Bike Riding, Photography and the City 

No one ever taught me how to ride a bike; somehow I just knew. My first ride, at the age of six, on a bike with pedals I could barely reach, was an exhilarating rush that sparked a life-long obsession with riding.

In the years that followed, I’d ride with my friends, regularly exploring far beyond the parentally established boundaries of our Jackson Heights neighborhood. At age 12, I felt like Marco Polo traveling to exotic lands when I ventured into Manhattan via the 59th Street Bridge (though he probably never had to go tête-à-tête with cars on the outer roadway of the bridge in those pre-bike lane days).  My parents were blissfully unaware of these travels.

I continued to ride even after I got a driver’s license. It wasn’t just a mode of transportation; zipping through traffic on two wheels just seemed so natural, and riding around the city was always fun. Eventually, I got married, had kids, and my weekends were filled with the manly staples of coaching sports and home repair. Years went by and my bike grew lonely gathering dust in a corner of the garage.

My love affair with photography began with an ancient Brownie knock-off. I can still remember the thrill of opening up the yellow Kodak envelope at the camera store and seeing the tangible memories of a trip to Washington, DC. A trusty Nikkormat was my companion throughout college, and I even set up a darkroom in my small apartment when I took a job teaching photography under a federal grant. But, like the bike, my camera, too, was eventually put aside and forgotten.

By the fall of 2001, my kids had grown and I needed to do something to shake off my mid-life doldrums. New York was still reeling from 9/11 when I finally wheeled my bike out of the garage and climbed back into the saddle to re-connect with the city I love.

On that first ride I headed over to Long Island City, south to Greenpoint, into Williamsburg and back through Maspeth. I hadn’t ridden there in about 20 years, but it all came back to me – the turns, the shortcuts; I might as well have been on autopilot. And yet I saw everything anew and fresh.  Like Chief Bromden said at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: “I had been away a long time.”

I was hooked (or actually, re-hooked). My weekend rides soon became an obsession. There were no breaks for overly cold or hot or inclement weather. I’d spend all week plotting routes, but sometimes I’d ride without a destination in mind, guided by wind or whim.

The city I saw in 2001 was a far cry from the city of my youth. The raw wounds of 9/11 were a juxtaposition to the optimism of expansion and gentrification that was transforming the outer boroughs from war-ravaged movie sets to vibrant neighborhoods.  I began to take a camera with me to record what I was seeing and share with friends.

The city was indeed changing but remnants of the old peeked through. Graffiti, old brickwork, wooden piers, cobblestones, subway trestles – this is what captured my attention. The photos I took changed from simple reconnaissance to capturing the beauty, humor and irony that the city presented. The obsession with bike riding morphed into an obsession with picture taking and I soon felt that a ride, no matter how exciting, was almost a wasted day if I could not grab a good photo along the way.

Why the fixation with the city? Over the years, I’ve met other bike riders who had invited me to ride upstate or in the suburbs. What would I see? A house? A tree? A bush? A bigger tree? The city has history, architecture and a rich mosaic of cultures. Riding through Brooklyn is like zipping across an ethnic checkerboard – Poles, Italians, Chinese, Latinos, Hasidic Jews, West Indians, Russians… Every group has carved out a territory for themselves, and the smell of their food and the sounds of their language and music fill the air. It’s like riding a bike around the world, but in less than an hour and no passport is needed.

The photos on this site are the captured moments of more than ten years of riding the streets of New York. These are the oddities and surprising beauty that abound throughout this wonderful city that define me just as I am proudly emblematic of it. Hopefully, the images from my travels will evoke in you some of the same passion for New York that I feel every time I get in the saddle and ride.