Wednesday, September 06, 2006

BBB Archive Dec. 15 2005: Transit Strike? How to Dress for the Cold and Ride to Work by Bicycle

Dec. 15, 2005—Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that the city is preparing for the possibility that there will be a transit strike this Friday (after 12 midnight Thursday).
Never mind that it is the week before Christmas, and people will be out shopping, and getting ready for the holidays: It’s also 15 to 20 degrees outside with a 5-degree wind chill. Any way you look at it the Transit Workers Union (which the Mayor keeps referring to at “the TWU” which sounds like a mispronounced “TWA”) is picking both the worst time and the best time to stage a strike, if they do so.
But forgetting politics for a minute, how do smart New Yorkers survive without their trusty buses and subways, especially in the dead of winter? The rules are generally as follows:
No cars below 96th Street from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. unless you have four people in the car; no truck deliveries between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. on certain designated streets, and no commercial vehicles into the city at all between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. every day there is a strike. Taxis must pick up more than one passenger when asked to, but can charge no more than $10 per person during weekdays.
Details are posted on the New York City Department of Transportation website.
But I am here to tell you that the best way to get to work will be by bike, and damn the cold! Though I think I know it all, I am hardly prepared to cycle to work in 25 to 15-degree Fahrenheit weather. Even the hardiest of souls I spoke to don’t ride in this weather when given the choice. So here’s how you do it. First of all start with the map of the bridges with bike access, and make sure you have a way to work from your borough. A reminder to New Jersey commuters: it’s the north path of the George Washington Bridge that is open to pedestrians and cyclists, not the south path.

Getting ready for verrrry cold weather (below 30 degrees)
Now, clothing. Women, forget about wearing skirts. Most of you should have ditched them by now, because when the temperature dips below 35 Fahrenheit, skirts and bikes don’t mesh. Starting with the legs, you’ll need two layers of tights, the one closest to your skin preferably should be brushed poly on the inside lining. Then two pairs of socks, both medium bulk made of wicking poly/ acrylic or wool, or one of each. My advice, no cotton, it takes up space, adds no warmth, and is cold when you sweat.
On top of your socks, you’ll be wearing your bike shoes, and on top of those, thick, neoprene booties that you can purchase at your favorite bike shop or through any one of the mail order services.
In New York you are most likely to find booties at Bicycle Habitat in Soho, at Toga Bike Shop on 65th St., or Gotham Bikes near City Hall, and at Metro Bicycles (they have 6 locations). Paragon Sporting Goods might also have them.
If you can’t find what you need, go to any of the following, Piermontbike.com, Coloradocyclists.com, WorldCycling.com, and so forth. If they have it in stock, Piermont will ship the fastest to New York residents, and they often ship for free.
If you don’t have bike shoes, it is a good idea to wear a leather shoe with a rubber bottom, and I recommend slipping a pair of big socks over the outside to make them warmer, but also cut out a space in the bottom so they do not slip on the ground. No sneakers, your feet will freeze!
On your upper body, you’ll need one long-sleeve undershirt, NEVER made of cotton because once it’s wet, you’ll be cold, said David Nazaroff, co-owner of Toga Bike Shop/ Gotham Bikes in New York. Preferably use a thick poly or a thinner base like the ones made by Craft, which are really soft and feel good on your skin. You can find these at ski shops too.
On top of the base layer, two poly layers are suitable before you put on your final, very thick, winter-weight jacket that should have a wind blocker in it. Good ones are the thick Castelli jackets, (the Mac 5 is about $250 and sells for $224 at Piermont Bikes), or Nike and Pearlizumi at Metro Bicycle locations, which range from $140 to $200. But for many people they are too specialized and expensive.
But if you can spend the money, these jackets can double in the spring or fall for casual use as long as you buy a normal color like black or red. If not, I witnessed a friend cycling with a down jacket, and he was perfectly happy. Make sure the jacket is long enough to cover your back when you lean over, and that the arms don’t gap up to reveal your naked wrists when you reach for the handlebars. If you do use a down jacket, drop one of the interior layers.
The next challenge is your head. There are only so many layers you can get under your helmet, and with all the ice on the ground, a helmet is de rigueur. My recommendation is to put one thin hat, a slightly thicker hat, and then a neck gaiter under your helmet, and loosen the strap slightly. But make sure your neck is completely covered—it will be the one part of your body that gets too cold. Since you are unlikely to be able to get enough hats under your helmet for 25-degree (and below) weather I suggest you buy a helmet cover; PiermontBike has some.
On your hands, Nazaroff recommends any good cycling glove, such as the Pearlizumi Amfib gloves, though I don’t like the lobster gloves because I find it difficult to change gears. Pearlizumi makes a full-fingered Amfib glove that is just as good but the price is high, about $70. Nazaroff also recommends ski gloves in the event you don’t want to spend so much. You can also buy chemical hand warmers at the bike or ski shop, and many of the popular sporting goods stores carry them. Buy more than four because you can also use these on your feet.
You’ll also need a bike lock, or permission from your employer or building to bring your bike inside. Remember, most locks in NYC can be picked unless you make them foolproof. Instructions for fool proofing your locks can be obtained from the Bicycle Habitat website.
But most commercial buildings in New York do not allow bikes inside their lobbies. Unless building management softens their policy during the strike, ask the garage nearest you if you can park your bike there for free or a reduced rate.

I’m all dressed; Now what about the bike?
Okay, if you don’t have a bike, borrow one that looks like it will fit. Loosely, how to tell? Straddle the bike, and if the top bar is about two or three inches from your crotch, you can ride it. If it touches your crotch it’s too big, and if it’s more than five or six inches away, unless it’s a specially designed bike, it’s too small.
Anyway, most of you will not be able to borrow a bike, because the person you borrow it from will be using it. But, once you do, take it immediately to a bike shop to check the brakes, and add some grease, especially if it’s been sitting in storage for 3 years.
If you are buying a bike, there could not be a better time. Wintertime spells S-A-L-E on most bicycles, and if you are lucky, you can find one that’s about 15 to 25 percent off its original price.
According to Nazaroff, almost all of the top manufacturers such as Bianchi, Cannondale, Specialized and Trek make bikes in the introductory $300 range. He also advised that you do not buy a $100 or $150 dollar bike from a big discounter because the cost far outweighs the disadvantages of the parts which are very heavy, bulky, and often not removable.
He also suggests that even if you succumb to buying a $100 version at Target, you’ll want to have your bike checked by a a bike store mechanic. The reason, store clerks not mechanics generally build bikes in large discount stores, and he said he has heard of brakes, handlebars, and other parts being improperly assembled—a dangerous proposition for you.
Riding in inclement conditions will be easier on a mountain or hybrid bike, but according to Nazaroff, “ice is ice,” and any tire, whether knobby or smooth, will slip on ice. Therefore you should buy your bike on the basis of what you will be riding in the spring, not on the basis of whether there is snow on the ground.

Getting to Work
You have everything you need, now how to get there? First of all, stay away from ice and icy, packed snow. According to eyewitness reports on ebikes (c), the west side Greenway has been cleared of snow. If you use the streets, make sure you ride slowly enough to be able to come out into traffic when avoiding large piles of snow. If it snows again, I recommend you read Ice Bike tips on getting around in the snow. If it rains, you’re good to go on all avenues, but you’ll need different clothing.
The NYC Department of Transportation has also issued a map detailing all the bridges that have bike-access. A map detailing bike routes is available online as well. In addition, Transportation Alternatives has a list of do’s and dont’s as well as resources to tap into before you bike to work.
My suggestion is to use the Westside Greenway. If you must travel in the dark on the way home, it is advisable to get a light, especially for the front. A good one will cost you about $100 (I recommend the CygoLite). On the Eastside, you can use Second and First Avenues, or the East River Greenway, but the greenway is not contiguous. Below is Phil Catelinet’s instructions on how to ride the far East side:

“The East Side Greenway runs from the SI Ferry terminal all the way to 37th St. Then you have to go to 1st Ave. until you get to 54th St., where you can take a bike lane over to York Ave and ride up York to 63rd St. (I think). There's a pedestrian bridge there that gets you back onto the Greenway, which then runs up to 120th St. North of 120th you have to ride across town to St. Nicholas Ave. if you're following the Manhattan loop, or just take the avenue of your choice uptown.

Going downtown, the same detour around the United Nations applies, but you'll have to take 2nd Ave. from the 60’s down to 38th St. Once there, turn left, go two blocks across town, then carefully merge into the FDR exit ramp and go one block south to get onto the Greenway again.

If there weren't that horrible detour onto 2nd Avenue, I'd seriously consider taking the Greenway to work more often. But 2nd Ave. is terrible even on weekends, and I can't imagine how bad it would be during rush hour. And tomorrow, with strike traffic conditions and wet, icy roads, I'll be walking.”

Well, he says he uses that route in the warmer months, so hardy souls need not turn back. Good luck getting to work!

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