Monday, June 9, 2008

Latest cycling adventures

The Ravenel Bridge in Charleston, SC

I keep meaning to get on and blog about what I've been up to cycling-wise, so here's a recent round-up:

1. CHARLESTON NIGHT RIDES: Memorial Day weekend I went to Charleston, SC to catch a few concerts at Piccolo Spoleto (where a family member was performing). After briefly considering bringing my beloved but bulky folding bike (and dreading the thought of schlepping it through the airport), I realized the simple solution would be to rent a bicycle once I got there. The Bicycle Shoppe at 280 Meeting Street outfitted me with a good-quality 8-speed city bicycle, helmet, and lock for four days (all for the low cost of $42). The heat, even for late May, verged on oppressive, but I enjoyed many nighttime rides, particularly around the historic district, down King Street (where there are some Art Deco gems), and across the Ravenel Bridge. I can't say enough good things about night rides: traffic is light, air is cool, and one sees another, often romantic, side of cities. Charleston is amazingly intact and--dare I say it?--almost European in feel.

2. MANHATTAN CRITICAL MASS RIDE: Ever since I started cycling a couple of months ago, I've been wanting to participate in the famed Critical Mass ride. Friday, May 30 was my opportunity. The Reverend Al Sharpton was there to make common cause, linking the NYPD shooting of Sean Bell to NYPD harassment of cyclists participating in Critical Mass. I was determined not to get a ticket and as I was riding from Union Square, I already saw cyclists being ticketed at 13th St. and 7th Ave. (While I was watching this, I noticed bicycle delivery guys riding the wrong way up 7th Ave who were, of course, being completely left alone by police.) So I held back a bit to let the police clear and consequently lost the ride. I rode south a bit, then tacked back up to Union Square, where I joined up with a few Massers to ride to Times Square. As we gathered on a pedestrian island, a police car pulled behind us to insist we vacate the space. I rode down to Union Square in another small bunch, at which point we separated. Sadly, this ride really soured my view of the NYPD. It was frustrating to watch my tax dollars being used to selectively harass cyclists and stifle political protest. I felt like a hunted animal on my bicycle.

3. EAST COAST GREENWAY RIDE: Here's a charming sequel to my Charleston adventure. When I was biking across the bridge, I noticed a sign for the East Coast Greenway. My curiosity piqued, I Googled the organization once I got back to New York. Their goal is "to connect cities and towns of the East Coast with a continuous, traffic-free path...from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida. " (The Hudson River Greenway, along which I ride to work, is part of this larger network.)

To raise awareness for ECG in Westchester, the organization held a ride on Sunday, June 1 from Bronxville to Battery Park. The ride traveled along the proposed Westchester Greenway route, then connected with existing greenways in the Bronx, crossed over Inwood's Broadway bridge, and continued down the Hudson River Greenway to Battery Park. I was particularly delighted to ride through Westchester and the Bronx, as this was new territory. At the end of the ride, I became a member of ECG. Later, I bicycled with a couple of friends from the ride over the Brooklyn Bridge to admire the Telectroscope, then back to Manhattan and up the Greenway to Inwood, Sweet Inwood.

4. CENTRAL PARK MOONLIGHT RIDE: On Friday, I gathered with about 40 cyclists at Columbus Circle at 10 p.m. to enjoy a scenic moonlight ride through Central Park organized by Times Up!. It was a perfect temperature for cycling. The ride led us over several pedestrian paths (normally closed to cyclists) and stopped several times for scenic vistas. I chatted with several riders and was delighted to spot several folding bicycles.

5. TOUR DE QUEENS: Yesterday, I rode in the first-ever Tour de Queens organized by the Queens Committee of Transportation Alternatives. As I had missed pre-registration, I made sure to arrive by 8 a.m. to sign up. The trip from Inwood to Flushing took about 100 minutes by combining the A, D, and E trains and a bike ride from Forest Hills. The day was a scorcher, even at 8 a.m., so I gratefully took refuge after registration in the air-conditioned Queens Museum of Art, where I slathered myself in sunscreen, purchased a vegetarian empanada to enjoy later on the ride, and admired the three-dimensional panorama of New York City that had been marked out with the bicycle route. After some speechifying at 9 a.m., our group of 500 riders kicked off for a tour that covered both ugly, industrial stretches and very charming communities like Middle Village and Forest Hills. Providentially, I had been handed some lightweight reusable towels that I moistened and covered my forehead and neck with to prevent overheating and sunburn (as well as continued applications of sunblock to my hands and nose). Along the way, generous Queens residents would hose us down. At the finish, I gratefully entombed myself once again in the museum to clean up, cool down, eat some sushi, and watch a Streetfilms mini-festival. Crazily enough, I rode home to Inwood, but thankfully the route was down tree-lined streets and mostly pleasant.

5. NEW BICYCLE: I decided to buy a Downtube Mini on Friday, after several frustrating experiences folding and carrying my bike through my office and the subway system. I love the ride my current Downtube provides, but I want to try a more compact folder to see if that makes a significant difference in portability and ease of use. What does mean that two months into cycling, I'm already buying another bicycle? (I'm trying to avoid becoming one of those people with multiple bicycles--I just don't have the space!)

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