I’ve been riding a bicycle around the great city of New York for as long as I’ve lived here. I resided in Astoria, Queens during the last year of Giuliani and the first of Bloomberg, and I took regular rides out past Flushing Meadows, poking my way up through coastal Queens on a clunky hybrid.
After leaving the city, then returning, I took that bike with me out to Fort Greene and rode it back and forth to NYU for class throughout grad school. I spent a little money on a road bike, trained for a triathlon by taking long rides up the West Side bike path and out to the George Washington Bridge. Those were lonely days riding streets in NYC, before The Great Two-Wheel Enlightenment. I wanted to ride, so I learned to coexist with car traffic: be alert, visible, and decisive.
Over the past few blessed years, as the city has made it a priority to carve out more streetspace for cyclists, I have been more regularly commuting by bike from Crown Heights to Lower Manhattan. I ride in at minimum a few times a week, now for a few years, and most recently on a zippy Felt fixed-gear.
The best part: riding is no longer a lonely endeavor. Indeed, at about a quarter to nine on any given weekday, a ragged but well-dressed peloton twenty riders long might be snaking around the Brooklyn approach to the Manhattan Bridge bike path, gearing down for the climb.
I am a fanboy booster for the bike lanes, and I celebrate that bicycling has achieved its critical mass. The culture has transformed so completely, and there are now so many New Yorkers pedaling around on our busy, teeming streets, that it is the safe and responsible thing to do to start calling out cyclists who annoy us.
Without any further prelude, NYC’s ten worst people on bicycles:
10. People who follow too closely.
Did I mention I love the bike lanes? But they are, when they are lanes, about three feet wide. In other areas they are suggestions of lanes, markings indicating a roadway meant to be shared. Still, on the odd occasion, I’ll have someone riding our back wheel (again, peloton behavior), close enough to block me from passing any slowpoke in my way. Give me some room so I can get around…
9. People who take the middle of the bike lane.
If you’re on, say, the Brooklyn Bridge (which you shouldn’t be, because it sucks riding over the Brooklyn Bridge, but stay with us) and you’re just poking along down the very middle of the bike path, I will feel justified yelling at you.
8. People who stop in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge.
I know I said it sucks riding the Brooklyn Bridge… these are a few of the reasons why. I’m running late to get home, I’m working decently hard on the climb up from the City Hall side, and wouldn’t you know there is someone who has to choose that very spot ten feet in front of me to stop and turn lengthwise to block the entire lane… so they might take the perfect photo of their best friend. Shoot me.
If you haven’t noticed yet, sometimes I am impatient when I’m on a bike. I carry a whistle instead of a bell, and I am sometimes obnoxious about blowing it in the face of tourists, laggards, and lazy drivers. I may sometimes appear reckless to pedestrians and drivers, though I don’t believe I am. I will sometimes disobey red lights, though I always stop and look first. I am competitive with strangers, and try to pass other cyclists, because I am trying to get exercise. In short, I am not the model cyclist but I’m not bad enough to be any worse than #7 on this list.
6. People riding with big headphones covering their ears.
HEY YOU! Listening to whatever skinny kids in skinny jeans listen to these days! Did you hear that car? No? At least you will have music for the ambulance ride. There is some crossover between #6 and #5, which is…
5. People riding with a helmet strapped to their bike instead of their head.
I actually think there’s a decent argument for riding without a helmet, though I wear one when on my own rig, always. The administration has suggested that fewer people would use the Citi Bike system if they were all forced to wear helmets–people don’t walk around all day with helmets just in case they feel like grabbing a bike. I think that’s right. But the people I’m talking about here have helmets… and they are riding through traffic with the helmet strapped to their bag, or the rack over their back wheel, or somewhere other than their head, which is the only place it will do any good. Please, do better next time.
4. People who ride city streets dressed as though they’re riding in the Tour de France.
One of my favorite commuting stories: A dude in full kit, matching jersey and tights, with a racing bike that cost 8-10 times my rig, coasts into the intersection at Vanderbilt and Myrtle Avenue. He does a slow roll through a red light, in front of a cop going north on Myrtle. Cop slows down until he’s directly in front of our dude, who’s just trying to catch up with his partner up ahead. “Didn’t you see me here?” he asks? Dude brakes, can’t unclip in time, hits the deck. Oops. Are you at the end of a 45-mile bike commute from Long Island? If not, you’re showing off. Dress down… or take your fancy pants for loops around Prospect Park. Thank you.
3. People who ride the wrong way in the bike lane.
About 90 percent of the time, there is a lane going the same way you’re going just one block over. Just a minimum effort to plan your route, and you could be there, riding with traffic like a good New Yorker. Instead, you are riding directly towards me in the bike lane, and either you’re going to force me into traffic or I’m going to force you into traffic. What’s it going to be?
2. People who talk on the phone while riding.
I don’t care if you’re hands-free, if you have one of those Apple microphones embedded in the wire leading to the plastic bud in your ear, you’re an idiot. The call can wait. Also, people who text, tweet, or take pictures while pedaling.
1. People who ride on the sidewalk.
You scare people! You are killing all the goodwill we’ve accrued over these precious few golden years. I have two daughters, who are occasionally pushed around in strollers on those sidewalks. Should I go on? There has been a tremendous amount of effort to make space for you on the street… and now you want to ride on the sidewalk? You deserve the dirty looks you’re getting. And it’s against the rules. Unless you have training wheels, get on the street.
Not on the list:
Restaurant delivery men. You make a living on a bicycle; I can find a way to adapt to your game. Delivery guys on bicycles are predictable the same way cabbies are: if there is an inch, they are going to sneak past you, probably going the wrong way. But they’re not going too fast, and they live on tips.
People on Citibikes. You have increased our numbers, and made it safer to gripe about everyone else. God bless you.
Women biking in high heels. Just because I can’t figure out how on earth you manage to pedal doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.
I would have photos of all these people, but I’ve been too busy keeping my eye on the road. Thank you.