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Bicycle commuting set me free (longish)

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Bicycle commuting set me free (longish)

Old 01-07-15, 09:48 PM
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Bicycle commuting set me free (longish)

I started commuting this season and an awful lot shifted for me. I've been ruminating on it and decided it would be worth putting my thoughts into words and sharing them. I hope you get something from it, thanks for your indulging me! I welcome your feedback.

------------------

In 1972 my school Physics teacher offered a two-week course in bicycle riding and repair. I was 15. I never took his class but I knew him from clubs he mentored. He know I had a Schwinn 10-speed bike. I said yes.

We rode in the mornings. He taught us how to be safe in traffic and increased the distance of our rides as we became less wobbly and more predictable. In the afternoon we learned how to disassemble and reassemble our bikes. I was neither athletic nor mechanically inclined, yet I seemed to have a knack for both activities.*

During those afternoon mechanics sessions I gained an appreciation for differences in quality of machined components. My entry-level Schwinn was at one level. My teacher’s new French racing bike was on another level. I nagged my parents for a better bike. We bought a cheap Italian model from a department store. I rode it like crazy and over-maintained it for the next year, by which time I saved enough money working at a textile mill in upstate New York during the summer to buy a proper racing bike. I found that I didn't like racing. I kept riding, mostly by myself.

After college I moved to Queens, NY and formed a club with some other guys who also loved to ride but weren't racers. On Sundays we'd ride 50–60 miles, mostly local, sometimes out of town. I started taking week-long supported tours in Vermont every summer. I rode a few 100 mile rides and one 200 kilometer ride. My identity was well-set: a casual roadie. Racing bike, spandex, long rides and big lunches.

I got married, my wife didn’t like to ride. I kept riding. We moved to the suburbs and I got a new racing bike. I got a mountain bike. Afer a few years kids were my excuse for shorter rides. My marriage didn’t last, not having anything to do with riding.

I remarried. We got my wife a nice bike. We ride together and it’s awesome. The Physics teacher re-entered my life. He gave me the French racing bike that 15-year-old me admired, hoping I might use it. He had ridden 87,000 miles on it, mostly commuting. With deep emotion I accepted it and gave it a thorough overhaul.

Our kids are beginning to set out on their own. We downsized and moved to Manhattan. For the first time, I don’t live in a place where I can jump on my bike and be a roadie without making my way through serious urban landscape. I wasn’t sure what would happen to my riding.

I wanted to commute to work by bike. My office is 4.5 miles from home at one of the busiest intersections in Manhattan. I decided to use my Physics teacher’s bike for commuting. When Spring came I started riding to work. Early on, I learned to safely interface with urban traffic, but as a pleasure rider I favor lightly-traveled back roads where I can see the sights and smell the flowers. I adapted to the challenge of riding safely through the city by anticipating and avoiding risk. 40 years of experience provides insight into where risk hides — the x factor.*

Bike commuting in New York City with trucks, busses, pedicabs, cars, pedestrians looking at phones, pushing strollers, messengers, delivery people, other commuters, skaters and skateboarders is crazy. I love it. It demands me to Be Here Now. It demand that I surrender to the Flow. It provides freedom of movement unlike any other way of getting around. It’s faster than subways or taxis. I met friendly people and had conversations. I found pictures of it on Google Street View. I rode 500 miles this way in 2014.

I equipped a pair of old English 3-speed bike with baskets and bells. On weekends, my wife and I ride them on errands and for pleasure. We’ve shopped in SoHo, brought home groceries and cycled along the Hudson from Battery Park to the George Washington Bridge. I’ve driven through brutal traffic jams on that bridge thousands of times, never knowing about the beautiful green space below where you can ride up to the river bank and sit in the sun on big rocks with your feet in cool water next to a little red lighthouse. We went to Vermont and had wonderful rides, feeling like our bikes were as light as air.

Our bicycles have given me the city and the city has given me my bicycles, in ways I never expected. The casual roadie has been replaced and expanded to the point where no identity is required. The bicycle and the city have set me free.
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Old 01-08-15, 02:27 AM
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cool story
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Old 01-08-15, 02:45 AM
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Originally Posted by ascherer View Post
Our bicycles have given me the city and the city has given me my bicycles


Thanks for sharing this with us!
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Old 01-08-15, 07:15 AM
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Neat story - thanks for sharing.....
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Old 01-08-15, 07:39 AM
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Awesome read. Thanks for sharing this experience.
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Old 01-08-15, 10:47 AM
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Very cool, thanks for sharing!
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Old 01-08-15, 10:41 PM
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Yep. I can relate. Bikes shaped my entire life.

Cheers!
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Old 01-09-15, 06:28 AM
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Jim from Boston
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Originally Posted by JoeyBike View Post
Yep. I can relate. Bikes shaped my entire life.
Dittoes to all the above.

When I joined Bike Forums in 2008, my first post, to the Introductions Forum was my cycling biography, and I have updated it to the current time. Briefly,

Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
I have been an avid cyclist, as a lifestyle since about 1972; self-described year-round commuter, occasional centurian (in-training during the nice weather), and former cycle tourist, including a cross-country ride…”Road Warrior” is my self-applied nickname. I happened serendipitously on Bike Forums in 2008, and it was frankly incredible to find a community that shared so many concerns I had kept to myself as a lone cyclist…
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Old 01-09-15, 08:05 AM
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Nice. Here's to more biking adventures in and out of the city.
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Old 01-09-15, 08:41 AM
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Nice story. I've found that commuting has really influenced my riding as well. Although I have cycled for more than 40 years, my riding was more recreational, fast group rides and occasional supported tours. I started bike commuting about 8 years ago, and it has reinvigorated my interest in cycling. Now about half my riding is commuting, and I've replaced most of my racing bikes with two touring bikes, a sport tourer and a cyclocross bike. I'm also doing a lot more touring, in part because it's a natural outgrowth of commuting. I also have started doing some loaded tours and plan to do much more. I now have just one racing bike and I seldom ride it but thoroughly enjoy it when I do. In a way, my cycling has come full circle because I first started riding seriously in college, when that was my sole means of transportation and I commuted to classes.
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Old 01-10-15, 02:07 PM
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I find I can never get enough of people's stories about the "human" side of bicycling. Thanks for this thread.
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Old 01-10-15, 02:43 PM
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Great story! There are places here that are not convenient by either car or public transportation. Without a bike, they would not exist for me.

Paul
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Old 01-10-15, 05:40 PM
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Great story. How cool that your teacher made the effort to introduce you and others to cycling!
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Old 01-11-15, 12:07 PM
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What a nice story. And isn't that the Peugeot I tuned up for you this past summer? Remind us why your teacher wanted you to have it!

My story is similar. I also moved out of NYC and now am back, as of August 2013. To me, it seems like a more hospitable place to ride than it used to be. I was so glad to leave NYC because the riding was so bad here then. And now I'm so glad to be back, because it's so good now. Traffic is still brutal, but we're all in it together, and cyclists aren't oddballs any more. In a way, the fact that irritations are so extremely frequent seems to lead to the ability to shrug them off. There just isn't time to stay annoyed, whereas if someone cut me off or honked at me in the suburbs, I would stew over it for hours or days. There are lots more non-cyclophiles here riding, which is good, but there are also more cyclophiles who know how to have fun riding in the city. There are so many rides going on. I can't believe that in the year and a half I've been back, I still haven't ridden out over the George Washington Bridge, which is what most people do to get out of the concrete jungle.
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Old 01-11-15, 03:12 PM
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It is a nice story. And I can identify. My own story has some similarities.

As a boy I had bicycles and I rode them. But I wouldn't say that I was a serious bicyclist. I did it without giving it a whole lot of thought.

As I was finishing high school I bought my first car. I had also been using my Mom's car for a few years. So I didn't have a bicycle. And I didn't give that matter much thought, if any. The bicycle was a thing of the past. Transportation for kids. It just didn't occur to me that I had any reason to want a bike at that stage of life.

But then when I was twenty-three years old I went to San Francisco and got a job as a bicycle messenger. I pretty quickly got into the same job but using a Chevy van. Then I moved inside and became a dispatcher.

So while I was in that industry for about five years, I was really a bike messenger for about three quarters of a year.

But that was enough. I was so amazed at my ability to get around that city quickly while still being 'connected' to the street and the people on it. I went all sorts of places just because I felt like going there. I wouldn't have done it in a car. It would not have been worth it. It struck a chord in me that still rings and I've never been without a working bicycle since. I've had zero periods of no bicycle activity since. Most of the time, it's been five to seven days a week no matter the weather.

Today I live in a somewhat 'less glamorous' place. The streets are not as lively. They're in poor repair and they have too much debris and, even, trash.

Yet I'd still rather experience them by bike than by car. By car they're to be endured, but not embraced. By bike they're, perhaps, still imperfect. But it's a more loveable type of imperfection.
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Old 01-12-15, 10:18 AM
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Thanks,
I needed that...
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Old 01-12-15, 12:16 PM
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As someone who started bike commuting on a daily basis in 3rd grade and never really stopped it's sad to see how few kids cycle for transportation these days (especially unescorted).
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Old 01-12-15, 12:28 PM
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That's a nice story, thanks for sharing it. Bike commuting has connected some different parts of the lives of many of us here and has answered some questions for me I didn't know I had in that the teacher appears when the student is ready way.
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Old 01-13-15, 10:06 PM
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Thanks to all for your kind responses! I like reading your stories, too. I'm taking this learning places that I'll share when I've sorted out what I'll be up to.

Tom, you did see the Peugeot up at Larry's shop this summer but I don't recall that you did anything on it - but I suspected you wanted to at the time! I posted something about the teacher - Don is his name. Some background, and a couple of then-and-now pictures. I'll locate that and add a link.

Regarding Don, one thing I will add is that it's his humanity that made the difference. The school I went to closed 38 years ago. There was a large reunion in 2012 and he came at my request. His former students flocked to him, I hadn't realized how well-loved he was, and he was nearly in tears. Sharing bicycling with us was just one of the many ways he gave, and continues to do so. When I grow up, I want to be like him!

Last edited by ascherer; 01-13-15 at 10:15 PM.
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Old 01-15-15, 02:22 PM
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great story. thanks for sharing
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Old 01-16-15, 09:18 PM
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@noglider here's the fuller story:

http://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...l#post15605441

This is me in 1972



Don and the PX-10 in '74



Don and I in 2012 after our reunion, visiting the campus - the school closed in 1977.

Attached Images
File Type: jpg
AndyDon12.jpg (39.5 KB, 94 views)
File Type: jpg
Andy72Lo.jpg (21.8 KB, 93 views)
File Type: jpg
Don76Lo.jpg (32.9 KB, 93 views)

Last edited by ascherer; 01-16-15 at 09:19 PM. Reason: adjusted picture sizes
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Old 01-16-15, 09:59 PM
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Lovely pictures.
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Old 01-16-15, 10:48 PM
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Old 01-16-15, 11:06 PM
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Great stories and pics, @ascherer! I couldn't help but notice a couple of asterisks in the first post -- is there more that you meant to add?
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Old 01-16-15, 11:17 PM
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Nice story - it makes me want to go to NYC and ride around there. Haven't been to NYC yet, but I do sometimes listen to WFMU online...
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