Diane Jones Randall is known as an organized person.  She has a lot to juggle in her busy professional and personal life. “I like process,” says the 50-year-old Manhattan resident.

So it wouldn’t surprise people who know her that Randall took a deliberate approach to her journey into the New York City bike lanes, beginning in the summer of 2011. Two bicycles, and four bicycle seats, later, it’s been non-stop discovery and adventure.

In Randall’s stepwise approach — building confidence with each gradual advance — are found lessons and inspiration for others who are curious about adding bicycling to their urban routines.

A New Way to Explore

“I’m not a driver,” says Randall, who is director of custom publishing at iVillage. She grew up in Queens, riding a coffee-colored Raleigh roadster as a girl on sidewalks and paths near her home.

Having inherited a love of New York City history from her father, Randall, who was an editor at Reader’s Digest for 19 years, decided that a bicycle would become her vehicle both to explore the city from a different point of view, and to build her fitness.

After noticing more people on two wheels, Randall approached her younger brother, who likes to ride the Central Park Loop, for advice on bike shopping.

“He wanted me to get something rugged and sturdy that would stand up to the potholes,” Randall says of her sibling’s brotherly concern. Randall started off with a mountain bike: a Specialized Myka HT Disc.  She bought a helmet, lock, lights, bell, rack and rear “trunk” carrier. Ready to go.

The Ride That Made ‘All the Difference’

But, like many beginners in the city, she felt hesitant about riding with traffic. So, she started off pedaling her mountain bike on the sidewalks that weave through the apartment complex where she lives. “I began off the road and away from traffic,” she says.

After a few weeks, when she felt ready, Randall researched group rides, and found what she was looking for in a tour of the history of the New York City grid. The journey, from Cooper Union on 8th St., up Eighth Ave., through Central Park and up to 125th St. was her initiation to the streets.

In the company of about 20 riders, Randall says, “I rode over the potholes, and around the buses, and across the intersections – and after that I had no fear. That ride made all the difference.”

From there, Randall signed up for more rides, touring the Eastside Greenway, riding Summer Streets and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time with her brother, meeting her dad for a jazz concert at 160th St. and pedaling up the Westside Greenway to the George Washington Bridge. With each new adventure, she pushed her mileage and her boundaries a little farther.

Randall - Bike Lane

Randall cruises crosstown with confidence. A little over a year ago, she was hesitant to ride with traffic.

Crossing the Finish Line

Most recently, in September, Randall followed the 15-mile route of the NYC Century Ride, pedaling from Central Park to Prospect Park: “When you’re a beginner and you complete something like that – when you cross a finish line, that really means something.”

While the mountain bike served her well enough, Randall says she struggled with comfort. Reaching forward seemed unnatural to her, so she bought a longer stem for a more upright posture. She swapped her flat bars out for a back-swept style. She changed seats – twice.

“My husband said, ‘I think you’re looking for a La-Z-Boy on wheels,’” Randall says with a laugh. “I was going through all these machinations.”

Re-Discovering an Old Friend

What she really longed for was a different style of bicycle. The kind that she remembered from childhood: The British-made, brown Raleigh Sport 3-speed that was still tucked away in her closet.

“In reading the bike blogs and looking at websites, I really liked the cute bikes,” Randall says. So she wheeled the Raleigh to Continuum Cycles in Manhattan, where the mechanic replaced the aged “soft parts” – tires, cables and such. She bought a leather Brooks sprung saddle and matching leather handlebars, gave the frame a coating of Pedro’s Bike Lust for added shine and pulled the original bell out of the drawer where she had stored it. Then she took the Raleigh out on the road.

And just to show you how the wheel turns and the circle closes: Not long ago, Randall and her husband attended a dinner party in Westchester. There, they encountered Richard Bellitte, whose family owns the venerable bike shop in Queens that’s been around since 1918. By triangulating, the two determined that Randall’s Raleigh had been purchased at his shop, and that he, as a teenager, had likely been the one to assemble it in the run-up to Christmas Day 1974.

“He was happy, “ Randall says, “that this bike was still providing happiness this many years later.” For the Raleigh and for Randall, a joyful journey of discovery through the streets of NYC continues — one pedal stroke at a time.

Raleigh Chain Guard

Still in great shape: The chain guard on Randall’s vintage Raleigh.

Photos: velojoy

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3 Responses to Building Cycling Confidence a Pedal Stroke at a Time

  1. Maureen says:

    This is such a great story on so many levels – Thanks for sharing it. Additionally, the photos with Diane’s joyful, confident glowing smiles highlight what cycling can be all about!

  2. Laura says:

    What a blast to pull out the old bike and bell and now be riding it around Manhattan all these years later! I’ve been renting bikes lately and riding them up and down the Westside Greenway (what a great way to see NYC & the Hudson River up close). Diane’s story inspires me to do even more….

    • Susi says:

      Laura, we love Diane’s story and it’s wonderful to hear that you found it inspiring. Enjoy your rides, and thanks so much for reading!

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