I sat down at The Angry Goat Pub in Rochester with Tony and Ellen, two friends that recently caught the city bike bug. After ordering a couple beers and some sort of chocolate martini for Ellen, I started asking questions about their experience as new riders in the city. Ellen spoke up first.
“For me, I love the city, I love the city at night. Biking is like walking on crack, but you can see a lot that you can’t see and experience in a car… and at night that experience is even better, especially in the summer when it’s cool and the buildings are all lit up. I think the real reason is biking at night prolongs the day, like everyone’s day stops when the sun goes down and then they don’t think about going outside, or at least not without a car. I used to do a lot of walking at night, it was another way to extend the day. Now that I bike at night, I can see more of the city, and at a time where the city looks and feels different.”
“There’s that peacefulness at night.. it’s very quiet,” Ellen continued.” I think what’s happening downtown is very interesting. The development, and the bike paths and bike lanes make you want to explore a little more. We take a ride someplace else, someplace we’ve never been… we did that just the other night. It was great. We found a trail, a new spot and we wouldn’t have known it was there otherwise.”
The giant plate of nachos slammed down in front of us, and Ellen immediately started picking at the pile. This gave Tony a chance to chime in.
“I started my own business, so I have a lot of free time during the day. Shortly after lunch I get a little wound up, so it’s really been nice to get on the bike and scoot around the neighborhood and see some things that you wouldn’t ordinarily see.”
“I think I see the entire city differently. It’s not like you jet down a few streets like you would in a car. You have to kind of make a plan where you want to go… you say ‘I don’t want to go up this hill, so I’ll take this street that goes around it.’ And because you take a different path you might see something you wouldn’t have seen, or you might get a little lost, which can actually be good because you see something different. Like Ellen said, it’s a lot faster than walking so you can fix any navigation mistake quickly, and sometimes that can be a weird little adventure you wouldn’t have otherwise.
“The time I get to spend on the bike is the time I get to spend doing something quiet, just for me.”
Tony took a long swig of beer as Ellen spoke up.
“It’s become something we do together, it’s free, and frankly otherwise we would be doing nothing. We go out and spend some time together and we do it on the bikes. Tonight it’s sunny, there’s no reason not to be outside on a Friday night when you’re healthy… to be doing something is productive and fun and free and interesting and it makes all the sense in the world, versus sitting in front of mindless television.”
Ellen tipped back her Martini which I could tell was hitting her a little bit. Tony talked through a pulled-pork covered nacho as he spoke about riding a fixed gear bike.
“Ellen got me a single speed bike, the one I ride today. And I remember getting it and thinking that this wasn’t something I could ride in an area with big hills, but this is the city and it’s great for this. To go downtown, it’ll take us 15 minutes and we are there, and it’s pretty flat and a great ride.”
“I didn’t mind having a fixed gear bike but I hadn’t ridden in so long. Here comes a hill, you’re gonna stand up and pedal… I’m not thinking about gears, I just think about putting in a little more effort when that hill does come my way. I never really got gears on a bike anyway, so it makes sense for me.”
Tony continued with regard to riding through different neighborhoods…
“You may have to go through some places that you thought were sketchy, and we will end up in these neighborhoods and I’m like, ‘this is actually amazing and everyone’s friendly!’ And it seems like the ‘sketchier’ the neighborhood, the friendlier the people are. They’re more likely to say ‘hey’ and acknowledge you and wave. People are working in their yards, playing with their kids, grilling on their porch… everyone’s just doing their thing.”
“I don’t really have a long ride, I’m like a two minute ride to the bank. But I always try to take a different way back. Just to see something weird. I see the lady in my neighborhood who collects cans. She has a house. And a garden. She not homeless, she’s actually got this life… she saw me and recognized me, waved at me… those are the things you miss the most when you’re in a car.”
After we finished our cycling conversation, we left the bar and rode around the city for a bit. It was indeed a beautiful night and we had a blast just enjoying the energy of Rochester at night time.
This may seem like a silly thing to post about. But I cannot think of a more “real” example of two people who have come to understand their city better simply by biking around it. As casual as this conversation might have been, it’s an insight into what we can all see and learn by getting out of our cars and enjoying our city the way it was intended.