A Magnificient Obsession

Marc Friedlander




I always liked to bike - way back from my earliest biking days.

A bike gives a kid a degree of mobility that allows him to greatly outdistance his pedestrian adventures.

You don't get another improvement that big again until you get your driver's license.  Then the world is yours.

But, when you get your first real bike, and permission to ride it out in the roadway, it's like you just got your wings.

Who can forget riding a 2 wheeler for the first time?  You don't think it's possible, and then WHAM, you're doing it.

A lot about biking is kind of like that.  


Then I got my license and forgot about biking for a long time.  


Zip ahead a few decades.


When I was in my early 40's I bought a new bike and really discovered what biking is all about - what it can be.  It makes you realize how much strength you really have.  It's an incredible feeling, propelling yourself forward under your own power.  And your power is magnified by the tremendous mechanical advantage that the bike gives you.


As I am predisposed to do, when I go for something I go for it in a big way, and I became obsessed with biking long distances.  I upgraded that bike twice in under a year.


I loved to put on the mileage.  20-30 miles was an easy ride.

I'd do those a few times a week after work.


On the weekends, I could do 50, 70, and over 100 miles.

A bike ride of 100 miles or more is referred to as a "century".

When I first heard of it, I could barely comprehend that a rider could bike 100 miles in a single day.

I decided I wanted to do it - but the idea was pretty frightening.

On my first century I figured out the method.

You get on the bike and start cranking the pedals.  

After 100 miles, you've done it.


The most memorable is the Montauk Century - A ride I did in 1994, and again, just last month - May of 2008. The 1994 ride was 122 miles - I covered it in 7.5 hours. More recently I opted for the relatively short(?)70 mile trip.


It's an amazing feeling - when you get better and better - as you bike more and more.

If you're an athletic sort, you adapt to being the motor and the suspension of this incredible, human powered vehicle.

A road bike is so light and efficient, the effort into the peddles instantly translates into your zooming ahead.

One day you're riding like the wind, mile after mile.


Nothing forces you to live in the moment as much as biking does.

Nowhere are the consequences of poor decisions as immediate or apparent.

Once you choose an angle, a time, a direction, or an opening, you best go with it.

It's incredibly challenging, sharing the road with huge, powerful vehicles, and you on a 20 lb bicycle.

Sometimes you feel like you're paddling a surfboard, amidst everything from speedboats to ocean liners.


There are different kinds of road riding.

A beautiful, two lane blacktop through the rolling hills of some upstate local route is wonderful, and I've done that.

But more often, I ride in and around New York City.

Your reflexes, judgment, balance, and strength are all put to the test - moment to moment.


Biking puts you in touch with your environment in a very unique way, too.

You're much closer to the road - to the ground - to the path - than you are in a car.

You see things you'd never see in a car.


The pattern of the road.

The waste and debris by the side of the road.

The children playing, and the dogs.

Every deviation in the road surface must be noted and evaluated.

Do I avoid this, go through it, hop over it, go down it, or under it, do I shift gears, do I have to pop out of the pedal?  The left or the right pedal?  What's the best gear to be in when I stop?


What's the best line - the best angle - the safest, and the fastest.  When in doubt, now I take the safest. 


And then you PUSSSSHHHHHHH and you TAKE OFF, and RACE down a long hill at a breathless speed.

It's extraordinary.

6 weeks ago I got a new job.  The new job is in Long Island City, approx 10 miles from my home.

Before this, for the last 5 years, I had been working in Midtown Manhattan, and commuting by bus or subway from Queens, and never bike riding at all.

I got to thinking.  I got my bike out of the storage room and shined it up, and replaced some things.

Every day I am able (3-4 times a week) I commute on the bike.

My love for biking has been reawakened.

I carry my work clothes and my lunch in a back pack.

The first time was really tough - the second time was easier - now I've gotten my time down from an hour flat to 42 minutes.  That's one way.  It's a challenging ride.  There are 2 monster hills and about 4 or 5 other respectable inclines - traffic lights, overpasses, rough roads, and it's just great.

Friday, I extended my ride home just for fun - by going from Long Island City, over the Polaski Bridge, down through Brooklyn, past the waterfront, down down down, past Prospect Park, down down down, then West on Fort Hamilton Pky to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, past Coney Island - the famous Cyclone roller coaster and the original Nathans, to the Belt Parkway bike path, and home.

Total circuit was about 45 miles.





Start in long Island City, Queens -

go over the Polaski Bridge...

Through Greenpoint, Brooklyn...

...past the Brooklyn industrial areas and the waterfront...


...through Flatbush...

Brooklyn Museum

Prospect Park

From Owl Head Park

Verrazano Narrows Bridge

On the bike path by Caesar's Bay

Looking Back at the Bridge 
Sheepshead Bay

The Belt Parkway bike path heading home


...and back home again.


What other mode of transportation combines the physical and psychological benefits of biking?

What other vehicle has the range to cover 30, 50, or over 100 miles in a day, at sustained speeds of 15-20 (for us amateurs), and that's 100% human powered?

What other activity gives you the close-up view of the world?  You'd be amazed at how you observe the myriad details, from moment to moment.  And at how the scenery and the atmosphere changes - as you pass from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Nothing but biking gives you the opportunity to be "out there" as you cruise along - the wind in your face, bugs in your teeth, the sun, the rain, whatever's out there.  You're not just driving through it, you're a part of it.

And to just top it all off - it's good for you.  Terrifically good for you.  It's hard not to get enough exercise if you're doing any regular biking.

All on a vehicle that you can pick up at the end of your ride, and put in the trunk of your car. 


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