One of my favourite things about being out and about in New York is that I get to ride a bike, which gets me to here or there much faster than by subway or by walking; or if not faster than at least in an out-and-abouter sort of way. The citibikes are pretty well distributed around the city, so within a couple of blocks of anywhere I can take out or return one of these sturdy-if-clunky sets of wheels. And zoom in and out the streets and avenues like any other traffic-regulation-ignoring New York cyclist, trying to at least be considerate towards pedestrians when they have the right of way at a crossing. 7 o’clock in the morning, to get over to West 11th to my twice weekly Celtic prayer and meditation group; 8.30am, up the 8th Avenue cycle lanes to go to my daily Alexander Technique class on West 38th, and home again down Broadway at lunchtime; up Park Avenue and across to Bryant Park at 42nd on an occasional Saturday morning for a Sidewalk Talk Listening Event; and some longer trips like up to a Threshold Choir home sing on 72nd by Central Park, 3 miles of mostly flat but nevertheless a decent workout. And – ah, the very best of all – an occasional opportunity to use the east river cycle way to get further faster towards downtown because there are no traffic lights to stop at and almost no people in the way. The flow, swirl, splash and glitter of the water, and the distance that I can send my eyes, remind me that there is a beautiful, natural world out there somewhere, enlivening and refreshing, even if most of the city vistas are concrete and glass, solid, dull and dulling.
I have been cycling all my life, and I even remember the place I learned to ride a bike at age who knows but probably around 6, down on the London Road in Stroud. In secondary school I was the only girl who cycled to school every day, among many boys of course, and while I felt freaky by being the exception there is no doubt that being so generally fit contributed to my sporting successes, including being County 800m champion more than once in my teens.
Who would have thought that city life would give me a renaissance of my happy life on a bicycle? Come rain, come shine, in brain-numbing -15℃ (last Monday!) or sweltering 40℃ (whenever … New York is very very hot over the many summer months) I don my helmet (if I’m being good), and pedal out. Some of our guests have a go with the citibikes too, a little cautiously perhaps at first, but with increasing confidence as they discover that cars are relatively nervous and well-behaved beasts, and drive at a maximum speed of 20mph. Bike lanes help. E-bikes, which are occasionally available alongside the ordinary bikes, help even more with the whole experience! When my cousin Lesley came with her husband in September, they used the citibikes at every opportunity to explore far and wide, and had the hilarious experience of a New York DOWNPOUR (yes, I’m shouting: it was one of the heaviest and noisiest) at night after a show together, riding down Broadway. They arrived home wet through coats, clothes, bags, and laughing their heads off, good sports that they are. Luca and I had taken the subway and arrived home just as the big fat warm splots were starting to plummet. Ha!
I am convinced I won my A level German grade A with an essay entitled ‘Es lebe das Fahrrad!’ – long live the bicycle – which was a real gift of a title. That summer I cycled across Germany from twin town Duderstadt, on the then eastern border of the German Bundesrepublik, with my best school friend Katrina: a mega-trip of something like 400 miles. When the children were junior age we spent a hot summer holiday in the south of France, and saw a number of couples in their 50s and 60s on romantic sounding and impressive looking cycle tours; Luca and I promised each other that we would do that when we ‘got old’. Trouble is, that sounds like kind of now-ish … which is to say that we are on the early side of the age bracket; but perhaps we should start to consider if a substantial cycle trip would be a possibility (and a pleasure) at some stage in the next 10 years.
Perhaps you would like to join us?
A banal kind of post, but, in the truest sense of the phrase, and to quote a friend who wrote to me this week, perhaps predicting today's french connection: sae la vie (!)