much as i feel i may have a cosmopolitan outlook on life, it's not an epithet that could in any reasonable way be applied to yours truly. thus when, as a member of islay pipe band, i visited new york in april of 2002, country boy in the big city would have been a gross understatement. we were there to play in the tartan day parade down 6th avenue and into central park, but that didn't take for ever, so there was (nowhere near enough) time to wander about.
everything in new york is on a much (much) larger scale than anything on islay, or indeed, islay itself. my home island covers an expanse that is delineated by 239 square miles, though it often seems a great deal larger and, at times, smaller; the current population is vaguely around the 3,500 mark, depending on who you listen to. compare this to new york: the area covered by the city is just a little under double that of islay at 470 square miles, but the population is around 8.5 million. i can understand why the buildings have to be so tall.
but despite having never visited new york city ever before, it was surprisingly easy to get about, if only because the street naming protocol makes it very hard not to know where you are at any given time. couple that with the imposed grid system, it's unlikely you'd need to use that gps compass on the iphone anywhere near as often as you would on islay, or even london. the bit that i'm not proud of is my complete lack of observation regarding the local cycling community; apart from one or two slivers of shiny carbon in central park on sunday, the only other set of wheels that caught my eye were those attached to a colnago on the southern reaches of broadway.
one of my greatest ambitions in new york, for reasons entirely related to a joni mitchell song, was to travel on the staten island ferry, an ambition that was not only realised, but made even greater on discovering that travel on the yellow boats was absolutely free. however, avoid the donuts. we were staying in an hotel on the upper west side, around west 96th street which is quite some distance from the staten island ferry terminal at the foot of long island. however, since buses are not quite my forte, and the underground would have me miss all there is to see, my daughter and i walked the whole distance there and back. fascinating it certainly was, and since the ferry was the primary target, if we missed some of the more interesting parts of nyc, then in the interests of elapsed time, it's probably just as well.
new york, however, encloses a huge variety of eccentricities and and eccentrics, architectural marvels, unique shopping opportunities in unique shops, and just lots of stuff that could add to the worldy education of a washingmachinepost scribe let out for a few days. and if we take the moral and transportational high-ground, probably the best way to explore all this would be on a bicycle. thus attired, so to speak, shifting deftly about that excellent grid of conjoined roads, would allow the seriously uninitiated to find all those nooks and crannies that you would normally read about in the in-flight magazine on the trip home.
to take the sting out of dodging pedestrians and yellow taxi-cabs, dutch painter, photographer and sometime resident in the big apple, roos stallinga has composed an incredibly compact, bijou and unbelievably informative guide to cycling in new york city. but what makes this an even more attractive proposition to the prospective purchaser and, subsequently, reader is the fact that it's a book. an obvious statement perhaps, but applied here because i read all of this while sitting nowhere near long island; in fact across the other side of the atlantic.
there are maps aplenty, all scribed with little artistic touches to humanise them just a touch, and breaking down the 470 square metres into manageable and rideable chunks, including trips across the bridge to coney island and brooklyn, as well as that staten island ferry trip to, well, staten island. along the way, stallinga introduces us to several of the cycling characters she has met while compiling the book, or just riding about the big city. there are points of interest, bakeries and coffee shops to visit along with that necessity to the metropolitan cyclist, a comprehensive list of bike shops.
this, in my usual long-winded way, brings me to the reason behind why i have this book in washingmachinepost cottage in the first place. amongst the profligate number of photos between the front and rear covers, is one taken inside the bicycle shop on west 14th street (i think) featuring a sturdy fellow dressed in an ardbeg winter jacket. this gentleman is william andrew, and he is the man who kindly sent me ride with me nyc.
i could find only one problem with the book, and in true personal tradition, it is one of a trivial nature, yet an oversight that really shouldn't feature on any book about bicycles: the photograph of ms stallinga's bike on the cover has been reversed. not immediately apparent from the bit of the front cover that you'd see on a shop counter, but open out flat, and you'll realise, as did i, that the chainset is on the wrong side. oh, what a disappointment.
brilliant book though.
ride with me nyc is available from the website of the same name for €17.50 (£15.70). sadly, i have been unable to find out the cost in new york city.
posted thursday 12 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................