08
Jun
09

bikes.

This is sort of a response to Matt’s post about how people get around in the city and concerns my experiences with bikes. I live in a pretty rural place, I’m an avid mountain biker and have ridden on the road a certain amount. However, Pittsburgh was my first experience riding in a big city. I only started riding my bike around the end of the semester, but loved it. It really is a fantastic way to get around in an urban environment. 

When I came home, I brought my bike, an older but well maintained Schwinn, back with me. I started riding it to work, 10 or so miles away in Ithaca. This ride takes me by fields and past many country homes. The roads are fairly empty, and I only see a few cars in the first 25 minutes of my ride. After crossing Route 13, I drop into town through Cayuga Heights, a neighborhood consisting primarily of Cornell professors and their families. The decent is steep and fast, and I end up downtown in about 10 minutes. Once there, I ride across downtown through traffic. The terrain here is perfectly flat and I can often keep up with cars. The whole ride takes me about 40 minutes.

Sometimes I’ll ride up the hill to home, but this is a grueling hour-plus adventure. Recently, I’ve started taking the bus up the hill. The buses here have bike racks on the front which make this kind of commuting easy.

I’m of the attitude that I need to fend for myself on the road. Many drivers don’t know how to share the road with bikers, and some are even strongly anti-cyclist. I’ve even encountered some vehement anger towards cyclists on the roads, and many bikers have similar stories of verbal and physical attacks.

 

Somewhat related is a recent surge in interest surrounding biking in cities. Bike companies now market bikes specifically for urban riders, especially single-speed and fixed-gear models. A fixed gear bike has no freewheel, meaning the chain directly links the front chainring to the rear wheel. Thus, a fixie rider can pedal backwards to go backwards or lock the rear wheel with their legs to skid to a stop. Riding a fixie is hard because the rider must pedal the whole time and stopping takes longer than with a conventional bike. Because of this, fixie riders develop an ability to navigate through a city making fewer stops and maintaining a cruising speed longer. I find it interesting that this small difference in design influences the way the rider views and experiences the city.

Fixies were made popular by bike messengers riding in large cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Here, skilled riders can get around the city much faster than someone on foot or in a car. Riders take great pride in their bikes, which can be built with a wide range of options and custom fittings. Some riders are also adapting their bikes to more freestyle ends, adopting moves from BMX and developing some of their own.

Finally, some links:

http://bike-pgh.org/

http://freeridepgh.org/

http://www.brakeless.ca/index2.html

 

So what are YOUR experiences with bikes like? Commuting? For fun? In the city? Any negative experiences with drivers? Let’s hear it!

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