Crossing the Bridge: First Lessons

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I almost didn’t do it.

The more adventurous part of me was all for it—risks and all—but the wary side of me just wasn’t sure if it was the “right day” to bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Starting from the previous day, I kept coming up with excuses for not grabbing my bike and just biking across the Williamsburg Bridge to The New School. I came up with quite a bit, but they were lame.

It’s supposed to get up to 95°F!
It’s the first day of school for public school kiddies
I’m going to get worse than lost
It’s going to be too long of a ride
What if my bike gets stolen while I’m inside?

That last one is probably a legit concern though. Spoiler: My bike wasn’t stolen.

In what I would describe as the smart thing, I did end up going for the 50-minute bike ride from Bushwick to Union Square Park. And then I did it again, but in the reverse direction.

Holy hell, was it hot.

And with that, I dive into some initial thoughts on what I learned from my nearly-two-hour bike ride:

Mind the One-Ways
When I biked from Silver Spring to Bethesda (in Maryland, just outside DC), my routes were straightforward. The route I took to get to work was the same route going home, just in reverse. I also didn’t have to contend with traffic or figure out where the bike lane markings were, if there were any. I just had to make sure the gravelly trail didn’t leave me with a flat tire anywhere.

But I learned, quite quickly on Day 1, that in good ol’ NYC, the route you take to get to your destination will most likely not be the route you take going back home, or to your origination point.

The inconvenienced me is a bit miffed. But the adventuresome me is excited. The seemingly endless routes I could take, regardless of how long it takes offers a feeling of excitement, and a slight tinge of dread.

Williamsburg Bridge
Williamsburg Bridge
Going to The New School, the bulk of my ride took me on Knickerbocker Avenue, then onto Grand Street and some other twisty turns (just follow the bike lanes and signs), and then I was on the bridge.

Which looks like fun (and it is), but it’s also quite a work out. I noticed some people going up a little, then just giving up and walking their bike. I read somewhere that one of the bridges in and out of Manhattan has a pretty good incline on either of end of the bridges… is that the Williamsburg Bridge?

On my return trip, my route after the bridge took me onto Lee/Nostrand Avenue, then onto Myrtle Avenue.

That ride had a bit more going on—including an increased risk of getting doored thanks to all the distractions.

The cool thing about going down Lee/Nostrand was the Jewish community. It was almost like being transported into another time period. Even another land. The communal atmosphere was really inviting; the women walking together with their children in tow. The vibrancy and energy is something to take note of. (Of course, there were also assholes in their fancy Cadillacs…)

A Different Kind of Heat
Anyone who’s been in the DC area during the summer season is aware of how awful it can get. Not only does it get stiflingly hot, but there’s frizz-inducing humidity to beat, making it feel like you’re living in a sauna.

The only benefit I had from this kind of heat while biking were the trails and the shade-providing canopy of trees. The cool air that would move through the woods was one feeling you wished would never stop.

Hello New York City: Land of hardly any trees or wooded areas; hot, exhaust-laden wind, and stifling still heat with a tinge of humidity.

Despite it already being about 90°F at 9:15 in the morning Tuesday, and I was drenched in sweat upon arrive to campus (and back home), all I could do to make it bearable for myself was to remind myself that it wasn’t as humid as DC and it could be much worse.

Very very much.

Except I didn’t have any snacks and didn’t drink enough water, so I guess in a way, it did turn out kind of bad at the end of the day.

Which brings me too…

Quick Lessons
This is not like biking to and from work in Maryland, where I had access to a shower room and a secure, indoor bike storage area.

Everything about this trip was new, and I quickly noted some things that I will likely have to start doing to make this as comfortable as possible.

Use your panniers.

Nothing feels terrible like a soaked back from a backpack or messenger bag. I brought an extra shirt with me, but my bag was still slightly wet from sweat, which made the point of having an extra shirt somewhat pointless.

I didn’t bring extra bottoms, and I made the mistake of wearing my jeans… Not only am I not excited for the eventual crotch blowout this will result in, but sitting in sweaty jeans is just… … … yeah… Will have to rethink this part of the get up.

And continuing with the idea of possibly just bringing a whole ‘nother outfit with me, I was thinking how nice it would be to have some sports towelettes to just wipe myself off with. Get all the city dust grime off my arms and face.

And this thought of carrying extra load led me to panniers. I have two of them. I should use them, or at least one of them for carting around my notebooks and extra clothes in. It can’t get any more cumbersome than this right?

Watch for the Markings
Another thing I noticed, very quickly, about biking in NYC is the magic act of bike lanes and sharrows.

One minute you’re on the right side of the road. The next minute, the bike lanes are on the left hand side. Then they’re gone. Then they’re there again.

I’ve seen people biking in the street itself, outside of the marked bike lanes, but I feel there’s some sense of safety if I just stay in the marked lanes. But man, this is some zigzag puzzle stuff right here.

There were a few other awkward moments—like trying to lock my bike to a bike rack—but that’s probably something that I’ll eventually get a handle on with time. (Or maybe my U-lock is too narrow?)

There was also getting watered down by some kids playing with a fire hydrant on Nostrand Avenue. While the cold water was a welcome feeling, it quickly became a nuisance as my jeans started to soak the water all up, weighing me down.

Thanks neighborhood kids. Hope you got a good laugh from that.

That being said, do any #bikenyc-ers have any tips and advice for a first-time NYC cyclist?

Cheers.
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