Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Adventures in cycling, part I

Two months ago I started thinking about interesting ways to incorporate more exercise into my life and I hit upon an idea: use a bicycle to commute to work. I would get to enjoy fresh air and views while improving my health and using time otherwise spent riding the subway. It would moreover be a more environmentally sustainable mode of transport. After spending several hours surfing the web doing research and talking to cyclist friends, I decided to acquire a folding bicycle I could stash in my closet at home, take on the subway, and carry into the office (I got a Downtube VIIIH, if you're curious). But for my maiden voyage (it had been over a decade since I last rode a bicycle), I borrowed a friend's Dahon.

The beauty of having a folding bicycle is that I can store it easily in my front hall closet. Having to lug it around, however, is an entirely different matter. 27 lbs is, frankly, a lot of weight to manage while trying to get down stairs, swipe a metro card, and squeeze through a full-length turnstile (a grim illustration of why I've almost(?) never seen a wheelchair-bound individual on a subway train). And I have yet to find a good way to roll it around in folded position on sidewalks (although continued experimentation and strategically placed straps may eventually solve this issue). For now, I wait to fold until I'm at my destination (subway stop or office).

My maiden voyage consisted of riding from work (in Soho) to a concert near Grand Central, then over to the West Side Greenway and home to Inwood. The first leg of the trip went smoothly, and a work colleague accompanied me on his bicycle to 1st Ave (which was very kind, as I would have normally avoided Houston St like the plague). After the concert, I cycled over to the West Side Greenway and began heading north.

The ride along the waterfront was stunning: views of the river at night, wind rushing past my ears, a sense of freedom and exhiliration almost as if I were flying. I got lost a few times, where the path took an odd turn in the dark, but I always managed to find my way back. At the George Washington Bridge, I dismounted and walked up a rather steep hill that I just couldn't manage on the bike.

I was feeling rather proud of myself when around 9 p.m. I reached the stretch between 181st and Dyckman when my wheel hit an odd plateau around which the path curved. Suddenly I was rolling on the ground stunned. I had flown over the handlebars and landed smack on my chin and hands. A jogger came along, helped me up, and I managed (although bleeding profusely) to climb back on my bicycle and get home. My roommate quickly patched me up and we grabbed a cab to the ER at Columbia Pres.

The result: 8 hours in the ER (mostly spent in a tiny office as no beds were available), chin sutures, and possible fractures (which miraculously was later discovered to be simply a sprained wrist).

So much for my maiden voyage.

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