"There are bike lanes all over New York," they said. "It's cheaper than driving and nicer than the subway," they said. What they didn't say is that it's pants-shittingly terrifying. They should.
I'd finally completed a "hipster-hotrod" conversion on an old Schwinn I'd found at a yard sale: frame stripped of paint and clear-coated, handlebars flipped upside-down, single-speed rear hub, and an enormous rear tire from a horse cart fitted for dragster-esque swagger.
Naturally I was keen to get some miles on it and join those cool dudes I had seen slipping through NYC traffic on two wheels like it ain't no thang.
So despite my girlfriend's pleas that I default to the safety of the subway, I disembarked a Metro North commuter train with the bike and two backpacks on one fine August weekday. Didn't make any friends in Grand Central as I crushed people's rolly-luggage and children too slow or small to give me a wide berth. Sorry moms, blame Darwin.
I immediately realized my ridiculously oversized rear wheel was already rubbing against the frame. The proverbial, and literal, uphill battle had only just begun.
I joined the fray at 42nd street and mounted the bike, straddling the dotted white line between cars and the bus lane. The upside-down handlebars made their impractically quite plain; balance was something like that of an inflatable wavy-arm man in a canoe. I tottered into the main road every few meters, consistently welcomed by a horn blast and gust of wind as tons of flying steel missed me by millimeters.
Transitioning over to 2nd Avenue I started the forty-something block run to Jalopnik HQ, and was elated to find the reprieve of a designated bike lane.
But I soon learned my comfort was misplaced: the "designation" of said lanes being inconsistent with reality. Cargo trucks, shopping cars, and waiting cabs occupied the skinny green lane with a density of something like seven obstructions every kilometer.
The bike's frame creaked and quivered as it's payload stressed the stack of spacers, zinc'ed from Wal-Mart, I'd used to accommodate the wheels.
But after about twenty blocks, I was brave enough to run a yellow light. You know, as a joke. I made it through once without incident, the second time I winced halfway across to the sound of a U-Haul making squares of it's front tires. Though I realized I hadn't been the cause of the truck's sudden stop, this prompted me to hop off and walk the bike the remaining blocks to SoHo.
Of course the Jalopnik office doesn't allow bicycle parking out front, so I heaved forty-ish pounds of steel frame over my shoulder and up to the fourth floor where I parked it on the fire escape. I looked on with satisfaction as my bike clearly stood out as the hipsteryest of several hipster bikes already occupying the space. At least, it was definitely worth the least money.
The next leg of my journey, into the depths of Brooklyn, introduced the complication of hills.
The bike wasn't originally a single-speed and I hadn't replaced the crank, limiting it to two paces; "stop" and "saunter." It's good for about eight miles per hour on flat, uphill velocity drops down to about three.
I swerved my way up to the Manhattan Bridge Bike Path and started moving the pedals with all the might I could muster.
"Bridge Bike Path? That sounds lovely!"
Oh, it is. The subway clatters and roars next to the path at full tilt, throwing hot wind and brake dust into your eyes. The bridge creaks ominously and the horizon disappears into the hazy gray of Brooklyn.
When I finally crested middle, panting like a retired sled dog, I had to ride the coaster brake all the way down the other side to avoid having the road bumps shake my shoddy cycle apart at the joints.
After about thirty minutes more than GoogleMaps had promised I found myself at the Franklin Park bar, near my final destination for the day. I rewarded myself with a beer and another beer. And next time I might just do it in a more appropriate bike. Maybe.