autumnal bike commute

The first days of autumn in New York City are still balmy even though you can spot a yellowish tinge on the leaves of the street trees and it is now dusk at 7 o’clock. When its not hot I like to ride my bike to work the long way, all the  way around the southern tip of the island instead of the quick way straight across from east to west. It’s easy to forget that Manhattan is an island because it is so dense with people and buildings from edge to edge. On the morning of 9/11 as I was shepherding the children home, through the shock and fear in the streets, we passed a cluster of people gathered around a parked car listening to the radio for news, when a woman shouted “they’ve closed all the bridges and tunnels to and from the island” and I thought “we are trapped”. After that, I’ve never forgotten that we live on an island.

East River Brooklyn Bridge

East River Brooklyn Bridge

My bike commute starts on the eastern edge of the island where the East River looks over to Brooklyn. In the old days, they say that the river froze so solid that people could walk over the ice from Brooklyn to Manhattan. They say that entrepreneurs  sold hot potatoes on the icy river to commuters. The workers carried the potatoes in their pockets to warm their hands on their trek across the iced over river and then have the roasted potatoes for breakfast.

Williamsburg Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

As you ride on the paths of the East River Park you pass many sports fields. You can smell the salt in the air and the morning sunlight sparkles on the water. It is much cleaner now and you can catch glimpses of ducks and other water birds living there. As you hit the eastern edge of Chinatown by the river, you see clusters of Chinese seniors practicing Tai Chi and exercising in the park near the South Street Seaport. Fishermen in baseball caps line the railings with long poles in their hands.

The old Fulton Fish Market

The old Fulton Fish Market

You hit a wall of commuters getting off the Staten Island Ferry and subways as you round the southern most tip of the island and move from East River to the Hudson on the West Side.

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At this point, I ride on the sidewalk dodging the walkers and taking care not the scare them. They have enough stress. To ride in the street here is dicey because they are curvy and packed with speeding commuter buses bringing in Wall St. workers from the land of suburbia.

Westside bike lane heading north

Westside bike lane heading north

Once you cross the street at the tip of the island at Battery Park, you can get on the West Side bike lane north and now you ride along side a different river – the Hudson.

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

winter biking

I can smell the cold when I step outside. The clean and brittle smell carries the smoke of the wood fire that heats a church on my block. The winter scent wakes me up more than the cold itself. I touch the cold metal of locks and free my bike.

I only started riding a bike in New York City a year and a half ago. I’d always been too chicken to ride in the street before. With the proliferation of bike lanes, I bought a bike from my neighborhood shop Recyle-a-Bicycle and started bike commuting to my office. Now you can’t get me off it. Only a downpour will get me back onto the slow and jammed-packed crosstown bus.

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I’ve discovered the trick to being comfortable is to keep the feet, neck and especially the hands warm. I wear an ample wool cowl that I knit myself that you can pull up to cover your face in the biting wind. You can get the free pattern here in the post Winter Knits for Biking.

Oona modeling the super warm knitted bike cowl

Oona modeling the super warm knitted bike cowl

I wear double gloves, but in the warm hands department, these win. The food delivery guys have developed an ingenious system of using plastic bottles and bags to block the wind from the handlebars. Maybe soon we will see fancy versions of these contraptions for sale in the high-end bike shops.

delivery bikes outfitted with plastic bag windbreakers

delivery bikes outfitted with plastic bag windbreakers

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