Tuesday, June 6, 2011
The Hudson River Greenway is the busiest bikeway in the United States. Stretching from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan to the Little Red Lighthouse at the foot of the George Washington Bridge, it offers eleven theoretically car-free miles of scenic riding pleasure. The car-free nature of the trail is merely theoretical, since the day we rode it, there were two detours which sent us out onto the streets—in Harlem, and, more terrifyingly, in the Financial District at rush hour (where I came within inches of being flattened by a limo). But those detours were nothing, compared to our big flat tire adventure.
We rented our bicycles from Master Bike Shop, located just half a block from the middle of the Greenway, and reputed by comments on the web to be a helpful and friendly place. We did not find much evidence of helpfulness in our transaction, and they were close to surly when we expressed concerns about our seats slipping from their adjusted position, but we took the bikes and got out of there as soon as we could, ready for an enjoyable ride. And, except for a few stops to readjust our slipping seats, that’s just what we had.
We headed north along the trail first. The trail passed through parks and green spaces, and paralleled busy Riverside Drive, where cars were going far more slowly than we were. We shared the trail with joggers and dog walkers, skate boarders and other bicycle riders, and plenty of people who came just to sit on the many benches along the way to watch the river and the passing parade on the Greenway.
We turned around at the Little Red Lighthouse, where a large school group was on a field trip of little visible educational value (a pattern we saw on our Circle Tour and will continue to see at each museum we visit here). Having seen the Little Red Lighthouse on our Great Loop cruise years ago, and again on our Circle Cruise last week, it was a treat to stand at its base on land a get a good close look today.
We stopped at a trailside grocery store in Harlem to buy picnic supplies, and immediately thereafter, Dick got a flat tire. When he called our “friendly” bike shop for assistance, they told him to call the operator to ask where the nearest bike shop was and to go there to get it fixed. We brainstormed our options over lunch, and Dick used our maps and smart phone to come up with what seemed like a good idea at the time. We would walk to the subway, take the train ten blocks, come out right by a bike shop, and be all set.
The devil was in the details. When we got to the subway, it was elevated, so we had to carry our bikes up several flights of stairs to get to the track. Then, when we got to our stop, we were underground, so we had to carry our bikes up a couple more flights of stairs to get to the surface. Ooops, we weren’t where we thought we would be when we emerged. A phone call to the bike shop where we were headed for repairs clarified that we would have to walk through the campus of Columbia University and through a park to get to the shop. Pretty campus. Lovely park, except that it was built on a hillside, so we had to carry our bikes down roughly 100 steps by the time we got through it.
When we finally found the bike shop, we had walked about three miles in temperatures approaching 90 degrees, and Dick was carrying the back part of the bike, because the tube and tire had completely disassembled from the rim. The people at the shop were very nice, and fixed the tire quickly. If they had rented us the bikes, they would have sent someone out to help us, they said.
They gave us directions back to the bike trail (which was pretty far away, as it turned out), and we continued on our way south. At Chelsea Pier, tables shaded by blue umbrellas in a colorful garden beckoned us to stop and rest a while. We bought fruit pops from an ice cream vendor’s cart. They were so cold they stuck to our lips. They were so refreshing that Dick got another.
Then we continued on our way, with Manhattan high rises to our left and docks, marinas, a cruise ship port facility and other municipal and commercial ventures along the riverfront. We passed the big Hudson River Park we visited on our walking tour with Joyce Gold, the Intrepid docked next to the pier where we boarded our Circle Cruise last week, and continued toward the tip of the island, where there were more riverfront parks and plazas, a magnificent marina, and the detour that sent us out onto busy city streets near Ground Zero.
With the detour situation we aren’t sure if we made it to the “official” south end of the trail, but we figured we were close enough. We turned around, jockeyed our way through the detour streets to get back to the relative serenity of the trail.
We went through Riverfront Park to 72nd street, then rode east to the bike shop. We figure we tallied up a total of about 23 miles of riding the bikes and 3 miles of walking/carrying them today, and our flat tire fiasco added a couple hours to the ride. We were disappointed, but not surprised that the Master Bike Shop employee was ungraciously grudging about compensating us for the repair of the flat tire, which included a new tube, commenting that it was pretty expensive. ($13 is expensive for on demand flat tire repair parts and labor in New York? C’mon!)
Needless to say, when we rent bikes to circumnavigate Central Park, it won’t be from them, even though they have an ideal location just a block and a half from the park.