That Crazy Old Lady on the Bicycle

Citibike lets me get exercise while saving subway fare and the planet, but if you drive like an idiot in my vicinity, watch out!

You know that crazy old lady on a bicycle who's riding in midtown Manhattan traffic and yelling at cab drivers, "Ever think of signaling, you moron?!?!" C'est moi.

I've been an enthusiastic biker ever since I was 14 and bought a Raleigh Grand Prix 10-speed for $120. Mostly I rode for pleasure, sticking to bike paths and quiet country roads.

All that changed a few months ago when I joined Citibike, the bicycle-sharing program in New York City that allows you to jump on a shiny blue Citibike-branded bike anywhere in the Big Apple and pedal off to your destination. Once you arrive, you jam the bike into a convenient docking station and leave it behind for the next person.

You're getting exercise while saving subway fare and the planet.

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The downside: You have to wear a helmet, which is a bulky item to tote around for the rest of the day. (Wearing a helmet saved my life decades ago when I was hit by a car while bicycling in rural France. The helmet cracked, as did a bunch of my bones, but thanks to $30 worth of plastic and foam padding, I'm here today.)

Until Citibike arrived, it had been more than 20 years since I rode in traffic on the main thoroughfares of Manhattan.

Back when I arrived in the city as a young adult, I frequently rode to work and ran errands on my bike.

By the time I arrived at my destination, I was a raging maniac. I screamed at drivers who cut me off or edged too close. Ditto for pedestrians who veered into my path from in between parked cars.

Then came the day in the early 1990s that I biked north on Sixth Avenue near Radio City Music Hall, a particularly crowded section of midtown and one filled with tourists. A cabbie crossed two lanes to pick up a passenger, nearly wiping me out in the process.

"Yo, fuckhead!" I bellowed. "I'm riding' here."

A boy—maybe 8 or 9 and clearly an out-of-towner—gaped at me from a nearby sidewalk, a look of fear in his eyes. I was that New York crazy person he'd been warned to stay away from.

I didn't want to be that person, the one who scared little tourist boys. After that day, I quit riding my bike in traffic and instead stuck to recreational pedaling.

Now, thanks to Citibike, I'm back on a bike as a commuter again, running errands and zipping to appointments.

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In the intervening years, New York has become a much more bike-friendly city. There are now designated bike lanes, many of which are protected by concrete barriers from traffic, and bike paths that run along the Hudson and East Rivers. Also reassuring: Not a single Citibike rider has died during the program's 3-year rollout.

Most of the time when I'm riding, it's all good. As I pedal along the Hudson River on my way downtown or speed across Central Park to get from the West Side to the East Side, I'm serenely blissful. I'm at one with nature and calm as can be.

Then there's the other times, when I have to ride in traffic on the crowded avenues and cross streets of Manhattan. That's when the raging maniac makes a comeback.

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It was one thing to be so vocal when I was in my twenties and thirties. Now I'm a 60-year-old, white-haired, incipient geezer, the very image of a sweet old lady. Why, I even stop at red lights on my bike and obey all traffic laws.

But drive like an idiot in my vicinity and you'll hear me screaming, "Yo, watch it, you dimwit!" or "This is the bike lane, dickhead!"

I guess it's like riding a bike. You never forget.


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