NYC Citibike

If you are in the city, you will see them everywhere. Almost on every street corner, at most traffic lights and traveling with traffic, you can always spot the blue Citi Bike.  Today was the first time I have taken one. I had an appointment about 10 blocks away, and figured this was the perfect reason.

It was easy. Just swipe your keytag (if you are a yearly member), take the bike and go. I was at my destination in less time than if I had to take the subway or fight over hailing a cab. Dropping off the bike was just as easy. Just slide it in to an empty dock. Viola! 

As I said to someone earlier today… CitiBike is the best new way to get around NYC!

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Support

car Everything that is good, requires support. Just as houses require a good foundation, and the roof requires solid walls, the same is true of cycling. I want to take the time to personally thank my girlfriend who has tirelessly supported my cycling efforts. She has been my “team car” both metaphorically and physically. While her car doesn’t closely resemble the one in this photo, her involvement feels like it.

Several of the rides this year had VERY early starts (around 4:30AM) and she drove us to the start line. She has made rice cakes for me on more than one occasion, she has brought extra water and food in the car and met me on a ride to be my own personal SAG wagon. She is even on a quest right now to help me find a place to buy more Beet Juice (the grocery store that normally delivers is out of stock). By far, the most important job she has done is to understand my obsessive nature when it comes to cycling. She knows and accepts that I have a ride almost every weekend, and even if I don’t have one planned, I will probably go out on the bike anyway. She understands that all of my rides are usually difficult, suffering, training rides for big events, and that being ready, being the best I can be is very important to me. She includes my cycling in our plans. She listens patiently as I describe things about cycling or about a particular ride. She knows what “bonking” means and how devastating it feels. In cycling, she is my team car, and she deserves a lot of credit for it. I could never be where I am today without her.

Renewed enthusiasm

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time watching terrible sitcoms on TV. One of these was the A-Team. Of course it was corny and silly, and at some point you can expect George Peppard to sit back with a cigar in his teeth and say “I love it when a plan comes together.”  This is the feeling that I want to have. Over the past several months, through all of the ups and downs (pun intended), nothing seemed to be in sync.

I lost weight in the beginning of the year in preparation for the big rides I was doing. Then I gained some of it back. I learned to eat better on the bike, and the secrets of beet juice, but I had already gained some of the weight back, so the benefits were offset. I started to get disheartened, feeling that it would always be a struggle and what was the point? All of the major rides for the year are behind me. Then it hit me. It doesn’t have to be a famous ride for it to be a great ride.

So now I am back on track! I am eating better, losing some of the weight again, and riding every day. This weekend I have a 100 mile ride planned in some of the hilliest terrain I can find in order to prep for the Harlem Valley Rail Ride. Last year we attempted this ride, and by the 70 mile mark, we were completely spent. We couldn’t climb that last mountain, so we cut the ride short. That night something amazing happened. As I was laying in bed drifting off to sleep, I felt like I was back on the bike climbing the hills. It was the same sensation you get when you are on a boat all day, and when you lay down you feel the waves. This was almost euphoric. I loved it. This year, we will finish the ride, but more importantly, all of my efforts (training, weigh loss, eating right, etc) will all come together in one place.

It doesn’t have to be a ride like the B2B to be a great ride. Sometimes those rides happen when you least expect them. Giving it your “all” both on and off the bike is what cycling is all about for me.

A near death experience

Riding in NYC is dangerous. Full stop. I am an advocate of making it safer, but unless NYC has a bicycle transportation system like the Dutch, it will always be dangerous. I had two close run-ins again on my commute earlier in the week. One involved a bus (doesn’t it always?) where a bus passed me on the left and then pulled in front of me to let off/pick up passengers, trapping me against the curb. After slamming on the brakes to come to a stop before I hit both the bus and the curb, I then have to put walk my bike up on to the sidewalk, else the bus will run me over when it pulls away. When I ride in the city, I am hyper-aware of my surroundings. As I have said before, when you bike here, you have to leave your front door with the assumption that no one can see you.  You are, for all intents and purposes, completely invisible to anyone driving a car.

The second incident was more nefarious, where a driver clearly saw me riding along the right side of the road during stop and go traffic, and pulled his car all the way to the curb in order to inhibit me from passing.  I was able to get around behind him to weave my way through traffic, only to have him open his door, trying to catch me off guard and clip me from the bike. I knew I had two choices here. I could stop, get off the bike and get in to a pointless argument with someone who is frustrated that he is sitting in traffic for hours in a $50,000 metal box that has an in-traffic-top-speed of 8mph between lights, or just shake my head and ride on. I had somewhere to be, that somewhere being home where I could shower and eat dinner. An arugment with a stranger regarding HIS opinion of whether or not I should be advantaged on the bike in traffic was NOT on my list of things to do.  I rode on.

Aside from the dangers of cycling in a highly urbanized area with congested traffic, riding the bike means that *I* choose when I suffer. I don’t have to get in to arguments over things in my way, I can just go around. I don’t have to deal with the guy in the car next to me blasting his radio at levels that make my ear drums hurt, I can just ride on. I don’t get frustrated by someone who decided to make a U-turn in the middle of a busy street or blocks traffic because they don’t know how to parallel park. I can stop, grab some water, breathe a little and relax. I have never had “Road Rage” while riding a bike. In the 30+ years that I have ever ridden a bike, I have never once felt frustrated by outside factors (aside from rain or snow of course). I believe the reason is that when I am riding, I am choosing my destiny for the next few moments. I am doing something I really enjoy, and no matter how bad the commute is, how many people cut me off, or honk at me, every day on the bike is a good day. I feel alive with the wind whipping over my skin, my heart pounding in my chest and my feet working the pedals in perfect circles.

 

A good local shop

I am normally a big supporter of “local business”. When it comes to cycling and bicycle shops, I am especially so. Local businesses provide something that Internet stores can’t. They provide service. Service to the local community and they bring people together. Local businesses usually can’t compete price-wise with the mega online stores that can undercut the price using bulk sales as leverage, but as cyclists, we need more than “stuff for our bikes”.

A good bicycle shop should not only sell bikes, clothing, gels, etc, but should also be a place for cyclists to congregate, hang out at the coffee bar in the shop, watch the Tour on TV, meet up for a ride, chat with the mechanics about bikes, the latest trends and news, etc. The bike shop should be a place where the cycling community can be a cycling community.

I live in an urban area. Real estate is hard to come by where I live, so all shops, even grocery stores are small and cramped for space. This is true of bike shops too. There are two in my neighborhood within about a mile of where I live. One shop is VERY small. There is an alleyway from the front door to the counter between two rows of bikes on shelves. More than 2 people can’t really stand in the store at a time without having to say “excuse me” to get past. This shop has an excellent mechanic that does great work. There is no “community” feeling from this shop. The sell a few bikes and have a few things you might need, but for the most part, they are a bicycle mechanic shop.  The other bike shop is much larger and spacious in an outdoor mall type of environment. They have a large assortment of bikes and bike parts, but they aren’t really what you would think of as a community bike shop. They don’t have a lot of real experience with road cycling, per se, as they are focused on BMX bikes and scooters. The mechanics there aren’t very good, and are more concerned with up-selling you Fiz’ik gear than really talking about what is going on with the bike and how you feel.

None of the shops here do “local rides” and I have never seen anyone else in either shop wearing Lycra. In order to get the good local shop feeling, I would have to drive about 30 miles away. 

Perhaps I my next career will be to open a good bike shop, and support the community in cycling.

That terrible feeling you get in the pit of your stomach

First and foremost, let me say that the BikeMS event this weekend was a huge success. With my comeback well underway, we rode 190 miles (110 on Saturday, 80 on Sunday) in what proved to be the fastest times I have ever ridden. We had no rain thankfully, and was overcast both days which kept the heat down to bearable levels. Over 2,000 cyclists departed in a mass-start from UMASS Boston with a destination of Mass Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay. For some of us, it would be a 75 mile day, while others decide to take on the century-ish route.

I was in the latter category, and began to really stretch my legs pretty early as we were still leaving the outskirts of Boston. Within 15 miles of the start, we were rolling at a good clip, around 22mph or so, and other riders began to form a paceline around us. Rotating the line was straightforward enough, as everyone seemed to know how to rotate, call out holes and traffic and within 30 minutes or so, we were in the groove.  And then something changed.  You could almost smell that there was mischief afoot. Someone faster had started their turn at the front, and they didn’t appreciate the pace we were setting.

The paceline increased to 23mph, then 24, then 25mph. We were no longer rotating. We were chasing. I am in the rear position of the paceline, with my friend B right in front of me. I am doing all I can to stay on his wheel after about 30 minutes at these speeds, and I can see him starting to gap from the rider in front of him.  This is that terrible feeling. When you are doing all you can to hang on to the wheel in front of you, and it starts to gap.  Normally, a little extra push and you can recover, but even that is too much.  The gap forms, first a foot, then two, then four, and the wind hits you. You have seen the whole thing play out in your head seconds before it happens, and there is nothing you can do but accept your fate.  The paceline races off, around the next bend, over the next hill, leaving you exhausted and trying to recover. You have been dropped.

In this case we were both dropped, but I was happy to have a moment to get my heart rate below 160, where it had been for the past 45 minutes. In the end, we formed other pacelines that were better organized and perhaps more cohesive and even one of the guys from the first pace line was spending the last 50 miles trying to recover from his morning sprint.

It was a great day on the bike and an ever better testament that my failure at the B2B for asthmatic reasons is not going to beat me. I am coming back faster, stronger and more determined.