Recycle-a-Bicycle was the second bike shop I walked into in New York City. Willy and I had caught a lift down from Newport and spent a night with his sister, Kimmy, in the Bronx. The next day we set our sights on used bike stores and the library told us the East Village. It was a miserable day, cold, wet and grey. We hurried off the subway into the streets and, shoulders hunched, shuffled into the first bike store on our list. Two men looked up from behind the counter, but only nodded, and the few bikes on the racks were way overpriced. We shuffled out.
The next stop was only two blocks up. Closing the door behind us, we filled the space not taken up by bikes. Again, two men looked up, but this time with smiles and a hello. We laid down our claim: Two touring bikes, in good condition, cheap, of x and x size. Oh and recycled. Testament to when things are meant to work out, they work out: Among the 20 or so bikes in the shop, two perfectly sized touring beauties sitting side by side.
The next clear day, I took my Panasonic out for a test ride. The first ten minutes were awkward… her drop bars were new to me and felt unstable, her down-tube shifters even more so. I tried to imagine her fully loaded and it didn’t feel safe. I was disappointed – I had felt sure this was the lady for me.
Back in the shop Patrick adjusted the saddle and showed me a few tricks. I went out for a longer ride, down to the river and along a wide empty bike lane. Suddenly, something clicked. The magic happened. The feeling I’d been hoping for, waiting for… came over me and I knew then it was love. She was in mint condition, her 80’s paint job without a scratch. Her hill climbing chain ring on the front, a 28, was so small compared to her biggest, a 50, I was surprised she shifted so smoothly. I sped back to the store and announced our engagement. For 450 dollars, she couldn’t be beat.
New York city is better by bike than by subway, and once my pedal powered beauty and I were acquainted, we couldn’t be separated. The town opened itself up to me and surprised me on every corner. I had expected “The big apple” to be pretentious, arrogant, and though exciting – very daunting. In fact, humanity is what I found. A living organism, the city itself alive. Sure, I met a few oh-so-networky types, but they were few and far between. I stayed in the Bronx, then Williamsburg, Brooklyn (home of the “hipster” – a new word for me) in a busy CouchSurfing house where I set up a lightfoot box… and later in the West Village in Manhattan with Brad, part of the Ramble Atlantic crossing crew. I went to gigs, to galleries and to a random ‘World Laughter Day’ event, where a hundred of us giggled through the streets.
Most days I popped into Recycle a Bicycle, Ave C between 5th and 6th, a place that felt very warm and welcoming to me. The two bike mechanics, Patrick and Daniel, became good friends. Dan took us to a top secret Queens location, where, surrounded by quiet and space, we could watch Manhattan whiz by as we stoked a campfire and I had my first all American ‘Smore’.
About a week after arriving, Willy dropped out of the bike touring gig when he was offered a sweet-ass sailing delivery job out of L.A. No more Lily and Willy jokes, or Cribbage games. That left me and my bike to do it alone. I spent another week readjusting my head to this new mission, and trying to build up my courage. I was excited, nervous, anxious, and terribly afraid of failing. But so begins any meaningful journey.
A last soy chai with Dan, and my loaded rig and I hit the road. Crossing the George Washington Bridge, overlooking the whole crazy, comfortable, beautiful mess that is New York City, I brushed away a few salt splashes, took a deep breath, and pedaled on. My trusty steed, whom I named “Juno” and I, would cross the United States of America. And if she can’t do it for me, nothing can.