The road bike and I take a field trip to New York City

This Thursday, I packed up and biked the few miles to the Westport train station, where the bike and I boarded together and listened to nearby passengers discuss teaching in a CT private school on their commute home to Brooklyn.

“Every February all I want to do is move away, but if I can make it through that month, I’m fine again,” one said. I wished he could know that if he just gave into that urge to not outlast one more February, he could be a whole lot happier, if the accounts of my former NYC friends are any indication.

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Happier times before the ticket guy told us we had to separate

We disembarked at Grand Central, and for the first time since moving away on December 15, I was back in NY. Not really that long, but a psychological eon.

Within my first five minutes back, a taxi opened its door onto me, banging my backpack; I recognized a guy from high school Spanish class; I got catcalled (while riding my bicycle); a guy told a cop he should book me for riding the wrong direction (I had turned my bike sideways while I waited at a red light to take up less space) and the cop responded by complimenting my bike and telling me about his Cannondale; and I got that infuriating, familiar sense that this was the only place in the world that was real, that every other place was just playing at being a place.

I biked out to the West Side Highway, a protected bike and pedestrian lane on the west coast of Manhattan, to head to Matt and Brian’s apartment, where I stayed that night.

The next morning, I took my bike on a tour of bike stores across the city. We tried out Zen Bikes, which didn’t have much, and then the Chelsea branch of Bicycle Habitat. They measured my sitbones for a new saddle (they were on fire from my bike’s standard issue saddle), and sold me a set of clipless (confusing nomenclature, because “clipless” means you clip into them) pedals, then sent me to their Soho flagship for some serious purchasing.

After experiencing the joys? of riding a lightweight road bike on cobblestones, I made it to the store. It was a busy, jovial place, with women getting fitted with bike shoes, men selecting rain jackets, and the staff buzzing between clients, peaking in on each other’s charges to offer their own opinions or jokes.

I met up with Justine, who Chelsea’s Mario had called to tell her to get ready for me, whatever that meant (“I hate you,” he had deadpanned on the phone. “I hate you so much I’m sending over a customer.”)

She worked through my long list with me, showering me with spare tires and inner tubes, bike shoes with clips on the bottom, a bag for my bike’s front to stash easy access energy goos, a new saddle to fit my 143 width sit bones, the fancy emergency tire pump Bike and Build recommends (“really?” she asked, “that one’s expensive…” But they asked for it by name), 3 for the price of 2 bike shorts (she told me the ones I was wearing were too big), and water bottle cages. We negotiated with my shopping list, honed by all nighters spent reading the Bike and Build alumni Facebook group’s posts on past riders’ gear tips, and her and the rest of the staff’s favorite stuff. For example, I now have the same saddle as most of the female staff of Bicycle Habitat. The mechanic in the back, a guy who used to live in Venice Beach and looked it with his long, blond hair, installed my new pedals, seat, and pump, and they set up my bike on a stationary trainer for me to try everything out. Justine and another guy stood watch as I practiced clipping in and out, telling me I wasn’t allowed to leave until I had gotten the hang of it. I pedaled for so long that I began to get warm.

Justine gave me discounts, not a flat percentage like many of the bike shops I’ve been to seem to have on policy for people doing charity rides, but a nice tire for the price of a regular one here, a free tube there, and didn’t charge for the mechanic work. She tied a few plastic bags into one big totebag, and sent me on my way, watching to make sure I could get up on my new raised seat.

The following ride was harrowing and uncomfortable as they come. My newly raised seat was terrifying, and the big plastic shopping bag was hard to balance no matter where I put it. In the end, I ripped up both it when it fell, catching my spokes, and my knee, as the plastic ties they had used to secure my pump were sharp and positioned right at my inner right thigh.

But I made it to my sister Carly, who was visiting the city with her business frat, and who helped walk my bike back to Brian and Matt’s. I left it and the rest of my stuff until the next morning so I could spend time with Carly, before meeting Alexandra and Lauren for the evening. I slept in my old apartment, but in Alexandra’s bed.

Saturday, I took the subway back and met up with Matt for my first big ride with clipless shoes. They make riding a lot easier when you’re on a steady ride, but you have to clip out when you come to a stop or you’ll pitch over like you’ve been cowtipped.

cow-tip-hero

Source: modernfarmer.com

Matt told me to come to a stop to the left of him so I could fall onto him instead of traffic. I took him up on that offer, but after that was pretty good about getting out of both clips and getting my feet on the ground, as far away as that now was. Matt lowered my seat halfway through the ride, reasoning that I’d be bound to fall if I couldn’t even get my feet on the ground. We biked the West Side highway, this time from 30th street to the GW bridge around 180th street in Harlem, which we crossed to get into New Jersey.

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I really never know what to do with my face for photos

I had to recalibrate my understandings of distance– going from 30 to 180 sounds super far, so I had to remind myself how dense Manhattan is and try to figure out where I’d get with the equivalent amount of riding in LA.

Hills were much easier with clipless pedals– as long as I held on tight and kept my feet moving, I would get up the hill, as much as my thighs burned. Turning, meanwhile, was much more difficult than usual, so much that Matt thought I was using walls to stop, rather than simply crashing into them.

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I’m making such a dumb face in this photo that I can’t in good conscience include it. But I don’t have enough photos to sub in a different one. So just trust that everything is better this way, and also be proud of me for pedaling up the scary hill behind me that you can’t even see the half of.

After we got off the bridge, Matt asked if I wanted to do pretty but hilly or flat but bordering the highway. I hate hills, so my choice was forced, but it turned out Matt just asked me that to keep me busy or something, as we did both anyway. We biked back to his apartment, doing sprints in less crowded spots.

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Okay, okay, here’s the dumb face I’m making. It’s terrible and I wish Matt had art directed me or something.

Matt gave me pointers on how to proactively use gear shifting as an asset, rather than the last resort I normally view it as (but not how to make a not dumb face in photos, C’MON, MATT). Ideally, you should keep your pedaling at a standard cadence. If you notice it gets too hard to keep this up, shift your gears to give you less resistance. If it gets too easy, get more. In case it isn’t clear, MATT HAS BEEN A HUGE HELP. THANK YOU, MATT!!!!!

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Matt, looking elsewhere, in Cookie Monster blue

After this 27 or so mile ride, I practiced the equally valuable skill of staying awake and alert after a long day of riding and returned to Brooklyn to hang out with the dojo and Annie.

After months of people in LA whispering, “don’t jaywalk here– they’ll give you a ticket!” it was reassuring to be back in the land where people see a “don’t walk”light  and a car coming toward them and think, “The hell you think you’re charging at? This is the perfect time for me to cross the street.”

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The next day, I returned to Connecticut alongside lots of 5 Boro Bike Tour people and their bikes crowding Metro North and felt smug about my scary road bike to their nice and secure mountain bikes with their wide, nubby wheels.

 

 

 

I finally got my r0Ad BiKe!!!

Bike and Build sends you a road bike (road bike = really lightweight, with weird slopey handlebars and skinny tires. Up ’til now I’ve been riding a hybrid, which is heavier and has wider tires and flat handlebars) after you raise $1K, take an online safety course, pass its quiz, then score 100 on its own safety quiz. So of course I am only getting my bike now.

Several moments into a video on YouTube called “how to put together your road bike,” I knew I had to take it to a shop.

The Australian man there called me “young lady” two times, but he also showed me things about the bike like its weird gear shift system and said koans like, “you don’t turn a road bike, you lean a road bike.”

He suggested I “ride in longer and longer circles” to get comfortable with the new type of bike, and not worry about distance for a while. “Easy for him to think,” I thought. “He doesn’t have to fit in 200 or so miles in the next two weeks.” I nodded and resolved to totally overdo it.

He moved the seat into its proper height for me, but that was a bit terrifyingly high, so he agreed to lower it to start out with, because, “it’s worse for your Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 6.06.04 PMknees, but initially it’s better for your knees because you won’t be falling on them.”

When I saw the photo of the color option mandate available to me online, I steeled myself for having the ugliest bike in the world. It’s black, with turquoise and hot pink accents. But now that I have it in person, I’m kinda into it. I like a little garish flair, a little “up yours” to taste, and now I have a vehicle that’s a pure monument to being just too much.

I did some wobbly loops on the tiny, quiet streets near the shoppe. In my thoughts:

Part 1 of Brain: holy shit am I glad I did the bulk of my training on huge streets like Sunset Boulevard and Melrose Avenue because now the rest of the world is a joke!

Part 2: A joke that can still kill you! It just takes one truck, even if it is carrying a luxury outdoor patio set down a private cul-de-sac.

Another strong thought was my sadness at seeing that a family whose house sat next to a tiny brook (or average brook size, I think they’re just small by definition) decided to cover their lawn in pesticides. Now those chemicals will wash into the brook, which will babble them into the Long Island Sound and other waterways.  THIS IS SAD AND UNNECESSARY. If you are willing to grow the types of plants that would be here without you (that is, native plants), then you don’t have to fight so hard against nature to keep the plants you like (grass, int his and most cases) in the ground. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here eating celery from a bag that said “CRISPER AND LESS STRINGY” so idk what kinda genes you have to delete around here to get that to happen. I can vouch that it’s a pretty great texture. I’m cool with GMOs as long as you M the right Gs.

[Zeke status update: Zeke is not standing in the open doorway, looking out. At the precipice between indoor and out, he is struck with either indecision or a calm so complete it is unknowable to humans. Perhaps he does not need to go to the outside, for he can see it and it is there and it is his. Or perhaps he does not see the false dichotomy of space into which our puny human minds have divided the world.]

As far as the new bike went: pretty great, once I got the hang of it, but turning (excuse me, leaning) is weird and hills are perhaps trickier but perhaps I just always hate hills? But I also truly believe it was more difficult to get up the hills with the new bike.

I biked into every little side lane I could find until I was ready to take it up a notch (this goes out to all of you alive and conscious in the early 2000s Food Network days) and bike to the big leagues: the beach. I biked along the mansions, few small beach shacks that have so far managed to evade the wrecking ball, and the grid of homes that reminded me of how Los Angeles does even nice homes: with a thin ribbon of surrounding land, not a huge lawn to buffer you from the world. Then I biked around In Longshore, the town’s country club, where I came across lots of roads leading nowhere, just for show (or golf carts, though I saw a guy drive his right past the edge).

With regards to affordable housing, there wasn’t. Most of the houses I passed just looked like Money, and those that didn’t know their days are numbered. It was interesting to see the different guises money can take, as money in Santa Monica transmogrifies into something different than here: more stucco, less colonial era chic (or rather, it references a different colonial era of a different empire). But money everywhere likes its land flat, prostrate, and uniform, as the drought-defying streets in Beverly Hills and San Marino attest with their plush lawns.

NUMBERS

Houses I passed with shapes cut into their shutters: 6

House count for each shutter shape:

  • Crescent Moons: 1
  • Diamonds: 1
  • Seahorses: 1
  • Sailboats: 1
  • Starfish: 2

Frequency of all cut outs increased in accordance with proximity to the ocean.

Dogs who spazzed at me: 4

2 medium black lab-types and 2 tiny fluff types, who live across the street from each other and all came out, emboldened by each other in a never-ending feedback loop, to freak out about my presence.

Times the bike shop guy called me “young lady”: 2

Comeback I muttered to myself: “I’m 25”

Other bicyclists I saw on the roads: 5

All were middle aged men decked out in intense cycling gear, in contrast to my own ratty cotton t-shirt and running shorts (not to mention age and gender)

Streets I passed with churchy names: 2

Chapel St and West Parish Rd

Miles biked: 16.2

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See how many damn loops I did into random cul-de-sacs?! 

It’s Not Just Rich White Dudes Who Want Bike Lanes

When we think about bicyclists, we often picture this:

Lance Armstrong no longer contests doping chargesor this:

bestjacketever

(No, seriously, Google assumed I meant this; check out its fourth suggestion:)

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But this image of bicyclists as well-off white men on joyrides is harmful not just for the obvious reason (that I inadvertently endangered an absurd number of Brooklyn men over the last few years by calling out “Mike!” when I mistook them all for my white, bearded, ’90s-apparel-clad biker friend).

It can also lead to some impressions that hurt public support for good biking infrastructure. For one, we might think that biking is a leisure activity, rather than crucial mode of transportation. Second, if the only people who do it have the means to make a choice about whether or not to do it depending on convenience, it seems pretty low priority. After all, if the road doesn’t have a bike lane, or is unridable in the snow, bikers can just take their cars. Why invest in and prioritize bikers if they’re a minority who just do it for fun?

The truth is, in a lot of ways, our picture of the city biker as a middle class white guy riding for fun is correct. In 1997, your average North American bike commuter was 39-year-old, male, and in a household making over $45,000. But in Northern Europe, there are no significant differences between gender or ethnicity among bikers. So what’s going on ‘States-wide?

Once you dig into the data, action, and attitudes both here and abroad, you see that it’s our rich, male, white biking culture is a case of infrastructure and social norms rather than a reflection of an actual outsized love of biking among these all these men. Let’s break down this stereotype by taking a look at what made it a reality, and what’s different in places where it isn’t.

Are all bicyclists…

Rich

Here in the US, wealthier families are more likely to own bikes, which makes it much easier to both learn how to ride one, and then go off and use it a bunch.

A 2008 government survey of almost 10,000 Americans found a direct correlation between rising incomes and increased likelihood of bike access. For those with household incomes under $15,000, 29% reported regular bike access. Being part of a household in the top income bracket– $75,000 or more– more than doubled your chances of bike access, with 65% reporting access. For households in the middle, with incomes between $30,000 – $49,000, 47% said they had access to a bike.

This sort of makes intuitive sense– with more money, you’re more likely to own more stuff– but it shows how many Americans classify bicycles as “leisure” instead of “transport.” After all, a bike is a much cheaper form of transport than a car or even a monthly bus pass, so it would make even more sense for poorer families to invest in one than for wealthy homes. And in fact, members of the poorest quartile of Americans use bikes for their commutes disproportionately more than people in each of the other three quartiles, as do new immigrants. But all this biking out of necessity rather than choice leads many people to ditch the two wheels for four as soon as they get the chance. Cars remain an aspirational status item, for reasons both practical (getting slushed less; easier commutes) and psychological (started from the bottom, now we’re getting here with a motor).

One study of attitudes toward biking and perceived barriers to it among ethnic minority residents of Portland, OR found that money in fact was a major obstacle to biking. 60% of those surveyed expressed concern over the high cost of purchasing a bicycle, and 25% cited followup maintenance fees as a further deterrent. People weren’t sure where they could go for maintenance or whether low-cost maintenance was even available. It’s not that these people all had cars– many reported not owning one– but they carpooled, and bicycles seemed an unwise and expensive investment that they weren’t confident they could fix, use, and protect from getting stolen.

Additionally, transit-adjacent or conveniently located housing often costs a premium, leaving poorer people with longer commutes on roads in bad conditions. Bikes get less useful the further you have to travel and the more potholed and dangerous the streets you have to go down.

White

Now, people in countries with majority non-white populations (aka most of the world) bike, so we know from right off the bat that this is going to be a US-specific thing, and likely to involve class and income.

study in Portland, OR of African American, Latin@/Hispanic, and African residents’ attitudes toward bicycling showed minority groups face a variety of biking obstacles that white cyclists might never have to worry about.

For example, every African American respondent expressed fear that drivers would be aggressive toward them if they biked. 43% of Latin@/Hispanic people said they were afraid of racial profiling by the police, and weren’t sure where to go to learn bike rules to make sure they didn’t accidentally break a law and get in trouble. People in every group said they weren’t confident that their bikes wouldn’t be stolen, since destinations like schools and even home porches didn’t seem to offer safe bike storage.

Many cultures have their own specific experiences with and associations with biking that white people would never think of. Some African American communities associate bikes with kids, 1990s drug dealers, and gentrification. Some Latin@/Hispanics told stories of friends who had been deported when police stopped them while on a bike. One Latino bicyclist reported that at a bike store, an employee responded to his question about helmets by telling him if police pulled him over they might ask for proof of legal residency. And bike outreach, such as biking events, which have been linked to increased biking among participants, doesn’t often happen in poor, minority neighborhoods, making biking inconvenient and the bike community appear uninterested in or hostile to these communities’ participation.

But changes in policy, infrastructure, and culture can change all of this. Members of ethnic minorities are the fastest growing group of bikers. The Portland study resulted in programming to give out bikes to children, teach biking skills and maintenance, organize biking groups, and work within communities to encourage biking skills, literacy, and comfort in culturally specific ways.

Guys

Here in North America, men make at least double the bike trips of women. But this isn’t because women don’t want to bike. They simply are subject to more cultural and safety hurdles than are men.

A survey of Canadian would-be bike commuters found that women stopped themselves from biking to work out of fear of their safety, difficulty carrying belongings, and the concern that they would have to fix their hair again once arriving at the office. This final deterrent shouldn’t be mistaken for frivolous vanity– there are very real differences between expectations in how women and men should dress for work and in general, and women’s clothing, shoes, and cosmetic norms make movement, and especially any that might make you break a sweat, much more difficult.

Men and women also use transportation for different purposes. For the most part, men move themselves, often to and from work, and women move others, or stuff for others.

Men travel more than women to work, at a rate of about 5 commuting trips for women’s 4. This ratio is inverted when it comes to errands. These make up 46% of all trips taken by women, compared to 38% for men. Women make 66% of driving trips with the purpose of transporting someone else, and make more trips in general: 21% more than an average man.

In Delhi, I often saw entire families commuting to work and school on the back of one motorcycle. But in the US, where car culture is dominant, and credit available enough that purchasing a car is more feasible, it makes sense that women, who make so many more trips, and lug around so many more people and items than men, would opt for cars rather than bikes, motor-powered or otherwise. Men, who take more trips alone, and for transportation of pretty much just their own bodies, have a much easier time packing everything necessary onto a single bike frame, especially since at the conclusion of their trip, they won’t even have to fix their hair. However, that coif might end up protecting you. A 2006 study by a British traffic psychologist found that while drivers tend to give bicyclists not wearing a helmet 3.3 more inches more room than those who do (perhaps from a more visceral fear of seeing brains hit pavement), they inched another 2.2 inches away from bicyclists whose helmet-free head had long hair growing out of it! Now, it seems more likely that this is about our perceptions of who needs how much protection, and less about drivers’ fear of getting blinded by locks so long they’d blow into their field of vision. It would be interesting to repeat this study with an intersectional focus on race, as studies have shown that white people tend to perceive Black people’s physical pain as less serious than the same injury in white people, or don’t even register their pain as pain at all.

But being female, even without the responsibility of children, is associated with lower biking levels. A study of transportation to school among children in Ontario showed that girls were less likely than boys to travel by walking or biking.

Safety is another major factor separating potential male and female cyclists. Some studies have shown that women judge the safety of a bike route more stringently than men, through a more risk-averse lens. What this means is that even as good bike infrastructure increases overall ridership, it has an even more dramatic effect on female riders. However, the feminist bicycling anthology Our Bodies, Our Bikes, questions the assumptions behind the idea that women are “more afraid” on bikes. The editors wrote:

Whenever a conversation turns to women’s cycling, the word ‘safety’ always comes up. But what does it mean? Not the same thing to everyone. Often, it’s about cars and the threat they pose to our vulnerable bodies on the roadway. Underlying this there’s a debate about whether or not there is a gender gap in fear… are women more risk averse, men more foolhardy? Or, as we’ve been told not-quite-in-jest, are women simply smarter? Or is it that because we are more likely to carry (or at least be the primary caretakers for) children, we are the ones with the most to lost? Or perhaps, as some studies as suggested, women are more willing to admit to fear, so we get all the credit for having it.

Whether or not women are more fearful, responsible, smart, or just honest, their actions back up the claim that they take into consideration safety before biking, as they are more likely to bike if they have access to streets with low traffic and bike lanes. But these can’t just be bike lanes going in circles on the periphery of cities: women need bike lanes that connect useful destinations, such as schools and shopping centers, so that they can actually use these routes to travel where they have to go.

Change the norms and safety around biking, and you change the gender breakdown. Over half of bicyclists in the Netherlands are women, and women make 49% of all bike trips taken in Germany. Even here, in America, the Twin Cities saw an increase in female bikers as they improved their bicycling infrastructure, and now have one of the most equal rates of biking across genders. Women want to bike. They just want to be safe and able to bring whomever and whatever they need with them.

Who Bike for Fun?

The image of the white, rich, male biker compounds the image of biking as merely a leisure activity, as this is the group most likely to use it as such. White and wealthy people are more likely to bike for fun or exercise, while poor and ethnic minority people are more likely to bike for transportation purposes, to work, school, or errands.

Where bike lanes are rare and biking in main thoroughfares is dangerous, it’s frightening to attempt to ride a bike for anything besides recreation or exercise, so only those who have no choice but to bike will do so for anything but leisure. But as infrastructure improves, the national share of bike trips taken for a purpose beyond fun rises as well. In 2001, utilitarian bike trips (those not made for sport, exercise, or fun, though they might have been all of those things as well), stood at 43%. By 2009, they reached 51%– making them over half of all bike trips taken.

Many bikers who ride for utility started out as recreational bikers. This makes sense– if you build up trust in your bike, your body, and the transportation landscape on low-stakes trips, you’re more likely to begin to view biking as a serious contender for trips when you really need to get somewhere. So if we want to increase the percentage of commuters using bikes over cars, we need to improve and increase opportunities for people to bike in fun, through parks, bike subsidies or bike-sharing programs, and a wider culture of safety and acceptance on the road.

Bikes serve an important role in transportation, reducing congestion, promoting exercise, clearing up air pollution, and enabling safe, independent travel. Ironically, the people bikes could help the most– women, children, seniors, the poor, transportation-poor, and ethnic minorities– are not seen as the face of biking, and thus aren’t fully taken into consideration when our cities and towns look for transportation and development priorities. But communities are rising up and demanding safe, convenient, and contextually appropriate biking infrastructure.

In Central Falls, RI, middle school students won a national grant for their plan to build protected bike lanes. The students wanted a way to pick up their younger siblings after school and take them to a soon-to-be-created playground in safety. Right now, they are working with planners to determine the best routes between schools and parks that they can create bike lanes in by putting up barriers between the edge of the lane and cars.

In the community of South Central, Los Angeles, Hispanic residents have fought back against been shut out of conversations about the future of their neighborhood’s urban plan. Some have taken to their council-member’s constituents office with megaphones and signs, demanding to be included in the decision-making over their environment. One major concern is a proposed overhaul of Central Avenue that doesn’t include bike lanes. Planners of the new street say it’s too narrow for bike lanes, proposing instead that bikers use alternate, side routes. Residents counter that the design for the new Central Avenue includes extra-long sidewalks, which could be cut into to make use for bicyclists, and that the city would never tell drivers to simply use another route. The larger sidewalks, coming at the expense of car lanes, are only a contingent plan that would come into effect if and when more money becomes available.

The suggestion that bicyclists simply take other roads fails to take into account the particular context of the neighborhood. Many of the small side streets in the area are gang territory, making them especially unsafe for individual bicyclists to travel through. Cyclists have been shot, robbed, and otherwise assaulted when they turn down these seemingly quiet streets. Further, people biking in South Central are riding old, rickety bikes. Putting more miles on their bikes than absolutely necessary because of out of the way routes means more frequent maintenance efforts and expenses. Many use the route to commute to work in downtown warehouses, or to make deliveries. In both cases, speed is of great importance, making detours especially harmful.

By not listening to the design constraints of the project and declining to provide bike lanes, planners aren’t changing behavior patterns so much as they are ensuring that the transportation conflicts– and dangers– continue. Bicyclists will continue to fight with pedestrians for space to bike on the sidewalks, ruining the plan’s intended pedestrian shopping oasis, or angle to gain space in the single-car lane, contributing further to congestion.

 

 

 

 

So, How’s Training Going?

So kind of you to ask!

Contrary to how it might seem so far, Bike & Build is actually not called “Raise A Lot of Money & Build.” Despite asking all riders to raise a seemingly-impossible $4,500 for affordable housing, the main event is still biking across this entire freakishly large landmass we call America.

When I first considered doing this, I definitely contemplated the distance you’d have to put in every day to make it across the country in two months, but the number was just so damn high I decided to ignore it. I’m quite trained in this technique from my experience disbelieving in the feasibility of marathons. Running one mile is a big ordeal for me, so when I heard that people sometime run 27 miles IN A ROW, I just figured they must have some special, mutant thing going on and went on with my life because that’s not a relatable concept to me at all.

When I saw the daily mileage for my route, I was no less incredulous, but figured, if a thousand other seemingly normal people have done this before, there must be a way I’ll be able to do it as well.

This way, I am sad to say, is through training. Here’s how that’s been going for me:

  • Very often, after I bike, my thighs feel like something big has just happened to them. I don’t know why, but I never feel exercise in my calves; it’s always my thighs. Whether this means I over-rely on my thighs or I have calves with definition so sharp they are forbidden by the TSA is unknown, but I think we all know my preferred answer.
  • I have tried (with varying success) to increase the length of my rides each time. I started using Strava, an app thing that tracks your distance and speed and has been linked to exercise addiction, to really get Quantifed Selfy with my training. Also, Bike & Build requires you ride at least 500 miles before the trip starts so you don’t puff out in a huff of exhaustion on Day 1 (I am saving that for Day 15), so I wanted a way to figure out if and when I do that besides trying to remember where I went and then looking at a map after the fact. However, I’m not quite sure it’s tracking me entirely, both because sometimes it seems to not acknowledge that I get home at the end of every ride, and I think I sometimes pause and then forget to unpause it. So we will all have to give up the dream of purely cold and mechanical calculated numbers and just believe me when I tell you I bike a lot.
  • After most rides, I usually feel like I could keep going, which is both reassuring and makes me feel as if I am not giving it my all or some other poster slogan. Isn’t the sign of a good workout collapse, or at least some vomit? I finally reached this point on Friday, when I took the alluded-to longest bike ride of my life so far, and yet, after a stint on the bus, got back in the saddle and rode even a bit more, so perhaps it’s riding after you truly believe you are about to die from exhaustion that is the mark of a true bike warrior or some other motivational bullshit idk.
  • While the contents of my legs appear to be getting stronger, the wrapping seems to grow a bit worse for wear each time I ride. I have a new collection of scratches, scrapes, and a rainbow of black and blue marks (some elevated!) from doing things such as having my bike fall on me, slamming my leg into its tubes, banging into the gears, and dropping my bike lock on my leg.
  • Thongs are a solution to wedgies only in that they ensure a constant wedgie, thus freeing you from the suspense of wondering when you might get one. Bike seats, it would seem, are in fact 3D renderings of thongs, offering a stronger, more assertive wedgie of not just fabric but metal, stuffing, and leather all up in there too. Unlike most things in society, they don’t even seem to have been optimized for men, as I can’t imagine they would be much improved by having an alternate lower torso anatomy to my own. To help counter this, Joe lent me his men’s large padded bike shorts, which are a perfect fit. But, just as SPF levels are not a permanent shield from the sun but just tell you how long until you have to reapply to try to not get cancer, so does padding your butt just stave off the inevitable soreness a little longer. Until I started riding my bike more heavily, I had always assumed the tailbone was simply a vestigial bump. Now I see its true purpose is to humble those of us who think we may have gained powers above our station through the invention of the bicycle. “No,” it whispers to you as you wince through its message, “you can never rise above walking, for I am always here to lower you with my pain.” The padded bike shorts muffle this cry a few hours longer, as well as making me look like a long-lost Kardashian sister.
  • Hills still suck, and I still photograph every hill I manage to complete as a way to stuff and mount these slope trophies, even though I remain frustrated that the photos never seem to do them justice. Sometimes I avoid routes or even biking at all because I just hate hills that much. When I reach one I think I can do, however, I try my hardest to ride through it without stopping or walking. If I can do that, I feel like the most accomplished person in the world for as long as it takes me to remember anyone else in the world’s accomplishments. When I don’t, I just wonder to myself how many more tries it will take for me to do it in one sweep, and fantasize about that day. After all, if there’s one thing I’m know for, it’s positive thinking.

Bike Rides I Have Known

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My first bike ride with the knowledge that I’d soon enough be embarking on a cross-continent trek was a clean 5.6 mile loop to, around, and back home from Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Prospect Park is weird because the first half is a downhill so easy you feel like you shouldn’t be counting this as “biking,” but as “sitting on a moving seat,” followed by an uphill that makes you wish you’d never been born (it is not that steep, but biking is like carrying around a magnifying glass for slope– objects under pedals may feel much steeper than they appear– and I have a low bar for throwing in the towel on the human experience).

After that, I expected I would bike all the damn time before leaving the city, going so far as to postpone shipping my bike in the hopes that I would be able to use it until the last possible moment. I biked zero more times in New York.

this is all that, this is allll thaaat

Pictured: me riding my bike a final time in Prospect Park, NYC

When my bike finally made it to LA, Joe and I went together on a ride through the LA River Path. Getting to the path is the tricky part, as you have to weave your way through actual Los Angeles civilization to get to the barren wonderland that is the LA River and its adjacent bike path.

I will discuss this national treasure in a later installment, because I have since gone back to bike it many times alone and there is little to do as I do so besides compose potential blog posts in my head aimed at the imaginary people I assume read this thing so I will just write those as their own entities.

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Joe putting my bike together as I helpfully research our new Silver Lake neighborhood by watching Transparent, almost as if he were… not opaque

My second ride in LA, alone this time, was an exact replica of my first ride with Joe, since it was the only route I knew. I followed the landmarks I recognized, from which I gained some serious insight into what my brain must be like to make certain things stand out to me enough to make them useful signposts. Often there would be stretches where I was totally unsure if I was still on the right track until I suddenly spotted a sign for a burger place wishing Justin a happy birthday that I had noticed because I immediately began plotting to have Joe’s birthday there in September so we could get his name on the sign, a collision repair shop that was curious to me for its rainbow logo, a store that does something I’m not quite sure of that I remembered for having almost the exact rainbow logo as the collision shop, or a group of hedges that are entertainingly tall and lopsided.

I even stopped off at Trader Joe’s to buy gummies because we had made that detour on our first trip home, so I didn’t know how to get straight home without it. Anyway, I figured I could use some mango gummies and Australian licorice (yes, the guy checking me out made fun of me for buying $8 of only candy, but what he didn’t know is that I spent my first few weeks in LA living almost exclusively off gummy candy, of my own volition).

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Travel Town: sponsored by the Automobile Club of Southern California, it’s a place where kids can learn about a quaint thing our ancestors called “public transportation”

My third ride was with Joe again, back to the LA River bike path, but this time we kept going and found ourselves in Travel Town, a wonky theme park of old timey train cars that Joe said he would have been super into as a little kid. I watched one maybe one-year-old kid named Noah play, and as his mother observed, he was most intrigued by the gravel carpeting the park.

My fourth ride, again with Joe, was much more ambitious. We biked through the city to Hollywood, which is less the glamorous gossamer concept you’re envisioning and more a Hispanic neighborhood slash strip mall slash condominiums. Sure, there are lots of movies there, but mostly in billboards “for your consideration.”

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On the plus side, I got to pass this

Our original plan was to go to LACMA, but I forced us to detour to and stop at In n Out for obvious reasons. By the time we got to LACMA we wouldn’t have had much time to explore before it got dark and biking home would suck. So we checked out the La Brea tar pits instead, and biked home in the light.

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Proof I wear a helmet and will brake 4 burgers

Ride five was on my own, back to the LA River Path.

Ride six was a crazy odyssey which I will go over in the great detail it deserves in a separate post, because how much of this can you read (at least without a break)??

 

My Biking Playlist

While biking, I like to either sing to myself or treat myself to the pleasures of listening to music at the possible expense of draining my phone battery and getting stranded without a phone or map!! When I decide to live dangerously, here’s what I listen to.

spice-girls

Stop by Spice Girls  It’s sort of ironic because what I am trying to stop myself from doing is stopping.

 

king kunta

King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar I found and subsequently got into this song in the whitest way possible, that is, by seeing it on a list of NPR’s favorite songs of the decade. Now when I play it on my bike and pass people, I imagine they are surprised when the white girl they see doesn’t match who they expected when they heard this coming from behind them. Then I feel embarrassed and think about how no one is really paying that much attention to anyone else.

 

heems

Sometimes by Heems Love the intro beat. Love the message. Love the lyrics. Wish the video didn’t use a woman as a literary device to signify “making it,” but when you just rap it to yourself while on a bike, you don’t have to see that, just think about it as you consider switching gears.

 

lakutis

I’m Better Than Everybody by Lakutis ft. Kool AD What can I say that this song doesn’t say better? A modern classic. I have been known to chant the lyrics to this at boisterous parties, and what’s a more boisterous party than biking alone on the LA river?

 

tupac

California Love by Tupac Because I’m here now.

 

What do affordable housing, the American South, and sore thighs have in common?

They’re how I’ll be spending my summer.

A few days ago, I moved across the country from Brooklyn, NY to Los Angeles, CA. While planning for the move, I thought about how I was going to get my bike to come with me. “I could just ride it…” I mused. And then I remembered something I had been wanting to do for a long time, but which I had pushed down as ridiculous and probably not going to happen, the dream of which still, it turned out, flickered somewhere in my hippocampus: Bike & Build, a summer spent working on affordable housing as you bike across the entire country.

I had wanted to do it since I heard about it in college, but pushed it off for reasons like “not owning a bike” and”doggedly trying to find a job that wouldn’t let me take a summer off to bike” and “being afraid of twisting my ankle.” But after living and working in New York City for over 2 years, I was feeling a pull to do something that mattered, and to try living in a different, less urban and regimented way.

Bike & Build seemed the perfect storm: I’d get to learn in-depth both about issues of affordable housing and the techniques needed to advocate and build it, train to get myself in the sort of shape that would allow me to power myself across the country with only wheels and muscle, and have the chance to help contribute to something huge through fund- and awareness-raising. In addition, I’d get to see so much of the country and get to know people across it. And I’d get to look out across America, and think, “I crossed that, with just my legs and a bike,” with new friends, memories, and knowledge from the journey.

So I applied, and got into my first choice route: the American South, a region I picked because it’s a place and culture I’ve never seen firsthand, as (until Tuesday), I’ve always lived in the Northeast. Now the plan is fourfold:

  1. to train like crazy. I have to log 500 miles on my bike, including a 65 mile trip, before embarking.
  2. to learn about and work on the affordable housing cause. I’ll be completing at least 10 hours of service on affordable housing projects and complete a curriculum to learn more about the issues.
  3. to fundraise $4,500. This is a lot of money. I am a bit intimidated by it. But I know a ton of awesome people who have supported great things in the past, and it’s my hope that you will help out as much as you are able here.
  4. to blog the hell out of this journey! I’ll be writing here about my time volunteering, how training is going, what I learn about affordable housing, about the people who donate, and whatever else I find interesting or at least entertaining. Then, this summer, this blog will serve as a travel journal for you to share in the adventure. I hope it’ll be a really fun and interesting experience for all of us.

Thank you so much for reading! Let me know your thoughts in the comments or at jesteckel [at] gmail. Talk soon.