I remember my first ride on the Roadmaster. I had new tires and no helmet, and I wasn’t all that sure how well I could ride (I forgot the adage, I guess) so I rolled the bike to the park at the end of my block. (That’s Sunset Park.) (That’s the highest point in Brooklyn.) (This will become really relevant to me later.) It was one of those gloriously sunny spring afternoons, and as I pedaled down the paths of the park, it was instantaneous – I felt 13 again. I was hooked.
I had just started graduate school that year, and I was working part time and studying full-time. Summer meant no classwork (just an internship) and the freedom was heady. I started going on quick rides around the neighborhood on my afternoons off, just down Seventh Avenue’s bike lane a few dozen blocks and back, to see what it felt like to ride the city streets. What I truly couldn’t believe was how completely unafraid I was, sharing the road with Brooklyn’s finest drivers. I’m pretty risk-averse; I think surfing is crazy because you’re not tethered to dry land. I have zero percent interest in ever flinging myself out of an airplane. Bungee jumping just seems like a lifetime of chiropractic appointments waiting to happen. But this? This wasn’t scary! This was about as much thrill-seeking as I was ever going to want.
I’m not going to get much into the exercise factor in cycling around here because I’m not one of those people who wants to bike seventy miles in an afternoon on a five thousand dollar road bike, packaged in Lycra and bent over the handlebars like a jackknife. For me, this is the best use of my lungs and calves in pursuit of leisure ever invented. Upright, slow and steady, and preferably in a skirt is what I’ve learned to love. But I won’t lie; the exercise felt amazing.
My first longish ride was down to Coney Island; eight miles from my house, mostly down Ocean Parkway, which has a gorgeous greenway all the way from Prospect Park to the water. It took me nearly two hours, I think, and I rode the subway back because I was so sore, but it was incredible to get to the boardwalk, red-faced and grinning like a fool. From then on, I was hooked. That whole summer, I went on rides whenever I could; to Ditmas Park on Sundays to avail myself of their farmers’ market, and to Bay Ridge to ride down the shore path on lazy afternoons where I didn’t have work or internship.
Somehow, though, it still didn’t occur to me to go much farther than the neighborhoods within five miles of my house. The Roadmaster was marvelous, but she only had three speeds and the hills on the way home were No Joke. (Remember? Highest point in Brooklyn? YEAH.) And where would I go, anyway? My job was in Union Square, my classes got out late at night, and did I want to arrive sweaty everywhere I went?
So for three summers, the Roadmaster was my ride and my orbit was small. In 2010, I started working full-time and in 2011, I finished my graduate degree. Then one day that year, a coworker of mine mentioned that she’d ridden her bike to work from Ditmas Park. A light flipped on. How hard could it be?