bag, bag! what bag? no bag!

Izzy is ready for her Sunday outing, fancy new pannier bag in place. #biking

This will come as a surprise to exactly no one who knows me well, but I have a bit of a bag problem. My long-suffering husband hears me out with grace when I come home sporting a new purse, extolling its many virtues and explaining how this is the bag for me, this is the only bag I’ll ever need ever again, isn’t it marvelous? It usually only takes a few weeks before I start nit-picking its perfection. The straps roll off my shoulders. The zipper catches. It doesn’t sit squarely on the floor when I put it down (the dreaded floppy bag effect!). So few bags have survived my brutal criticisms after such high expectations.

So you can imagine his eye roll when I gave up on my perfectly serviceable, but perfectly ugly, Bontrager grocery pannier for the Detour Ballard Market Pannier, pictured above. (A coworker pointed out that I probably fell in love with it because the model is sporting a scarf and carrying a baguette, which is pretty much my aesthetic ideal.) Long enough straps to throw over my shoulder! Extra pockets inside! Pretty, matchy colors! What could go wrong? I gleefully gave him the utilitarian Bontrager bag which, although very lightweight, drove me nuts because the straps don’t fit over my shoulders and the base is so wide that even with a few things inside, it feels monstrously large.

So far my delight with the Detour bag has been a little tempered by a few things. First, I have to mount it at the back portion of my rack because otherwise it slides forward and smacks me in the butt, and since it’s taller than the rack (whereas the Bontrager bag was only as tall as the rack), this gets pretty annoying, although I think I know how to fix that problem by putting a little stopper on the bar where I want the bag to stay. Second, there isn’t quite a mechanism to secure the long, useful straps other than shoving them into the bag itself. And because it’s so tall, it’s actually a little ungainly when it’s OFF the bike. And of course, it weighs more than the Bontrager bag and holds a little less. Oh, fashion!

The good news is, I’m willing to put up with a lot of quirks for a pretty face, and the Ballard has that in spades. I love the colors, and the side pockets for easy access to keys and iPhone. The straps convert into a backpack which is admittedly too Sporty Spice for my style, but you never know! It’s also just a really well-constructed bag, and it handled a grocery trip with grace this weekend, which is really what I want it to do!

Ultimately I might also want the deliciously compact and versatile Phinney, for shorter, non-errand rides where I just need someplace to drop a book and my sunglasses and keys (as you can see, the bag covetousness never ends). I’m also in the market for a bungee to strap my U-lock to the rear frame, and I love the one that Dottie from LGRAB featured this week.

*the title is a shout-out to my favorite movie of all time, Noises Off.

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Categories: photos, style | 2 Comments

governors island: biking paradise

Today was one of those summer days that feels just right for being outdoors all day. Not too hot, not too humid, and with enough passing cloud cover that the sun doesn’t feel brutal. So I cajoled Stuart into a trip to Governors Island; I would bike to the ferry point from our place (about five miles) and he would take public transit and rent a cruiser on the island. Hopefully soon he’ll have his own two-wheeled wonder, and then we can both ride to the ferry!

Along the way, I stopped at Baked in Brooklyn and picked up some picnic supplies. When I mentioned my purpose, the nice lady even sliced up my demi-baguette so we wouldn’t be tearing hunks of bread apart to apply cheese. Thanks, lady.

Stuart met me at the ferry point (okay, he beat me there but in my defense I left 20 minutes after he did so it’s still faster by bike!) and we waited in line to get across the water. It’s a 3-minute crossing and a 20-minute wait to get onboard, but that’s the very last bit of unpleasantness you’re going to experience for the next few hours. Once we got there, Stuart rented his cruiser and we cruised down to Picnic Point, at the southern tip of the island.

smile! sunny sunday best

Stuart’s rented cruiser isn’t quite the style he has in mind for his soon-to-be-purchased bike, but he did alright tooling around the island on this Elektra Townie. Too bad the rented bikes are so, ahem, frequently used and loved, that the seat post didn’t quite stay put and the handlebar grip was half worn away.

We got to Picnic Point and, miracle!, found a picnic table in the shade between two trees, so we leaned our bikes against them, spread out our cheese and jam and bread, and went to town on lunch. Then because we couldn’t resist the siren song of ice cream on a hot day, we had some of that, too, from the Blue Marble Ice Cream mobile truck (powered by bike!) that parked nearby.

cinnamon ice cream

Here I am enjoying my delightful cinnamon ice cream with my bike in the background. By the way, I’ve named her Isabella Stewart Gardner, after my favorite lady maverick. I just call her Izzy. Well, no, okay, I mostly just call her “my bike”, but all the beloved vehicles in my life get names, and my bike is no different.

We kept going after our ice cream fest, and the sounds of music drew us inward to Colonel’s Row and the Punk Island music festival going on that day. It was delightfully dissonant to be looking at the butterfly bushes outside the Harbour School and hearing the strains of thrashy punk music.

butterfly garden

Perhaps my favorite thing about Governors Island, among many, is that there seems to be something new to see every time I go, no matter how many times I thought I’ve seen every corner that’s open to the public. Today, we rolled into the center of Fort Jay and found that the heavy doors to the weapons storage under the moat were now open. We wandered down there in the cool dark of the brick tunnels, looking at the stenciled lettering on the walls indicating which artillery went where. So cool. Then we emerged back into the sunshine, and took up with some rocking chairs on the patios of the barracks that formed the quad at the center of the Fort. Where else does the city just leave you some rocking chairs in the shady loveliness of a porch? Governors Island is magic.

We returned Stuart’s bike at 4:30 and headed back to mainland Brooklyn, and then, because we’re SO clever, we combined our outing with a grocery shop at Trader Joe’s. I chained up outside, we ran through our lunches and dinners for the week, and emerged with two full bags, which for once I didn’t have to find a place for on my bike – Stuart took them back to our apartment in a cab and I rode home, stopping for wine and good brioche buns for the evening’s burger dinner (on the grill! Summer perfection!).

I was pretty tired when I got home, but in the very best way. Sun and exercise, ice cream and burgers? I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday in Brooklyn.

Categories: new york, photos, style, weekend rides | Leave a comment

bridge vs. ferry

In a lot of ways, cycling to work has been easier than I would have expected. Unless the morning is really muggy, I don’t get to work sweaty; my ride from Sunset Park down to the waterfront is mostly downhill with the exception of one little hill near Green-Wood cemetery, and one five-block incline in Carroll Gardens. I’m really not afraid of cars (although I do hate the cat-calling I get as a woman wearing a dress with an attention-getting helmet, but that’s another post entirely). And I love riding along or behind other cyclists, and getting a sense of what they’re doing successfully that I can emulate.

But I have to confess … part of this ease is the beauty secret of my commute: I don’t ride over the bridge into Manhattan. I take the East River Ferry.

bike, boat, bridge

Yep. There’s a boat in my bike commute. I ride from my apartment to Brooklyn Bridge Park and take the five-minute ferry ride across to Wall Street, which is a two-minute ride to my office downtown.

What am I gaining? Well, the Brooklyn Bridge is the closest bridge to my office, but I estimate it would add about 15-20 minutes to my commute to ride over it – longer if I took the Manhattan, which all my bike veteran friends assure me is a much better bridge to ride over (there’s a dedicated bike lane, whereas on the Brooklyn there are always tourists wandering into your lane). And the ferry builds in some cool-down time, so that even if I roll up to the Brooklyn side a little flushed, by the time I’ve crossed the East River I’m a lot cooler. So I save time and energy and bonus! I get to ride a boat, which I love. They even serve iced coffee on the boat. It’s even cold brew. The only way it could be more pleasant is if they gave you a puppy to cuddle.

There’s another thing. I’m not the strongest person on the planet and I’m also not the thinnest or fittest, and I confess: I’m a little scared of the bridge. It’s a pretty steep incline, and on the Manhattan, I’m intimidated by my fellow badass New York Cyclist Types. What if I’m going to slow and holding up thirty people from getting across in the aggro speed-demon manner to which they’re accustomed? Eeep!

Of course, there’s also cost. The bridges are free. The ferry is $10 round-trip (although I can purchase tickets using my pre-tax transit allowance through work, which significantly cuts the cost). The bridge gives me more freedom, while the ferry has a schedule.

So every time I ride across the water, sipping my iced coffee and enjoying this view, I see the bridges looking back at me, narrowing their eyes at my wussitude. Eventually, I’m going to have to take a deep breath on a quiet non-rush-hour afternoon and try my hand at these behemoths. I’m just hoping they’ve got iced coffee, too.

ain't she a beaut

Categories: daily commute, new york, photos, rookie | Leave a comment

blocking the lanes

This is from last summer, but I only recently watched it and it left me doing the silent shaking laughter at my desk. Not to mention, Neistat is completely right – ticket the people blocking the bike lanes, not the bikers!

Categories: new york | Leave a comment

rookie cyclist: raise the seat, stupid

My bike education continues apace: today, we learn about seat height! So, I’m really short. Five feet plus one inch in my bare feet, so I always tell everyone I’m 5’2″. When the lovely chaps at Fulton Cycles built up my Trek Allant in all its diminutive 15-inch frame glory, I guess they put the seat almost as low as it could possibly go in the seat tube*. This seemed fine to me! When I test rode, I could come to a quick stop and plant my foot down firmly on the pavement, which makes me feel safe. I’ve been riding regularly, what, two months now? It’s taken me this long to realize that I shouldn’t really be experiencing knee pain at the end of each bike commute. Although I’m sure the frozen blueberries and peaches in my freezer appreciate getting taken out and slapped on my knees!

When I mentioned it to a veteran rider, he immediately said, “your seat is too low”. So on my way home yesterday, plagued with another afternoon of creaky knees, I stopped at Bicycle Habitat (which is fast becoming my favorite bike store even though it has an ever-so-slightly macho vibe) and the gentleman working there said, yep, if your knees hurt, the seat is too low. He explained that my leg should be straight but not locked at the bottom of my pedal rotation. Ooops. I was placing too much value on being able to plant a flat foot on the road when I come to a stop, I told him.

“Just come off your seat when you stop,” he told me.

Now, between you and me, I hate coming off my seat. It means I have to hoist my whole body back onto the seat when I’m ready to start rolling again, and that’s ungainly and ungraceful. But we negotiated a good new height on the seat (you guys, it was like three inches too low), so I can still plant the arched ball of my foot on the road, which I still prefer to dismounting. And he’s right – I could already feel the difference in my knees, and the last mile home (which is mostly a gentle uphill) felt a little easier. I’m doing less work with my legs to rotate the pedals! Rookie lesson learned. Peaches and blueberries can stand down.

*I keep this bike-parts image in my bookmarks because otherwise, I would describe everything like “that bit over there, under the thingy”.

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daily commute, june 11th

Today was a pretty uneventful ride. It was forecast to be a gorgeous day, and my Tues-Wed-Thurs schedule this week means I can’t bike in to work, so Monday and Friday are the planned ride days! Oh, how much I look forward to my ride days.

One unexpected thing about commuting by bike is how much time I spend thinking while I ride. Unlike the subway where I’m always nose-deep in a book or the latest long-read article I’ve got saved in my Instapaper app, on the bike it’s just me, alone with my brain and hundreds of fellow wheeled conveyances. Thoughts come in, they go out again, and unless they’re particularly salient, I can rarely recall what I thought about for the 35 minutes I rode.

I remember when I practiced yoga in college and I approached my instructor, feeling unable to meditate in the traditional way. “I can’t empty my mind,” I told her. Don’t think of it as emptying down to zero, she advised me. Just let a thought flow in – I should pick up onions for dinner. The guy in front of me has back hair. I would love to go visit Heather next weekend but it’s going to be expensive. – and then let them flow out again. The key, she explained, is not to get bogged down into a single thought, but rather to let them flow through your mental fingertips.

Ride-thinking is like this, too, and it feels unique in the current structure of my life, so maybe I don’t spend very much time allowing my brain pan to fill, and empty, with harmless chatter. Perhaps that’s another reason I love riding so much. The list is getting long.

A random note: in the morning, as I cycled past our park, the Chinese fitness class that takes place every day was playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. The earworm hitched a lift with me: the entire way into Manhattan, I was humming that movement. Now I’m thinking, what are some good songs to hum while cycling? Classical music seems like a good fit if you know enough of the piece to hum along, but most of my classical mental repertoire is limited to “things I learned in piano class, age eight through eleven”. So, Fur Elise and The Magic Flute. That might get old.

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daily commute, june 8th

Biking to work, two days in a row! Yesterday was another one of those will-it, won’t-it rain days, but the morning dawned glorious so I didn’t even engage in any psychological agony. I threw my rain slicker in my pannier and away I went.

(Fun fact: there was a spider on my handlebars. I might be a tough lady most of the time but I shrieked like a girl and jumped off my bike, which, at least I was still on my own block which is pretty quiet. Listen, spider. Get your own bike!)

I have yet to figure out the timing of my commute to the ferry, which can vary from 30 minutes to 45 depending on … what, I don’t know. I had good winds prevailing on Friday, I guess, and I got to Brooklyn Bridge Park ten minutes before the 8:54 ferry to Wall Street, which meant I could bust out my leak-tight tea thermos (isn’t it civilized to travel with tea?) and have my morning caffeine with one hell of a view:

A nice place for your morning cup of tea

The evening commute home was a different matter entirely. My friend Erik was in town  and the mistake I made was to assume we could meet for one drink and then I could cycle home, at the very latest around sundown, with lights on. Woops. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years and had a lot of catching up to do! We met for a beer at Loreley, and then wandered deeper into the LES for another drink, and by the time we were done catching up, a) it was 9:30pm and fully dark and b) I had three drinks in me. Certainly not incapacitated, but definitely not riding anywhere.

To the subway! I know you can take bikes on New York subways (thank god) but I had forgotten what a pain in the butt it can be. Erik gallantly carried my bike down the stairs, but even at 9:30 the D train going back to Brooklyn is half full, so I spent the 20-minute ride back to my neighborhood trying not to be in anyone’s way. Back in Sunset Park, I hauled it up our station’s blessedly short single set of stairs and actually rode home (lights on!) the three blocks back to my apartment. In heels!

So I’m glad I had the lovely morning ride, but next time I have after-work plans, I’ll be firm with myself on the one-drink rule, or I’ll leave the bike at home.

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daily commute, june 7th

pier six

I hemmed and hawed over biking to work this morning. The whole week, we’ve had unpredictable threats of thunderstorms here in New York. Again this morning with the “40% chance of doom” forecast on my iPhone. I spent ten minutes after waking up whining to Stuart about it.

Me: “…. and I have a staff meeting up at the hospital at 2pm.”
Stuart: “Then don’t ride in!”

But I haven’t ridden all week and it’s starting to grate on me, so I saddle up and go. My logic is, I’m wearing a lightweight cotton dress that’ll dry quickly and an ugly but functional rain slicker, and if the heavens really open at midday, then I can just leave the bike at work and take the bus to my meeting, returning at the end of the workday and taking a break in the weather to cycle home. (How do you constant commuters deal with the threat of rain? I’m going to start to be more laid-back about it. It’s just rain, right?)

It was such a gorgeous ride in the morning. I made it to the ferry landing in 32 minutes, which is pretty fast for me (hey, that’s like a six-minute mile!) and rolled on board the 9:14am ferry. Again, I ordered iced coffee on the boat and again, found the lid popping off in my basket for the three minute ride to my office on the Manhattan side. I apparently need to learn some things twice!

My mid-day ride up to the hospital, at First Avenue and 15th Street, is pretty much all greenways (although they’re doing construction on Pike Street’s protected bike path that leaves me weaving in and out of cranky Chinatown traffic). I get more sweaty fussing with my bike locks outside the hospital than I do on the ride there. And my ride home? Uninterrupted by the doom-and-gloom thunderstorms predicted, although I could see the clouds hovering over Queens and Midtown, very dramatic!

What I wore
Another ride, another dress. This time, a navy-and-turquoise dress that I bought last weekend with a navy blue cardigan. The most notable thing about today’s ride was that it was my first time in heels! I have these gorgeous wedge sandals from Camper and I was determined to try them out on the bike. Turns out, not only are they super comfortable for biking (hello, you only apply the front ball of your foot to the pedal anyway), but the extra two inches they give me make me feel positively TALL when I come to a stop at a traffic light. I can just plant my foot right down, no slight wobble sideways. Chic cycling endeavors continue apace!

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daily commute, may 30th

My sweet little ride, enjoying the evening air in Prospect Park.

It was a beautiful evening for a ride, so I took the long way home through Prospect Park and stopped at the lake to snap some shots of the ducks and swans. This route has one big, ugly challenge: the hill for which Park Slope is named. Today, I took Third Street all the way from 3rd Avenue up to the park, and damn if I wasn’t out of breath by the time I made it to the greenlane on Prospect Park West. Like, embarrassingly out of breath. Lucky for me, it’s a quiet ride from there to the southwest corner of the Park, and then into the Park to join the masses riding east on the Park Drive.

Finding this little spot, with the swans and the ducks and the guys fishing, seemed like a perfect place to stop. (A note to myself: stop more. Dismounting to take some photos isn’t any kind of drag and you’re not in a hurry!)

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sweet new ride (a history, part three)

When my coworker explained to me how she rode her bike to work, that’s when the bug bit. It was the end of summer in 2011, so I couldn’t really do anything about it at the time, but as soon as spring rolled in early here in New York this year, the idea re-awoke in my mind. On a sunny day, I took my trusty little steed out of her pen and cleaned her off, checked the tires and the breaklines, and went for my first bike ride of the year. I rode, and as I rode I wondered, could this bike take me all the way to Manhattan? Would I want it to?

Maybe I could have, but damn if a little pique of acquisitiveness didn’t come along when I saw the Trek WSD series – bikes designed just for women? Bikes designed for commuting, with comfortable seats and plenty of gears to help tackle those hills? (Let’s ignore for a moment that I needed to actually be taught how to use those gears, since I’d never had a bike with more than three.) A shiny new bike for my shiny new endeavor? Yes please.

I fell hard for the Trek Allant. Clean lines, cream-colored like my Roadmaster but sexier, more put together. The college-educated dame to my rough-and-tumble broad. I bought my bike one sunny afternoon in Bed-Stuy because they had my frame size in stock and fifteen minutes after the very nice salesguy delivered it to my house, I took her out for a spin. I remember riding down 41st street, as the hill gently rolled down towards Tenth Avenue, and hearing a guy on the sidewalk laugh at the huge grin on my face. I was totally in love.

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