedestrians cross on red lights all the time here, hesitating only if a car is bearing down on them. I didn’t know what they would do for an oncoming bike.

Most people stopped, but as usual, bikes are invisible to some people, and I had to dodge a briefcase guy on his cellphone and then brake entirely for a woman and her Pekingese, the leash between them creating a tripwire.

I hit the pedals again and turned right on Second, churning the pedals, fast and adaptable and alert.

I’m not sold on this bike model for sure… but this New York obstacle course is starting to look like a lot of fun.

Tags: Urban Survival

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dan // Aug 13, 2008 at 3:11 am

    Dave, I used to ride down to my SOHO office from Penn Station when I worked weekends. That was all well and good and sometimes a lot of fun. Weekdays? Not so much.
    Don’t forget the helmet.

  • 2 Anais // Oct 28, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Well written article.

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