Things changed a bit once I got my driver’s license.
The bike was rarely used from my sixteenth birthday until my thirtieth birthday when I moved into NYC in 1979 and got rid of my car and lived on my bike. I lived in Hells Kitchen on 49th Street between Eighth and Ninth Ave on the fifth floor of a five-floor walkup. I carried the bike up and down those stairs when I needed cheap transportation. I couldn’t afford cabs and the subway system was not extensive in my area or where I went. I was all over the city on weekends. I would ride down to Sky Rink to play hockey at two in the morning with guys my age. I’d ride down to Roxy Roller rink to roller skate with the beautiful people. I’d lock my stead up to the fences near these venues and ride home and then walk up those stairs, take a shower and on some nights walk over to 54 to close out the night and greet the morning. The bike kept me in shape and allowed me to live this life.
The brakes were the first things to go on the bike. I took them off and put soccer shin pads on the calf of my right leg. I’d put my leg in front of the pedal and stomp my foot down on the road so I could stop. I could stop better this way than with brakes. The tape was the next to go and the bare cold handlebars were covered with old time plastic grips for a kid bike, similar to the ones I had on my first bike. The sparrow seat was shredding and showing more metal than leather. The bike was a mess, but it still got me around. No one wanted to steal it.
When I got married I didn’t need the bike that much. We’d visit her sister in NJ and I’d take the bike to take lovely rides in the Princeton area with my brother-in-law. Over time the wear and tear on the bike in NYC took its toll. One day when my brother-in-law and I were riding in town, I went over a metal road construction plate and bent a wheel. Once fixed, it wasn’t too soon until the frame broke on another NYC road hazard. The NYC streets were brutal and it was time to retire the ten-speed for a mountain bike. I deconstructed what was left of the bike and kept only the rear derailleur, a Grand Sport Campagnolo from before 1966. The new bike, a Rock Hopper was perfect for NYC and for me to get into shape since I was about to be a father.
Bike use in the city was increasing so it was getting safer. I would take that new bike up to Central Park from where we lived down near the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. I’d go up Sixth Ave, do four or five loops of the park and then take Seventh Ave home. Sometimes, I’d go over the Brooklyn Bridge to ride around Prospect Park. I’d explore Queens and Brooklyn until I learned about the George Washington Bridge and its path across the Hudson River into NJ to ride along the Hudson north on River Road. There were lots of riders there and this became my main source of exercise, which still included Roxy but not hockey nor 54.
Since I was a teacher we had summers off and I’d take my bike with us when we went camping as well as one for my daughter. She learned to ride a bike on these camping trips, but never rode in the city. When she was young and to give her mom a break, I’d strap her to a baby carrier seat I had on the back of my bike and take her on my rides up to Central Park. She would fall asleep, so I velcroed her helmeted head to the back of the child carrier, to prevent her head from flopping around. I did my first century on that bike and swore I’d never do that again. It took me a few days to recover. I didn’t do another century until I bought my road bike.
When my wife announced we were pregnant again, I was ready for my son and spent more time riding because at the age of forty-four, I knew I’d need more energy to father this boy. He spent his early years in that same bike carrier his sister had enjoyed. I even took him along on two five-borough rides. Soon he was on his bike during our camping trips and actually did ride in NYC with me on the quiet streets of downtown. During his middle and high school years in the city, he spent as much time on his bike as I did when I was his age. When my daughter was in college and he was in his junior year of high school, their mom and I divorced. I lived nearby in a neat apartment on Broadway and Wall Street, next to Trinity Church, two blocks south of the WTC. He went to school two blocks north of the same WTC. Right after 911, my bike became very important to me. I lived in the belly of the beast and the bike was the only means of transportation down town. On 911, I went up to my apartment on the nineteenth floor, cleaned out the refrigerator and threw it all down the garbage chute; grabbed my dirty laundry, I was planning on doing laundry that night; and grabbed my bike and walked down the nineteen floors, the electricity was out when Building Seven went down, and rode to my former home where the kids were after I dropped them after a day from Hell and collecting them from their schools. I stayed in their apartment, because the building had brought in a generator and the family went uptown to stay with friends for the two weeks our area was uninhabitable. I did not return to my home for two weeks and used my bike to get to and from work. There weren’t any nearby subways functioning for a while and the ones that went through the WTC were out for a long time, as they had to remove the WTC from the tracks. That was when I learned I needed to carry identification with me all the time in NYC. On a beautiful bike ride out of the hell that was downtown, I was stopped at Chambers Street after blowing through a checkpoint on Canal Street. I was escorted back to my building by a State cop from Illinois, who was there to help the city authorities. From that day forth I have ID and medical cards in my under the seat satchel that also holds spare tubes and a Swiss Army knife. I carry a pump in my bike shirt.