For more than 10 years, I’ve been using a folding bicycle for part of my daily commute.
I live in Little Neck, about four blocks from the Long Island Railroad. I ride from my home to the LIRR, fold up the bike, put it in a carrying bag and board the train. During peak hours, when I commute, the LIRR prohibits regular bikes, but allows folding bikes.
At Penn Station, I carry it backpack-style up to street level. I unfold it, hop on and ride about four blocks to the Hudson River Park bike path, where I can cruise downtown away from car traffic. At the other end, I have a few more blocks on the city streets to get to my office. In the evening, I do it all in reverse.
My Manhattan bike commute has been a wonderful change after 27 years of riding the subway. I don’t have the discipline to go to the gym regularly, but the 20 minutes I ride most mornings and evenings are enough to keep me in good shape. I’m not tempted to skip a day - the bike commute is so much prettier and more relaxing than the subway that I feel disappointed when weather prevents me from riding.
I don’t ride when it’s raining or snowing, but I don’t mind the cold. In fact, my goal is to stay on the chilly side of comfortable, which cuts down on sweating. I wear a polo shirt for riding and keep clean dress shirts and ties in the office. Mornings are usually cool enough. so I don’t sweat much. My office building has a shower, but I haven't had to use it. A quick pass with a wash cloth generally suffices. In any case, my colleagues haven’t complained as of yet.
Commuting by bike is good exercise, of course, but it's also healthy in another, less obvious way. I’m pretty sure I’ve had fewer colds since exchanging my regular subway trip for the bike ride. The subway system is great, but during rush hour you’re usually crammed in with lots of other folks, some of whom are inevitably sharing their germs.
I’m also saving a subway fare with each bike ride. I get in about 250 one-way bike trips per year, saving me more than $600. Of course, I had to buy the bike in the first place, and there are maintenance expenses - adjusting the gears, new brake pads and fixing the occasional flat. Still, there’s no question I’ve saved a lot of money since 2002.
Admittedly, it’s not a completely hassle-free way to commute. My bike, an 8-speed Dahon, weighs about 23 pounds, so carrying it up and down stairs at Penn Station requires some extra effort. I could use the elevator, but getting exercise is kind of the point. The trip to my office takes about five minutes longer than the subway when the subway is running well, but often it doesn’t. In the August 2003 blackout, I rode all the way home from downtown Manhattan. It it took about 90 minutes.
In the winter, it's dark by the time I leave my office, so I have a red blinking LED light on the back of my helmet and a white blinking LED light on the stem facing forward.
During the past decade, a lot of additional bike paths and bike lanes have been established in NYC. Most bike lanes are painted on the roadway, but the bike lanes on several major north/south avenues in Manhattan are now separated from the car lanes by a raised island, making them much safer.
Still, I’ve had one accident. It was on a bike path, away from car traffic. It was entirely my fault, and nobody else - car, pedestrian or cyclist - was involved. My head skidded along the pavement for 10 or 15 feet, but I always wear a helmet and I was fine, not even a headache. The helmet cracked, so I promptly replaced it. Any cracks in my head were already there and it's way too late to replace or improve what's inside.
If the weather looks iffy, I check the radar on my cell phone. But about once every year or two, I cut it too close and get caught in a rainstorm.
The newer LIRR trains have special folding seats every other car where there's plenty of room, out of people's way, to put the folded bike. But on the relatively rare occasion when there's a major problem on the railroad, the cars can get jammed up with standing room only. That's when having the bike along becomes burdensome as I squeeze into an already full car. Still, these are small inconveniences compared to the fun I have on the bike.
I've got plenty of place to store the bike at my office - no need to fold it up and no need to lock it up. There's a great bike shop just two blocks away, so when necessary it's easy to bring it in for service at lunch time and pick it up the same evening.
A few times I've tossed the folded bike into the trunk of my car and taken it along when we've gone upstate for a long weekend. It beats fussing with the car rack.
There are an increasing number of different brands of folding bicycle on the market these days with a variety of wheel sizes ranging from full size to small to tiny. My tires are 20-inches tall, which is the most common size. Folding bikes are increasingly popular for folks living in New York apartments with extremely limited space. When folded, there's room for the bike to sit in a closet underneath where the shirts or skirts hang.
It takes me about 15 seconds to fold or unfold the bike. It takes another minute to put it in the carrying bag.
It's definitely not the right choice for every commuter, but it's been wonderful for me.