When I leap on my bicycle and glide down the road, it’s not an exaggeration to say I feel like I’m flying. I’m traveling forward under my own force with my feet off the ground, almost silently, with almost no resistance. I shift my weight slightly and cut through a new angle of air. I push against the wind and it pushes back against me. I use its force to keep myself aloft, then readjust to the subtleties of this new trajectory and sail on. At times it is effortless, cruising down a hill like a bird floating on a draft. At times it is a struggle, forcing down the pedals up a hill like a rapid burst of flapping to ascend.
I’ve biked thousands of miles through the mountains of Alaska without seeing another soul for days. I’ve ridden to sublime, remote locations I never would have seen if not for my bike. My bike was the tool that carried me across the country to start a new life in New York. And in screaming down the Catskills and other mountain ranges at over 30mph, my bike has provided the most exhilarating experiences of my life as well.
Yet nothing compares to biking in New York City. Navigating the streets, traffic, and scenes of the Big Apple provides a host of joys. I live in Brooklyn. Every morning I bike down the Williamsburg Bridge, I feel like I’m traveling through a portal into the magical, bustling world of Manhattan. I’m destined to interact with at least a dozen pedestrians and cyclists the moment I touch the island. We line up, waiting to cross the four lanes of car traffic in either direction. We discuss each others’ bikes, gear to deal with the weather that day, and our choices of routes. I’ll have at least twenty more interactions with strangers outside in public space, just because of my choice of transportation, just because I stepped outside and mounted my bike.
Then I push off the traffic island and head north, pass by the squats and gardens of the Lower East Side, hundreds of people enjoying Tompkins Square Park, and Stuyvesant Town, housing built for veterans of World War 2. I could have gone any direction and experienced just as much vibrant living history. On foot or in a car, I rarely realize how small this city is, how many diverse communities are so close together, and how easy it is for me to move between them.
The First Avenue bike lane leaves something to be desired. Despite the fact the city has carved out this space for me, I have to dodge broken glass and debris, pedestrians and dogs, opening doors and turning cars. But this is no more hazardous than a gravel trail in the Rockies, and the rewards are just as great: it’s a 20 block lesson in non-violent communication and conflict resolution, then I cross 34th street and fly. Racing alongside traffic that is speeding toward an endless line of stale green lights is as exhilarating as any downhill on the East Coast.
In one day of cycling in New York City, I experience not only everything that is great about riding a bike, but everything that is great about living in New York.