Thursday, August 30, 2007

Buying Bike Stuff I Don't Need

Living in NYC means that I worry constantly when I leave my bike unattended for even a minute - even though to most people it looks like a POS, this bike means a lot to me. Keeping it whole means carrying around heavy locks and taking every removable object off my bicycle when I do something as simple as going to buy a soda in a deli.
I've learned my lesson the hard way - more than once.
The easy answer would be a backpack, but I really hate biking with a bag on my back. It just takes the fun out it.
With that in mind, this spring, I bought a
Trek Interchange Trunk Pack
so that I wouldn't have to mess around with crap velcroed to every tube on my bike.
I love it.
Except that I put the matching quick release rack on the commuter bike and kept the Blackburn rack on the road bike.

Months of velcroing later... I finally decided to swap them last night. I mean, it's no big thing. Just unscrew the bottom of the racks from the rear wheel hub and then the bent metal part from the seat post clamp. Then, swap 'em. Right? Wrong.
I have now learned that the shiny metal things are called "brackets". I know this because, my bike is 20 years old and the screws on my seat post are a bigger than the ones that fit the Trek rack and are bigger than the ones that fit every set of brackets sold at the local bicycle shop.
I did discover a new bike shop. (new to me, that is)
Sid's on 34th street was very helpful and they offered to drill out the hole on the brackets for me to make them fit. It's always nice to discover a bike shop where they don't give me attitude for either a: being female, or b: not being a serious enough biker for them to care about.
While waiting for the mechanic to do the modification, I also helped myself to:

1. A new set of bike gloves. (mine have been through the wash too many times, no really...)
2. A nice red jersey. (on sale! 25% off)
3. A tube of mechanics grease. (it's "the king of lubes")
4. Custom drilled rack brackets with all the screws. (so I know they all fit)

I really only 'needed' one (1) hex nut and bolt to replace the one that is rusted and stripped on the old Blackburn Rack. It's the only part that I couldn't just take off one bike and re-mount on the other.

This habit of buying 'stuff' that I don't really need is why I've got the one mile = one dollar rule. I can buy anything I want. I just have to have biked enough miles to cover the cost.
I better hope the weather is nice this weekend. I need to put in 110 miles just to break even.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Henry Hudson D'Oh

New York is an amazing city. I've lived here all my life and I still discover something new every day. Bicycling has added tremendously to my knowledge of the city and the surrounding areas, but recently, I've had a run of frustrating bad luck.
One of the reasons why the city is so intriguing is that it is always changing. Stores, buildings, fads and causes come and go. Entire neighborhoods disappear. New ones spring up to take their place. Sometimes it feels like every night the city folds in upon itself and unscrambles into something new by morning.


I took this while crossing the Broadway Bridge at the top of Manhattan. The point in the distance is at Spuyten Duyvil - one of my favorite named locations in New York. According to Wikipedia, some of the origins of the name are Speight den Duyvil, Spike & Devil, Spitting Devil, Spilling Devil, Spiten Debill and Spouting Devil. Meanings include "Spinning Devil" or "Devil's Whirlpool" or "Spite the Devil."
I thought it would be nice to return via the Henry Hudson Bridge - the bridge at Spuyten Duyvil, but instead, I ran into this:


Closed, closed for repair, re-routed, non-existent. I've had some strange Karma going on that's drawn me to every fenced-off, under construction route in NYC, but this was a first - you can get on it - you just can't get off on the other side.

Monday, August 27, 2007

As seen in...Canarsie

The Good - Spectacular view from the Belt Parkway Bike Path.

The Bad - Fence blocking the Belt Parkway Bike Path

The Ugly - Head-on collision right in front of me while trying to get around the construction and back to the Belt Parkway Bike Path in Canarsie.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

“I'll never look like Barbie. Barbie doesn't have bruises.”

You have to whine really annoyingly and be wearing torn fishnets when you say this, just like in ‘Sid and Nancy’. Or you could just be me.
I don’t even have a drug habit or doomed affair with a rock star to blame. I just fall over a lot.
This time I didn’t even fall down. I fell up.

I was riding through Van Cortland Park in the Bronx for the first time and like many of my experimental expeditions, I got lost.
Van Cortland Park is huge. At 1,146 acres it is New York City's fourth largest park. It is home to the country's first public golf course, the oldest house in the Bronx, a protected wetland, and the borough's largest freshwater lake. I know this because I passed all of these repeatedly as I tried to find the entrance to the Putnam Trail and my chosen route into Westchester.

View Larger Map
It turns out, most of the trails in Van Cortland Park are not paved. It turns out that now that I’ve looked online, the Putnam Trail is unsuitable for a road bike. I think I’ve mentioned before that the NYC Bicycle Route Map sometimes feels like it was drawn by someone who wants to kill all cyclists, well I don’t want to sound unappreciative, but sometimes they really are out to get you.
Following the NYC bike map, I’ve encountered more closed roads, closed bridge crossings, and listed bike trails that aren’t bikable than I thought possible. It’s really making me want to put together some kind of online clearing house of up to date route information so that we don’t all have to go through this. Hmmm.
Anyway. As I biked in ever more frustrating circles on gravel trails, I finally dropped my chain. I was at the base of a commanding set of steps that lead up to the Van Cortland House Museum and I thought that might be my best bet to find actual pavement and maybe a place to fix my derailleur too, so I hefted my bike up onto my shoulder and started the walk up. About half the way up, I tripped, fell on my bike, and to add insult to injury, punched myself in the nose with my own handlebars.

Some days I just shouldn’t get out of bed.
Am I the only one who can’t ride a bike without bashing some part of myself on something? At this time of year, how bruised are you?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bathrooms for Bikers

I could really use a map that shows usable, biker friendly bathrooms in the NYC area and I'm guessing that I'm not the only one. I couldn't find one, so I thought I'd ask for your help in making our own map.
I can't figure out how to make a map of just points (not a route) on, which is where I post all my bike routes, so for now it's living at google maps.
I know everyone says that Starbucks and Barnes and Noble have the best public bathrooms, but are there better or worse ones? More convenient ones? Friendlier to bicyclists? How safe are they? How safe is your bike?
Supposedly, any NYC Police Station will let you use their bathroom. Has anyone tried this?
Do you have a favorite rest stop in the NYC area?

I'd love to get the following info from local (NY, NJ, CONN) riders who have actually used the facilities.

Place Name and Address
Directions to actual bathroom. (Inside? Around the back?)
Safe alone?
Safe for Women?
Safe to leave your bike? (This assumes standard NYC rules. In other words, will your bike be stripped of all its parts in the time it takes to pee, or do you need to leave a riding partner outside to watch the bikes while one of you goes inside?)
Where do you park? (Right in front or far from the entrance?)
Comments and rating. Is there an attendant, is it reasonably clean? Can you refill a standard water bottle? Do you get attitude? Do you have to be a customer? When did you last visit this bathroom?


Prospect Park Picnic House - Prospect Park Dr. West at 4th street.
Not directly on the road. Make a left into the park. The building looks closed from the west side, but the bathrooms are downstairs on the other side.
8 - 8, 7 days
Seasonal?(not sure)
Safe alone
Safe for women.
Bike racks outside on the side of the building are probably safe for a short pit stop.

To see the map mashup with the NYC bike path overlay go to google maps

Saturday, August 18, 2007


...or why I hate riding on Manhattan's East Side.
I must be eligible for some sort of prize as of today. I think it would be called "most failed attempts at riding the periphery of Manhattan by one individual". I just can't make it work, and I don't know why.
Well, I sort of know why...
I feel like I know where I'm going when I'm in Manhattan, so if I miss a turn or two, I'm never that worried. "I'll just catch the next entrance", I say to myself. Only, I'm wrong.
Whenever I try to ride completely around Manhattan, I screw it up.
According to the Official NYC Bike Map, there is a (basically) unbroken line that goes around the island. This is a lie.
The West side of the island is quite lovely to ride on until you hit (Pet Peeve Alert), the parking lot of Fairway Supermarket at 125th street. After a little deadly intersection detour, it becomes one of my favorite stretches of bike path in the five boroughs. It passes through Riverbank State Park and then Ft. Washington Park (with a little detour to the Little Red Lighthouse), up along the Hudson into Inwood and the Cloisters.
It was a lovely day for a ride. Sunny, but cool, a little too windy for comfort - I almost got blown over a couple of times, but that's always the downside of riding near the water.
I got to portage my bike on the Henry Hudson Drive to get around some construction. I was impressed to see the workers set up on either end to help bicyclists heft themselves and their bikes over the barriers and across the highway - it was a happy bicycling high point of the day.
The low points followed in quick succession from there.
I followed the greenway signs across Dyckman to the Harlem River Drive Bike Path which quickly disintegrated into a broken glass covered on and off road excursion. Somewhere near Jumel Terrace, I picked up St. Nicholas Avenue and instead of turning left, I went straight.
This is not a disaster. Manhattan is very narrow, so when I figured it out, I turned. My best guess is that this is where I screwed up. Like little red riding hood, I strayed from the path.
My original plan was to go over the Triboro bridge into Queens and then ride down to Brooklyn, but somehow, at 125th street it all went wrong.
125th street is the bane of my bicycling existence. On the west side, it's where my happy, traffic - less riding ends. On the east side, it's where I ALWAYS get lost. Crossing on it is like attaching your mouth to the exhaust pipe of a bus.
The last time I tried it going north, I ended up in a sanitation storage yard where they store sand in enormous piles. And I don't mean that I left the bike path - the bike path ends in the giant pile of sand. The time before that, I ended up accidentally going over the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx. This time, I was sure my plan would work.
I rode to the entrance of the pedestrian walkway of the Triboro and stopped short. It was gated shut with a sign that read, "Closed. Please use the walkway on the North Side." I crossed 125th street again (and the 6 lanes of on ramp, off ramp bridge traffic). The pedestrian walkway was gated shut with a sign that read, "Closed. Please use the walkway on the South side." Umm, WTF?
Is the Triboro closed to Bicycle traffic right now? Or is it my 125th street juju that makes it impossible for me to figure this out?
I sighed heavily and set off along the East Side of Manhattan.

Now some parts of the path are quite nice. And the sections in the North are fairly empty of pedestrian and bike traffic. But trust me, it may look like a path on the map, but it's not.
First of all, it's made of hexagonal concrete tiles, very bumpy on road tires. Second, though parts of it are quite beautiful, they end abruptly in flights of stairs that you have to carry your bike up or down. Third, when heading South, the section from 55th street through 34th street runs on 2nd Avenue. Not next to 2nd Avenue, not marked with a bike lane, just follow the NYC greenway signs straight to the bus lane.
So I was cranky and possibly not concentrating as hard as I should as I swung off onto Sutton Place and promptly got doored by the passenger side door of a car parked at the edge of the bike lane. I did a nice little slide on my elbow between the idling car and the moving traffic, leaving a bit of myself embedded in the road, but my bike seems ok and the rest of me is just slightly more bloody and banged up than normal.
I hate riding on the East Side of Manhattan.

Thanks for the door.
What do you do when you get doored?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Less than a month...

I just figured out that the NYC Century is in less than a month. I know this comes as no surprise to people who
a: have been training for it, or
b: can read a calendar, but I, apparently don't fall into either of those categories because it came as a shock to me last weekend when I realized how little time I had left.
So in classic Bike Dummy form, I chilled out on the pier for a while with my dog and a friend, had some coffee, read the paper - and then decided to go for my 'long ride' of the week.
It's hard for me to plan rides. Everyone in the NYC area seems to go on the training ride up to Nyack on the Jersey side of the Hudson. I'd love to do that sometime, but my schedule's sort of crazy and I don't know any other cyclists who want to do distances, so at the moment, that means going alone.
The thought of cycling by myself through unknown parts of Jersey freaks me out. It's like traveling to a foreign country where I don't know the customs and can't speak the language. At least in most of NYC, if I run into a problem I can hop on the subway and get myself home. Once I cross the George Washington Bridge and start heading north I get visions of dark misty roads, with me holding my crooked wheel in one hand, a flickering flashlight in the other, calling out softly into the dark..."Hello?...Is there anybody out there?..."
So I decided to go the other way.
My first stop was Red Hook. I've been reading a lot about how quickly the IKEA is going up on the waterfront down there and decided to take a look at the 'progress'. Without starting a blog war about development, I will say that I wish as a city we would look to our own historical examples of expanding the beauty and enjoyment of our extensive waterfront, ie. the west side promenade and bike path or the Bay Ridge shore parkway promenade and bike path, instead of forgetting the examples of our waterfront failures, ie. the west side promenade's 125th street detour under the highway to avoid the Fairway Supermarket, or the shore parkway's ignominious end in the parking lot of Kohl's department store just before it reaches Coney Island. Can't we make a plan for public use of the waterfront BEFORE we give it all away to big box stores? I'm not arguing against IKEA, I'd just like to see the possibility of continuous public loops around the waterfront. Every new store that builds at the water increases the probability that the greenways of the city will remain isolated from each other.
OK, stepping down off of the soapbox.
So, Red Hook. I went down around Fairway and tried to get up near the IKEA, but there were roadblocks and the streets to get around the other side are all cobbles, so I decided to leave that for another day. For those who don't know, Rocky Sullivan's, the long-lived east side Irish bar lost its lease and has moved down to Red Hook.
If any of you thought you still might find a real estate 'bargain' down there, I suggest you revisit that. Red Hook has been bought and paid for.
It's a great neighborhood, but possibly better for walking than biking. The street surfaces are way too uneven for it to be pleasant on a road bike.

Next stop, across the mouth of the Gowanus and onto Third Avenue.
Third Avenue is pretty gross to bike on and normally I would avoid it altogether, but it's the quickest way between Red Hook and Bay Ridge where I was going to pick up the shore parkway bike path. The saving grace of Third Avenue is that you are riding under the Gowanus Expressway, so on a hot day it's shaded.
I didn't see much visible damage in Sunset Park or Bay Ridge from the tornado that touched down earlier this week. They've done an amazing job of clearing most of the downed trees and branches already.
The view from the Veteran's Memorial Pier in Bay Ridge is one of my favorites and on Saturday it did not disappoint. The refinished (until the bridge) bike path is smooth and usually uncrowded. Even with the headwind, it's a great place to let rip for about 2 miles before the surface gets crappy again. The next 3 miles are cracked, bumpy, narrow and occasionally covered in broken glass, but the view is lovely, and the alternate would be Cropsy Avenue (which bites).
The end of the shore parkway bike path is an example of one my favorite urban planning snafus - greenways that end at malls. On Saturday, it was the site of some kind of indeterminate demonstration that involved some megaphones and people milling about.

I went online after I got home and discovered this:

TIME: 11:30 A.M.
PLACE: Bay Parkway and Gravesend Bay (near Kohl’s
Shopping Center): The entrance to the Bensonhurst
Promenade along Gravesend Bay




Point#1 - Who knew there was a national marina day?
Point#2 - I must have blinked, because I totally didn't see a flotilla of anything.
Point#3 - I'm sorry that I did miss the flotilla, because it was probably really cool.

To see my route, click on the map to go to
For part two of the ride, tune in tomorrow.
Go To Bikely

Saturday, August 11, 2007

As seen in...Riis Park

caribbean pirate queen
Wandering among the picnicking families in Riis Park with a live parrot perched on his head.
He was dancing to Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean - I kid you not.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

As seen in...Richmond Hill

republican club, lefferts blvd.

From the New York Times, By JEFF VANDAM
Published: January 28, 2007
The words ''Republican Club'' remain in arched black letters above the four-columned entrance to the Colonial Revival structure in the Richmond Hill neighborhood in Queens, but the building's paint is peeling badly.

No one is allowed to enter the 1908 building on Lefferts Boulevard near Hillside Avenue. A protected landmark despite its near-death condition, it is unsafe, and there are growing concerns that it may collapse...

In 1974, a rally to support President Nixon ended in a hail of eggs thrown at the club's doors and four arrests, after anti-Nixon demonstrators got rowdy.

click here for the complete NYT article

Monday, August 6, 2007

Your Mileage May Vary....

I'm saying it out loud.
I am going to try to ride the NYC Century this fall.
I've never ridden a century - I've only ridden over 50 miles in a day once, and that was during this years 5 Boro bike tour, which as many of you may know is more an exercise in patience than it is exercise.
I've been trying to train for longer distances, but it's been challenging to find the time every day to get out and ride.
I understand that the willingness to train is what separates those that do from those that don't, but it's still tough when you are looking for blocks of time sometime before or after working at a job with very unpredictable hours.
I don't know about you, but I've got things to do. I've got a dog that needs walking and a house that needs cleaning and friends that need beer drunk with them ('need' may not be the correct term in the context of beer drinking).
Saturday is bike riding prime-time.
This week was complicated. I had a thing on Tuesday night, another thing on Wednesday night, a birthday party on Thursday night, The Police concert at MSG on Friday night, and then my company picnic in Dix Hills, Long Island on Saturday. (I know, the world's smallest violin is playing for me.)
I was going to miss my long ride of the week, and for those of us with minimal motivational skills, that could be disastrous. So Saturday it was.
I broke out my NYC bike map, bought a Nassau and a Suffolk county street map, and decided to go for it. At 40 miles, it's not much longer than my regular 'long' ride up to Inwood and back along the West Side Highway bike path.
It would be an adventure.
Saturday morning came too early thanks to after concert drinks with my friend Jenny, and the weather was promising to be hot. I needed to hit an ATM. I needed air in my tires. I needed to leave.
After much dithering, I finally managed to get on the road pointed in somewhat the right direction.
Now, I've got no idea how to get where I'm going other than the driving directions that everyone was given, but I figured how hard could it be? I know next to nothing about Long Island, but exit 51 off the Long Island Expressway should be easy to find. Right?
Turns out, this is actually correct. The Long Island Expressway access road is very easy to ride. It's not particularly scenic, and the cars are shooting past at about 70 mph in many sections of it, but for the most part, it cuts across the island in an easy to follow straight line. Except when it doesn't.
The hardest part of the ride was figuring out how to get out of NYC and how to find the access road again whenever the highways intersected. I ended up on a couple of 'death roads' that are marked as bike paths on the NYC bike map, but that's par for the course. I'm convinced that there's a saboteur who wants to kill all bicyclists working for the department that makes that map.
At the end of the day, I arrived 2 hours late and jumped in the pool fully dressed. Water has never felt so good.
Now, if someone could just find me a better way from Brooklyn out to Long Island, I'd be really grateful.
To see the route that I took - click the map below to go to

Go To Bikely

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Who is bike dummy, and what is this blog about?

Enough with the Tour bull*&%$
I am a bike dummy and this is my blog.
I wanted to start this blog to keep track of my embarrassingly late start in bicycling and understanding my bicycle.
I've had bicycles before. I had one when I was a kid. It was a second-hand Raleigh and I slow speed crashed into the superintendant of my friend's apartment building on it the first day I went out. He yelled at me and I cried.
As a kid, I spent summers out on Fire Island in a community that didn't have a lot of kids, so the few of us that there were all knew each other and ran wild. There were no cars and no roads, only boardwalks. We would take red flyer wagons to the top of the hills and speed down them using our flip flop shod feet as brakes. My friend Katie and I would 'borrow' her older brother's banana seat bikes and race around the island, our plastic flags flapping in the wind behind us.
Now wagons may be hard to control and flip flops may not be very effective for stopping, but the wheels aren't very big, so it feels like you're hurtling down the hills, but in reality, it's more like a bumpy little avalanche.
A bicycle is much, much faster.
- Aside #1 - this is how much I don't know. I just googled 'reverse pedal brakes bicycle' so I could describe what I'm guessing were the 'coaster brakes' the banana seat bikes had. You had to push the pedals backwards to make the bike stop. Here's what one web site said in its description of the pros and cons associated with coaster brakes:
Pros: Coaster brakes generally require less maintenance than any other type of brake. (This is good as we would just drop our bikes in the sand when we were done riding)
Cons: When coaster brakes fail (usually the result of chain breakage or derailment) they fail suddenly and completely.
Ah, Yeah. Flying down the 'big' hill by the post office directly at the perpendicular turn to the main boardwalk - and straight off the end - sort of like Evel Knievel - only without the ramp on the other end.
My family got priced out of lower Manhattan in the 80's and we moved to Brooklyn.
Got myself another used Raleigh and used it to travel to and from babysitting gigs. Chained it to an iron fence outside a brownstone, went in to pick up my money, I swear I wasn't inside for longer than 5 minutes, came out to no seat, no gears and no derailleur.
This time in college. Got myself another used bike (probably another Raleigh). I was riding in downtown Brooklyn when some guy catcalled out his car window at me. Now, I grew up in NYC, and I won't say I've heard everything, but I've heard more than I care to repeat, so who listens anymore? I was minding my own business when he blew by me, reaching out of the driver's side window as he passed - to grab my ass and knock me off my bike into the cars parked on the side of the road.
I cursed him, I cursed all car drivers, I cursed all men, I thanked the powers that be for sparing my life, and I limped home.
I don't even know what happened to that bike.

Before I got the bicycle that I have now, I had never even thought of what it took to maintain one.
I've never even had a bicycle long enough to change a tire.
The wheels always got stolen first.