Friday, December 12, 2014


Turns out riding a bike is not like riding a bike, in that, you can forget how. After a 30 year lay-off I was wobbly and nervous the first few days that I got back on and when I mentioned that I made it up the hill in the center of South Egremont (Massachusetts) other bicyclists said, “What hill?” I started off on a borrowed 1979 Eduardo Bianchi 3 speed folder with 20“ wheels and, as I gradually regained the hang of it, I started to like it.
            I bought a more compact, folding single-speed, coaster brake Retrospec bike that fits on the front seat of my pick-up and brought it with me on my weekends in New York City where I sell rock art photographs and tee shirts on various sidewalks of the  five boroughs.
Isham and Cooper, Inwood, Manhattan

After work I would choose a restaurant that sounded good in a magazine review or on Yelp, and that was a suitable distance away, and strike out biking for it. In just a few weekends I pedaled the length of the bike paths on both the East and West sides of Manhattan and crossed the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queensboro, University Heights and Pulaski bridges and ate at some good Mexican food trucks, gourmet hamburger and hoagie spots and Caribbean Jerk Chicken stands.
Brooklyn Bridge, bike path

The Little Red Light House under the George Washington Bridge, NYC

            Once, I stopped to rest at one of the many little parks on the Greenway along the Hudson River. I was sitting on a bench with my Spec on its kickstand near me and a couple of men wearing nice slacks, loafers and sport jackets sat nearby, next to their own parked bikes that had fenders and baskets, when a guy heading uptown biked up fast off the sidewalk, locked up his brakes, hopped off the skidding bike, picked it up and smashed it against a tree, picked it up again and hurled it into another tree. He picked it up one more time and bent over it, apparently inspecting for damage, got on and rode away. After a moment the Italian guys stood up and, as they were starting to get on their bikes, one looked at me and said with an accent, “In the Old Country, sometimes, we used to fix things that way too.”
            I got used to riding in traffic, stopping for lights and not being afraid when I had to insinuate myself into the left hand lane ready to make a left turn when the light changed and I learned to watch for doors of parked cars suddenly opening in front of me and I rang my Schwinn bike bell when a pedestrian, or a squirrel, looked like they might step out in front of me. The Spec coasts and pedals nearly silently having no gears that make clicking noises so no one hears you coming. When I am biking alone I feel like I am going pretty fast on the level or downhill but I am often passed and rarely pass another bicyclist unless they are distracted talking on their phone or eating a slice of pizza or a sandwich while pedaling. On a longish trip with grades but few hills I average 9 mph.
            I am now in Santo Domingo which, this year, finally made it to the number one ranking of world cities with the highest traffic related mortality rate. (41 deaths per population of 100,000 with 20 being the international average.) On my first bike outing I cautiously crossed the Malecón on foot, walking the bike, to get to the miles-long sidewalk that runs along the Caribbean and that has few curbs. It is like a boardwalk but built with bricks and concrete. Heading west I kept looking over my shoulder for other, faster cyclists approaching, but there were none. Once in a while a Honda 70cc, heard from a great distance, would pass. I turned right on Alma Mater which cuts through the UASD, the giant public university, and wended my way through the strolling students until I had to return to traffic on Bolivár. Cars, semi-s, decrepit taxis, busses and guaguas and motorcycles, half of which go the wrong way on one-way streets, all vie to beat the yellow, and for that matter the red lights too. The stoplights that work, that is. Years of piling on layers of blacktop have left deep precipitous gutters and there are frequent potholes that would catapult any cyclist into the next lane who hit one full speed. Wherever the street became too narrow I bailed for the sidewalk. 
El Malecón, Santo Domingo
            On my next bicycle forays into the maw of Santo Domingo I realized that the drivers here are accustomed to looking out for slow moving obstacles in the street. Fruit carts, children, people in wheelchairs and on crutches, shaved ice slushy salesmen (or frieros), cars gimping along on flat tires, livestock, delivery motorcycles, windshield washers, and people selling mangos, avocados and bottles of cold water at stoplights and near speed bumps are common and all need to be avoided. Liability here is generally ascribed to the vehicle that did the hitting, even if the other object was passing in the right lane in an intersection or screaming through a red light. So while the side-view mirror on that Toyota Corolla that just passed my left elbow felt too close for comfort, I believe the driver saw me and missed me on purpose.  My biggest fear, and one that almost no amount of alertness can protect against, is of getting hit by a motorcycle coasting silently with no lights through an intersection going the wrong way on a one-way street at night. (As I write this I see in the news that AMET, the traffic police, just gave out 3,433 fines during a 10 day period for vehicles without lights, a little over half of which were motorcycles.) I have ordered flashing lights for the front and rear of the Spec, and an Airzound, a bike horn purported to be the loudest ever made and that runs on 80 psi of compressed air in a plastic canister that you refill yourself every 50 honks with a bicycle pump or at a gas station.
Malecón looking west.


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