30 September 2013

Lone Star Fall Cycling

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that I will use the flimsiest of excuses to turn a post into a forum for an image I happen to like.

So, be forewarned:  That is exactly what I am about to do!

I wanted to take some good photos of fall cycling.  The weather has been right but, alas, in these parts (Has anyone else ever used "alas" and "in these parts" together?) the leaves haven't begun to change color.  As I don't anticipate a trip to Vermont in the next couple of weeks, I'll have to wait, I guess, to ride through a blaze of color.

So I went looking for images of fall cycling on the web.  As they say in the old movies, looky here at what I found:

From Fort Worth Bike Sharing

Folks like me always think of northern climes when it comes to fall foliage.  However, we musn't forget that points south and west also have autumnal vistas, and sunsets to go with them.

Plus, in the process of finding this image, I found out that Fort Worth has a bike share program.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised. As for cycling in that part of the Lone Star State, I imagine fall would be the best time: I simply cannot imagine riding through their summers!

29 September 2013

The Season Changes And Everything's Right Again--For Now

 It just figures:  As soon as my by started functioning again, my computer stopped. 

What that's meant is that the other day, I did my first 100K+ ride in more than a month.  And I had near-prefect conditions for riding--but not for posting on this blog!

Anyway, it felt like my first fall ride. I know that it was, according to the calendar.  But everything about the sea, sky and their light made it seem, in the most sensual ways, that the season had indeed changed.

The sky,  though overcast, brought  no real threat of rain.  Rather, it spread like a quilt made of leaves grown sere if not heavy over a skin that has darkened as it remained translucent. Perhaps it is the reason why I felt comforted, but not tired, by the time I got to Point Lookout, even though I'd been pedaling into the wind and, as I mentioned, I hadn't taken a long (or even longish) ride in some time.

Riding home with the wind made me feel as if I were bringing the power of the muted and diffuse, though not dim, light the sea and sky spread with the new season. 

23 September 2013

Flower Power And Memory

One of the great things about seeing more and more cyclists in New York is that good old bikes are being restored and repurposed. What that means is that, very often, people will do creative things to make a bike their own.

Such creativity sometimes extends to paint jobs, as with the one I saw on an old Cannondale hybrid:

I encountered this bike and its rider yesterday on First Avenue, near the United Nations.  A friend painted the frame for her, she said.  I touched it, so I know the flowers are indeed part of the paint job, not decals or other appliques.

She told me her name, which I've forgotten. Perhaps she'll see this.  

What does that say about me when I can remember a bike but not a name?

21 September 2013

From The Neighborhood

Yesterday, for the first time in a couple of weeks, I felt decent and had a few free hours at the same time.  So I went, naturally, for a ride.

The sky was as blue as the air was crisp:  Fall had arrived, if not officially, and yet another summer, another season, had passed.  On such a day, I can understand how someone can be agoraphobic:  An open space--whether of land or sea or sky--can seem like a huge, yawning emptiness when there are no markers, physical or emotional.

So all anyone can do--or, at least, all I could do-- was to move through it.  That I did by pedaling, by pedaling Tosca, my fixed-gear bike.  I had a feeling I wouldn't ride a lot of miles, and that I'd ride them slowly, so I wanted to get some kind of workout from them.

As it turned out, I rode about 50 or 60 km, or a bit more than 30 or 35 miles, along the steel and glass shorelines and brick byways that have lined so much of the path of my life. 

A meander from the East River and the bay took me into the heart of Brooklyn, specifically to this place:

On the sidewalks in front, and across the street, from this building, careworn and harried, yet content, men and women prodded groups of pale but energetic children as their feet stuttered about the grid of concrete blocks.  Although those children looked different from the way my brothers, my peers and I looked, something was very, very familiar about the rhythm of their steps and their calls to each other.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised.  Although I had not been there in quite some time, I know that building, and that block, as well as any in this world.  In fact, I know it so well that I can tell you that nearly half a century ago, it didn't have the canopy you see in the photo.

Nor did it have the gate that now encloses the courtyard:

By now, you may have guessed that I lived in that building very early in my life.  Some of my oldest memories, for better and worse, are of those days.  

I think it's a co-operative now rather than the building of rental apartments it was in my childhood.  Also, as you probably have guessed, it's populated by families of Hasidic Jews.  In my day, nearly all of the families--of whom my family knew most--consisted of Italian- or Jewish (non-Hasidic)-Americans.  The men worked blue-collar jobs or had stores or other small businesses and the women stayed home and raised us.  In that sense, I guess we weren't so different from the people who live there now.

Then, as now, it was very unlikely that a woman--much less one like me--would have been riding a bicycle down that street--or, for that matter, any of the other streets I pedaled yesterday.  I turned, not quite at random, down a series of avenues and roads and other byways until I reached the southwestern part of Bensonhurst, not far from Coney Island.

I wasn't feeling hungry, but I stopped at a pizzeria--Il Grotto Azzuro--on 21st Avenue, near 85th Street.  From the street, it looks like one of many others of its kind.  But I went in anyway.

"Can I help you?"  The man's accent seemed even more familiar than anything else I'd experienced throughout my ride.

After ordering a classic Neapolitan slice and a white slice, he chimed, "You're gonna have the best pizza there is.   How did you know you were gonna find it here?"

"I followed my nose," I intoned, playing along.  "I always follow my nose when I'm riding my bike."

Somehow I sensed his claim wasn't hype.  Even if it wasn't the best pizza, the guy really believed that it was.  After finishing both slices, I ordered another Neapolitan, even though I was quite full.  "You're right!," I exclaimed.

Those Neapolitan slices were certainly the best I've had in a while.  Even though they were slices and it was five in the afternoon--near the end of the lull between lunch and dinner--they and the white slice tasted fresher than many I've had from whole pies.  

Sometimes, in the course of a bike ride, a slice of pizza or a bottle of beer can seem like the best you've ever had because you're tired or hungry. (I think now of the sugar and lemon crepe I gulped down after pedaling up Le Col du Galibier.  I've had dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other crepes in France.  But that one was the best.) However, I felt surprisingly good in spite of my recent illness and, as I mentioned, I wasn't hungry when I found Il Grotto Azzuro.

It's been there a while.  As I ate, another customer--a lifelong resident of the neighborhood--told me he'd been going there for more than 30 years.  I hope it's there for at least that much longer: The neighborhood is changing. 

So fueled, I continued down to Coney Island where, after thumping and clattering along the boardwalk (All of it is now open), a guard waved me into Sea Gate, which counts Isaac Bashevis Singer and Beverly Sills among its onetime residents.   I'd heard the area, not surprisingly, took an even greater hit than the surrounding neighborhood from Superstorm Sandy.  But, while the beaches were as eroded as those in Coney Island (though less so than those of the Rockaways or parts of New Jersey), most of the houses seemed to weather the wind and tides well.  Most seemed little different from what they were at this time last year; a few were still being repaired.  

At one of those houses, someone who didn't know my name called me:

Of course I stopped.

He capped his head with the palm of my hand and tiptoed along the rails, rubbing the side of his body through my fingers.  I think he knew I'm "from the neighborhood."

15 September 2013

Everyone's Riding Except Me

"Under the weather" is such a strange expression.

But, for the past week, it's how I responded to anyone who asked how I felt.  That, even though my respiratory system remained murkier and even more toxic than the Gowanus Canal through the week's meteorological cycles:   the mid-summer-like heat and humidity that cooked us until Thursday, that afternoon and evening's storm, and the autumnally crisp air and clear skies that have reigned ever since.

All I've managed to do, apart from a few errands, is two hours on Tosca, my fixie, late this afternoon.

It seems as if everyone else in the world has been riding a bike.  I know I should be happy for them.  I just wish I could be one of them, even if I don't plan on riding with them.

10 September 2013

A "Bike Lane" Under The Tracks

In some of my earlier posts, I expressed ambivalence and even disdain for bike lanes.

While it can be very nice to be able to pedal on ribbons of concrete or asphalt where motor vehicles aren't allowed, too many bike lanes are as dangerous as, or even more dangerous than, the roadways and motorists from which the lanes separate us.

Such lanes end abruptly or make turns though intersections that put cyclists directly in the path of turning trucks and buses.  Others are not clearly marked--for pedestrians, motorists  or cyclists--which results in pedestrians walking into our paths as they're chatting on their cell phones, or drivers using the bike lanes to pass other motorists.

Still others go nowhere or are so poorly constructed that they're all but unusable.  But I've never seen one quite like this:

Above 10th Avenue in the very northern end of Manhattan, the #1 train of the NYC transit system rumbles and clatters. The tracks are supported by the steel columns posted every few feet in the bike lane.

I mean, if you can ride a bike, you can do anything, right?  Well, almost...I haven't quite mastered riding through immobile objects.

The sign in the photo is not an aberration:  One is posted on every other (more or less) steel column.    

09 September 2013

A Peddler Pedals--Or A Pedaler Peddles

Most flea market vendors cart their wares in beat-up vans, pickup trucks or station wagons.  A few high-volume sellers, or those merchants who sell large items, might transport their goods in a semi.

Even with the increasing popularity of cycling,it's unusual to see itinerant entrepreneurs pedaling with the stuff they peddle.

That is what Marco does with the books, vinyl records and other items he sells in markets all over the city:

He was returning the bike to Hudson Urban Cycles, from whom he rents it. Such a bike is pretty difficult to store in a typical NYC apartment!

05 September 2013

All Aboard The Bike Train

If you grew up in the US, or have studied American History, you know that the Underground Railroad isn't the New York City subway system and, in fact, has nothing to do with steel wheels screeching on tracks.

Likewise, a Bike Train isn't something Amtrak or any other railroad system has set aside for us.  It refers to a group of cyclists who ride, in a train, and are joined by other cyclists along the way.

I'll confess that I just learned about Bike Trains when I received a BikeNYC e-mail from Transportation Alternatives.  The cycling concatenation in question begins at the very upper end of Manhattan, near the Cloisters, and wends its way down the Hudson River Greenway to Midtown.  It departs at 8 on Friday mornings and is intended to provide "safety in numbers."

Bike Train in Brighton, England

More than two decades ago, I lived not far from the train's starting point.  Back then, they probably wouldn't have picked up very many cyclists until the caravan reached the area around Columbia University, nearly five miles to the south.  Or they may have had to go even further downtown before they had anything that could be called, without irony, a train.


04 September 2013

Two-Wheeled Dreams

I rarely recall my dreams and, frankly, don't make much effort to do so.  I have enough trouble making sense of things that happen in my waking life, which are often less logical, and even more surreal, than anything I see after laying my head and closing my eyes.

That said, I have ridden bicycles in at least a few of my dreams, and bicycles I own, or have owned, have figured in others.

According to psychologists, there are all sorts of ways to interpret a dream of riding a bike.  It can be seen as a need or yearning for balance in one's life.  Some say that riding a bicycle uphill signifies bright prospects, while a downhill spin can be a warning sign.  

From Deniziazicioglu

Not long ago, I had a dream in which I lost and recovered Arielle.  And, last night, in yet another REM-induced vision, I was pedaling Tosca along a road that isn't one I ride every day, but I recognized from somewhere--somehow, upon waking, I thought it was France. Anyway, while riding through a valley, with sunflower fields fading from view, I spotted a bike I hadn't seen in years:  a Peugeot mixte my mother owned but didn't ride very much.  

I gave it to her one Christmas in my youth when I started to make some money and was trying to get everyone I know to ride bikes.  Actually, she talked about riding, as she was trying to get more exercise, in part, to ward off some of the illnesses that befell her mother.  

She hasn't had that bike in years.  If I recall correctly, she gave it away (after asking, almost apologetically, whether I'd mind) when she and my father moved. 

So, why was that Peugeot mixte doing in a dream that didn't include my mother?


01 September 2013

An Inverted Ghost Bike

If you live in New York, or another city with a lot of cyclists, you've probably seen a Ghostbike:  a bicycle, painted white and locked to a signpost or other structure, to memorialize a cyclist (usually named on a plaque next to the bike) who was killed or severely injured.

They are stark and somber reminders of the fact that safe travel is still not seen as a right we, as cyclists, have in the same measure as motorists.  I also see it as a way to honor the memory of someone who, as likely as not, died needlessly.  On the other hand, such shrines probably convince others that cycling in urban areas--or cycling generally--is "too dangerous". 

Of course, succumbing to such a fear is not the way to make conditions safer, not only for cyclists, but also for pedestrians (who are probably killed as often as cyclists are), particularly those who are young children, elderly or disabled.

Likewise, one doesn't prevent war or any other kind of violence by acquiescing to one's fears about it.  As Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement showed us, the way to end or prevent war is to work for peace, and the way to combat injustice is to work for justice.

All right, I'll get off my soapbox now.  I got on it when I saw this:

I think of it as a kind of inverse--a photograph negative, if you will--to the Ghostbike.  The flower-festooned bike, parked at the corner of Hudson and Barrow Streets in Greenwich Village, is publicizing the "Peace Ride" led by Time's Up.  It leaves from the Ghandhi statue in Union Square Park at 2pm on the third Sunday of every month, and takes cyclists on a tour of the city's "peace sites".