The “fast, crowded, and intense” pace of New York once intimidated Queens resident, Ross Remmel, from riding a bicycle. Yet, he always remained curious. Many unmemorable and populous subway rides later, he can proudly admit to riding these streets for almost a year. Ross tells on the Spoke & Word his story of getting started, how biking your city makes the most of your commute, and shares tips for potential new riders to take the plunge.
Tell me how you decided to get on the bike for the 1st time.
Mind you - I’m relatively new to the city. I was terrified how fast things move around here. I was paranoid of cars, even as a pedestrian on foot. I started to take notice on how people ride. I noticed all the bicycle lanes and realized getting around on foot is kind of boring. I like things being faster anyway. Out of curiosity one day, I went on a bicycle and try out these bike lanes. From there, I realized how under control it could be if you don’t act like an idiot!
What is it that you like about riding a bike here so far?
I like the experience of riding a bike. It’s a hell of a lot more interesting and memorable than taking a subway. That is a fact! Also, I like to be active so there is the act of actually putting effort into a half-hour bike ride to work instead of a half-hour subway ride. I take away something every time getting from Point A to Point B. Then, there is leisure riding for three hours on a Saturday or Sunday - which is just fun! It's great to see something you thought would be cool and never having to get on a subway or taxi. Riding your bike, getting there, being there, and seeing it from that perspective is fun. In addition, having the ability to get up and be completely mobile is great.
Do you think because you’ve gotten more familiarized with this city since riding a bike?
I’m 100% more familiar with the city, the neighborhoods, and what they look like because of biking. Being in some area, looking around, and say “Oh, I’m in West Village” or “SoHo.” You could tell and see that they’re different. It’s very educational as far as the city goes because as you know there are many neighborhoods. You are learning while you are traveling and getting around. You get to see things you may not have seen before. It’s absolutely educational.
How would biking in NYC compare to back home?
You don’t see bike lanes in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. We don’t have a city grid system like you have here. You are more likely to see people on mountain bikes. We have much more off-road riding experiences, so we are talking about trails, mountains, and terrain.
How did you go about getting your 1st bike?
Craigslist! It was something I was thinking about for awhile. When I checked the options on Craigslist, one of the options I found seemed exactly what I was looking for. I met the guy the very same day I saw the ad. I took it for a 5-10 minute test ride. It felt awkward because it was a road bike. I wasn't used to that whatsoever. I made the decision over the course of the night that I wasn’t going to try any other bikes online, so I forked out $180 for this bike and I’m glad I did it.
So what kind of bike is it?
I'm riding a 10-speed 1980 Nishiki road bike. It is an old and heavy steel frame bike. It was described to me as an entry level road bike and the guy wasn’t trying to jazz it up whatsoever. It is clanky when I shift gears. There is nothing modern or glamorous about this bike.
Where is your favorite NY place to ride?
It really depends on the kind of ride I want to take. I like to open up with speed on Randall’s Island. The bike paths over there are open. There is a lot of space and you can really crank gears on that. You don’t have to worry about traffic or anybody getting in your way, so it’s a nice open park. If I feel like riding in the city, I love coming down Riverside Drive. It’s great! You could really get the high speeds there, but there are lots of people and lots of people on bikes, so it’s difficult.
What is going to help this city become more bike-friendly?
I want to say awareness. By that I mean there are still pedestrians, as well as cars, that are likely to cause an accident. You are stepping into the road or stepping out between two parked cars - you could be knocked by someone on a bike. What’s going to make you more aware of that? Maybe signs? Something that is going to educate people better. People can be so ignorant. When there is someone walking down the street on their smartphone texting, they are more likely to get hit by a bike. New York is on the right track as far as the bike lanes I’ve seen and the colors help as well. When you look down, you see green paint when walking through a bike lane. I think it helps people a lot. Colors, signs, markings, and something to define bike lanes.
Any tips for anyone getting on the road by bike for the 1st time?
Give it a try! When you do, buddy up! Ask around and find somebody who knows what they are doing. You probably have a friend that rides or owns a bike you can borrow. What you can do is go on Google Maps and highlight all the bicycle routes in NYC, plot out a course, and stick to the bike lanes. I would follow a bike route leading me through a neighborhood I never would have gone by foot. If you are person who likes to explore and see things, you are gong to find yourself doing that a lot for pleasure by bicycle.
What are some issues you’ve encountered on the road?
You’re talking to a guy who hasn’t had a serious fall or horror story on his bike yet [knocks on wood}. I’ve been on a lot of rides - short, long, and everyday commutes to work. There is a responsible way to do things and there is an irresponsible way. I think I’ve played by the rules so far and I’ve avoided disasters by doing that.
Speaking of commuting to work, how has that experience been for you?
I’d say within the past 6 months - one of the most positive changes to day-to-day life has been riding bike to work instead of getting on a subway. I can be versatile in the way I go about my day if I go on my bike. I enjoy it and it feels better. I, sometimes, have gone through an easy ride to work and other times a gauntlet. Whether it's commuting to work or riding for fun, I’m going to keep doing it. It’s an excellent way to get out, get fresh air, and be active. I’m not some exercise enthusiast, but damn I just enjoy riding my bike. It’s incredible.
How would you improve our streets to become safer for cyclists?
Repair any bike lane potholes because those are the only things that’ll make me come out of a bike lane. Prioritizing and maintaining those would be a good move.
Would you consider NYC a good place to ride a bike?
It is right now and will continue to be, but it’s a city that has to keep being reactive to demand and congested streets. I think the improvements the city is making, as far as creating new bike lanes, is going to alleviate any congestion problems. It’s going to remain a good place for everyone to ride a bike.