Photo by Genevieve Walker
What is the key to inspiring more women to embrace the joys of cycling? For one young Manhattanite the happy leap from bike curious to the bike lane reveals a blueprint for others.
For Genia Blaser, 28, an immigration lawyer who lives in Harlem and works in the Bronx, the journey began by reconnecting with the fun of bicycling. Last winter, on a family trip to Florida, Blaser hopped on a bike for the first time since childhood. “After 15 years, it was great to be back,” she said of that first ride. As the weather warmed at home last spring, Blaser said she noticed more people using two-wheeled transportation around town. “I thought, ‘I’d love to use a bike to ride on the bike paths and in the park to take advantage of being outside.’”
But, like many bike curious New Yorkers, Blaser had some concerns. At the top of the list: riding in traffic. A chance encounter in the elevator of a New York City apartment building linked Blaser with a “bike mentor” in the form of a New York City bicycling blog, velojoy. The editors enlisted Blaser as the subject of a “bicycling makeover” series. Distilled here are lessons from one intrepid young woman’s journey to becoming a New York City cyclist:
Do Your Homework
It all begins with a bicycle, one that is comfortable, suited to its intended use and durable enough to stand up to the demands of city streets. Blaser’s initial goal was to use a bicycle for weekend recreation and fitness, but the possibility of commuting to work by bike was also on her mind. Thus, Blaser narrowed her choices to two types of bicycles: hybrids and upright city models. Although New York City is mostly flat, Blaser’s routes included some hills, notably in her home neighborhood of Harlem, at the northerly end of Central Park, and on bridge crossings.
Find a Bike Shop That Cares
“As a woman, walking into a bike shop can feel intimidating,” Blaser said of her next step, buying a bicycle. It’s a common frustration when faced with densely packed and hard-to-navigate bike shops. Here, “bike culture” can feel exclusionary and the largely male-dominated atmosphere is not always welcoming to women. Yet, establishing a relationship with a local shop offers many advantages, especial to beginners like Blaser.
Blaser’s pre-shopping research helped her feel more empowered and able to express her needs. After visiting three shops she decided to make her purchase from Bicycle Habitat in Manhattan because of the shop’s commitment to customer service. “My shopping experience was definitely enhanced by the helpful sales rep who seemed to really care that the bike was a good match for me,” she said. After test riding four hybrids (a critical step in assuring fit and comfort) Blaser bought a Trek FX 7.2 in blue. She has since recommended the store to many friends.
Don’t Rush It
Outfitted with her new bicycle, lights and bell (required by NY State law), helmet and a sturdy lock, Blaser was ready to ride. To build confidence on her new bike she took a “no-rush” approach, never letting the desire to ride get ahead of her road skills and sense of safety. Starting on car-free paths, such as the Hudson River Greenway and within city parks, she gradually expanded her range, transporting her bicycle by ferry to Governor’s Island, visiting The Cloisters museum in northern Manhattan and riding across the East River bridges to meet friends in Brooklyn. To help plan her routes on city streets, Blaser used the free New York City Bike Map that shows the location of bike lanes as well as Google Maps, which includes an option for bicycling directions. “The more I’ve been riding, the more comfortable I’m feeling alongside traffic,” Blaser said. “Still, I try to be very aware of cars and bicycles around me, and I definitely use my bell!”