As I mentioned yesterday, I was on the radio, and doing the show involves making the (just under) 40-mile round-trip to the studio in Brooklyn:
Generally speaking, when it comes to bicycling for transportation in New York city versus using the subway, I find there’s roughly a 10-mile break-even point. In other words, for trips under 10 miles, you’ll probably best the subway by riding a bike. Once you get to 10 miles it’s roughly the same, but over 10 miles you’ll probably save time using the train.
There are plenty of variables and exceptions that can skew the break-even point in either direction, among those being:
- Topography (yes, there are parts of New York City where it’s hilly)
- Traffic (yes, even though you can weave through traffic on a bike it still slows you down)
- Weather conditions (rain, snow, headwinds, etc. all conspire to slow you down on a bike)
- Train delays (“We’ve got train traffic ahead of us, we will be moving shortly” obviously changes the calculus considerably in favor of the bicycle)
- Service changes (If they’re doing weekend track work your subway trip can take twice as long, in which case the bike is at a greater advantage
Still, on a typical weekday, in typical conditions, riding relatively purposefully yet without expending undue effort, I maintain the 10-mile break-even point is a fairly good rule of thumb for someone who rides a bike regularly.
Of course, my weekly trip to Brooklyn for the radio show is much more than 10 miles each way, which means it takes me longer than the subway would. However, I enjoy the ride, and it’s an opportunity to make a decent deposit in my weekly mileage account. Furthermore, it takes in a good cross-section of the city, which allows me to take inventory of the state of New York City cycling at rush hour; not only do I get a taste of the morning West Side Greenway bike traffic, but I also get to the Manhattan Bridge in time to watch all the Brooklyn-dwellers streaming into Manhattan to go to work at their digital marketing companies or whatever the hell it is what they do. (I don’t mean this derisively by any means; it’s just that a semi-professional bike blogger I have absolutely no idea what people with real jobs do for a living in 2020.)
One thing I find consistently remarkable is the sheer volume of bike traffic on the aforementioned bridge. See, I used to be a Brooklyn-dweller myself, and until around 2009 or thereabouts I too used to ride over the Manhattan Bridge every day to go to an actual job. While I certainly wasn’t alone, and while I certainly got to witness my fair share of fixed-gear hijinx, there was nowhere near the volume of cyclists there is now. Superficially at least it also looks as though the Brooklyn-to-Manhattan rush hour demographic has “matured,” by which I mean whereas it was once a lot of my-first-fixie types in crooked helmets with petrified looks on their faces as though they were about to storm the beach at Normandy, now there’s a wider variety of bicycle types and equipment and overall the ridership seems perhaps a bit more seasoned and comfortable astride two wheels.
At the same time, there’s still a not-insignificant doofus quotient. For example, consider the foot of the Manhattan Bridge on the Manhattan side, which is often the site of NYPD cyclist stings such as this one:
I am by no means a fan of the boneheadedness that so often seems to characterize NYPD cyclist enforcement. At the same time, I am consistently amazed that at each cycle of the traffic light pictured above, at least one or two cyclists roll right through it and into oncoming car and truck traffic. Given this, I’m certainly willing to give the NYPD the benefit of the doubt and assume the precinct probably dispatched the officers there to address this, though I’m also not surprised to see it degenerate into issuing bell tickets out of spite.
Ticketing stings notwithstanding, as someone who’s been riding for quite awhile, and who has long since crested the age of 40 and stuffed a Gazzetta dello Sport in his jersey for the descent, I often find myself sitting at the light and regarding this behavior with bemusement. I realize that in 2020 we’re all supposed to have extreme takes, and currently the two takes fighting for primacy in online discourse are: “These stupid cyclists deserve to get splattered;” and “There shouldn’t be any more cars.” And while idealistically I obviously lean closer to the latter, in the here and now as I sit at a light at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge and watch some doofus roll the light as the bridge spews traffic all I can thing is, “Why wouldn’t you just stop?”
(Of course then when the cyclists have the light there’s always some idiot driver blocking the intersection and I have to resist the urge to put a winter cycling boot through their window.)
As for me, I’d adopted a policy whereby my adherence of the law increases proportionately with the availability of bike infrastructure, and generally it serves me well. More importantly, I make a point to never be in a hurry. Oh sure, if there’s an open stretch of Greenway I’ll go as fast as I please (though more often I’m struggling against a headwind in that scenario), but in traffic or in a bike lane I see no reason to ride fast, since entropy increases with cadence. Twitter is increasingly rife with indignant cyclists, enraged when some obstruction appears suddenly in the bike lane, but the fact is that when you’re riding slowly things appear slowly and not suddenly, and this goes a long way towards tempering your reaction.
[TL;DR I’m old and slow.]
But sure, there will always be new cyclists intent on revving their engines needlessly and engineering risky situations for themselves as a form of recreation. For example, YouTube tells me Monster Track is still a thing:
Some find watching this sort of thing thrilling, others find it infuriating, but to me it’s like watching a dog try to get at the itch on its ass: a lot of futile and inelegant spinning, though ultimately there’s really not much at stake.
But hey, they’re having fun by pretending all those sumptuous bike lanes don’t exist, and really that’s all that counts.