A Beautiful Bike Ride in Brooklyn
Yesterday I decided to go for a bike ride. At the risk of speaking too soon, New York City began to show its emergence from an exceptionally mild winter on Sunday, the 23rd of February. A gloomy couple of months with a little snowfall but very bearable temperatures seemed to be coming to an end. With temperatures throughout the day nearing 50 degrees with minimal wind, I wanted to finish off my weekend with a relaxing bike ride in the waning moments of the lengthening day.
“I’ll be gone for 20 minutes or so,” I said to my girlfriend as I donned an athletic fleece. Without the need for a coat or a backpack, I descended the narrow stairs in my apartment, carrying my bike on my shoulder as I went. I opened the door to the fresh, mild air and put on my helmet while I tried to figure out where to go.
I had some nagging interest to explore further east in Brooklyn, but thought for a moment that I might find myself lost somewhere I didn’t want to be lost as the day faded into night. I felt safer on my bike rather than on foot, but thought of the chance that my bike broke down. My mind quickly turned to the cinematic, quick-cutting action of a character who finds themselves stuck somewhere they don’t want to be.
Still, I marveled at how reliable my hand-me-down bike had been. Although it definitely showed its age, it was far from useless. I had gone on several moderately long bike rides without a hint of discomfort or issue.
Despite this, after a quick peak around a couple of corners, I decided to take a familiar route to the East River and see where that led me.
There was traffic in some predictable areas, but for the most part the trip was calm. I almost felt that I’d been transported from the cacophonous New York that I was used to to some of the more relaxed cities that I had biked in.
Golden light poured into the trendy streets of Williamsburg where traffic moved slowly and fashionable locals donned sunglasses and sweaters. Time seemed to move in slow motion. The breathless pace adopted by pedestrians and vehicles was replaced by, dare I say it, meandering. Traffic was quiet as I weaved through the tight streets of Williamsburg towards the East River. Once I faced the river, I was faced with the satisfyingly simple decision of which way to go: north or south. I picked north.
I have often expressed my affection for cycling as a form of transportation. I find that it is the perfect speed for traveling. Not too fast and disconnected as with a car, and not so slow as with walking. The feeling of air rushing past as you move along to your destination feels freeing, especially in an otherwise claustrophobic environment like New York.
So I biked up the East River while my surroundings began to change. I was leaving behind the more tightly packed streets of Williamsburg and entering the even more relaxed neighborhood of Greenpoint. Streets seemed to breathe with extra space and cars became less abundant. Buildings were well-maintained, but looked almost colonial. People walked the streets and bikes crossed paths.
Finally, after some time, the road simply ended. I was faced with the imposing facade of two newly-built apartment towers that made up a complex complete with a walking area directly alongside the river. I biked between the buildings and towards the river. I sat on a bench facing out towards where the sun was beautifully setting over the Manhattan skyline. I simply sat and looked. I listened in on passing conversations and waited for the sun to set. It didn’t take long. Soon the golden shower over Brooklyn was overcome by shadows so I decided to make my return home. I took out my phone to see where exactly I was. I was at the very tip of Greenpoint, just a short swim away from Queens. I began to set my route back to my apartment and noticed how much quicker biking was than any other form of transportation when I heard a crash in front of me.
My bike fell.
Oh well, it’s happened a load of times. I thought, I should probably keep a better eye on it because eventually something will break.
I turned on the lights on my bike and began to ride back, but I didn’t make it very far. I rode about a foot away from where I had been sitting and my front wheel wouldn’t move. I looked down to inspect the problem and found that my front brake had fallen from the wire and was obstructing the wheel.
No matter. I could put my engineering degree to good use. I reattached the cable and tested the brake. It worked! I looked at and tested the rear brake as well just to be thorough. Everything worked properly so I began my ride home. But I was, once again, stopped short.
After riding just a few more feet, I noticed that the wheel was consistently and rhythmically touching part of the front brake. I feared that the front wheel was bent. After several more minutes of manipulation of my front wheel, everything seemed to be working properly. I checked some more potentially problematic areas, and cautiously remounted my bike.
I rode out of the park and finally onto the road. Just as I was getting confident that it was the end of my troubles, my pedaling was suddenly interrupted. I couldn’t move the chain. And it wasn’t that the chain had fallen off, rather, it was jamming the pedals. I dismounted my bike, this time more certain that I’d be making the long walk back. I pulled the chain but it was stuck between the gear and the frame. I pulled more and more, my hands becoming increasingly greasy. I finally decided to loosen the back wheel which finally made the difference. I placed the chain back on the gear and warily returned to the saddle. Gear changes felt clunky but things seemed to be improving.
Just as the orange of the ground had been replaced with shadows, the sky was now darkening above me. The otherworldly glow of sunsetting Brooklyn now felt more grounded and my legs felt more tired. Wrong turns didn’t feel adventurous, they felt costly. I eventually made it within mere blocks from my apartment. In pursuit of taking the most efficient route, I opted to take a main road a few blocks rather than taking a longer detour. I made the turn with a couple of motorcycles that raced past me way too close for comfort. Despite their acceleration, they were foiled by another red light just a couple of hundred feet away where we were, once again, side by side. I managed to get ahead of them once again, this time giving them enough time to build up considerable speed. I heard the roaring engines approaching from behind me, accompanied by loud music. One bike flew past me on the other side of the same lane, a close distance, but not unexpected. The other, rather than following directly behind his companion, swept next to me to what must have been within a foot of my left leg.
Heart pounding with adrenaline, I decided to avoid the main road and the next few inevitable red lights and took a quieter route back. I arrived back at my apartment with greasy hands and cracked nails. I carried my bike back upstairs. It was difficult.
My fantasy bike ride into the setting sun might have been rudely interrupted, but I think there’s something to be learned. I might have faced the same reckless drivers before I ran into mechanical problems, but they didn’t stick with me. My joviality couldn’t be shaken. But small inconveniences that pile up can paint a different picture. It’s important to keep a level perspective in every situation. Don’t let the bad from yesterday ruin the good from today. But you can feel free to let the good from yesterday overwhelm the bad of today. Just keep in mind that the good will always outweigh the bad, and never let that change.