nyc bicycle commuter inspires others to join in

By Genevieve Walker

Her bikes have names, her shoulder bag clips onto her bicycle rack and she rides in the snow. Oh, and she usually rides in heels, too. Kimberly Kinchen (above), New York City cycling activist and developer of a group commuting meet-up called nycbiketrain, is one of the city’s dedicated, hardcore cyclists. But just nine months ago Kinchen was building up the courage to ride on city streets for the first time.

Kinchen has been a resident of New York City for 10 years. She has never owned a car, relying on public transit or her two feet to get where she’s going. She wanted to bike and had some neighborhood riding experience in Seattle, but like many New Yorkers, Kinchen was daunted by the traffic, and nervous about riding on city streets.

“For two years I was looking at bikes online. Two years,” says Kinchen. Finally, she was ready. She took her first ride accompanied by her neighbors, and together they rode the Hudson River Greenway on Manhattan’s West Side (just a mile from her place) to get breakfast. Instead of riding in traffic, the group walked their bikes from the Greenway to the restaurant.

“I’m an incrementalist,” says Kinchen. “That’s one thing I will say, you don’t have to start commuting 20 miles a day. Take a ride on the weekend. It’s okay to walk.”

No Longer Daunted by City Streets

That first ride was in March, and after taking safety classes at Bike New York, participating in group rides, volunteering for Transportation Alternatives and even plunging headlong into the Five Boro Bike Tour (40 miles, more than 30,000 cyclists), Kinchen was a bonafide cyclist. She is now the proud owner of two and a half bicycles, as she’ll tell you. One is a ‘99 GT 21-speed hybrid, which Kinchen says is “kind of a girly bike; great commuter.” The Orca, as she calls it, was imported from her days cycling in Seattle where her roughly six-block farmer’s market commute was her pre-NYC bicycle training. The other bike is an REI Novara Transfer (seven-speed, internally geared) that came equipped with a head-light, full fenders, chain-guard, bell and bike rack. The half bike? A rebuild project.

About four days a week Kinchen commutes 20 miles roundtrip to work. She loves her route, which takes her along the Greenway. Proof that her transformation is complete, her twitter handle is: @bornagainbikist

Kinchen’s path to becoming a cyclist on New York streets was aided by the support she found at T.A., and the New York Cycle Club; cobbling together several resources helped her to become comfortable on the road. “Still I have to steel myself to ride in traffic,” says Kinchen. It was after riding around the city with a few other people, however, that Kinchen thought to herself, “Wow, this is so much more relaxing.” Inspired by her revelation that riding with others eased the stress of being on the roads (and inspired by this video), Kinchen decided to do something to help other cyclists make the same discovery. That was the start of a New York City biketrain.

The Social Side of Bike Commuting

A biketrain is like a city bus, minus the bus. It’s a wagon-train of cyclists that starts out, ends, and picks up cyclists at specified locations. The idea is that cycling in the city is greatly improved by having company and feeling safe in a pack. A biketrain system will allow New York City cyclists to connect, meet up, and co-commute.

Through the magic of Twitter and New York City’s amazing online biking community at #bikenyc, Kinchen met our own Kim Burgas of Velojoy. Burgas had been working to develop a biketrain, too, though her focus was connecting people, via technology, who wanted to commute together. “Our meeting was practically the definition of serendipity,” Kinchen told me in an email. Kinchen and Burgas (known around here as Kim and Kimberly), are currently developing a biketrain app for smartphones (still in “beta”). “It’s a great idea,” says Kinchen. “It’s not my idea. I stole it. A lot of people have thought about this, it just needs enough people to actually come together and start doing it.”

Currently there are a few biketrain routes: one in Manhattan, used by Kinchen and Burgas. It starts in Inwood, stops at Columbus and 90th Street, and continues to Midtown. In Brooklyn, cyclist Rod Huntress leads a biketrain from Prospect Heights to the United Nations with a stop in the East Village. The biketrain model is dependent on enthusiastic cyclists willing to organize, lead and sustain a commute. You can fill out a form here if you are interested in joining a biketrain, or leading one. For more information, check Kinchen’s blog post, here. Get ready for an official launch this spring. “I’m really excited about the possibilities,” Kinchen says. “It’s one of those things where people see it and think, ‘maybe I could try that.’ Because it reduces a barrier. And then they try it and think, maybe I could ride to work…”

Contact biketrain: nycbiketrain@gmail

Photo: Brett Essler

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