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A Morning Bike Ride in New York City

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Brooklyn Facade, 65-71 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn., Digital ID 482656, New York Public LibraryBrooklyn Facade, 65-71 Columbia Heights,
Berenice Abbott (NYPL)
It was a plan to get out early and it was a plan I kept to. I carried my bike atop my shoulder down my stoop and I was on the streets of Brooklyn by 9:00 AM. The sun was shining; the air was fresh and sweet. The hot sun had not yet evaporated away the luscious morning air. It was a perfect temperature out. The light shimmered as it bounced off the buildings. I made my way through the quiet of Brooklyn, one neighborhood melding into another by way of asphalt ribbons.

Up and down, up and down, around and around my pedals moved. The crunch of gravel could be heard under the narrow rubber strip of my tires as I rode along Lafayette Ave. I sometimes took bike paths sometimes not. Brownstones with big fat stoops lined the way. Through the city streets I rode, mostly alone. Occasionally I would pass another biker or a runner. One rider I tried hard to catch up with but he made a light where I did not and then he was gone, quicksilver into the tree lined canyons that is Brooklyn. I was aware of not wearing a bike helmet, I never have. The conversation I had with my son Jesse two weeks earlier, whirled about in my head. I was aware how unsafe I was.

The BQE (with permission of Sufjan Stevens)The BQE (with permission of Sufjan Stevens)I took a turn on Classon knowing in general where I was, however as I reached the end of the block, I knew at once this was not where I wanted to be. It was a convergence of off ramp BQE traffic, as well as two busy intersections and though it was morning there was a definite buzz of activity, an urgency that did not fit into my beatific sense of the morning beauty. I flowed into traffic cautiously and turned my head in the direction of the activity and almost immediately met my doom. A car two lanes over to my left decided to make a quick right turn across the lanes right into me. I winced. Fortunately for me we did not meet. Once again I thought of my son Jesse and our conversation. Fear moved around in mouth, sour and unpleasant.

Now into Williamsburg, I turned onto the green bike path. The sky opened up with the Brooklyn Navy Yard on my left and the skyline of Manhattan beyond. I rode fast down the green strip; the smell of sea was all around me. Hubert Selby’s Last Exit Brooklyn always comes to mind when ride by the now quiet and desolate area of the Navy Yard.

Williamsburg Bridge, South Eighth and Berry Streets, Brooklyn., Digital ID 482594 , New York Public LibraryWilliamsburg Bridge,
Berenice Abbott (NYPL)
I passed an enclave of Hasidic homes; children’s toys lay scattered about the sidewalk and lawns. It was a veritable toy store for the taking but somehow left untouched here. I thought about that image for a moment or two. The Williamsburg Bridge loomed large overhead. A 19th century marvel of metal construction of steel girders and ropes of tensile strength cable, wound tight around itself. I could hear the woosh of cars overhead and the clickity-clack of the subway. I stopped a moment to look at this massive monster bridge: elegant and eloquent with a big blue morning sky behind her.

The normal entrance was not open. The gate closed with a pad lock. A bike in white, a reminder of death, stood sentry and locked to a sign pole. The new entry to the bridge was quietly hidden away on another street. Like bees swarming to their hive, I watched as bikers and runners entered the narrow opening. A steep paved path, barely as wide as a normal sidewalk moved toward the main expanse of the bridge. Hasid women in sneakers, long black skirts, long sleeved shirts and covered heads power walked their way up the steep grade. Runners, bikers and Hasid men in skullcaps and short sleeved white shirts, with their side-locks billowing in the wind all pushed forward on the bridge.

With my feet strapped into my pedals, I geared into a high gear, making my trek comfortable. I huffed and puffed upward and made it to the top. All the faces on the bridge were alive and bright with the sight of the surrounding city in their eyes. There is something special about being on a city bridge, in the morning, on a bike, high up in the sky. I rode at a nice speed on the main expanse of the bridge and then I flew down the other end. Going maddeningly fast, I stood atop my pedals, feeling the whip of the wind against my face.

Pike and Henry Streets, Manhattan., Digital ID 482679, New York Public LibraryManhattan Bridge,
Berenice Abbott (NYPL)
In a few seconds the ride down was done and now I was on Delancey. I turned left on a side street to go to Seward Park. Adjacent the park is the Seward Park Library, the first library I worked at when I joined NYPL. Even though it was morning, the park was busy with park goers. People sat on the benches reading their Chinese papers, children ran around. In another part 30 adults of varying ages were engaged in a slow motion ballet of Tai Chi. Silently they dipped deeply, their arms carving out big swaths of space. Their torsos arched one way and then another and all that could be heard was the crunch of the gravel under my tires as I turned and exited the park.

I rode towards The Manhattan Bridge. The hustle and bustle of commerce had already begun as the produce sellers set up shop against the base of the bridge. Mounds of produce sat atop tables and packing crates, as buyers and sellers engaged in favorable transactions. I entered the bridge and was met with the most striking sight.

Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, looking southwest, Brooklyn., Digital ID 482807, New York Public LibraryBrooklyn Bridge,
Berenice Abbott (NYPL)
An Asian man sat in a lotus position, facing the sun, his back against a lamppost. The world teemed about him and in silence he aligned the forces within to begin what would eventually be the rest of his day. Bikers whizzed passed, and the produce sellers on the street below barked out prices and there the meditative man sat on pebble covered ground. I pushed off the pavement and began the decent up the Manhattan Bridge. Again in high gear I plowed forward and upwards. As the grade leveled out, I geared down into the lowest gear and I sailed over the pavement. I was on the north side of the bridge and I looked up the East River to the Williamsburg Bridge. A few speedier riders passed me handily, hot dogging fixies, fly-gliding their way into Brooklyn.

Off the Mighty Manhattan Bridge, I peddled through Dumbo and stopped at the Fulton Street Landing to watch the East River and look at the bridges of Brooklyn. While I leaned on the railing looking at the water, the bridges and the city, two French women asked if I would take their picture. Happily I obliged, knowing later on they each will enjoy the photographs of them with The Brooklyn Bridge as their backdrop.

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Learning to Ride and City Cycling: Traffic Skills 101 classes!

If this blog sounds great but you don't know how to ride a bike or you want confidence riding in city traffic, consider taking a class at City Bike Coach, fun bicycle school and coaching for riders of all ages!

Just the best way to go!

As a bike-to-work-er I am enthralled that we have this ultra-efficient way to get back and forth. By the time I arrive at the office I am just happy. My ride takes me through some of the most pleasant bikeways, and I get to cross two bridges too. Nothing beats the commute on two wheels.

Free Learn to Ride classes!

The organization Bike New York (bikenewyork.org) gives free lessons for kids and adults on how to ride a bike! Plus lots of other classes (some for a small fee). They also sponsor a lot of rides--upcoming ones include Long Island and the Hudson River Valley as well as the 5 boroughs. They are looking for volunteers. Check out their information-packed website!

the best way to see the City

just as Cynthia describes. I do very similar rides--also without helmet. Cars are bad enough as obstacles, but my most recent accident was with a skateboarder on a dedicated bike path: my right of way, but his trick went awry!

Thanks for this fascinating

Thanks for this fascinating work, Cynthia. In the details of your trip, you manage to convey both a love of Brooklyn and a real sense of physical exhilaration in the act of biking. But trips always mean something. Maybe it was the vividness of your writing, or the wonderful juxtaposition of a present reality with those old Berenice Abbott photographs, but I came away from this post with the curious sense of having watched an avant-garde film about the passage of time, where city history and personal history are mashed together.

Nice one!

Cynthia, you write well! Felt transported to Brooklyn! I am bike rider myself and therefore can understand the joy other people feel when going out & about on their bikes!

Helmets and such

Loved taking that morning ride with you. It sounds like the ones I enjoyed heading the Central Park before church. I could even feel the wind sweeping across my face and the Walk I would have taken up that hilly path. I too did not wear a helmet. Actually more from the street comments from random onlookers along the way. Many gave the impression that wearing a helmet means one does not know how to ride. Ironically, this changed once me and my riding partner hit the Park. Countless fellow riders racing by in those weird tight leggings offered their curt, tart advice about how helmets save lives. And just recently, a new acquaintance who commutes from Sunset Park to Manhattan via bike told me that statistics show that helmets are dangerous. Wearers have a limited range of vision. Just wondering if you changed your mind about that helmet?

response to question about my helmet wearing

I wear a helmet now. I don't like it, but I have seen too many white bikes along my rides and have read in the papers about many more fallen bikers. My son is still my model and love of my life, I would hate to ruin his life by hurting mine. Keep riding!

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