I know that the best sunsets in the five boroughs are inaccessible by subway. I know the fastest way crosstown isn’t by bus or taxi. I know how to sweat, how to grind how to make every light, and piss off every motorist twenty times a day and keep my cool while doing so. I love the hum of my two aluminum wheels as they roll on open pavement. I love the feeling of how rough my palms feel after gripping my handlebars for six hours straight. I love the ache of my legs after a day of climbing bridges, hills, and forest paths. I ride.
It’s 8:35 and I’m late. I should be 25 blocks ahead by now. I’m going to be late for work and there’s little I can do about it. There are no shortcuts to take, no trains to hop and no gears to shift on my single-speed, fixed-gear, SE Lager. Now accelerating to 18 mph on the Bedford avenue slalom course southbound, I escape the claustrophobic confines of the bike lane. It wasn’t doing me any good anyway. The double-parking capital of the world cares little for the convenience or safety of its two-wheeled counterparts; and I’d rather not get decapitated by a parked, box truck rental driver that forgot to put his hazard lights on.
Immediately the chorus of horns echoes through the brownstone trenches that cut their way from river to bay. One driver rolls down his window to scream me off the road, as if I wasn’t fluent in translating wordless, honking melodies of rush-hour Brooklyn. I whip my head around and take everything in every truck, car, pedestrian, tree, construction worker, pigeon and pothole. I see it all in about a quarter of a second and trust that a little computer somewhere in the base of my brain will ‘Malcolm Gladwell’ the whole scene and guide me swiftly and safely.
Act and react. I ride with my legs, eyes and brain. Everything else is secondary. I take my safety into my own hands (and legs). They hate me. They hate us. They think we’re lawless, running red lights, taking stop signs as a suggestion riding outside of the aforementioned bike lane. Well they’re right. I hold little regard for the municipal infractions that help rookie cops meet their ticket quotas. I could follow every law in the book and I still might not be safe, but I’d definitely be bored.
Living life fast is way too fun to limit it to mere five block increments. And I’d rather get ahead of the light and ride for a quarter mile with the road to myself. Because for every rebel roadie out there, there are a dozen soccer moms, cabbies and workmen who disregard the speed limit, forget about their turn blinker, and have no respect for the double unbroken yellow line. Rules are for schoolyard and the teacher is nowhere to be seen. Rules are for cars. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s just how it is. If I get careless, I’m not taking a family of five with me. But I don’t get careless. There is an extreme order to the apparent chaos of my cross-city navigation. It’s been five years since I’ve been knocked off my wheels. You’re going to have to be trying to hit me; and you’re going to have to try very hard.
It would seem counterintuitive that I would like this danger-adjacent hobby. I am after all very worrisome, often lazy and prone to extreme fits of anxiety.
But my bicycle is the best therapist, most potent anti-depressant and one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
Ask anybody who regularly rides their bike to work.Everybody should have a bike. You should get one right now. It allows you to tolerate the intolerable, saves you from murdering incompetent coworkers, and keeps the stresses of the 9-to-5 in the office where they belong. It didn’t surprise me that Robin Williams was an avid rider. The catharsis of cycling is quite powerful. A man with his demons could definitely escape them with blinding speed in the saddle of a $10,000 road bike.
So, hate all you want on the growing number of urban Lance Armstrongs filling the city streets. We’re growing. The streets are as much ours as they do belong to the internal combustion engine. And I don’t care if my ride runs on pancakes and quinoa. I’m not going anywhere except forward, and I’m doing it as fast as my legs can take me.