savoring the joys of winter cycling in nyc

By Genevieve Walker

Here’s what I like most about cycling in New York City during the winter: It’s simpler. The city feels like a small town, almost rural. Fewer cyclists, combined with fewer tourists on the streets, make the place almost quiet. From a bicycle, you get the views all to yourself.

It only took me a few rides in the frigid air to realize that it was way more pleasant than I had imagined (and believe me, I imagined all sorts of nasty things). There can be patches of ice, certainly. The sub-forty-degree rain is definitely not my friend. But riding warms me up fast. And the benefits of braving the weather are fabulous.

One of my favorites? Double-wide parking spaces at empty bike racks. I like having the luxury of locking up as if my bike were an SUV in a strip-mall.

Another winter riding prize is the gear. On early mid-summer mornings I have to prepare two outfits: one for the ride and one to replace it after a sometimes wilting 4- to 7-mile journey over the Manhattan Bridge. It’s a challenge of economy––how little can I get by with? And how light can I keep my change of outfit? By contrast, in winter it’s nice boots, long wool socks, helmet-lining fleece beanie and full-fingered gloves. Prêt-à-se-promener, as they say. (And no disrespect to summer riding, by the way!)

When I set out on my bike in the morning, the clear winter air is never as cold as I expect and is enormously refreshing. The light is gentle. As I peel away from cold weather lethargy, brought on by a clucking radiator and a continuously aggravated sky, I remember that my legs do actually like to move and that the resistance workout of cold air on cold legs will quickly melt into a smooth ride.

Clearly, others on the road feel similarly pleased; maybe, like me, they are a little surprised by their own fortitude. True camaraderie is forged among cyclists in a nearly deserted winter bike lane. Little nods are exchanged between the under-forty-degree-club members: “Thanks for being hard-core.” I’m a sucker for clubs, even without T-shirts.

Photo: Ellis Scharfenaker

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