Testing His Meddle: BSNYC Insinuates Himself into the GroupCorrespondence Friends Stories
When last we met I had recently fallen victim to a tragic thumb injury. (If you consider being unable to button your pants "tragic.") While the aforementioned boo-boo did not keep me off the bike, it did prevent me from mountain biking, so now that both Siskel and Ebert (those are the names of my thumbs) are back in business I've been making up for lost time by riding bikes with fat tires as much as possible:
However, it's been pretty wet lately, which meant that this past weekend I stuck to the road instead:
(Bike literally stuck to road, it took me hours to free it.)
Having mostly retired from my illustrious racing career, if I ride a road bike these day's it's usually a fairly low-key affair--just me or maybe one or two other people who can stand my company twiddling a low gear in between coffee stops. But as any recovering bike racer knows, those competitive hunger pangs never quite leave you, and every so often you need to test the old legs to see if they've sill got it. (Or to confirm that they never had it in the first place, as is the case with me.)
So like a former smoker guiltily fingering that pack of Marlboros, I lubed up the closest thing I've got to a racing bike and headed off to the local pick-up ride to see if I could still hold a wheel:
And yes, I realize my distastefully cluttered seatpost area is distracting from the exquisite profile of my Cambium C13, but that taillight is also a video camera and I was determined to capture some action in the moments before my inevitable dropping:
Thus equipped, I was on my way:
Being a cyclist in New York City can be challenging. It's crowded. It's sprawling. Space is at a premium, so some of us are forced to make do with fewer than ten bikes. However, all of these impediments to cycling bliss are offset by the fact that there's always a group ride somewhere, and the closest one to me happens to be the storied Gimbels Ride.
According to local lore the Gimbels Ride is one of the oldest group rides in the United States (though please feel free to leave your indignant comment about your much older ride below), and it is so named because it starts in a shopping center just north of the city where there used to be a Gimbels:
(The very Gimbels from which the ride takes its name.)
As Agnes Skinner once told Marge Simpson, the Gimbels chain is long gone. But it lives on in what is undoubtedly cycling's most famous group ride named after a department store.
In a way, the story of the Gimbels Ride is the story of post-war suburbia. While the riders used to roll out from the Bronx, the starting point eventually migrated northward into suburban Westchester along with its participants. The current meeting place opened in 1954 as the first shopping mall in Westchester County, and if you're coming from the city you approach it by what is essentially a service road alongside the New York State Thruway:
Once you enter Westchester, notable sights include the Hillview Reservoir:
I believe the lush area around the reservoir was once open to the public, but now they'll probably shoot you if you so much as look at it funny:
Then there's the Yonkers Raceway, where you can enjoy harness racing as well as games of chance at the Empire City Casino:
It looks just like this inside:
Except the guests are less joyful and more ravaged by addiction and time.
And then of course there's the Vape Cave:
To pass a reservoir and then a casino and then a vape shop in such a short distance represents a rather precipitous decline in terms of health and lifestyle, so you're probably assuming the next landmark is a cemetery. Instead it's the shopping center (which I suppose is a cemetery of sorts for independent pedestrian-scale retail) and I arrived just as the group were leaving the parking lot:
The Gimbels Ride rollout is quite leisurely, and so all it took were a few spirited pedal strokes for me to catch up to them and insinuate myself:
Cycling has it share of rituals, but few are as comforting as the rollout of a group ride on a Sunday morning. The regulars exchange the usual tales of races ridden and breaks missed and gaps bridged, and the sound of their chatting mingles with the clicking of freewheels on streets left mercifully empty by the sedentary suburban schlubs who have not yet dragged themselves out of bed and into their SUVs:
I am by no means a Gimbels regular, and so I quietly savored the sensation of being part of a ride far older than me, one that's continued uninterrupted as buildings and suburban sprawl have grown all around it. I suspect this profound sense of a connection to something timeless is also what compels people to attend religious services, though obviously piety is a waste of time when you can be out riding bikes instead. In any case, the Gimbels ride is as ethereal and intemporal as its own reflection in the dying storefronts of suburban America's moribund postwar prosperity, or something:
That's me, by the way:
Speaking of suburbia, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more quintessential expression of it than Central Park Avenue, which is Westchester's commercial spine--an unnecessarily wide thoroughfare lined with shopping center after shopping center, oppressive and uninviting to anybody who is not in a car:
Everything about Central Park Avenue says DO NOT WALK. Hopelessly outmoded now, this dismal strip is a monument to a time when humankind simply could not conceive of an existence that did not involve driving, and the Gimbels rollout is pretty much the only time you'd ever consider riding a bike on it:
As we rolled northward we continued to pick up riders, gathering volume and strength like the storm clouds above:
Central Park Avenue ends in the city of White Plains, which is the county seat, and once the ride passes this point things become decidedly more bucolic:
By the way, a word on fenders, which is American for "mudguards." You may have noticed nobody's using them (my own pathetic little clip-on fender was the only one in the bunch), and if you're in the British Isles or the Pacific Northwest or some other rain-soaked hellhole you're probably aghast that riders would subject each other to the indignity of their wheel spray. Well, the fact of the matter is that this custom simply does not exist in New York, and if you think about it there's a good reason for that. After all, people use rides like Gimbels for race training, and nobody uses fenders in bike racing. Therefore, you might as well learn how to deal with having a rooster tail thrown up in your face.
In other words, toughen up.
Anyway, on we rode past the reservoir:
And into the rolling terrain of Northern Westchester:
Which is where the pace picks up and the ride begins in earnest.
Obviously at this point I would be unable to use a hand-held camera safely, since the group was getting strung out and I'd need both hands on the bar in order to unleash my crushing power on the rest of the field. Therefore I relegated my smartphone to my jersey pocket, reached down to my seatpost area, and switched on the video camera:
Sadly the above is pretty much all I got, because apparently the camera took about ten seconds of footage and then said "Screw it" and stopped working.
Therefore you'll have to take my word for it that I animated the ride with all my trademark moves, including but not limited to:
--Clinging to the back like a Lycra-clad limpet;
--Politely declining to pull through;
--Blowing up before the intermediary sprint.
Still, what I may lack in strength I make up for in resourcefulness, and I'm pleased to report I did make it to the end of the ride. Note the adulation being lavished upon the ride's winner, who was obviously not me:
Long may he reign...until next weekend when they do it all again.
One problem with the Gimbels ride is that it deposits you a good ten miles from the start, which is in turn another five or six miles from where I live in the Bronx. So there I was on the wrong end of Westchester, swimming in post-ride elation. Therefore, instead of simply returning home, I decided to prolong my cycling enjoyment by backtracking to White Plains where its eponymous criterium was taking place:
And this was about when the skies decided to open up:
My geography on this side of Westchester is a bit hazy, and the downpour wasn't helping, but eventually I made it over to the Bronx River:
Which is lined by a quaint pathway:
This pathway takes various kooky twists and turns over the river and under the train tracks:
And eventually takes you to White Plains:
Where I watched a bit of the racing action:
And did my best to emulate Graham Watson by attempting to capture it photographically:
Though he'd probably be clinging to the back of a motorbike and clutching one of those giant lenses, not standing in wet Lycra on the sidewalk tapping at a smartphone.
Given the weather there wasn't much of a crowd, and I'd have retreated to one of the taverns lining the course myself if I were not already dripping wet:
So with my feeble muscles beginning to seize up I headed over to the train station and headed back to the Bronx, but not before picking up some exotic Canadian fare:
After testing myself on the Gimbels ride I concluded I've still got it, but what it is that I've got I'm not exactly sure.