Monday, February 25, 2019

A Long Answer to a Stupid Question

Hello!  I'm back from my family vacation, and you'll be glad to know that Paris, France was absolutely formidable:

Yeah, I realize the Tour is usually in July, but this year they moved it up to February just for me.

Now that I'm back, I'd like to address a question someone posed in the comments section of my last post, and I'm doing so for two reasons:

1) It's a question that pops up semi-regularly;
B) I find it really annoying so I'd like to answer it definitively once and for all.

And now, here is that question:

Anonymous said...

I guess one question would be why someone so involved in cycling would live in such a gawd-foresaken-place when it comes to actually riding a bike in the first place? Is there a worse place on earth? Perhaps Sydney Australia? But the weather's better there so perhaps NYC is the worst?

February 22, 2019 at 8:31 AM

Then, after various insightful comments from other commenters:

Anonymous said...

Some guy from upstate: "Clearest advantage as transportation" I get that, but Snobby writes a lot about FUN rather than just slogging through congested streets using a bike as transportation. The challenge of finding a fun place to ride seems semi-impossible in a place like NYC, DC or (gawd) Florida so I don't think it's odd to wonder why someone so involved in the activity/lifestyle (rather than a simple schmuck who just uses a bike to get around) would choose to live in a cycling hell like NYC.

February 24, 2019 at 4:51 AM

Okay, before anything else, this comment was in response to my latest Outside column, which is specifically about the NYPD.  So sure, I'll move someplace else in America where there aren't issues with law enforcement, just as soon as you tell me where that is.  Go ahead, I'll wait.

I thought so.

All right, now that we've got that out of the way, let's address the cycling part, specifically:

I guess one question would be why someone so involved in cycling would live in such a gawd-foresaken-place when it comes to actually riding a bike in the first place?

Well, for one thing, I was born here.  For another, if you read my lengthy CV you know that once I grew up I realized I wanted to be in book publishing, an industry which pretty much only exists in a meaningful way in New York.  (And yes, my first three books were published by Chronicle Books, which is based in San Francisco, but nobody who already lives in New York moves to San Francisco to begin a career in book publishing, and no writer anywhere moves just to be close to their publisher.)

Oh sure, there are people who finish high school or college and decide, "Hey, Tucson seems like a cool place, I think I'll pack a rucksack and live there for awhile."  That's fantastic for them, but I'm simply not wired that way.  I was born clenched of sphincter, not free of spirit.  Furthermore, if I've got a lifetime of roots in a place that's not only interesting and full of opportunity but also happens to be the very best place in the country to pursue my professional ambitions then why the would I pull up stakes and leave?  And on top of that, it's not like I had any idea when I was 21 that I would wind up a semi-professional bike blogger.  Not only was there no such thing as a blog, but the fixie craze was still like a decade away--and even then, living in New York meant I was in the perfect place to make fun of it.

Oh, and one other small thing: my wife has a highly successful career in--you guessed it--book publishing, so if you think I'm going to say "We need to move to [x] because riding bikes is more fun there" then you don't really understand how life works on any level.

And what about the fun part, anyway?  Are there more fun places than New York City to ride a bike?  Undoubtedly.  In fact, as a semi-professional bike blogger I've visited a number of them.  However, that doesn't mean I'm going to drop everything, move to Gaioli in Chianti, and ride my own personal Eroica every day for the rest of my life--because again, that's not how life works.  (And also the tight sphincter part.)

Even so, what a lot of people don't realize is that New York City and the surrounding area is actually a fantastic place to ride a bike, especially when you consider what a massive metropolitan area this is.  Here are just a few reasons why:

  • You can race your road bike pretty much every week (and often multiple times a week) from March through September ;
  • There's a outdoor velodrome in Queens and you can race there too;
  • There's a cyclocross clinic on Randall's Island as well as an actual sanctioned cyclocross race in Queens;
  • There is excellent road and mountain biking just outside the city, and if you don't like riding a lone there are about a zillion teams, clubs, group rides, shop rides, charity rides, fondos, etc.;
  • You don't have to set foot in a car to do any of the above--but if you do get in a car now you can do all the regional road, mountain, and cyclocross races, too;
  • Don't want to race?  Go bikepacking.  Go camp on a beach.  Go up into the mountains.  Go take a foliage tour of New England and ride though covered bridges and shit like that.  It's the Northeast for fuck's sake, there's great riding here!
Even the weather here gets a bad rap.  However, riding conditions in spring and fall are generally superb.  Yes, summer is hot, but that's true in most places.  And while the winter may seem daunting, the fact is that brutally cold days are relatively few, and one advantage of living in a big city is that even when it snows the roads are rarely impassable by bike for more than a day or two, which means even if we get a fuckload of snow you'll probably be able to ride in Central Park within a couple of days.  For people like me who can't bring themselves to ride the trainer, that's a big deal.

But let's set aside ambitious recreational exploits and look at regular everyday knocking-around-town riding.  Do we have our fair share of homicidal motorists and knuckleheaded cops?  Of course.  This is America, after all.  Still, having ridden in many cities around the country, I'd say we're easily among the best places to ride a bike, and in certain respects we are very possibly the best place to ride a bike.  The reason for this is that the bicycle is--and has always been--very much a part of the fabric of this city.  A place like Portland may have a higher percentage of bike commuters, and it may be a less stressful place to ride simply due to the lower density, but I doubt there's any place in America that rivals the sheer diversity of people on bikes you get here in New York City.  Ride around here and you'll see people of every race, gender, age group, and income bracket using bicycles of every conceivable kind--including for work.  Ride around Portland and you'll see a bunch of interchangeable white people in Showers Pass jackets.  (I'm not trying to knock Portland.  I really like Portland.  But, you know, it's Portland.)  Sure, a place like Portland is ostensibly more of a bike city.  But there's nowhere else in America where riding a bike to get around is as boringly normal as it is here in New York.  In that regard, to beat us you've got to leave the country, that's the bottom line.

Now I'd certainly never try to convince someone they should move here, nor would I try to talk someone into loving New York City if they've spent real time here and discovered they hate it.  And who knows, maybe one day when the kids are grown I'll retire to some cycling paradise.  (There are definitely other places in this country I could imagine myself living one day, more on that tomorrow.)  In the meantime though, if you're looking for everything life has to offer--including top-notch cycling--this is a pretty good place to be.  There are eight million of us here after all, and while we may be crazy, we can't all be stupid, can we?  (Though if you're a New Yorker who's both crazy and stupid apparently you get to be president.)


rural 14 said...

Try the Berkshires!
Holy Lobf*ck Podium!

Ant 2nd!

Anonymous said...

i have no comment.
okay well said.

dancesonpedals said...

We can kick your city's A$$.

Drock said...

That’s it I’m moving.

Anonymous said...

I have pedaled my wares in NYC for decades and my only regret is not having been born with two heads. One to keep trained on all the beautiful women who live here and flock here from around the world and the other to dedicate to riding safely.

Anonymous said...

Portland bike culture sucks anyway. Any free thinking outside the stereotypical “Portland bike dork” is discouraged, the city Bureau of Transportation is chronically underfunded and builds half-assed infra with what little money they do have, and half the year it’s dark and rainy due to Portland’s aversion to street lights.

Avoid Portland at all costs. Source: I live here and used to be into bike advocacy but quit because of all the passive-aggressive city officials and obnoxious people that shut down all independant thought.

NYCHighwheeler said...

You could just say, "the suburbs have no charms to sooth the reckless dreams of youth."

Also, while there might be some spectacular locations to ride, they often have sever drawbacks. Summer in Moab is 130F, not to mention 3.2% beer. Most of the great resort towns are snowed in from November to July. But really NYC has the big edge in terms of culture and events. We got the 5 boro bicycle club and massive 5Boro Bike Tour, Trans Alt and their amazing Tour de Bronx, Queens, SI, etc. rides. The Bicycle Film Festival. Bike Month. You got the various messenger groups and events, tweed rides and vintage clubs for every era of bicycle, and now some of the most talented wheelie riders in the country like RRD Blocks -

Or you can just say, - "cuz Sprain!" and that is all that needs to be said.

Some guy from upstate said...

"Insightful"? Ok ...

Also, for the record, using my bike for stuff I have to do anyway, like going to work or running errands, automatically makes it more fun, and you can do that more effectively in a dense urban environment. I know, because I tested that theory out on the 10-or-so blocks of Albany that qualifies as "dense urban environment".

Chazu said...

I turned to the Googles to learn about average life expectancy in NYC versus elsewhere in the US.

Generally, Tan Tenovo and his family can expect to live longer than a substantial majority of Americans.

However, socio-economic status is a major factor for longevity in NYC. Wealthy people generally outlive non-wealthy people, and wealthy people tend to be white, etc.

So instead of thinking in terms of longevity, I'm thinking in terms of "quality of life." Once you have a dishwashing machine, a garden hose, N+1 bikes, etc., then quality of life tends to be fairly subjective in 21st century United States.

We all define quality of life differently. And thank Lob for that, or else we'd all be crimping each other's style even more than we are now.

Dooth said...

Start spreading the news

Anonymous said...


NYCHighwheeler said...

Doh! I forgot to mention Times-Up!, the premier direct action environmental advocacy group of the area! It was their monthly Central Park Moonlight Rides that drew me into riding in NYC. They also have a calendar full of riders, protests and repair workshops.
And let's not forget Recycle-a-Bicycle, NYCMTB, Fast and Fabulous, Brooklyn Bike Riders, etc, etc.

Pist Off said...

NYC needs no apologists. It’s one of the great cultural cities on earth and there are many reliable accounts that it’s good for cyclists. I’d consider moving there if I could relive my twenties. The NYPD however seems to enjoy arbitrarily torturing cyclists while almost never charging drivers for vehicular killing of pedestrians and cyclists, and WTF is up wi’ dat. It’s pretty easy to get killed by auto anywhere in the USA, but in NYC it seems to be the perfect murder.

Anonymous said...

So, you guys aren't just doing laps around Times Square???

Bikeboy said...

So - is that a prediction? That Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be the next president?

(NYC is generally not thought of by "outsiders," as a cycling mecca. But given my druthers, I'd probably be more comfortable cycling on Manhattan, than trying to get across L.A. on a bicycle.)

Walt Dizzy said...

Moving to support a hobby is not something I'd consider either. We do like to fantasize about the lives of the rich and famous. Although, I've become convinced that every American's dream is to live next to a really nice park that is closed to the public. Or, barring that, just make life hell for any park user other than people on foot.

You asked, didn't you? said...

"So sure, I'll move someplace else in America where there aren't issues with law enforcement, just as soon as you tell me where that is."

1. Vermont
B. Canada (It is in (North) America, just like the United States is.)

The police in both those places are human, so just like you and I they are not perfect. But the low incidence of law breaking in those 2 places is what reduces the odds of a particular person having an issue with law enforcement so law that it gives the illusion of no issue.

Herald Square said...

"So, you guys aren't just doing laps around Times Square???"

I would pay to see someone try that.

wishiwasmerckx said...

Walt Dizzy, live next door to a really nice park that is closed to the public?

I presume that you are referring to Gramercy Park in Manhattan. A two-acre Arcadian vale smack-dab in the middle of the city, and the only way to gain access is to buy one of the very toney and very pricey apartments surrounding the park. Your deed comes with a key to the gate.

BikeSnobNYC said...

You asked, didn't you?,

I did go through an "I want to move to Vermont!" phase last time I was there, but then I realized I was confusing wanting to move to Vermont with wanting a vacation house in Vermont.

--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

Was on a ride this weekend (it was kind of sunny, with no wind, and I needed the fresh air) in an area of New England where one can find smaller (ish) towns and then fields and then towns. But I did see a "new development" advertising "2.5 acre lots - it looked like a new cul-de-sac. As I said, I was on a ride so hade gone quite aways out from the "town" in which I reside. I was dismayed to see that people still want their "2.5 acres and a mule," because that type of development is no utterly dependent upon the automobile and is so far removed from, say, a store where one can purchase a carton of milk. I love living "near the country' (so to speak, but it ain't rural) but I can totally and unashamedly understand (in fact I do understand) why folks like living in a city and being able to ride around to get from point A to point B on a regular basis. New York seems to fit the bill - for all the reasons Snobby mentions. Plus, my racing on bicycle days are over (save for an occasional cx to remind myself how much I stink) but I do remember there were many fols from NY who could really go fast uphill. So there....

Anonymous said...

Portland's reputation is far greater than the reality of cycling in the city, let me list the ways:

1. Portland is actually quite clueless about how to design 'world-class' bike infrastructure, most of what they build is entirely unusable for practical purposes and the lack of users after build-out reflects this reality. Lack of adequate ROW space for cycling infrastructure and the city's penchant for 'experimental designs' also means there is no consistency in project design from one project to the next.
2. Street conditions suck, they are all full of bad pavement of every type imaginable and the city does not have the budget or manpower to tackle this problem, so it's only getting worse over time.
3. Traffic congestion and road conditions are only getting worse over time, as new people attracted to the Portland 'lifestyle' continue to move here in droves, pricing locals and other long-time residents out of the inner city, driving their cars everywhere, and killing the 'lifestyle' they came here to be part of.
4. Cops here are as clueless as anywhere else, hit and run drivers get away with murder all the time, people of color are especially vulnerable to police abuse, and they'd just as soon beat your ride down for not having a permit as 'cork' for you if you do.
5. There are virtually no legal mountain bike trails anywhere within riding distance of the city proper, unless you want to risk a ticket poaching hiking trails in the city parks.

Anonymous said...

tan tenovo wants a forest in vermont to curate his own frames, and also plant some flax seed to spin his own linen bike shorts. thing is, a mile of bike path costs the same if 5 or 50 people use it and that's where the big city wins.

HDEB said...

NYC is the greatest place on earth.

Anonymous said...

My last job, which I am leaving unfortunately, involved a bike commute between penn station and battery park. Hands down the best commute of my existence, I'll miss the West side highway bike path. New commute is driving to paramus NJ, FML

Anonymous said...

There's an element of "fun" in using the bike as transportation. It's not like going on a purely recreational ride, but it's not just a "simple schmuck" hardship for people who can't afford a taxi either. NYC has a long way to go with bike infrastructure and street safety, but it's a thousand times better than most American cities.

And there is in fact a lot of good biking outside the city. It's a bit of a pain to get to (metro north, GWB etc) but it's great that you don't need a car. (And if you do have a car, you can more easily get to the Catskills which is awesome for biking).

Thor said...

I bet San Francisco is a better place to ride a bike than NYC: better weather, lots of bike infrastructure, the cops rarely hassle cyclists, Marin County is right across the Golden Gate Bridge (lots of road riding, surprisingly sucky for mountain biking), etc. However, NYC is still a cultural mecca whereas SF is now a dead zone full of uptight techies and wealthy jerkwads.

I guess I saw the wrong part of Vermont when I was there - it was nothing but trees and Dunkin Donuts. Plus some little bitty mountains.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 4:41pm,

And you can reduce the "pain to get to" factor considerably by moving uptown!

--Tan Tenovo

Grump said...

Where do racers do their training in NYC?? how far do you have to drive, or ride through traffic to get to open roads where there isn't a stop light every block or two???

Anonymous said...

Your victory dance is a bit premature; the question isn't "Are there issues with law enforcement?" Might as well ask if people drink water & breathe air. No, the question is "Do the cops actively harass cyclists and commit crimes against them?" There are plenty of places where the answer's no. And I don't even have to widen the net by adding "...on a repeated basis," which lets a few cities off the hook by setting an even lower bar, that NYC interestingly still manages to fail.

wle said...

"there's nowhere else in America where riding a bike to get around is as boringly normal as it is here in New York."

---They don't call it New Amsterdam for nothing!


BikeSnobNYC said...


It's a very big city, really depends where you live, but you certainly don't have to drive. When I lived in the middle of Brooklyn getting out of the city for a "real" road ride was kind of a slog, but then again I was also a 10-minute ride to Prospect Park where there's a nice four-mile rolling loop and races most weekends. From where I live now I can be on open roads in no time. The most popular training spots are Central Park and Prospect Park for morning/evening rides and then for longer rides people typically head over the George Washington Bridge. There's a long greeway along the west side of Manhattan that takes you up to the bridge so getting there is pretty stress-free.

--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

I forsake your city.

I’m just gawd, not God, so you know, I’m powerless, but there; I said it.

Beck the biker said...

New York City is a very pleasant place to ride a bike, for those with a proclivity for riding in traffic. For those without a proclivity for traffic jamming, it's still a great city for riding. So much is laid out in the way of accommodation, the protected lanes must make it feel more manageable for a lot of riders.

DR said...

What people think of as “NY is bad for cycling” is actually chicago. If you live in a gentrified area the practical riding around town is good simply because it is a dense city. Otherwise, the weather is worse and the flat featureless landscape lends itself to grid sprawl that cannot be escaped. I’m a long long time reader of this blog and the frequently documented bike snob rides from his doorstep simply do not exist if you live in chicago. Someone please chime in and tell me I’m wrong, but I’ve lived here my entire life. There’s good bike culture here, because bikes are awesome and there’s a lot of people. But, much of what’s described in this post is sadly absent from chicago.

Anonymous said...

OK Snobby, I get it now: your wife has the "real job" so you don't have any f--ing choice in the matter. Makes it pretty easy to rationalize what a great cycling place NYC is along with so many other obnoxious jerks who are stuck there and (for whatever reason) have no other choice. Just like when you're facing a firing squad - you can say "Hey, the electric chair would be far worse!"

McFly said...

San Francisco has some steep ass hills and roughly a 79 mph crosswind on the Golden Gate Bridge, but it's beautiful. Way to Stamp Your Authority on the human race Wildcat.

Francois said...

The France reference at the beginning of the post is spot on, because just like a true French person, you spend most of your time complaining about where you live, but still defend it adamantly.
And you probably feel insulted by the comparison (just like a Parisian would).

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 4:31am,

I've noticed there's a certain kind of person who hates New York so much they've got to insult the people who live there; it's a mindset similar in its insecurity and stupidity to citydwellers who suffer from the delusion that people in rural areas are too dumb to realize they should be living in cities.

So which one are you, stupid or insecure? Or both?

--Tan Tenovo

leroy said...

My dog wouldn’t think of living anyplace else.

He says in NYC, no one notices a talking dog.

And even if they did, bumping into a celebrity and pretending it’s no big deal is a very NYC thing.

Anonymous said...

Hey it's Anonymous 8:06 pm here. Just re-read my comment and said jeez did I really use 3 cliché metaphors in one run-on-ish sentence (wider net / off the hook / lower bar)? My editor should've caught that.

Steve Barner said...

I came to northern Vermont to go to college because when I was 19 or so, I took a bike tour with a buddy that took us up into Quebec and back through the Green Mountains. We had the lucky fortune of riding over Smugglers' Notch, which was just a line on the map that took us to the Vermont Ski Dorm, our hostel for the night. I think that was when I made the decision that I had to live here someday. I did, I stayed, and I've never regretted it, though I think when I finally do get hit by a truck, the first thing my wife is going to do is to leave the northern states, entirely.

If you try riding in Quebec, better remember your wheel reflectors. The cops may be polite, but the legislature is still populated with nimrods.

I do want to get down to NYC to ride again, someday. I once lived in Nyack and I think the proximity to lots of fantastic areas such as Bear Mountain AND NYC makes it a fantastic area for cyclists. That link to the RRD Block video led me to this one, and I must say that looks like WAY more fun than any "See the guy with the clipboard to sign the release and don't forget your helmet" group ride that we have up here in the Great White North.

Grump said...

I guess that if you did live in NYC, you could do actual race training. Living in a city just isn't my thing.

Anonymous said...

This -> 'It's the Northeast for fuck's sake, there's great riding here!' That's exactly right and it doesn't matter city, suburbs, sticks. The reason being there are just a ton of small roads in the Northeast. Your options are almost limitless in being able to create great rides with lots of options. You go south into the DC area and it's just shit parkways with neighborhoods that don't connect to anything. (some people love the riding there, which I can only attribute to having never ridden anywhere actually good) You go out west to CO and there is only one road between towns so you share it with every other vehicle trying to get from point a to b. Plus, NYC, Philly, Boston are old cities and unlike SFO every house doesn't have a driveway so while you worry about doors, you don't think about being backed over. Anyway, the number and diversity of small roads make riding in the NE about as close to riding in Europe as it gets for the US - absent a decent cafe/bar at the top of every climb. I've been fortunate enough to have lived near and ridden in Giaole in Chianti so have some idea.

Russell Miller said...

Commuting in ur bike makes almost any city fun. Keep up the good work man!

pbateman would bike with green eggs and ham to your moms house said...

i like bikes in a city.

i like bikes in a little vermont town.

i even like bikes in hot florida

but it's biking to your mom's house

where i really like to get down

Unknown said...

I guess you are lucky to live in NYC. What would you write about every day if you lived in Dubuque !

nyc_4_eva said...

Having lived in both NYC and Australia, I can say NYC is a great place to ride and about 1000% better than most of Australian cities. I used to love riding around, I had good routes, and they were promptly cleared of snow in Winter. I had a great lifestyle there. I never needed a car (used occassional carshare). CitiBike has cemented NYC as a decent cycling city.

Most Australian cites sucks ass for riding or having a bike-centric life. Honestly I detest it. Melbourne's claim to fame as a 'liveable city' is laughable (it's liveable for automobiles who get socialized housing). NYC is 'loveable' (I<3NY) and I can tell you that trumps the shit out whatever the fuck 'liveable' is meant to mean. Sydney is an anti-pedestrian, anti-cycling, anti-human, anti-fun shithole (but a very beautiful and picturesque one at that). While BSNYC likes to call out NYPD I'd still pick them over the cops in AU.

A few trips in Perth have been pretty great, however. Great paths, lots of space, and no helmet hysteria. It's unbelievably sprawled, however, so driving is unavoidable, but if I can imagine a NL of the south, Perth is the only place with a chance.

George Krpan said...

You're under the impression that Trump is crazy and stupid. That tells me that your source of news is the mainstream media. Trump calls it the fake news and he is so right. With your wit, talent, and intelligence you could have a great career in the alt media. Think Joe Rogan or Jimmy Dore. But, you'd have to take the red pill. Don't worry it's better than sleepwalking, like you're doing now.

BikeSnobNYC said...

George Krpan,

For fuck's sake, all you have to do to see that Donald Trump is crazy and stupid is look at Donald Trump's own Twitter account. I mean come on now.

--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

i agree - trump is crazy and stupid - some people seem to think government should be destroyed by electing and appointing the least qualified people - or that anti-smart people would do better than smart ones, since smart people may not see a short easy (impossible) solution to everything..

the real reason the usa is so fcked is, private money in public elections

the whole thing is being bought by corporations that make money from getting their own laws passed..

Anonymous said...

Tan Tenovo - of course the stereotype of Noo Yawkers as obnoxious jerks is based on nothing though I'm somehow reminded of it every time I go through JFK. Perhaps that makes me both stupid and insecure? One thing it makes me is damn sure there is NFW I'd ever live in NYC!!!

George Krpan said...

Trump's Tweets are hilarious. The spelling/grammar errors are entirely intentional. Don't get me wrong, I don't give Trump a pass, I'm not very happy with him for backsliding on bringing our troops home. Just for grins take a look a some vids from Jimmy Dore. Peace, love, George.

BikeSnobNYC said...

George Krpan,

Trump's Tweets are hilarious. The spelling/grammar errors are entirely intentional.


--Tan Tenovo

JLRB said...

Catching up on the week's posts after playing with gravity on big snow covered mountains …

I loved the post - you had me at "clenched of sphincter"

BUT - "to beat [New York] you've got to leave the country, that's the bottom line."???

Aren't you THE Tan Tenovo who blasted Bicycling Magazine for ranking NYC #1 ?!?