Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Switching Gears: Profound Bicycle Memories of My Youth

Listening to a rebroadcast episode of Talk of the Nation about "The Dangerous Underworld Of Vanished Bicycles" brought back a lot of memories of my own experiences. For years in my twenties I used to take my bike straight from work in Williamsburg Brooklyn over the 59th street bridge to Central Park and do laps. I listened to music, or audio books (on cassette), even though I know you're not supposed to. I would ride until it got dark, then I would ride back home in Williamsburg and go to bed. This was my existence, and I found a lot of pleasure in it.

Once, while riding one of my earlier bikes - a cheap 10 speed - the gears got stuck while I was climbing the hill on the northernmost part of Central Park. While I struggled up the steep hill I struggled with the gear shift, switching them up and down, hoping for a break while I gave the pedals constant pressure. Finally the gears switched, but by that time I had already made it over the hill and was flying down the other side. Still applying constant pressure, the gears switched all the way and the pedals dropped out from under my feet, hitting my heel into the front wheel. I tried to recover from the slight turn, but I went to far and the front wheel went perpendicular to the bike, stopping it instantly, and sending me soaring into the air and down the hill. Miraculously I landed into a roll, tumbled and popped back up on my feet unscathed. My bike was not so lucky.

Fortunately I replaced that cheap 10 speed with a used red Cannondale. After a particularly bad break-up I found the companionship I needed in that Cannondale, and continued my nightly rides, forsaking the delinquent nightlife that had been occupying time for a while.

It ended when one day while I was going home. Crossing lanes to get onto the 59th street bridge I remember looking over my left shoulder for oncoming traffic, and there was none. But in the second it took me to switch a cab must have sped down the street and I swerved right into him. That time my bike only sustained minimal damage, but sprained my wrist bad enough that I couldn't ride for a while. During the time I was recuperating I got hit by a car as a pedestrian, but that's another story.

My red Cannondale eventually got stolen in Manhattan. I remember for a while thinking every red Cannondale was mine. I never recovered that bike, but I did eventually replace it with another red Cannondale, which I still have, but rarely use.

On the Talk of the Nation episode they mention people having too much bike for their neighborhood I meaning that their bikes were too expensive and kept getting stolen. There seemed to be a consensus that getting a less expensive bicycle was the right response. I wonder if there was any backlash to this response arguing that this response puts the blame on the victims.

When I was young - in the 7th or 8th grade - I was bike riding with two friends, who were brothers. I had let one of them ride a BMX bike that I had borrowed, and I was riding the brother's dad's 10 speed. We were riding around Stuyvesant Town when three bigger kids stopped us and demanded our bikes. The younger brother and I immediately gave up our bikes to the two that stopped us, who were much bigger than us. They drove away leaving their third friend, who was just slightly bigger than me, struggling with the older of the two brothers, who was much smaller than him, right in the middle of the street. The younger brother and me asked a stopped driver if he could help, to which the driver replied "there's three of you!" Realizing this we ran over to help, but the kid had ridden away by the time we got there. I've never forgotten this. Obviously the older brother was pissed at us, and for good reason. Why didn't we help him right away, especially since we outnumbered the kid three to one?!? Why did we instead look to a stranger? The answer is sad, and has shaped who I am today, for better, or worse.

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