I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)

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Apparently This Means Stop

Cutting hard between two taxis, I accelerated to avoid a collision. As I veered across the blacktop I may have used salty language requesting a panel van driver pick a lane or kindly move aside. I shifted into a higher gear and hammered the pedals, breaking into the bike lane that opens up near Jefferson Market on Sixth Avenue. The signal at 10th Street turned yellow, then red. Ignoring everything I learned in Driver’s Education, I roared through the light. I had places to go and things to do. Move it, people!

The well hidden cop who stepped out from behind an SUV and asked that I kindly stop was not aware of my plans. After I failed his lighthearted quiz as to why I so brazenly broke the rules of the road, he asked for my license and left me there to ponder the error of my ways. While I looked back on my extensive life of bicycle-related crime, countless cyclists blew through the same light and their freedom mocked my predicament. A few minutes later the kind officer came back with my consolation prize, a $190 ticket.

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You’ve Been a Bad Boy!

Here’s the deal. I broke the law. I ran a red light right in front of a cop. I’ve been riding Citibike for almost 4 years. With 1,400 miles and 1,200 rides under my belt I was due for a ticket. I had become a hardcore bike criminal, running red lights at every opportunity, ignoring the flow of traffic when it suited my needs, cutting in front of cars and crossing traffic illegally, even riding on sidewalks.

I rode without regard to most laws in order to get to where I wanted to go as quickly as possible. That’s the beauty of cycling in the city. Get there now! No traffic jams. No sweaty subway platforms. No waiting for cabs. Just jump on and go. Amortized, it costs me 40 or 50 cents per ride. It’s the only way to travel in Manhattan.

But then I got busted. Good for me. I deserved it and I paid my debt to society.

It’s odd that I am such an aggressive cyclist while I am a conservative driver. I rarely go faster than the cars around me. I stop for red lights and follow the signs. Everything I am as a driver is everything I am not as a cyclist.

What is the difference between breaking the rules as a rider or as a driver? There are real consequences as a driver. If I drove like I ride I would have lost my license long ago and priced myself out of affordable auto insurance. That doesn’t even count the possible accidents and risk of severe injury or death. It is as if two different people exist in my regard for the laws on NYC streets. There is Dr. Jekyll the driver, upholder of the law and Mr. Hyde the rider, flaunter of all rules.

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So what does this say about me? Am I an honest person who gets out of control on a bike? Or am I a highly deceitful individual who only conforms to the rules he is afraid to break? Does this behavior extend beyond cars and bikes? Maybe I am just a bad man whose only constraint is fear of consequences. Perhaps I would live a life of crime if I knew I could get away with it. If it weren’t for those meddling rules. But I digress.

After I pocketed the ticket and jumped back on the bike I couldn’t wait to blow through some lights, break some laws and vent some anger on the way uptown. However, I made a decison. Play by the rules. No more tickets. No more two-wheeled crime sprees. Now, I wait for all the lights, stay off the sidewalks and proceed only in the correct direction on one way streets. I’ve become a law abiding rider, noticing two things right away.

One, I am a much more relaxed cyclist. I worried my usual routes would take so much longer when I followed the rules. While adding a negligible amount of time, it gave me the gift of calm. I’ve become less aggressive and enjoy the peaceful pace. No insanity and I get there just the same.

Two, as cyclists we are our own worst enemies. Wonder why cabbies, pedestrians, truck drivers and cars hate us? Perhaps it is because we ride like jerks. We weave in and out, blasting through red lights and stop signs. We go the wrong way on one way streets and ride on the sidewalks if it gets us there faster. Yet, we are the first to bitch if someone cuts us off or doesn’t see us.

Getting a ticket knocked a little sense into me. I don’t own the streets and neither do cars or pedestrians. We share it. If we want the city, the police, other drivers and pedestrians to take us seriously and respect our rights as cyclists we need to change the way we share the road. If not, there’s a $190 ticket out there with your name on it.

 

Don’t Look Where You Don’t Want to Go

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That’s Gonna Hurt

By Anthony DeLorenzo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/delorenzo/2675869443/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a smart mountain biking adage, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.” Mountain biking requires intense concentration, quick thinking and immediate reactions. Bombing down a hill strewn with rocks, roots, trees and dropoffs can mean instant stitches, broken bones or worse.

The trick is to pick a clean line, focusing solely on that. The rider must look ahead to see what’s next while simultaneously threading the trail right in front of the bike. Do not stare at the tree you hope to avoid. Do not glance at the cliff. Keep your eyes off the giant mud puddle. Target only the trail where you want your bike to go.

I’ve had enough stitches, bruises, scrapes, cuts, broken bones and near misses (not counting thousands of dollars of bike repairs) to know that looking where I don’t want to go often results in going exactly there. Ooof! Looked at the tree, hate some bark. Gazed at the mud bog, chioked down a pound of dirt soup.

Sure, you can wreck even when things are perfect, but I have found that focusing on the trail and charting my direction without distraction results in fewer mishaps and even the occasional state of flow. To sound trite, you become one with the bike. Obstacles melt away, the trail passes beneath the bike and every twist and turn comes with grace and ease. It’s what makes mountain biking magical. The thrill of conquering a brutal trail with minimal bodily and equipment damage is exhilarating.

So what does this have to do with day to day living? I don’t get on a mountain bike much anymore, but the lessons learned on the trail pay dividends. The key concept to success on a nasty trail or on a tyoical day is Don’t Look Where You Don’t Want To Go. This is all about focus, concentration and targeting my goals.

If I get caught up in distractions, spending my time regretting the past or caught up in pregaming the future, I lose the immediacy of this moment. Once I disconnect I will hit a tree, skid on a root or slide right off the trail. There are enough challenges heading my way at any moment, why look the wrong way?

If I think I will lose my job, my mind obsesses about the horrors of unemployment. If I feel a relationship is souring, I will focus on how it’s souring rather than how I can repair it. The list goes on. The results of obsessing on a past I can’t change and a future I can’t predict are never positive. So many things become a self-fulfilling prophecy when I look where I don’t want to go. Get your eyes back on the trail.

I reached a point a few years back where I was mired in busyness, distracted by anything and everything. My productivity and overall state of mind suffered. All I did was look where I didn’t want to go and wound up going there.

How could I get back on track? How could I regain focus and concentrate on what mattered? After slogging through a few years of going nowhere fast I decided to show up for my own life.

Step by step, I instituted a set of daily practices to reconnect with myself and chart a smarter way forward. Each of these added to my mental, physical and emotional well-being.

EXERCISE was the first step. For years I had been a distance runner and cyclist, but had almost stopped working out. I made a decision to make fitness a key goal again. As I ran and eode my bike more I began to feel energized and and more confident.

MEDITATION was the second. Forget everything you assume about meditation. Think about taking two steps back, sitting still and focusing on your breath. Instead of filling my every moment with the incessant distractions of modern life I gave myself 15 minutes a day to do nothing but be present. A sense of calm and serenity

WRITING every day came next. Thinking about writing is not writing. The only to  way to write is pen in hand, ass in chair, words on page. The benefits of writing are numerous and I detailed them here.

Daily GRATITUDE offered me the chance to be thankful for everything and everyone in my life. Instead of obsessing on what’s wrong and how it must be everyone else’s fault, I write down what is great and magical in the people, places and rhings right around me.

These daily practices shifted my focus from all the obstacles and distractions in my life back to the trail right in front of me. Of course, what works for me won’t work for everyone, but I’ve seen the powerful impact of positive actions. Today, I choose to look where I want to go and I find myself getting there most of the time.

All Hail the 97 Pound Weakling

Charles Atlas ad

I am the 97 pound weakling, perhaps not the original, but I have always been super scrawny. Like the kid in the Charles Atlas ads that peppered the back pages of comic books for decades, I am a skinny. Even when my weight topped 240, I was a slight man under a concealing layer of flab. Peel away the spongy exterior and you find a pale, stickboy suitable for ass kicking. As a kid I dreaded the beach and wore long pants and long-sleeved shirts to conceal my scarecrow body.

While I have gone on to become a strong swimmer, cyclist and runner, I never have been able to put together a weightlifting program for any consistent period of time. I can run a marathon, but I can’t do a pull-up. I’ve cycled 150 miles in one day, but I have never been able to lift much more than baby weights. I have mastered cardio, but success with adding muscle has always eluded me.

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Bullworker 1 – Hartnett 0

Yes, I have tried many times over the years. From weight training classes in high school to sporadically working with a trainer over the last year, I have set my sights on the weight room, but the treadmills and spinning classes have called my name. As a kid I even bought a Bullworker thinking that might help me turn it all around. It ended badly with the spring-loaded apparatus breaking during an exercise involving a door jamb. Before I could react, the fist-like end drove into my chest knocking me to the floor. That was the end of the Bullworker as well as a spirited three weeks of bodybuilding.

Over the last few years I’ve gotten back into shape, challenging myself to dozens of road and trail races. After a half decade of sedentary middle age I am feeling pretty good about my fitness. I set ambitious goals and have been able to accomplish them with a little hard work.

I noticed this past year that my race paces were increasing instead of decreasing. How could I be running more yet slowing down? Perhaps it was middle age, but I suspected an overindulgence in bagels and pizza played a role. It had been months since I weighed in so I stepped on the scale. Ooof! I rocked that bad boy at 238 pounds. My suspicions were correct and I opted to try Weight Watchers. It has been several months of fruit, vegetables and a constant gnawing hunger, but I have dropped 45 pounds. For the first time in nearly a decade I am under 200 and my running feels better than it has in years.

But…

This very welcome weight loss has revealed a skeleton in the closet. That skeleton is me. It is wonderful to see my bones, but I wish they weren’t so damn bony. The 97 pound weakling is back!

Can a slight man well into middle age get results from a weight training program? That is my 2017 goal.

It doesn’t help that I HATE lifting weights. It’s boring, it hurts and doesn’t offer the same endorphin rush and head clearing bliss as a five mile run along the waterfront. I’ve managed to put together a decent program for a few weeks at a time, but soon dread the workout and opt to do cardio instead.

My hope is this time it will be different.

My targets are simple. I want to maintain roughly the same weight, build some muscle and bang out 100 push-ups and 12 pull-ups without stopping. I can struggle through 45 pushups now and the pullups aren’t happening at all. I’ve got one year to get there.

How will I make it happen? My plan is to lift three times per week. I’ve got a trainer who will love seeing me concentrate more on weights. He isn’t a fan of all my sissy running. I hope to work with him a couple of times per month and find some lifting pals so all the big guys on the gym floor won’t beat me up.

Two things will help me build momentum. One, I am going to set clear goals every week and evaluate my progress. Second, I am going public with my goal and hoping friends and colleagues will keep me honest and cheer me along.

This goal went in effect today, January 1. I will document my workouts as I go and write an update every month. I won’t horrify you with the before pictures. Let’s hope I have something to show by the end of 2017. Wish me luck and I will see you at the gym

100 Rides on CitiBike

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My future CitiBikers

Last week I jumped on a CitiBike for the 100th time. Since I got my key in late June I have pedaled all over lower Manhattan, trekked to Brooklyn, yelled at cabbies, narrowly avoided pedestrians, saved a ton of money on subway and cab fare and seen our city from a brand new perspective.

My first ride in June took me from 14th Street up to 31st. Climbing on that bike for the first time and joining the riders all heading north on Sixth Avenue was a glorious adventure. The early summer sun felt invigorating as I maneuvered the heavy frame around cabs and delivery trucks. Although the ride lasted less than ten minutes and was barely a mile, it felt like a mini-epic.

My 100th ride started on 14th and took me to the Port Authority. I was rushing to meet my girlfriend who was just about to have a baby.  I jetted across town and up Eighth Avenue, easily beating a subway ride and probably besting a cab. And that ride, too, felt like a mini-epic.

One thing remains true after 100 rides. Using a bike to get around Manhattan is a great way to travel.

And a few random observations…

  • Traffic is not as hideous and formidable as one would think.
  • There are plenty of cyclists on the streets and the majority are not on CitiBikes.
  • Cabbies, pedestrians, drivers and cyclists are all idiots, it just depends on your mode of travel which ones are the idiots at that moment.
  • There aren’t enough bikes at rush hour, but they are working hard to fix that.
  • CitiBike has saved me a ton of money and is generally super convenient.
  • The bikes aren’t indestructible, but damn close. I hit a pothole that would have left me lying in the street with a broken collarbone and bent rim on a regular bike. On a Citibike I pounded right through it.
  • The big lesson is be patient and share the road. We are all traffic and we will all get to where we need to go.
  • AND you do NOT want to be this guy!

And let’s play point/counterpoint…

The bike lanes SUCK. Like any public space in the city, everyone thinks it belongs to them. The lanes set aside for cyclists are crowded with pedestrians, delivery trucks, street meat vendors and cabs. Don’t even think about enjoying a ride along Eighth Avenue during rush hour. It has become its own circle in Dante’s Hell. Keep your eyes open and take your time.

The bike lanes are AWESOME. I can’t believe the city set aside space just for bikes. First, Broadway, Eighth and Ninth Avenues have terrific standalone lanes. They are much safer than riding in traffic. The lanes on Sixth and Second are a bit more treacherous, but manageable. Plus, the lanes will take you all over the city in relative safety.

The CitiBike app SUCKS. The app alleges it has real-time stats on bike availability…and it is almost never right. They still can’t account for broken bikes. Nothing like showing up at a station promising bikes and find none or a bunch of broken ones.

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Wow! 15 bikes waiting for me

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Yes! One broken bike and 14 invisible ones

The CitiBike app is AWESOME. Want to know where the nearest station is located? It’s got you covered. Need the best route across town or out to Brooklyn? Another clutch feature is letting you know how many open stalls there are. Nothing worse than arriving at your destination and every stall is filled. The app will map it for you. I use this app almost every day.

For me Citibike has been a huge boost to my day-to-day routine. I get places faster, earlier and cheaper. It’s a blast to be fully engaged in the world around me while whizzing up or down the avenues. It even counts as exercise on super busy days. Every time I have the pedals beneath my feet I get that same glorious thrill I had with my first ride. Citibike may have plenty of haters, but it makes NYC an even better place. Get out there and take a ride.

One Week with CitiBike

I wanted to resist when I saw the bike stations pop up overnight. I wanted to fight back when I saw the rows of gleaming, new bikes. However, once I saw those first few riders navigating the streets of Manhattan, I succumbed and signed up for an annual CitiBike pass.

For three weeks I waited, enviously watching riders zip about town while i walked the sidewalk with the regular prisoners. Finally my CitiBike key arrived in the mail last weekend.

Now, it was time to ride.

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Just one of 6,000 bikes

My first excursion wasn’t without problems, all of them traceable to my refusal to read the introductory packet. Stupid fine print. Three stations and a fair amount of head scratching later I finally sorted out how to unlock a bike and I was on my way.

I rode from 7th Avenue and 15th Street up to 7th and 31st. I must admit, it was glorious! The bike lane up 8th Ave was comfortably busy with fellow CitiBikers and plenty of other cyclists. The breeze and ease of my commute mitigated the heat and humidity. I pulled into my destination station just steps away from work, locked it up and headed inside.

I’ve taken ten rides so far. Seven of them would have been cab or subway rides. Three were walkable, but biking it was so much fun and much faster. At $2.50 a subway ride the annual pass should pay for itself quickly.

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The CitiBike app is a must-have

Availability around the busier transportation hubs can be tricky so prepare to know where all the nearby stations are located. The CitiBike app is a great help showing realtime availability as well as best routes for getting around the city.

The bikes are solid, heavy and slow which is perfect for pounding the potholes of New York City’s streets. The brakes are good and the ride is comfortable. With only three gears and 40 pounds of bike, there won’t be any land speed records broken, but that seems to be by design. They are built for durability, not speed.

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Take your pick. Plenty of bikes on 31st Street

After one week I am hooked. Let’s hope the city supports and builds out the program across all five boroughs. While there are plenty of detractors, this is a service that could positively impact the city in so many ways.

Get out there and ride. Then let me know what you think. Happy riding!