My Brompton


Why ride a Brompton bicycle?  I mean, really, look at Basil.

Even at rest he looks quick, zippy and alert.  How could you resist such an enthusiastic companion?  (Not easily, I can tell you. Not easily!)

The day this posts, though, I’ll be away again, briefly, and missing Basil. Bah, humbug.

My Brompton

Back Home Again

When I sat down to write up our 5 Boro Tour, Mr. Diarist pointed out that storms were on the way, and that, if I wanted to ride Basil to the market, I’d better do it sooner, rather than later.  Forsaking my bloggerly duties, then, I headed out the door.

In the week we were gone, our suburban world had changed enormously. Spring was no longer a half-hearted hint.

The sky was fantastic:  Mr. Diarist had been right about the storm.  Nonetheless, one must have veggies.

Basil’s Brompton “basket” is very deep. Thanks to the wonderful luggage block — which is mounted on the frame, not the handlebars — weight in the front does not affect either handling or steering adversely.  Or at all, really.

This was an emergency run, so I bought bulk stuff. There was room for plenty more — including the milk that I forgot. No matter; forgetting something is a good excuse for another ride — after the storm passes.


A Surprise Brompton

Yorkville, Upper East Side, New York City:

Seriously, if one were moving to NYC, wouldn’t this be tempting?  Such a bargain, too — a unit in the building is currently for sale for “WELL UNDER $3 MILLLION!” (plus maintenance fees approximately the cost of one super-equipped Brompton bicycle, per month). There’s a doorman, though.

(You know what they say: If you have to ask . . . )


A Chance (Brompton) Encounter

For the first time ever, a Brompton-spotting in Washington Heights! And not just one, but a brace of Bromptons, accompanied by two delightful cyclists.

Sadly, I was not riding Basil at the time, as I was returning from hauling a package — on foot — to the UPS store.  I sent a Japanese ironing board home, and couldn’t figure out how to attach the long and unwieldy package to Basil’s rear rack in any way that would let me ride without obstructing traffic.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Playing in Traffic

Before the 5 Boro, I’d ridden in two events, both the previous autumn, and both so small that I essentially rode them alone.  A “real” event like the 5 Boro Tour was a first for me.  (Nothing like starting your cycling event life on one with 32,000 other riders!)  The same week, I marked another milestone by doing something I thought I would never do:  I rode in  Manhattan traffic.  A lot. And lived to tell the tale.

On Tuesday after the Boro, Basil needed a small repair, the detais of which I’ll post later.  He was fixed much sooner than I expected, so I collected him, and then took a bus back to the west sde, and then the subway to 28th St., with Basil in tow.  I grabbed an indifferent sandwich at a “gourmet” market next to a favorite sandwich shop (unexpectedly shuttered) while Basil waited patiently.

The paucity of quality ingredients in the sandwich were compensated by the glory of this creation, which made a much more satisfying lunch.

We were behind FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology), and hadn’t too many blocks to go to reach our destination.  I’d seen a cupholder on a stroller that might work on a Brompton, so I wanted to take Basil to Buy Buy Baby to see if I could find the holder.  It was only blocks away.

I couldn’t stand the thought of having Basil with me and not riding; it felt far more wrong than risking death in Manhattan traffic.

We rode to the store. We failed to find the cupholder.  We left the store.

Then, much as happened on the day of the 5 Boro, I said to myself, “If I go east and then turn left, I must run into the Greenway eventually.”  And that’s what I did; well, I went east, and then left.  I never found the Greenway.

Before I knew it, I was passing UN Plaza, in the mid-Forties.

The blocks just fell away; I was in the high 6os before I’d blinked, it seemed, and then back on familiar turf in the UES. And Basil and I were both still alive!  In the process, though, I learned these things:

  • In New York, it is possible to be doored from the right side, the left side, and the front. Take this seriously.
  • Also, it’s possible to get doored from a traffic lane.  Really. When a New Yorker wants to exit a vehicle, said New Yorker will. No matter where the vehicle is.
  • Motorists believe that bikes should use the ostentatiously painted — red — dedicated bus lanes, even though they (inexplicably) observe the prohibition themselves.
  • When vehicle windows are open, it’s possible to get a driver’s attention with a bike bell.  And garner a smile, too, potentially.
  • Bus drivers may toot their horns, very lightly, with several quick taps in a row, to politely let a cyclist know that the bus will be entering the bus lane behind, and next to, the cyclist.  (I was watching in my mirror, but that was really helpful.)
  • Taking the lane, sensibly and overtly, is often Very Important.
  • Some motorists will come very close to side-swiping a bicyclist, either because they don’t notice, they hate cyclists, or they just don’t care.  There’s actually very little one can do about this, except veer into the space one has kept between the parked cars’ doors and oneself, and hope none of those doors open at the same moment.
  • Average speed of a slow-moving Brompton will well exceed that of any motorist travelling the same route, even if the Brompton rider observes all traffic laws, as she is wont to do.
  • It’s possible that I was the only cyclist in all of Manhattan wearing Hi Vis apparel.  Really.

Taxis, blitzing across many lanes with laser-like focus toward prospective fares, and, in the process, completely un-alert to the possibility of a bicycle in the trajectory, seemed to pose a more serious hazard to cyclists than the occasional impatient civilian motorist.  On the other hand, several taxi drivers went out of their way to indicate that they saw me, and I had a great conversation with another taxi driver while waiting at a light.  He gave me a thumbs up, and said that walking and cycling were the best ways to see the city.

Admittedly, New York was in a great mood during this particular week: cars were being driven with the windows open, to take in all that cool, but definitely spring-like, air, and people were uncharacteristically smiling a lot.  All that aside, though, it was all-too-obvious how a freak moment could send a cyclist crashing into oblivion — whether or not he or she had been vigilant. I was terrified for most of the ride — also thrilled, and completely disbelieving:  Were we really doing this?!

Basil and I hopped the crosstown bus for the second time that day, and then took the subway to 168th, where we decided we hadn’t ridden enough, so we rode over to Amsterdam Avenue and down to about 155th, back again, and tootled around the neighborhood a bit before going “home”.

On Broadway (I think) somewhere around 170th, we saw a cargo bike — with a passenger on board.

Drivers were more easy-going, and generally friendlier, in Washington Heights, but it’s safe to say that vigilance is the skill of the hour.  Riding in Manhattan, especially in Mid-Town, feels like a death-defying act — but it was a completely exhilarating experience, too.  What a week this was:  Two “firsts” for Basil and me:  a huge group ride, and navigating New York City traffic.  Who woulda thunk it??!?

Altogether we rode over seven miles/11.2 km in New York traffic.  (It’s a small island, folks!)  Will I ever need a subway pass again?  We’ll see!

Here’s the route we took:

9th Avenue south to right on 26th

26th to 7th (errand stop)

25th to  left on 1st Avenue, with some noodling around looking for the Greenway.  (I could see the FDR below, but no way to get near it, or anything that I could positively identify as the path)

1st Avenue to a left on 71st, which I had mistaken for the street the M79 (yeah — go figure) takes across Central Park

71st to right on 3rd Avenue

3rd Avenue to 79th, the actual stop of the M79 crosstown bus (d’oh! — although, in fairness, you catch it at 81st on the west side)

Then we took the bus and the subway back to Washington Heights, riding down Amsterdam to around 155th, back up again, and a bit in the neighborhood.

My Brompton

Basil, Sunburst

Basil, like a Sun-God.  Almost.

Two days after the 5 Boro, I’d still forgotten to take his frame tag off.

I’m pretty sure most old-school deities didn’t have to put up with carelessness like that.


Last Ride Before the 5 Boro Tour

Before heading to New York for the 5 Boro, Basil and I took one more longish ride at home; this one was just 20 miles/32 km.

I tried unsuccessfully to locate the ambitious woodpecker who was dining in these branches. I’ve read that cyclists have more to learn from woodpeckers than you might imagine, as their head anatomy is designed to withstand amazing forces, unlike our own, with or without helmets.

Much of the greenery was still looking a bit woody, but trees were blossoming all over.

Pennsylvania rock is an all-season thing, though.

In the parking lot next to the trail, I met the owner of this brand-new ElliptiGO. She was having some problems with running injuries, and thought it would be a good tool for less-harmful cross-training. She’d picked it up the day before, and this was her first time using it.

When I saw her later on the trail, she was zipping along. I called out, asking how the ride was.  “Harder than running” she yelled.

We spoke to a gent in the parking lot who told us that he’d just bought this house, right next to the trail.  He claimed that he’d  happened to see the real estate agent put up the “for sale” sign, and hours later had made the purchase. I’d noticed earlier that there was a storage pod in the driveway; instead of unpacking, the proud new owner was already on the trail, checking out his new ‘hood.

5 Boro Tour Events

5 Boro Tour: Packet Pick-Up And Bike Expo

Oh, you reckless souls who wondered when I’d ever get around to writing about the 5 Boro — little did you know that, once begun, I’d just write and write and write about it!

In the interest of a complete record, here’s what happened on the Friday before the Tour. This year, Bike New York required that all packets be picked up in person — people who couldn’t do that on the Friday or Saturday before the Tour could prepare affidavits and deputize others to do the pick-up. Fortified with whatever documents were necessary, everyone had to show up at the Bike Expo to collect Tour vests and the identifying adhesive stickers we’d need for the ride.

Getting lost was not an option; cheerful volunteers were all over the place, displaying these lovely red arrows and pointing the way to the newly — what? established? re-named? — “Basketball City” — a cavernous building that looks just like every other cement-floored expo site I’ve seen.

I joined the line ten minutes before the Expo opened on Friday morning; these people (and I) were about two blocks from the entrance.  There was a security checkpoint to enter the Expo — no surprise, after Boston — but things moved along pretty well until we got inside.

At 10 AM the entire space below was packed with impatient people who were sure that they were going to die if they didn’t get their packets immediately.  It was a little weird; nobody seemed nearly as tense while waiting for the actual event to start the following Sunday.  I didn’t take a picture of the irritated masses; the one below was taken about noon.  Procrastination would have been the best plan on Friday morning, if one cared about such things.  Waltzing in at noon would have meant a quick pass through.

In fact, I thought the whole process of checking IDs and delivering the packets went very efficiently.  Various food vendors (Food Should Taste Good, Lara Bars, etc.) handed samples — really generous quantities of samples — to the testy line-dwellers, which probably contributed to public safety, since those who snacked appeared to mellow as they ate.

Once our ID had been checked, we were directed to tables for Blue, Red or Silver registrants.  Our data was on cards in boxes, above which were signs showing a range of registration numbers, so all we had to do was find the correct section for our individual number.  The person who helped me inexplicably tried to locate my card by name, which is a poor approach when everything’s been filed numerically, but a colleague helped her out, and soon I was on my way, toting my rider vest and a sheet of three stickers — wrapped around a can of Red Bull.

In retrospect, that was kind of clever, not just from a branding perspective, but because it made a solid package out of what otherwise would have been a very light, flimsy, and probably hard to sort, packet.  I returned the drink, though, knowing that someone else would be happy to take an extra home.

Then it was on to the Expo. Top marks goes to Timbuktu, San Francisco purveyors of nifty bags, for their ferris-wheel like contraption, crafted of old cycle parts. Timbuktu bags were hanging from the wheels, rotating thanks to human pedal-power.  Cobbling this thing together must have been fun!

Timbuktu’s wasn’t the only stationary cycle at the Expo, though. The Cabot cheese farmers were confusing people like crazy by endlessly blending bananas and yogurt together, using a fleet of electric blenders, and this amusing device:

Yep, it’s a Holstein stationary cycle — and blend-o-matic.  There were plenty of volunteers who were happy to pedal away, blending yet another banana smoothie using human energy instead of electricity.  Every time I passed the booth, I heard people asking what Cabot was doing — probably because, in spite of the amazing production line, no smoothie samples were being offered around.  (Tasty cheese samples were on offer, though.) I finally asked: The Guinness Book of World Records was stopping in, and Cabot was attempting the World’s Largest Smoothie.  Afterwards, they planned to sell off the stuff, in individual cups, and donate the proceeds to charity.

Manhattan’s Bfold, the folding bike dealer (and Brompton seller), was at the Expo, but I didn’t get a picture (probably because they didn’t have Bromptons out front!), and so was the new Red Beard Bikes, from Brooklyn, with a lot of Bromptons, which they were demonstrating enthusiastically.

I had a great conversation with Susan, of Cleverhood, whose products I’ve admired for a long time. Sadly, they are huge on me, but for people of average size or larger, they are a dashing solution to those vexing weather issues.  Susan suggested I use my flash for this shot, in which her classic and sophisticated grey tattersall cape magically turns into a marvelous reflective garment.

Outside, Citibike was offering demo rides, in advance of the imminent roll-out.  I doubt I’ll ever be a customer (but who knows?) so I was delighted to have a chance to see how these bikes handle.  The answer?  They’re not nearly as lumbering as I thought they would be.  The handlebars take some getting used to; I didn’t take a picture, but there’s so much stuff across the top that they feel a little like a cockpit.  The front luggage rack is very sturdy, but also quite small; my city bag is wedged in there — there’s barely enough space for it, even mashing it quite a bit.  Good thing it wasn’t full. The bungies used to hold it in place are so strong that anything without serious structural integrity inside the bag would have been destroyed.  But the ride is easy; the bike doesn’t feel nearly as heavy as it looks.

Naturally there were jerseys, gear, and bikes all over the place, as you’d expect.  Basil is well-outfitted (and so am I, at this point), so I only bought a couple of small things.  One was a visor for my winter helmet — the watermelon Nutcase.  I thought the visor was too small to be of any use, but the Nutcase booth (stocked with brightly-colored peanut M&Ms, by the way, which suited Nutcase’s madcap image perfectly) had one installed on a helmet to try out.  It really did seem to make a difference; I’m looking forward to using it next fall.

I was tickled to learn that Nutcase is a “prize sponsorship partner” for the Brompton World Championship this year — that seems like a natural fit to me!

5 Boro Tour Bike-Spotting

Cycles Seen on the 5 Boro Tour

Cycle-spotting was excellent on the 5 Boro Tour.  I didn’t get many pictures, though, as it naturally seemed more important to avoid collisions than to catalogue the encounters.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect this was the first interesting 5 Boro bike-spotting: It’s a full-sized folding Montague, on Amtrak, in the compartment next to the one in which Basil and I were riding. The cyclist was not in the compartment, so my suspicions remained unconfirmed; I can’t be certain that this folder was on the way, specifically, to the 5 Boro Tour.

I’m not positive this bike is a folder; it’s most distinctive feature is the single axle on the right side of the front wheel — but those look like some kind of heavy-duty shocks on the rear. Here’s a close-up of the front wheel:

The cyclist told me the name of the bike, but I had trouble understanding him.  He was very clear that this was the best bike ever! He added that they aren’t made any longer, and that he had to bring his over from England.

The logo shows a stick-like cyclist with a light dot for a head, a red or orange  dot for handlebars, and a green or blue dot for a rear wheel. The angle of the rides and cycle suggest stunt-riding.  I know I’ve seen this logo somewhere, but I can’t remember whose it is or read the text written next to it. Searching the innerwebs hasn’t solved the problem yet, so it’s driving me crazy that I don’t know who makes this critter.

This bike is definitely not a folder [I am sooo wrong — see *note below]  just a small-wheeled model. It’s really industrial-looking; the cyclist said that he had gotten it in Germany. I’d never seen this one before, either.

Folding bikes I saw, but didn’t photograph, included a Citizen in an attractive shade of darker sage green; a blue Bike Friday; a lot of Dahons; two Terns; and two different bright red Bike Friday tandems (one may even have been this one).  There were a slew of recumbents, some so low that I was afraid that I’d trip over them as they made it through the starting gate, while we were still essentially walking.  And there was a family on two tandems I didn’t recognize (the tandems may have had chrome fenders?), every member of which was fully kitted-out in this year’s 5 Boro jerseys, shorts or leggings, socks and gloves.  Quite the vision, that was!

*Commenter Thorsten (comment visible when you click on the image directly above) points out that this is most certainly a folder, a Birdy, invented by Heiko Müller and Markus Riese. Blame the mistake on a huge language barrier between your Diarist and the owner — and your Diarist’s ignorance! Thanks, Thorsten!


On the Greenway, Returning from the 5 Boro Tour

After the 5 Boro Tour, and the ferry ride from Staten Island to Manhattan, Basil and I headed homeward, back to where we stay in Washington Heights. We immediately discovered that the first two subway stations we encountered were barred to bicyclists, and guarded by MTA employees.  But the  further we rode, the less I wanted to go underground.

I heard someone mention the Greenway, that wondrous path that now winds most of the way around the island — and it dawned on me that there really wasn’t any reason Basil and I couldn’t just cycle back to Washington Heights.

Anyway, Basil and I just hadn’t had enough cycling! And what a perfect day it was for noodling around on two wheels . . .

There’s a bonus landmark on the West Side Greenway at 125th Street: Fairway Market (“A Market Like No Other” — and is it ever!)  Naturally, we stopped.  (I think Basil was torn between the ignominy of riding in a shopping cart, and being, quite properly, proud of his versatility.)  Navigating Fairway requires a battering ram; a grocery cart is the better weapon than a Brompton-as-trolley where violence may ensue.

We headed directly for the cheese counter. Our WH hosts are quite fond of cheese.  We’d travelled quite lightly for the 5 Boro (no luggage allowed), so, once again, the emergency shopping bag, and those nifty twist ties, came in handy.

Does your grocery have a view like this directly across the street?  I thought not!

The Greenway is behind the trees; the asphalt in front is Riverside Drive, which runs alongside Fairway.

Shortly after our departure from the market, the Greenway terminated unexpectedly.  But, hey, no worries! They’ll have it open again for the winter holidays! (Also, who is Mark, and why is he out?)

We turned around, and discovered that the snarking may have been unwarranted.  The detour was brief, and we were promptly back on the path, revelling in the greenery once again.

Plenty of others were enjoying the day, too.

The Little Red Lighthouse was basking in the sun, and getting a fair amount of attention from visitors, too.

Late last year, when Basil and I rode this way, I was disappointed that I couldn’t cycle up the incline beneath the George Washington Bridge; I wasn’t strong enough, or knowledgeable enough about managing Basil’s gears.  This time, we went up without a glitch. Slowly, it’s true, but up, just the same. This photo doesn’t do the incline justice.  It’s short, but steep.

After the climb, there’s a brief (and shady) respite, and then, around the corner you can’t quite see at the end of the path here,  another steep incline. That rise involves a hairpin turn or two. We’re still walking it.

Here’s a view of the top curve, from above. It’s amusing to watch pedestrians hurtling downward; the path looks far more innocuous than it is.

Back on the road in Washington Heights, we ran into a crew filming a scene from  A Walk Among the Tombstones, a Liam Neeson film. A  production assistant asked me to move along, not having realized that Basil and I had already moved out of the range of the scene they were about to shoot (and that we were headed in the opposite direction).  Her request did successfully curtail any further attempts I might have made at getting a better shot of the scene, though.

We were within blocks of “home” at this point, and rode back. This shot of Basil has already appeared in the post about the 5 Boro Tour; he’s on the 5th floor landing, at the end of our 5 Boro Tour cycling day.  Altogether, we rode over 53 miles on the tour and in other parts of Manhattan.