Sharing the world from the back of my bike

I consider the bicycle to be the perfect solution for short distance transportation. Its faster than walking, yet isn’t at a speed where i lose connection to the world around me. In a car, you’re cut off from the world around you; in a subway, the subway is the world around you. On a bike, I can speed through the streets of NYC, from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back, and see, feel, and even smell every detail of the city around me. (This is more pleasant when it’s a passing restaurant than when it’s Garbage Tuesday). Living in a city as dense and fascinating as New York, i think riding a bike is the perfect way to get around.

And, because I am from the Pacific Northwest, being able to ride my bike in a city is important to me. I still take the same joy from flying through a city street, from outpacing a car in traffic, from seeking a path through the urban landscape, that I did as a teenager. Riding through traffic, I’m focused on the calculations of my own movement, and the movement of the objects around me: cars, pedestrians, buses, Other cyclists. I’m in a zone where I am totally immersed in the present moment, where I’m focused on being in motion through a fascinating, and often beautiful, world around me. I’m in complete control of my speed, connected with both the machine I’m using to move, and the world I’m moving through, and it’s an amazing mind-clearing experience.

But in all of this, I just love riding a bike because it allows me to really see the city I now live in. I can go anywhere without worrying about traffic or parking. I can see the streets around me, yet have time to notice details. And I can experience the most beautiful places in New York, along the waterways and historical edges of the city, and choose to stop, to slow down, to pass by. I am fully immersed in the city. I am able to know the city better from my bike, by covering more of it at bike speed, than I ever could otherwise.

So, of course, I have been waiting to share this with Ben. I had been planning to acquire a trailer bike: one of those half-bikes for children that attaches to a grownups bike. I mentioned this to Paul’s cousin in law when we last visited Philadelphia for Easter. She immediately went to her garage, and handed me the bike she had been using with her youngest child. “We never use it anymore,” she said. “Take it, and send a picture.”. I was delighted. It was like getting a new toy, and I couldn’t wait to connect it to my newly tuned up and fixed up bike, and head off into Brooklyn with my baby.

It took us a month, while we searched for a missing hitch piece, but Ben and I finally started riding together this weekend. I connected up the trailer bike to my bike, and did a test run with it, up to the bike store to pump up Bens tire. Ben was apprehensive at first, but finally allowed himself to be coaxed onto the bike. Then, once he felt safe, we started moving. Once he realized he wasnt going to fall, he sat on the bike, thrilled to be moving so fast, and occasionally trying to pedal (his little legs are JUST a bit short, so he can’t really pedal yet, but he does half rotations when he can). After the first test ride, Ben proclaimed the trailer bike to be “awesome”. With that endorsement, we took off our on first neighborhood adventure, and set off to ride around Prospect Park.

I found out quickly that, while having the trailer bike on the back doesn’t affect my balance too much, it does mean I have to adjust to the added weight. I can’t turn corners too sharply, and I can’t stop suddenly, so I do have to ride in a more conservative way than I usually do. The trailer bike also adds over sixty pounds (the bike is 30 pounds and Ben weighs about 36 pounds), so I’m riding with a lot more weight than I’m used to.

But it is so worth it to be able to ride with Ben on the back of the bike! It opens up a whole range of Brooklyn for us to experience. Yesterday, we actually saw the other side of Prospect Park, parts of the park we’ve never been to because it just took too long to walk there. We looped the whole park in less than half an hour, when it would take hours, even with Ben’s trike, to cover that much ground, if we had been going to the library or the Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza, we could have covered the mile and change up there in ten minutes, and not in the twenty-plus it usually takes us. Small differences, but when you’re dealing with a small child and his short little legs, they become bigger differences. Plan changing differences. Suddenly, extra minutes add up into hours, and I can travel without planning around subway lines, around bus schedules, or around Ben’s ability to walk or ride his trike.

Saturday, we managed to loop the park and pick up take -out on the way home. Yesterday, we decided on an even bigger adventure. After hearing that Ben’s BFF Aidan, and his dad Brian, were going up to DUMBO to visit Brooklyn Bridge Oark and ride the carousel, we decided to bike up and meet them. I checked a bike map of Brooklyn, loaded up the kiddo, and off we went. We coasted down the hill, from Park Slope down to Gowanus, and then headed north though Carroll Gardens into Cobble Hill. We pedaled through Brooklyn Heights, and downtown Brooklyn, and finally came out at the new waterfront park. After some confusion, we made our way to the little beach between the bridges, whe Ben happily threw rocks into the East River for twenty minutes while I gulped water and rested.

We had a lovely time at the park, too. Aidan and Ben got to ride the carousel. For them, it was just a carousel ride, but for us grownups, it’s an experience. Jane’s Carousel is in a clear plastic enclosure on the East River, to protect it from the weather. It is an exquisitely restored carousel that was orginally commissioned, like a work of art, for the then prosperous city of Youngstown, OH, in 1922. The horses are beautifully carved and painted, the floor is honey-colored wood, and even the ceiling is gorgeously detailed, painted with flowers and vines and butterflies. It’s a fantasy carousel, even more so because of where it’s located, across from Manhattan, with views of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The music it plays is from a pipe organ and an automated drum, and combined with the grass, the sunshine and all the happy families out for Mothers Day, it felt more like we were in a small town, part of a community, than in the big, impersonal city. It was just astonishingly beautiful, and it made Ben so happy to ride the carousel with his buddy.

After that though, we had to say our goodbyes and ride home. We followed the bike lanes back down through Red Hook, east into Carroll Gardens, down through Gowanus, over the canals, und the subway…and back to the start of the hill up to Park Slope. They don’t call it the Slope because it’s flat. It’s called Park Slope because there is a very long slope that leads up to the neighborhood. It’s just under a mile, five long streets, from 2nd Avenue to 7th Avenue. I shifted down several gears, and took it one street at a time. Unfortunately, by then, Ben was starting to get tired, hungry and crabby, and was whining that the hill would make him more tired. As I pushed the pedals, gasped for breath, and just tried to keep moving, i kept hearing “I’m tired, Mama. I don’t want to ride anymore,” and only the threat of walking (“I will stop this bike and we can both walk it home!”) got him to stop whining.

But we made it home successfully, albeit with slightly frayed nerves. And except for those last few minutes, it was a wonderful bonding experience. While that bonding is the best part of the rides, I also love that being on a bike lets Ben see the world around him. While we were riding through Cobble Hill, he suddenly observed, “These are pretty houses, Mama.”. And they were. We were in a section of brick town homes, some painted colors, some left reddish brown, and Ben noticed that. I want my baby to grow up to really notice and observe the world around him. Letting him see it from the back of my bike is worth every second of the ride up the Slope.

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