Volume 74, Number 31 | December 08 - 14, 2004


Notebook

The Wild One: Devil on a red, collapsible bicycle

By Wilson

Before moving to N.Y.C., I used to ride my bike all the time, but gave it up when I moved into a sixth-floor walkup in the East Village. I’d heard too many horror stories about people getting their bikes stolen. There was no such thing as a bike lane, and organizations like Transportation Alternatives and Critical Mass didn’t exist. Practically every aspect about biking here was dangerous (people didn’t wear helmets then), and just seemed wrong. I mean, this was the Big Apple, not Amsterdam. It didn’t take long for me to develop a dislike for this city’s bike riders either (messengers, food delivery guys, those maniacs in fancy bike outfits in Central Park who think they’re in the Tour de France).

I learned how to ride responsibly and use proper hand signals at a bike fair when I was 9. As a teenager, I spent hours circling manicured suburban blocks with a pack of vicious gossips (we rode without using our hands), and later used biking as a method of transportation to work/parties. Though my bike riding sharply declined after I got a driver’s license, I still went for healthful/beneficial “nature” rides after that (until my damn parents moved). I eventually missed riding a bike.

But one day (mixed blessings aside), I was forced to move into temporary — and very bike-friendly housing — and got my first set of city wheels. It was fantastic. I would ride down the halls with garbage in my bike basket, and throw it out through a special chute. And it fit on the elevator perfectly. I was overjoyed, and used my bike to go everywhere/do everything. It was red, small, collapsible and had a loud/shrill bell that I’d ring at either insane-looking people or cute guys. I could adjust this versatile contraption to be inconspicuous/low to the ground, and navigate crowded sidewalks and intersections with precision and stealth. And I was totally in love with my James Dean persona anytime I was stuck at a traffic light (as if in a car) and was smoking a cigarette.

Whenever I’d ride this bike, some sort of spell would take over. I’d become a bit of a daredevil. Bikes were still allowed in Washington Sq. Park, and I loved zipping around the fountain, up and down the small hill-like entrances. One time, an enormous mother was helping her kid move into a nearby N.Y.U. dorm. She was rounding the corner of her S.U.V., and didn’t see me. But I saw her, and sped by really fast, causing her to reel back and go, “Jesus!” (which I knew she would do). I was bad. After an outdoor cafe refused to settle the bill (let me pay and leave — after 20 minutes of polite/decent requests), I fled the scene and caused a crime, literally using my bicycle as the getaway vehicle while a busboy was in full pursuit. And if stupid people, ignorant tourists, persons on cellphones or unsupervised children (of ignorant and stupid parents) got in my way, oh boy, I’m positive I made an impression.

Eventually, I moved back into my own apartment, and hardly ever ride my bike anymore. Because the last time I did, I felt like a criminal/subversive in the eyes of the cops, and this hurts — it’s not fun. I’m forced to be on good behavior, and I miss feeling like the devil. That so many bike riders have been getting incarcerated is appalling and scary. And now, not only do you have to worry about getting your bike confiscated/stolen, you need both a helmet and a gas mask. Enough already.

My evil red bike has been folded up and put away for the winter, and I hope that this ridiculous “cops and capers” nonsense goes into permanent hibernation.

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