Two-wheeled Tribes

On New York’s hurried streets, one passing cyclist can appear no different from another. But cyclists are hardly a monolithic subculture — more like a collection of finely divided sub-subcultures, each with its own uniform, lingo and attitude toward the bicycle’s place in the urban landscape. Here’s a look at members of five different cycling tribes.Bike messengers continue to hold their place as iconic New York riders, but Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates cycling, walking and public transit, counted only 1,700 of them last year; there are about twice as many food deliverers on two wheels in the five boroughs, according to the group. And both those tribes account for a small fraction of the 185,000 New Yorkers said to commute by bicycle, to say nothing of those who ride for exercise or road-trip on weekends.

So what does cycling culture look like? Is it dodging through gritty traffic, or rapidly pedaling around Central Park? Are the track-bike tribes of Williamsburg more or less native than those of the mountain bikers in Highbridge Park? What about the fashion plate on a $1,200 Dutch bike, or a pedicab driver who recently arrived from Tajikistan?

Such questions are among those to be tackled at a bike summit meeting on cycling culture scheduled for May 6 at New York University. Here is a look at members of five of these proliferating bicycle tribes.

The Bespoke Commuter

pedals his 1960s Schwinn three-speed from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, to SoHo in a designer suit and tie, custom tailored — tapered legs, a bit more room for movement in the jacket — to make riding less sartorially treacherous. It’s a lesson he learned the hard way with a new pair of Yves Saint Laurent pants: on his way to the Javits Convention Center for a trade show, the gears tore a gaping hole in the cuff. “I’m probably not wearing what most folks think one ought to wear on a bike, and maybe I do that on purpose,” he said. “I like to think that an old bike and a happy outfit can make you a little happier.” Mr. Watson, 45, the managing director of Moroso U.S.A., an Italian furniture maker, said that when he passes other stylishly dressed cyclists, they often give each other a “wink and a nod,” adding that this “happens with some frequency on the corner of Chrystie and Delancey.”

UNIFORM A suit tailored while in riding position. A wool undershirt in winter. No helmet.

LINGO Let the look speak for itself.

ATTITUDE Form can be functional.

NATURAL HABITAT Williamsburg and Brooklyn Bridges during rush hour.

FAVORITE RIDE Home from a night out. “I love going to dinner with the freedom of returning on my bicycle and not worrying about how many glasses of wine I’ve had.”


The Daredevil

JOSEPH LANZA, known as Joey Krillz, belongs to two often-competing bicycle tribes, working for the last six years as a messenger and playing as a fixed-gear freestylist. Which puts him on what many New Yorkers would see as a suicide mission: riding through city traffic with no brakes. “You just start jumping off curb and, you know, it makes the day-to-day of delivering packages a little more interesting,” Mr. Lanza said of his custom trick bike. “Instead of just A to B, I can throw a third dimension in there.” Mr. Lanza, 29, said he hoped to stop working as a courier within a year to focus full time on a cycling apparel and equipment company, Grime, that he started with two fellow riders. The customer base is changing from those who idolize messengers to those who want to ride tricks, he said, but T-shirts, too, can cross tribal lines.

TRICK UNIFORM T-shirts, flat-brimmed fitted hats, Vans sneakers.

MESSENGER UNIFORM Anything you don't mind getting grimy, plus a large shoulder bag or backpack.

TRICK LINGO “Fakie” is pedaling backwards; tricks can be done “driveside” or “nondriveside,” depending on the orientation of the chain and gears.

MESSENGER LINGO A “triple-rush” is a delivery that must be done as fast as possible, generally in less than 30 minutes.

ATTITUDE The city is a playground.

NATURAL HABITATS Apollo Bank in Greenpoint or McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg.

FAVORITE RIDE “Just to the park to do some tricks. I'm not really into distance anymore. My bike is heavy and slow.”

The Advocate

JANETTE SADIK-KHAN, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, is quick to note that she supports all the city's transportation options — trains, cars, ferries — but cycling seems to hold a special place in her heart. “My bike is essential gear,” she said of her Specialized Globe. “You know, there are certain bags that you like, shoes that you like, hats that you like — I love my bike.” Ms. Sadik-Khan, 49, rides 25 minutes to City Hall from the West Village with a helmet on her head and a rubber band — often blue, saved from a bushel of green onions bought at a farmer's market — around one pant leg. It's a perspective on the city — “outside the windshield,” as she put it — that she is trying to extend to more New Yorkers by way of bike lanes, bike parking and bike access to commercial buildings. “I don't look at bicycling as an alternative mode of transportation; I look at it as a mainstream mode,” she said. “What we're doing is re-engineering to really meet the needs of a 21st-century city, which is very different from the needs of a city in the 1950s.”

UNIFORM Helmet, business attire, rubber band or reflective Velcro cuff strap.

LINGO An alphabet soup of esoteric terms and acronyms, from NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) to “neg dec” (a statement that a bike lane will not have an adverse effect on its surroundings).

NATURAL HABITAT Along Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, “ground zero for the bicycle advocacy movement.”

ATTITUDE Get out and ride!

FAVORITE RIDE A circuit along new protected lanes from Houston Street to 125th Street along First and Second Avenues (scheduled for completion in October).

The Local Racer

DANTE PRYOR discovered he loved cycling during a ride across the Hudson River when he was 14. Some racers passed by, he said, and “I just jumped in with them.” Racers in the city are like a fraternity, and Mr. Pryor described the races themselves as “gentleman's warfare.” Scars from road rash, smashed helmets and the occasional broken bone are some of the costs of participation, as is waking up before the sun on weekend mornings to circle Central Park or Prospect Park. “For five hours a day, on a ride to Nyack, you're normal,” he said. “And then you go home to your girlfriend and she doesn't understand you.” Mr. Pryor, 24, a student in Columbia University's general studies program, said racing had helped him with his four-year battle against Hodgkin's lymphoma. He calls himself a “straddler” because he rides a $5,700 Colnago but says that in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where he grew up and still lives, “I turn on the street slang as I ride through in my Lycra.”

UNIFORM Bright-colored racing Lycra.

LINGO “Fred” is a term of derision for “nonserious” road riders; “kit” is the racing uniform; and “chamois time” is procrastination — in the kit but not on the bike.

ATTITUDE If you're not suffering, you're not doing it right.

NATURAL HABITATS Central Park benches near Tavern on the Green; Cat's Paw hill, on the park's east side; or the George Washington Bridge.

FAVORITE RIDE To Coney Island: “By the time you get to the water, you feel like you're on vacation.”

The Weekend Wanderer

SHARON BEHNKE, a real estate broker from the Bronx, is president of the Five Borough Bicycle Club, having returned to cycling after a divorce in the late 1990s as a way to meet people and get some exercise. The average age of club members is about 40, she said; the goal of each outing is to get somewhere. “We don't do laps in Central Park,” she said. Though she owns a road bike, Ms. Behnke, 62, prefers her Bike Friday folding bicycle, even on long rides.

UNIFORM Bike shorts and jerseys from previous club rides.

LINGO “Trippers” are group members, and a “happy-face ride” is a leisurely paced trip.

ATTITUDE Riding should be a pleasure, not a duty.

NATURAL HABITAT Neponsit Beach in the Rockaways — the endpoint of a popular summer ride from Prospect Park.

FAVORITE RIDE The Montauk Century, riding to the tip of Long Island in one day. About 1,800 riders participated last year.

For more info and the original article visit New York Times


I had a call today from Carolyn Enting from the Dom Post. She's doing a piece on bike tribes: the subcultures of biking, e.g. roadies, hipsters, mountain bikers, commuters, baskets, stylistas.
I've given her a few contacts.