Singlespeed Shenanigans: Guest Blogger Bike Snob NYC Keeps His CoolCorrespondence Friends Travel & Adventure Cycling Urban Cycling
It's been very hot. In fact, we're currently under something called a "heat dome." This may sound like a derogatory term for a bicycle helmet, but it is in fact a weather phenomenon that slowly roasts you alive.
Winter cyclists get lots of attention what with their fat bikes and their beardcicles and all, but riding in extreme heat comes with its own set of challenges, chief among them being not dying due to dehydration and heat stroke. Also, if you don't approach it with some savvy it it kinda just sucks. Fortunately, as a wily cyclist with decades of experience under my chamois, I've come up with some tricks for making the very best of the dog days:
1) Stay in the shade:
2) Stay off the hot tarmac:
3) Don't carry a lot of water:
This may sound counterintuitive, but in his book "A Dog in a Hat," Joe Parkin writes of the training partner who told him that you should only carry one bottle on training rides because it encourages you to stop at cafes. By the same logic, I find that carrying only one bottle on a hot day encourages me to stop often, rest, and drink deeply of cold, cold beverages rather than grinding away while occasionally sipping on warm water that tastes like plastic.
(Now obviously this trick doesn't work if you live in the middle of nowhere, since you're liable to wind up getting picked apart by buzzards, but here in New York you're never out of earshot of an ice cream truck let alone far from a store of some kind, so it's really not a problem.)
4) Don't be in a hurry:
More than anything, you don't want to overdo it. Hot days are for pleasant meandering, not grinding away like a Tour de France domestique. And nothing ensures you don't exceed meandering speed like a diminutive 44-inch gear ratio. Therefore, last Friday, with temperatures already well over 90 American Degrees Freedomheit (that's like over 30 in Communist), I followed best practices by setting out for a ramble on my trusty one-speed:
Don't let the understated color scheme fool you (though I have to say it really does "pop" against that algae)--my simplest bike is also by far my most pretentious, being a custom job from Engin Cycles in Philadelphia:
The bike was a gift to myself some years back for being the world's greatest bike blogger, and I congratulate myself on my sagacity every time I ride it. Sure, singlespeed mountain bikes are supposed to be ragtag affairs, and a boutique iteration of the theme is admittedly a bit foppish (titanium handlebars no less!), but I have more fun riding singlespeed mountain bikes than possibly any other type of bicycle and so that's what I chose to enshrine in custom form.
I've also topped it with a Brooks Swift for extra dandy cred:
And so, with an understatedly exquisite bicycle and a mandate to meander, I headed through Van Cortlandt Park via the Old Putnam Trail, which is basically a derelict railroad line:
At some future point the Parks Department is going to pave this trail, but until they do it's still lined with bits of decaying infrastructure:
Including the rotting railroad ties:
Ordinarily I'd continue along the Old Putnam, into Westchester, and straight up to the mountain bike trails in Sprain Ridge Park. Today however I was under strict orders to meander, and so before I even realized what I was doing I turned off the Old Putnam Trail and onto another trail that is not, in the strictest sense of the word, legal to make the biking on:
I should stress that I very, very rarely ride on forbidden soil. However, I also thought of the many violations other people commit in the park, which run the gamut from littering to the occasional shooting--not to mention the idiots who tear it up with their dirt bikes and ATVs:
Therefore, I concluded (perhaps a bit selfishly I admit) that I could permit myself this small indulgence on this hot summer morning:
And so I meandered, without much heed to where I was going, through the woods and under the highways that slice this massive city park apart:
Until I popped out on the other side in the Bronx neighborhood of Woodlawn:
Or Woodlawn Heights, depending who you ask:
There are lots of "Irish" neighborhoods in New York City in that they are inhabited by families with Irish surnames who have been here for a few generations, but Woodlawn still actually receives immigrants from Ireland, and the main drag is lined with inns:
And party rooms:
And taverns (well, just the one I guess):
And good old-fashioned bars built back when you didn't want anybody seeing in our out:
There's also comfort food:
That's me, by the way:
As well as stores containing what I can only assume are all the essentials of home if you are from the Emerald Isle:
Seems legit, but what do I know?
All of this is to say that Woodlawn is clearly the place to open the Celtic business of your dreams:
Though if you walk to the end of Katonah Avenue you'll arrive at the neighborhood's most famous landmark:
That being Woodlawn Cemetery:
Celebrity interees include Herman Melville, Irving Berlin, and Miles Davis.
Sorry, Sir Miles Davis:
Besides the cemetery, a somewhat lesser known neighborhood landmark is this, which is one of my favorite buildings:
I've never been inside, but I assume you walk in and immediately descend into a warren of tunnels and burrows.
Incidentally, my mother grew up nearby and went to high school in the neighborhood. Indeed, while I was rolling around and snapping away I passed her alma mater, so I texted her and asked if she'd like to share any reminiscences with my dozens of readers. Here was her reply, which she sent in a single text message:
The principal was an elderly witch who ran the school more like a reformatory than an educational institution. The nuns had a penchant for releasing their frustrations into girls who were either pretty, artsy or just plain popular with their peers. They regularly used corporal punishment, humiliation in various forms, as well as verbal abuse on a daily basis. Saint Barnabas was a reformatory rather than an educational institution. It was a place dedicated to instilling fear and loathing into the young girls unlucky enough to be students in there. Any insecurities I had during my time there were fueled by the nuns repressed sexual urges and desires. They were sadistic, uneducated and held us hostages to an institution that was not unlike the present day church of Scientology. The memories are like tatoos on my brain. Indelible and a constant reminder of a religion that should have been eradicated long ago with the signing of the emancipation proclamation.
Other than that she loved it.
On that note I figured it was time to move on, and so I headed onto McLean Avenue in Yonkers, which more or less parallels the New York City line:
Then I cut over to the Hillview Reservoir:
I felt a bit uncomfortable as I rode down this particular street:
Can you guess why?
Though if I felt uncomfortable I can only imagine what the landscapers were thinking:
I'd now been out in the sun for far too long, and it was time to get back into the shade and onto some dirt. So I wended over to Wendover:
And scampered back onto the Old Croton Aqueduct trail right by where I busted my thumb:
Ah, this was more like it:
I headed north for a bit:
Picked up the South County Trailway:
And then hopped on over to the shopping mall that shares the top of the ridge with Sprain Ridge Park:
I'm as contemptuous of this sort of suburban banality as any smug cyclist, but going mountain biking next to a mall does have its advantages. For example, I'd be lying if I said I'd never emerged tired and hungry from the woods and gorged myself on artisanal comestibles at Whole Foods:
There's nothing more smug that informing the cashier you don't need your parking validated because you didn't drive there.
I've also popped out of the woods and into REI for a tube on more than one occasion:
Still, you realize how absurdly autocentric the whole place is when you arrive there by bike. Consider this bike rack for example:
Firstly, the developers behind the mall actually think you're going to lock your bike here and walk all the way through the parking lot to REI instead of just riding around the barrier and giving it the finger, which is what I do. Secondly, they built the rack right across the sidewalk, because the only thing that matters less to the developers than cyclists is pedestrians.
If you enter Sprain Ridge Park through its main entrance you'll see lots of MTB bros lifting their bikes on and off of the hitch racks on their SUVs, but if you slip in through the mall there's just this a gate. On one side of it is the manicured lawn of the safe world of retail, and on the other is the untrammeled wilderness--or at least a Westchester county park.
Which happens to contain some pretty good riding:
Indeed, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd left civilization far behind, if only you weren't still downwind of the Cheesecake Factory:
Best of all, there's a strategically-placed water fountain in the barbecue area, which I make sure to pass every 20 minutes or so to top myself up:
One day I will stop at Whole Foods on the way in for some meat and charcoaland have myself a mid-ride barbecue.
Despite the heat I was feeling rather sprightly, and without even thinking about it I cleared all my usual trouble spots with nary a dab. At the top of the big climb I stopped for a rest:
Then I left the park and headed west:
I sometimes use the sidewalk on this particular stretch of road because there's no shoulder and the traffic is heavy, plus it's suburbia and I've never, ever seen anybody walking on it.
From here it's a quick left to the taco truck:
You should always stop at the taco truck after a mountain bike ride.
That's just smart.
Anyway, from here I headed over to my usual picnic spot overlooking the Hudson and the Palisades:
And after laying waste to my repast I hopped on the trail and headed back to the Bronx:
In all I was quite pleased with myself, though next time I'll reverse the route and end at the pub.