Volume 79, Number 7 | July 22 - 28, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Harry Bartle

Above, Kelly Craig and her two daughters on one of George Bliss’s custom-built tricycles. Right, Bliss outside his Hub Station at Morton and Hudson Sts.

The wheels are turning in bike pioneer’s head

By Harry Bartle

George Bliss, owner of the Hudson Urban Bicycle Station, a.k.a. the Hub Station, has a problem with today’s dominant perception of the bicycle.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong with our biking culture,” said Bliss. “Biking doesn’t have to be about fitness or being renegade.”

“George’s whole idea,” said Hub employee Lindsi Seegmiller, “is that when you walk into a bike shop, it shouldn’t feel like you just stepped into a locker room.”

It certainly doesn’t feel like that at the recently reopened Hub, on the corner of Morton and Hudson Sts., where bikes line two levels of a huge, warehouse-style space, women make up a little more than half of the employees and the bikes are geared more toward the business commuter than the extreme-sports enthusiast. Here, “dignity on a bike” is the reigning philosophy, and Bliss is promoting an entirely different vision of the bicycle’s role in the American urban setting.

“It’s not just about having fun anymore,” said Bliss. “Bikes can’t just be expensive toys.” Instead, at a time when the Big Three automotive companies have virtually collapsed and the “green” movement has taken the public by storm, bikes need to be viewed as essential vehicles for transportation, in Bliss’s view. The bike model, however, must reflect this cultural twist. 

“Only in America will you see businessmen in suits all hunched over a mountain bike,” Bliss said. “It’s ridiculous. There needs to be a market of practical bikes for the average consumer.”

In keeping with his philosophy, Bliss’s Hub Station is one of the only shops in the New York area to sell commuter bikes from Batavus, a distinctive, upper-echelon Dutch company, whose bikes offer adult-oriented features, such as a chain guard, wheel-generated lights and sturdy handlebars that ensure the rider maintains a lofty, upright posture. These add to an already well-established collection of used 3-speeds and other utility-oriented bikes, all designed to get their riders from point “A” to point “B” without feeling like they have to take a shower as soon as they get there.

Bliss has his sights on a New York that more closely resembles Amsterdam, one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, where 40 percent of commuters get to work by bicycle. Although he acknowledges the difficulty of such a task, it’s far from out of the question. 

“I do believe it’s possible,” Bliss said. “But it would take something like $6 [per gallon] gas prices to get us there. The industry is booming right now.”

According to Bliss’s close associate Henry Harrison, the Hub has done better than ever since its reopening in late March of this year, and the recent subway fare hike only points to better business.

Kelly Craig, one of the Hub’s more unique customers, was tired of taking her two daughters to school amidst the wall-to-wall crowds of the rush-hour No. 2 train. 

“The whole sardine-can atmosphere of the subway wasn’t working for us,” she said. “People were literally pushing my kids out of the way.” 

Seeking an alternative, she came across Bliss, who constructed a custom tricycle for Craig with an attached carriage for her 5- and 3-year-old daughters, Jordyn and Devin. The trike’s carriage is designed for both maximum safety and style points; it’s pink surface and bright-silver seats are complemented by seatbelts and a face-to-face seating arrangement that not only maintains the vehicle’s slim profile but also ensures that both children remain in the seat in the event of an accident.

Today, Craig, who is married to Village State Committeeman Arthur Schwartz, uses the tricycle for more than just getting thier kids to school.

“We really rely on it,” she said. “We’ll take it pretty much everywhere, Central Park to Battery Park.” Apart from a few hostile verbal objections from taxi drivers and one incident when her tires were slashed, the tricycle, dubbed Rosie the Taxicab by her youngest passengers, has gone over quite well with the public. 

“The overall reaction is really positive,” Craig said. “We get a lot of smiles.”

For Bliss there’s a lot more riding on these bikes than just his customers. His interest in bicycles stems from an even greater passion for green living.

“George is almost maniacal in his environmental non-impact,” said Harrison. “He was recycling before most had even heard of it.” 

Environmental consciousness has been the distinctive mark of Bliss’s career: Not only was he the first to bring the pedicab to New York, but he also invented the first electric pedicab, which has since been banned in a hotly disputed ruling by the City Council.

In the same spirit of invention, Bliss has a number of ideas for the future of the Hub Station. His big plan these days is to open an attended, mobile bike-rental station operating curbside in New York City that could eventually evolve into a bike-share system similar to the one recently instituted in Paris. 

“The problem with the one in Paris is that it’s unattended,” Bliss said of the Vélib, where almost half of the bikes have been reported stolen and many more vandalized. The combination of an attended station that requires some sort of collateral, Bliss said, would be ideal, granted that advertising revenue handled the costs of the operation.

With the Hub’s new lease set to expire in October and the area’s sky-high rents, Bliss has been forced to consider the future of the on-site location as well. He and local developer Peter Moore have discussed the possibility of building a restaurant on top of the current space, at 73 Morton St., and turning the Hub into something of a ski lodge for Downtown cyclists. 

“We’d want to make it a destination,” Bliss said, “a cultural mecca for upper-class biking.”

Although the Hub has been evicted three times in the past decade, Bliss remains firmly set in his biking convictions.

“If Bloomberg was really trying to be remembered as a green mayor he’d support places like this,” Bliss said. “We’re not just selling bikes, we’re trying to change culture.” 

Certainly, the price paid by the community in the loss of such a unique institution would be far greater than that of the highest bidder for the space come October.

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