Part 1: Commuting
After a couple of winters and a summer in Fernie, I moved to New York City to begin school last fall. My mom made me promise just one tiny thing when I moved: that I would not buy a bike. I had spent the summer in a cast with pins after a fall on Top Gun, so she was not keen on the idea of her youngest biking in downtown Manhattan. Unfortunately, this was a promise I could not keep. On my fourth day in my new city, feeling overwhelmed and missing Fernie like mad, I walked to a used bike store in my East Village neighbourhood. I bought a somewhat rickety, faded blue road bike coupled with an outrageously thick lock to ward off thieves, and was on my way to discovering the city on two wheels.
I grew up biking in a city, but New York is a whole different animal. My apartment was in the midst of a blaringly loud circus of dense streets, weaving cars manned by impatient drivers, zipping bike couriers, and food delivery cyclists swimming upstream on one-ways, greasy bags of takeout swinging from their handlebars. New York bike lane infrastructure is lean compared to other American cities like Portland and Washington DC, so cyclists often have to hope that motorists allow them to eke out a slender margin of road. Add to this random stretches of uneven cobblestone, minimally plowed bike lanes in the winter, and streets outside the many bars littered with shattered glass, and the learning curve for the New York cyclist is steep.
Jaywalking in New York is almost a sport, and hurried pedestrians stand in bike lanes while they wait for a break in traffic. One morning I was biking to physio when one of these jaywalkers cut out in front of me. I braked too quickly and went over my handlebars, landing halfway in a puddle in the middle of a crosswalk. A month later I was biking to work and a car door opened directly in front of me, narrowly missing me as I swerved into traffic. Without thinking, I whipped around and flipped the careless driver the bird (apparently I got really rude in New York) before realizing with horror that he was a burly NYPD officer. I biked away very fast.
Despite the initial challenges, I loved biking in New York. It made me feel connected to the city and I oriented myself faster than I would have by only taking the subway. The subway is an integral part of the city’s culture, but as a new resident it is valuable to process how you get from point A to point B, as opposed to suddenly emerging from an underground labyrinth into a new neighbourhood. I made friends with other people who loved biking and went on some great adventures, like a 40-km day trip that snaked from Chinatown over the Brooklyn Bridge, through south Brooklyn and ended on the beach below the eerily abandoned Ferris wheels of Coney Island. One of my favourite things I did all year was participate in Critical Mass, a massive group ride through the city where organizers block off intersections from motorists in an attempt to promote urban biking and safer roads.
Now back in Fernie for the summer, I have traded in skinny wheels and busy streets for quiet trails and roots. I am still a beginner mountain biker and slow on both the up and the down, but what I have realized in coming back to Fernie is that the passion that creates bike culture is the same at its core no matter where you are. From the dedicated individuals who build and maintain Fernie’s killer trail network all the way down to the tiny residents enthusiastically pushing their balance bikes down 2nd Ave, it is clear that bike culture thrives in Fernie. Biking makes people feel happy and allows them to connect and engage with their natural (or unnatural) environment in a fun, challenging and healthy way. That’s something everyone can get on board with, whether in a frenzied island metropolis of eight million or a laid-back BC mountain town.