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  1. #1
    Junior Member bloodbox's Avatar
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    Stuff I Learned Commuting in NYC

    A few years ago I moved from LA, where I used to ride on the glorious fire roads in the Los Angeles National Forest (above Altadena), to NYC, commuting and doing errands in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island. So instantly I hated everything about it. But I learned to adjust, so here's a list, FWIW, of stuff I learned.

    1. Avoid the Brooklyn Bridge and use the Manhattan Bridge. Things are better on the BB if you use a bike bell (sometimes it works wonders), but you just can't change the behavior of every tourist who walks on that bridge. And do I really blame them? The views are glorious. Too bad that when you're biking, you can hardly peek at all.

    2. Carry at least 2 spare tubes. The other day, I got stranded on the Shore Parkway Greenway, SW of Bensonhurst (about a half mile N of the Toys Are Not Us) because the valve stem on the crummy Nashbar tube I bought broke. (Avoid those-- they're threaded all the way down, so the loss of material makes them weak.) Then I got stranded halfway across the Manhattan Bridge because the patch that I had applied just before I got on the bridge didn't hold. Maybe the tube was dirty or it was too hot for the glue (one of those 90 plus days), but there I was, without any tubes (because I had used the last one in the incident I just mentioned.) A lack of planning is a great teacher, if you can learn the lesson.

    Related to this, I guess no NYC biker will stop when you're stranded and ask you if you need help. In LA, at least on hilly roads outside the main grids, if I was on the side of the road pumping up a tire, occasionally people would stop and ask if I needed a lift or a tube. Not in NYC. Maybe you have to flag them down and beg.

    3. This isn't a solid rule, and practically no NYC bikers follow it, but recently I've been trying to stop at more red lights. It's part of my (probably grossly mistaken) belief that if drivers see you respect the rules, they'll respect you more. Sounds naive now that I wrote it!

    4. Avoid riding to the right of cars and trucks in tight intersections. It's just a recipe for getting nailed if they make a right turn. A lot of cars don't use their signals, so you don't know what they're going to do.

    5. The Hudson River bike-way (on the West side) has pretty nice bike lines, but the one on the east side, running from the Lower East side to around 34th St. has no markings for bikes vs. peds. It's basically a street that was converted. (Maybe somebody can give some history here.) It's been patched a lot (very uneven), though there's no glass. There are also parts that are extremely tight-- really just walkways wide enough for one bike and one person. It's probably faster to get to mid-town (and safer) than riding one of the avenues, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.

    6. You can't change the behavior of all the delivery guys in Man. and Brooklyn who ride the wrong way on one-way streets and bike paths. If they get killed, I guess it's their own damn fault.

    7. You've got to chain and lock everything down. It's a drag. I used to just take off my front wheel and lock that, the rear wheel, and the frame with an Abus U-lock. But then I started to freak that someone would steal my components. Maybe it's paranoia, but there just weren't good places to leave a bike outside in Mid-Manhattan for 8 hours straight. Anyone ever seen the so-called "Bike Shelter" (really a converted covered bus stop) outside of Penn Station/Madison Square Garden? I guess the engineers didn't think that walls were necessary to protect bikes from rain and snow. Anyway, that area (theoretically) is watched by a big camera, so maybe that provides some insurance if park a bike there. On the other hand, probably you could never find the thief anyway, and probably the cops don't care.

    My recent solution was to try to find an under-the-radar bike to use as a commuter, one that I could keep tuned but wouldn't look like much. I haven't found the magic formula bike yet. Right now I'm using a friend's old Nishiki. For security, I'm using the Abus U-lock, a cable for the front wheel, plus a chain and a padlock for the seat (because it has a nice special cut out seat to protect your soft parts.) Yeah, the heavy chain and Master padlock for the seat are probably overkill, but after somebody stole a seat clamp (I had removed a quick-release seat from a mountain bike I was riding temporarily, but forgot the clamp, so it vanished), I realized that people will steal anything here.

    8. Avoid riding in Prospect Park after 3:30 pm and afternoons on weekends and holidays. It's just no fun, even with the new expanded bike lines. There are still joggers who want to run in the x'ed-out dead zone between the bike lane and the pedestrian lane (even though every mode of transport now has an ENTIRE car-width lane), the nannies with their strollers, and bicyclists who still ride the wrong way. I'm not a big fan of the racing types, either.

    9. Don't buy a seat post rack (the type that either clamps or bolts to the seat post and has no supports to the seat stays or the chain stays.) It sways/rotates under loaded panniers. It will go into your rim/tire, causing you to have to stop and try to tighten it down. Then you will more than likely strip the aluminum bolts (at least on the Delta model I have) and want to throw the whole thing away, where hopefully it can be melted down and reformed into something useful. I plan to get a better rack (probably a Racktime and use some special brackets that can fit on a bike with new eyelets. The Radonnee shop sells them.) But right now, I have a very odd rig consisting of the Delta seat post rack supported by some PVC tubes, connected to the chain stays with electrical C-clamps. It stabilizes it, a little.

    My conclusion: With the rise of bike lanes, signs, and general bike culture, riding in NYC is many magnitudes better than it was 10 years ago. Most of my adaptations have less to do with the infrastructure than with the conditions (road debris and glass, leading to flats) and human behavior (drivers and peds). You can deal with conditions through preparation, precautions, and better equipment (extra tubes, carry tools, better tires) and deal with human behavior through defensive riding and being self-reliant. But I still don't find the whole thing very enjoyable. It's just been hard to adjust, even when you're riding west on 34th St. and get a great view of the Empire State Building, or ride along the water on one of the bike-ways.

    Maybe fellow riders can cheer me up a little bit.
    Last edited by bloodbox; 07-07-12 at 09:17 AM.

  2. #2
    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    I agree with all your advice, except for #2. I carry a good (Rema) patch kit and one spare tube. I have not yet needed more. Also, I just got a flat yesterday (on the Manhattan bridge, actually!) and 3 people stopped to ask if I needed help. Maybe you were one of them? Several more slowed down, saw I had what I needed, and kept going. So maybe you've had bad luck with that, but it's not everyone!

    And your #3, about stopping at lights, I judge those case by case. I stop and look, and if it's clear I go. I don't like to wait next to cars due to the reason you mention above.

    I also moved here from LA, although out there I rode a motorcycle everywhere, not a bicycle.
    1964 JRJ (Bob Jackson), 1973 Wes Mason, 2000ish Colian (Colin Laing), 2013 Velo Orange Pass Hunter

  3. #3
    Senior Member Eric S.'s Avatar
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    Look up Hal Ruzal's videos on YouTube about NYC bike locking. People go to great lengths to ride the crappiest bike possible to avoid theft!

  4. #4
    Junior Member bloodbox's Avatar
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    @Lostarchitect

    I stand corrected. Clearly there are kind riders out there. Alas, I was on the Man. Bridge on Thurs., not Fri., so I missed you.... I have to admit I overstated the reality, about "all NYC cyclists." It's like asking directions or talking to people on the street or on the subway. Somehow the city got the rep that NYCers are rude, but save not knowing what you want when you get to the head of the bagel line, most people are friendly and more than willing to talk to you (as long as it doesn't take too long.)

    I like the Rema patches, though I needed some more yesterday and happened to stop by Brooklyn Bike and Board (actually it has a slightly different name now). They had the Park ones, so that's what I got for my restocking. And I left out an important detail about my patch screw up when I was in Chinatown, before hitting the Man. Bridge... the only patches I had left in my Rema box were those giant ones, measuring 1 x 2 INCHES... way too big for a 23 mm tube. So I was basically trying to fix a gash in a tube with a sling... poor planning on my part, but I had run out of all the small patches from all the other flats I've gotten recently. Also, I think the tube was too dirty (poor glue adhesion) and the sun was going down, so I couldn't see too well.

    If I decide to keep this Nishiki and use it as a commuter, then I'll invest in some better tires. On my normal bike, I have some Michelin Krylion Carbon tires and like those a lot. I don't have any technical reasons-- save for riding in rain I really couldn't tell you whether a tire handles well or not, feels heavy, or has high rolling resistance. I mean, I can feel the difference between a fat knobby mountain tube and a smooth road tire, but can I feel the difference between the Continental, Schwalbe, Michelin, etc. racing/training tires? No. So it comes down to price, how long it wears, and how much glass it can eat. The Krylion is OK.

    Motorcycling in LA must have been good. I remember watching all the riders zip between the lanes to get out of that gridlock.

  5. #5
    Junior Member bloodbox's Avatar
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    @Eric S.
    Yeah, I've seen Hal's great videos, humor, and advice. You're right... I walk around the city checking out the stealth bikes, the good frames painted over, the bikes taped up to hide what they really are, the special lock nuts and lock skewers...

  6. #6
    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    Personally, I think the "stealth bike" thing is kind of BS. When someone has wrapped their bike in tape or covered their saddle with a plastic bag, I think most thieves know what that means: Steal this one, it's expensive!

    I recommend larger tires that 23mm in NYC for most purposes, especially commuting. I usually go for 28's or 32's. You can run them at a somewhat lower pressure which results in fewer flats and a more comfortable ride. I ride Panaracer Pasela Tourguards on my daily rider. They're inexpensive if you buy them online from Niagara or Outside outfitters. Did you sandpaper your tube before applying the glue?

    If Brooklyn Bike & Board is your LBS, we probably live near each other. I'm on Clinton right near Fulton. Some of the guys who used to work there have a new shop on Myrtle now, called Red Lantern. I like it a lot.
    1964 JRJ (Bob Jackson), 1973 Wes Mason, 2000ish Colian (Colin Laing), 2013 Velo Orange Pass Hunter

  7. #7
    Member bingham333's Avatar
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    before moving to NYC i ran lights and stop signs fearlessly but now i approach with extreme caution due to the unbelievable amount of blatant and intentionall red light/stop sign running by autos here. i ride the williamsburg bridge daily and at night on the ride home it is an absolute 100% guarantee that some one is going to blast through the red light at delancy and suffolk.

    #7 bums me out the most. I just spent half a year and and a buttload of money building my dream bike but i cant ride it anywhere because i;m afraid of thieves. i lock it down good( 2 U-locks through frame and both tires and a cable lock through my toe clips and seat rails) but what can i do about my stem, bars? nothing i know of. it took me almost a year to track down the cinelli 2a stem an half thet time to find the 67 bars to go with it and now anybody with a 6mm hex wrench can take em both in under a second.

  8. #8
    ---- buzzman's Avatar
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    Blood box, so much of what you say is accurate but it really is a matter of perspective. As you point out it's much better now than it was ten years ago and waaaaaay better than it was 20 years ago when I first started riding here regularly.

    The infrastructural changes have had an amazing impact. 20 years ago my chain and lock was literally for defending myself as much while riding the bike as when locking it. And commuters and everyday riders were few and far between. No West Side Path, no bike lanes, nothing at all on the East Side- As a cyclist I really felt totally alone and like I was crazy for riding. My non-riding friends all were convinced I was nuts and were constantly telling me to be careful and about someone they knew that had been seriously injured or killed riding in the city.

    All the negative vibe about riding a bike in the city really made it a struggle sometimes to feel motivated to use the bike. Now when I'm here I can't believe it. Tons of friends ride every where in the city- and ride every day. I no longer get the hairy eyeball for riding the bike. There are still plenty of tough things and things to watch out for while riding here but it's so much better and getting better every year. The bike share program should make a big difference when it is instituted.

    But it's strange that now one of the biggest complaints I have is about other riders in the city- I think back to 20 years ago and now say, " Be careful what you wish for!"

  9. #9
    just ride
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    Quote Originally Posted by bloodbox View Post
    2. Carry at least 2 spare tubes.
    +1! After being plagued by flats myself, I now carry 3 tubes, patch kit, 4 Co2 cartridges and an emergency pump.

    Quote Originally Posted by bloodbox View Post
    Related to this, I guess no NYC biker will stop when you're stranded and ask you if you need help. In LA, at least on hilly roads outside the main grids, if I was on the side of the road pumping up a tire, occasionally people would stop and ask if I needed a lift or a tube. Not in NYC. Maybe you have to flag them down and beg.
    Dang. Big city attitudes suck.

    Quote Originally Posted by bloodbox View Post
    3. This isn't a solid rule, and practically no NYC bikers follow it, but recently I've been trying to stop at more red lights. It's part of my (probably grossly mistaken) belief that if drivers see you respect the rules, they'll respect you more. Sounds naive now that I wrote it!
    In the long haul, yes. But for now, expect to get honked at or almost run over by impatient drivers who would rather see you run the light so traffic isn't slowed.

    Quote Originally Posted by bloodbox View Post
    4. Avoid riding to the right of cars and trucks in tight intersections....
    +1, this is extremely important anywhere you go. Too many cyclists die that way.

    Quote Originally Posted by bloodbox View Post
    1. Avoid the Brooklyn Bridge and use the Manhattan Bridge.
    5. The Hudson River bike-way east side, running from the Lower East side to around 34th St. has no markings for bikes vs. peds....
    6. You can't change the behavior of all the delivery guys in Man. and Brooklyn who ride the wrong way...
    7. You've got to chain and lock everything down....
    8. Avoid riding in Prospect Park after 3:30 pm and afternoons on weekends and holidays....
    ...But I still don't find the whole thing very enjoyable.
    In other words, don't move to NYC. Or any other meglacity for that matter.
    what is this 'road tax' you speak of?

  10. #10
    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E.S. View Post
    In other words, don't move to NYC. Or any other meglacity for that matter.
    E.C., if you don't want to visit our world class museums, eat our amazing food, participate in our vibrant culture & city life, see our excellent theater, or enjoy our thriving bicycle culture and growing bicycle infrastructure, then by all means go ahead and stay where you are. But there are many, many reasons to live in NYC, and I doubt you know squat about any of them.
    1964 JRJ (Bob Jackson), 1973 Wes Mason, 2000ish Colian (Colin Laing), 2013 Velo Orange Pass Hunter

  11. #11
    ---- buzzman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lostarchitect View Post
    E.C., if you don't want to visit our world class museums, eat our amazing food, participate in our vibrant culture & city life, see our excellent theater, or enjoy our thriving bicycle culture and growing bicycle infrastructure, then by all means go ahead and stay where you are. But there are many, many reasons to live in NYC, and I doubt you know squat about any of them.

    +1! Well said.

    Not a day goes by when I am not in awe of this city. Yes, it has it's downsides but it's heavily balanced on the plus side. That's why so many people are here and more and more of them are getting around it on bikes.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by bingham333 View Post

    #7 bums me out the most. I just spent half a year and and a buttload of money building my dream bike but i cant ride it anywhere because i;m afraid of thieves..... but what can i do about my stem, bars? nothing i know of. it took me almost a year to track down the cinelli 2a stem an half thet time to find the 67 bars to go with it and now anybody with a 6mm hex wrench can take em both in under a second.
    http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/pitlock.asp

  13. #13
    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bingham333 View Post
    #7 bums me out the most. I just spent half a year and and a buttload of money building my dream bike but i cant ride it anywhere because i;m afraid of thieves. i lock it down good( 2 U-locks through frame and both tires and a cable lock through my toe clips and seat rails) but what can i do about my stem, bars? nothing i know of. it took me almost a year to track down the cinelli 2a stem an half thet time to find the 67 bars to go with it and now anybody with a 6mm hex wrench can take em both in under a second.
    It's very unlikely someone will steal your stem and bars. Popular targets are wheels and saddles, and whole bikes. I have never heard of someone losing just the stem / bars or anything else. I have heard of whole bikes being stripped, but these were bikes that sat in one place for weeks or months.

    That said, it's best to have a bike you don't mind locking up in addition to your main ride. I have two bikes I will lock up (my beater, for as long as I need to, and my daily rider, for short periods) and two that I will not lock up at all. Sounds like your bike is one you don't want to lock up at all. I suggest getting a beater.
    1964 JRJ (Bob Jackson), 1973 Wes Mason, 2000ish Colian (Colin Laing), 2013 Velo Orange Pass Hunter

  14. #14
    Junior Member bloodbox's Avatar
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    @lostarchitect

    Thanks for the many helpful suggestions. I'll try the bigger tires the next time I need one. That may give me a bit more cushion, which I really enjoyed when I briefly had a mountain bike here. It was really smooth (with front suspension) for all the road grooves, rough patches, etc., but it weighed a ton. I haven't tried the Panaracers, so I can try that too.

    I lightly sanded before gluing (always do), though recently I backed off a little because I think I overdid it on some tubes I had.... one had about 6 patches on it (yeah, I know, not cost effective... it was sort of an archeological accretion...) and before I wisely gave up on it, I think I had scrubbed it a bit thin and created a kind of micro-leakage.

    I don't really have a fave LBS. I live in Windsor Terrace. I tried BB&Board because they had a good price on tubes. A few times I've headed to Steve at Bicycle Station because I've always found him a straight shooter and a nice guy. I think that's the general consensus. Sometimes I've over in that neighborhood on the way to a bridge....

    I haven't heard of Red Lantern but will check it out. Once in a while I've stopped at 9th Street Bicycles (I think that's what it's called) in Park Slope (near the YMCA), and while the people are friendly (never had any work done there), their prices are high. But I guess that's what happens when you get a hot corner in Park Slope. I haven't stopped in at 718 Cyclery (has a rep for being a good place if you want a custom bike built) or the (relatively?) new Bicycle Habitat... I'd really like to find a place that has fair prices on stuff like ball bearings, cables, etc.

  15. #15
    Junior Member bloodbox's Avatar
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    @buzzman

    I agree with you about perspective and history. And my helmet goes off to you for starting 20 years ago against the odds and the naysayers. And defending yourself with a swinging chain!

    I was recently amazed by how many bike shops there are in the boroughs. We've got pretty good bike maps, expanding sets of bike lanes, more awareness of bikers, actual community meetings from time to time where bikers, peds, car people try to hash out problems. (I think that's what led to the redesign of the lanes in Prospect Park. I wasn't too happy about the few weeekends, back in Feb., where the cops set up traps and started issuing tickets for bikers who ran red lights, but by a stroke of luck, I saw them, came to a complete stop, and saved myself.)

    So all told, on a more optimistic day, I can convince myself that things are indeed getting better, as you said. And since I haven't had any flats since I wrote my last post, I'm feeling better about things.

    Someday, someday, maybe the Verrazano Bridge will get a bike lane. But the ferry is very accommodating for cyclists. I haven't done a ton of commuting on Staten Island, but recently I've explored some alternate routes and had an OK time of it.

  16. #16
    Junior Member bloodbox's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=bingham333;14451388]but what can i do about my stem, bars?

    @bingham333

    On one of Hal Ruzal's bike locking video, he showed how he had epoxied a ball bearing in the recessed area of the hex bolt that held down his stem. It prevented someone from quickly twisting an Allen wrench in there. I guess you have to remove it with some solvent if you (meaning the rightful owner) want to take it off.

    Also, I recall seeing somewhere, either on one of his videos, or some post on bikeforums, where someone had some bolts with non-standard heads. I can't remember if they were those star-shaped one or something else.

    Maybe those two options would work.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by bloodbox View Post
    @lostarchitect

    ...I haven't stopped in at 718 Cyclery (has a rep for being a good place if you want a custom bike built)...
    You should stop in the shop regardless;..it's not just about custom bikes. Their prices on most things are really good and their work is top notch. Also, their free classes are awesome.

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