Editor’s note: As New York City commemorates the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I am re-posting an article first published here on Feb. 14, 2011. An update appears at the conclusion.
Our bicycles are more than just our rides. They’re personal. Often, they are vehicles for creative self expression, and not just in the sense of choosing a particular model or set of features. Some of us name our bikes, and customize them in highly individual, often hand-crafted ways to reflect whimsy, attitude, memory and countless other meanings.
Stephanie Wowk’s vintage Raleigh Sprite (above) not only conveys her cycling style and spirit, but also serves as a rolling tribute to her firefighter dad, a first-responder on 9/11.
Wowk, a 21-year-old college student, works as a bicycle messenger for a cookie shop in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, filling orders placed online by residents of surrounding dormitories.
When I met Wowk last autumn on a stop at the shop, and asked her about the fire-engine-red paint scheme and the gold numbers that embellish the down tube and seat tube, she told me that she and her boyfriend had customized the bike in honor of her dad Nicholas, a 20-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department in Astoria, Queens. Wowk says her father is now retired, suffering from chronic respiratory problems.
“I wanted to do something to recognize him,” says the Smithtown, Long Island native. “He’s done so much for me.” The numbers on the frame signify Mr. Wowk’s engine company and helmet number.
Of speeding around town on the bicycle for deliveries, Wowk says: “Bicycling has made me a stronger person. My reaction times are faster, I think more quickly and I’m more focused.” She says a competitive personality, participation in high school athletics and growing up with older brothers helped feed her fearlessness on the road.
Enamored of urban cycling culture, Wowk is accumulating components for a fixed-gear bike, and plans to continue to work part-time as a messenger as she pursues her studies in culture and media, and illustration.
How did her dad react to the bicycle? Wowk says he’s “very low-key,” but seemed touched by his daughter’s gesture.
Update: Wowk is now a college senior and still works part-time as a bicycle messenger. Mr. Wowk continues to suffer from health problems. He and Stephanie’s mother are celebrating their wedding anniversary today.
Top photo: velojoy