Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

21 August 2010

Trails And A Track, Then and Now

For the last couple of days, I think I've had some version of a summer cold.  I have felt congested and tired, and a bit weak.  So I didn't cycle today.  However, yesterday I rode to a couple of places I hadn't been to in a while.  Neither is very far from me, but I just haven't had occasion to go to them.

One was a place where I used to ride off-road with a few guys I used to know.  It's at the far end of Queens, near Nassau County.  I rode on the dirt paths in the woods of Alley Pond Park, which even in the most suburban part of New York City, seems bucolic.  I didn't try any of the jumps we used to do:  I haven't done them in a long time and, frankly, a lot of what I did in that park--and off-road generally--I did to show off.  Yesterday, even though I felt myself riding slowly, a man about my age who was riding one of those bikes that you'd think was a bargain if you found it for about ten dollars in the Salvation Army store looked at me and yelled, "Whoa, lady, slow down!"

Hmm....Maybe I am a fast woman after all.

I had gone to the park after the real purpose of my ride, which involved meeting with the chair of the English Department at a community college not far from the park.    I actually had met her once, years ago, in the only other time I had ever been on that campus.  I don't know whether she remembered me:  Back then, I was still one of those guys riding on the trails in Alley Pond Park, among other places.  I didn't mention that to her.

I started to think that it might be good to work there, and with her.  It'd be a fairly lengthy commute, but if I were to pedal it regularly, I'd really get into good shape. Even in the unlikely event that she remembers that brief, long-ago meeting with me (which wasn't bad), I'm not sure it would matter.  I don't think anyone else in that college knows who I am.  That, as you might have guessed, is one of the reasons why I thought I might like to work there. 

Save for Sheldon, who now works at Bicycle Habitat, I have not seen any of those guys with whom I used to ride the trails since we rode those trails.  They are like some other people from my past:  I would be curious to see them again, to see what they look like and what they're doing now.  I'm not so sure, though, that they'd want to be friends with me, or that I would with them.  They weren't bad guys, but our whole relationship was that of guys doing those rides together.  They may not be the same sorts of guys I knew then and, well, I'm not a guy.  And they may not be riding anymore, or they may be riding differently. 

And, in the course of my ride, I stopped somewhere else where I used to ride with some other people I haven't seen in years:  the Kissena Velodrome.  Yesterday, only one cyclist, a young and shy Latino, was pedalling on the banked oval.  

Ironically, Robert Moses built the Velodrome.   He was not known as a friend of cycling, or of anyone who isn't behind the wheel rather than astride two, or on his or her own feet.  (His motto could have been auto uber alles.) Two of his best-known projects, the Verrazano Narrows and Whitestone Bridges, don't have paths for pedestrians or cyclists.  And the Major Deegan Expressway, which he also built, has made it all but impossible to pedal across the Bronx from the George Washington Bridge, not to mention that it destroyed a few neighborhoods and was instrumental in the decline of the Bronx.

I used to ride on the 'Drome, as we called it, on a Bianchi track bike.  I'm talking about the real thing, not the prototypical hipster fixie you see everywhere.  The one I rode was an older Italian-made Bianchi, with a lugged frame made from Columbus SL steel tubing.  How real a track bike was it?  The geometry was right, the dropouts were those nice thick rear-facing horizontal ends you see on track bikes and--yes, here's the clincher--neither the front fork nor the rear stay bridge were drilled for brakes.  I could have drilled that front fork for a brake, but in those days, that seemed sacrilegious.  Besides, I didn't ride it on the streets:  If I wasn't on the Velodrome, I rode it on an enclosed loop that was closed to traffic, such as the ones in Central and Prospect Parks.  

Women's National Championship at Kissena, 1964

I thought, for a moment, about riding a lap or two.  Would that have made me the first woman to ride it in a dress?  The idea was tempting, especially since the track was in much better condition than it was back in the day.  Back then, one of us joked that we were going to design the first dual-suspension track bike specifically to deal with the Kissena surface, which at times resembled the Ho Chi Minh trail after a monsoon.

One of these days, I'll go there with Tosca.  Its geometry is not quite as aggressive, I think, as that of my old Bianchi, and it does have some amenities to make it more rideable on the road.  But it's actually a better-quality bike and, being a Mercian, has a bit more character.  I've been told that these days, I do, too.


  1. The Kissena Velodrome!

    How does it work, access-wise? Do you need a permit to be there, or can anybody come in and ride their bike, and do they check if your bike is a proper track bike?

  2. The velodrome is open during daylight hours on most days. As long as it's open, you can ride on it without a permit as long as there's no race or other event in progress. Except in sanctioned races, I've never seen anyone check anyone else's equipment. I could have ridden when I was there the other day, but I didn't want to do it on my basket-laden LeTour.

  3. *off topic* you are standing in front of the Brownstone i used to dream of living in when i was a little girl in Brooklyn. and your handlebars are HOT!!!

  4. Interesting. So they do not ensure that none of the riders have brakes as a safety measure while riders are practicing. For the Vienna velodrome, one must purchase an annual license, and cannot ride anything other than a track bike. Also, as an indoor track it is open well after dark while in season, but... it closes entirely for July and August.