Today I had an early afternoon shoot in one of the subway tunnels under the East River. It was a beautiful day out so I figured I’d bike to the meeting point in Brooklyn from my apartment in Harlem.
There was only one issue: did I really have to bring two helmets? I hate biking with more weight than I absolutely need to carry. But I also don’t bike anywhere without a helmet and I’m not allowed on the tracks without PPE.
And if I were to just bring one head protector, which would it be? The options weren’t good: 1) biking around Manhattan and Brooklyn with my bright yellow MTA hard hat, or 2) spending a few hours underground with a track gang wearing my tomato red Bern Brentwood bike helmet and enduring the inevitable teasing. And that’s assuming my headgear would even pass the safety rep’s muster.
Ultimately, I realized neither my ego nor professional reputation could stand either scenario. So I brought ’em both. A little more physical weight to carry, but a lot of potential other weight off my shoulders.
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Cycling is my favorite way to get around NYC. But I fully recognize that biking can be dangerous, so I ride conservatively. I stop at red lights, I stay out of the door zone, and I don’t take unnecessary risks.
Still, you can’t protect yourself from every eventuality. And last night, none of my usual caution was enough to prevent the proverbial freak accident from happening.
I was biking back uptown around 10 p.m. after seeing Room 237 at IFC Center in the Village. (It’s fun, go check it out.) I took my usual route through Hudson River Park, one the best bike paths in New York.
I biked up through Riverside Park towards the 91 St & Riverside Drive entrance. It was dark and nobody else was around. It’s a fairly steep hill leading up to that entrance, so I stood up to pedal harder on my single-speed Bike Friday.
Suddenly, my left foot gave way and hit the ground hard. Still strapped into the pedal, my foot slid on the pavement and I could feel myself falling. Helplessly. My throat slammed into the handlebar and I saw a bright flash of white on my way towards the ground.
I got up immediately and thought I was unscathed until I looked at my right hand. It was bloodied and the fingernail was hanging off the ring finger along with some flaps of skin.
I started to worry that I was more seriously injured than I realized. I was feeling lightheaded. My glasses were falling off. I fumbled to get my phone out of my pannier bag.
As I answered the 911 operator’s questions, with my free hand I struggled to gather the pieces of bike strewn around the ground and put them into the pannier. The bike kept falling over. My glasses were really loose. The operator asked where I was but I couldn’t tell her exactly because I was too far from the entrance to see the street.
I tried to sound calm on the phone but I was more than a little panicked about how badly hurt I might be. Not wanting to wait in the dark park, I pushed my bike up the hill. Once I could see the street, I was able to give them the exact intersection.
The ambulance arrived around six minutes later. The EMTs asked if I could breathe OK as there was a bruise on the front of my neck. They bandaged my finger. They took down my info and about 15 minutes later we were at the emergency room at St Luke’s-Roosevelt. The EMT rang the bell on my bike as he wheeled it out of the ambulance.
The E.R. staff were as attentive and cheerful as can be. I was undressed and put into a gown. My finger was looked at. I was repeatedly asked if I could breathe OK. They took X-rays of my neck and my right hand. I spent a lot of time being wheeled around on the bed to various rooms. The E.R. was much quieter and orderly than I expected.
My friend Sharon arrived to keep me company and to take, at my insistence, some gory photos and video of the doctor cutting off the skin and suturing the nail back into place. (No, I’m not posting them.)
Three hours after I arrived, Sharon and I left the hospital. I threw my bloodied helmet in a trash can on the street. We were both starving so we walked over to Tom’s Diner for a meal. It was loud and packed at 2:30 a.m. with Columbia students.
We ate mostly in silence while I replayed the events in my head. The anesthesia was wearing off and my finger was throbbing. I took off my loose glasses. The left earpiece was cracked.
We looked at the crank arm that had come off the bike. The pedal was securely fastened but the spindle of the bottom bracket had broken off, leaving a jagged edge.
“Metal fatigue,” I said. “It’s a twenty year old bike.”
Then I got quiet again. The age of the bike explained everything and nothing at all. There was nothing I could have done to prevent this. Had I been riding in traffic, the results might have been tragic. It was sobering to think how random it all was. That’s what a freak accident is, I guess.
At our waiter’s suggestion, Sharon and I shared a slice of apple pie a la mode with butter pecan ice cream for dessert. It was very good. He also suggested I walk instead of bike from now on. I politely declined.
If you’re a 1) transit nerd, 2) bike geek, and 3) frugal, you won’t find a better souvenir of the Bay Area than a free Caltrain bike destination tag. These plastic freebies are used for grouping bikes by destination in the bike car and available from the conductors onboard the train.
I only hope nobody tries to steal my tag back here in NYC.
(Wythe St, Brooklyn)
Biking and transit are perfect partners. The Bay Area is so lucky that the folks at CalTrain not only understand this but also have the resources to do something about it.
(CalTrain Bike Car, San Jose, CA)
Grocery shopping via bike is one of my favorite small pleasures. It’s hard to buy more than you need, and being able to burn calories on the trip allows a little extra indulgence when it comes to the actual shopping. Win-win.
(Fairway Harlem, Manhattan)
Today, I biked about 50 miles on the beautiful isle of Maui. Unfortunately, almost half of those miles were unintentional and extremely difficult – so much so that at one point I really thought I was going to die in a ditch by the side of the road.
Some lessons learned:
- Kihei to Lahaina is 24 miles, not “about 12.”
- Measuring mileage on a tourist map while Tweeting and using the “thumb and forefinger” method almost guarantees inaccurate results.
- There’s no reason to believe that the ride will be mostly flat and you’ll have a tailwind, just because you hope it will be. In fact, the opposite might be true.
- If you leave at 4:30ish to catch a 6pm sunset and it turns out your mileage estimate is wrong, you will be riding in the dark for a good portion of your trip. Also, Maui highways aren’t lighted.
- Just because the highway has Bike Route signs doesn’t mean you’re not riding in a shoulder with cars zipping by at 50mph just a few feet away from you.
- If your ride is an hour longer than you expected and it’s around dinner time, you will be hungry for a good part of your trip.
- If your ride is much harder and longer than you expected, you will finish your one bottle of water long before you reach your destination.
- Catching the last bus out of Lahaina will be a big relief, but means you will still be riding 9 miles from Ma’alaea to Kihei because it’s too late to make the connecting bus.
- You will earn both admiration and embarassment-inducing disbelief when you tell your story to the Maui Bus driver.
(Ahihi-Kina’u Nature Preserve, Maui, HI)
When I knew I was heading to Eugene for DisOrient, I also knew I’d have to bring my trusty Bike Friday New World Tourist. That’s because Eugene is not only the home of a great little film festival and UO, but also where Green Gear makes their world-class folding bikes.
My 1994 NWT hasn’t been back to its birthplace in almost 15 years, so it just seemed wrong to go without it. Plus, Eugene is a great biking city and I wanted to enjoy it on a great bike. Soon after a tune-up at the factory, my NWT and me were wheeling down Eugene’s great bike paths well into the evening.
(Green Gear Cycling, Eugene, OR)