Frontier Psychiatrist

Posts Tagged ‘Cycling

Riverwest 24_2012_Front Psych

Every summer, like clockwork, I find myself listening to New Yorkers complain about the unbearable heat and their disdain for their hot city. Which is fair, New York in the summer basically feels like you live inside a tailpipe. As a Midwesterner, their complaints often amuse me, mostly because I get them as I bask in the beauty and social splendor that is a Middle American Summer. While New Yorkers find the need to leave their city for cooler and more open pastures, Chicago and Milwaukeeans embrace their urban summertime, presumably due to the unbearable winters the metropolises are subject to. A perfect example of Midwestern sunny resourcefulness: the Riverwest 24 Hour Bike Race.

Last weekend, two friends and I biked a total of 205 continuous miles in 24-hours around the lively and beat Milwaukee neighborhood of Riverwest, along with approx. 900 other racers. This is noteworthy because I haven’t spent much time on a bike ever since I had to suit-up for my day job. It’s also noteworthy because the entire somewhat sleepy (and often unsafe) neighborhood explodes in support with smiles and beers.

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Janie, baby, I miss you. Little darling, It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, and I know that I no longer want to be apart. I know I’ve been an ass, but it’s been so hard without you. These few solo months have helped me reassess our relationship, and I just want you to hear me out.

At first, I kind of liked it. The metro was less nerve racking; a bit more stable than your rocket to the crypt approach. I tried to fill the void you left with books, magazines and ipods, and, I admit, it was pretty nice. I felt like a normal person for once; like a person who showed up to work in the clothes they would actually be working in, like a person who finally knocked out that New Yorker he’s been meaning to tackle, like a person who no longer cares to give up their coveted metro seat in the name of chivalry.

Through all this, I told myself that it was better without you, but I never really believed it. Somewhere along the way, the 50 minute commutes became grating and frustrating, no longer new and exciting. I longed for your smooth ride and low maintenance stature; your devilish speed and hipster poise.

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Bike Snob

I have a friend, a novelist, who lives in Jackson, Wyoming. You probably know Jackson as the home of great skiing and Dick Cheney. It features spaces so wide open they had to order an extra-big sky, and mountains so perfect a couple of French guys named them “the big tits” (i.e. Grand Tetons). This is the kind of place where people buy Chryslers new, and no one has walked anywhere since James A. Garfield was shot. In brief, it is the home of car culture. You might think it strange that my friend the novelist is also a bike enthusiast, and has been since Duran Duran was on heavy rotation at MTV. Don’t believe the hype! Just because Wyoming passed an unfunded, unofficial mandate that all citizens must have a hemi and an operational weapon at all times while driving, does not mean that it doesn’t have a thriving bike culture. It does. It just doesn’t have enough urban hipsters to make a viable blog.

My friend emails me sometimes to ask if I’ve read the latest from bikesnobnyc. And I have. Bike Snob has everything my demographic craves: 99% error-free writing, low-key but sardonic wit, awesome quizzes, and bikes. But the best part, as a recent visitor to my house in Brooklyn pointed out, is when Bikesnobnyc takes the air out of the tires of people who claim to love bikes, but who in fact are just slaves to fashion. That’s why my friend from Wyoming has to get his fix of fixie-hating from afar. The guys sporting beards, pot bellies, flannel shirts, and listening to country music in Wyoming vote Republican and think bikes are for … well, you wouldn’t want to waste a bullet on one.

I was ecstatic to find out that Bikesnobnyc had distilled his wisdom into a book: Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling. Books have similar advantages to bikes: they are a simple, elegant, pre-electronic technology that will last for ages with the proper care and maintenance. Bikesnobnyc and I share some important traits, one of which is being thoroughly 20th century. That is to say, I usually like my blogs on paper, between two covers, also known as a book. And Bikesnobnyc’s book has stickers in the back with which an enthusiast may decorate their bike. And that puts his book into the realm of “kick ass.”

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The mathematics of living is invisible, ghosted like dry erase marker on my father’s whiteboard. The mathematics of bicycling, however, is about to be much, much clearer. Bike academia is back!

When I was a kid, my mathematician father had his office in our basement. One wall was dominated by a whiteboard, which had not yet appeared in “regular” schools, and thus considered by my friends to be military grade. On it he wrote incomprehensible codes in the slanted writing of a scientist. That whiteboard was mysterious as nuclear engineering (for all I know, it may have been nuclear engineering), and I never fully believed that it related to the times tables or other actual math.

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bike is the new black

[Today we’re thrilled to have a guest cycling post by Jeff Wilser, acclaimed author and syndicated columnist, expert on the art of modern manhood, and perhaps the only ex-Marine with a Master’s degree in Creative Writing.]

A year ago I switched to biking. It seemed like the thing to do: better for the planet, better for my butt. (Confession: I care more about my butt than the planet. If bikes emitted more carbon than Hummers, I would still commute via bike.) My real motivation: fun. Biking unshackles you from the subway. It injects variety. It lets you whip through the city and explore new neighborhoods. For example, there are entire streets in Brooklyn that are not in Williamsburg. Who knew?

As a guy who lives by rules and maxims, I was inspired to distill my experience into 10 maxims of biking:

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[Our weekly urban cycling column appears on Tuesdays]

Post Crash Face

Last year I broke two of my front teeth in a bike crash. I was drunk; the street, icy.

After the crash, I didn’t ride for a few days. But pretty soon, within a week or two, really, I was back at it again. Now I ride more than ever. More carefully sometimes, though more recklessly too sometimes. Seems like human nature. Go figure.

Here’s some math. So far this year, I’ve ridden approximately 1,619 miles. I’ve ridden this amount over the course of 153 days. Which comes out to 10.58 miles per day. Over the course of a year, at this rate, I would ride 3,862 miles.

Of course, because of the winter and snow, this would be pretty much impossible.

Here’s something, not math-related. Whenever I talk about riding my bike to my friend L, L says something clueless and annoying: “Bikes? I stopped riding those in the fourth grade.” This is an example of the larger reason why L and I aren’t roommates.

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The Dahon (Folded)

For the aspiring cyclist Mark Twain has this solitary piece of advice: tackle “one villainy…at a time.”Although I am a knowledgeable rider, Twain’s counsel resonates as an apt description of my cycling experience in New York: I’m an Englishman who has lately been forced onto the pot-holed roads by escalating subway costs (and an expanding midriff), but my bicycle commute – to the upper west side from Harlem – has a tendency to throw various villainies at me simultaneously. Let me give you a virtual backie (Brit informal: a ride on the back of someone’s bicycle) through some of my commute’s highlights.

The Dahon (Unfolded) on 125th Street

Metro-North’s rush hour trains from White Plains – my current town – permit only folding bikes, so my bike journey formally begins beneath a darkened bridge that carries the railroad over 125th street in Harlem. If you happen to be in the area at 7:30am, you’ll find me hastily reassembling a red Dahon P8 folding bike. Though casual construction can take only 17 seconds, it takes 30 seconds when I’m feeling finicky. Once the bike is built, I push off into the traffic on Park Ave, a minnow amongst sharks. This early in the morning, the eyes in the back of my head don’t work too well, and are obscured by the obligatory helmet, so I have to be keenly aware of hazards, including:

  1. Black limousines that go from 60 to 0 MPH in less than five seconds in order to collect that fare on the pavement
  2. Yellow cabs driven by teenage Mario Kart veterans
  3. Drivers accelerating to beat red lights on cross-streets

Villainy indeed. It’s a wonder I don’t just push my bike on the sidewalk. The newly bike-savvy Twain nervously describes his life astride the crossbar. “I started out alone to seek adventures. You don’t really have to seek them…they come to you.” True to Twain’s words, my bike adventures always come to me.

On 110th street, a young person’s correctional facility offers the New York City driver a place to double-park. This situation affords me the opportunity to cycle into oncoming traffic as I pedal strenuously (usually against the wind) toward the Lenox Ave entrance to Central Park. As a result, the flared Biologic grips on my handlebar are somewhat compressed these days. I squeeze them tightly as I pull out to maneuver around station wagons and mini-vans, only to be confronted by the M2 bus.

Central Park - Cyclist's Haven

Central Park is a cyclist’s haven, especially before 8am. On warm late summer mornings I crossed east to west on Central Park Driveway.  When fall rain necessitated, the 97th street traverse made for swift progress toward my journey’s end. Discovering the extended hill on West Drive put an end to these routes though, and allows me to say yes to that second helping of desert. Though it can sometimes feel like one long hill, there are in fact a series of three inclines that can leave one a little puffed when pedaling 20” wheels. However, a hill in Central Park can’t really be described as villainy. Over-indulging at dinner the night before is what causes my downfall here.

Having caught my breath, I explode out of the park and, if I’m lucky, catch a green light on to 90th and Central Park West. To reach my destination on 88th and CPW it’s a matter of avoiding school busses, Land Rovers performing pirouette-like U-turns, and doormen stretching to grab the attention of cabs.

Mark Twain still had some way to go before cementing his love for travel in the saddle when he called his new bike a “cobweb.” Like Twain’s fledgling devotion, my homeward bound commute islike the phases of a love affair. After the euphoria of early success (the morning’s journey), one must labor on to find true satisfaction through commitment. And patience. So, when basketball-bouncing teenagers goad me from the side-walk, when grown men lingering in the road growl at me, and when limousine drivers overtake me in order to turn right, causing me to slam on my brakes to avoid going over their bonnet, I just smile to myself and take satisfaction – no, pleasure from the simple fact that it’s just me and my Dahon.

Ultimately my commute with the folding bike reconnects me with the fascination for cycling and bike technology I had as a child. Whether bombing around the block on a Raleigh 3-speed racer, or attempting bunny-hops on a BMX with yellow Skyway spokes, I cultivated a fearless obsession with the relationship between effort and movement. As a seven year old I reveled in the attempt at watching my back wheel go round as I pedaled. The act of building and deconstructing the Dahon offers me a visceral connection with the art of riding that my other bike (a Marin Larkspur hybrid) doesn’t. I take the same sense of safety and versatility from the Dahon’s compactness (think Ford Fiesta versus Cadillac) that I took from the bikes I owned as a kid in England, when the only hazards I faced as I pedaled around my village were in the shape of farm animals loose on the country lanes and stray shots fired from spud-guns, those potato-based weapons of choice. So thank you, Dahon! You’ve transformed a jaded commuter into a fanatical cyclist in search of adventure (outside business hours, of course).

Jay is a high school English teacher in Manhattan. While he often tells people that he followed Lloyd Cole from England to New York, he actually came for the love of a good woman.


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