We’re in the Photo

Last year, my brother and I rode in the fourth annual Trek Breast Cancer Awareness ride in honor of my mother, who has twice beaten breast cancer. Although the ride is national, individual bike shops organize rides in their cities. Last year, we rode from Two Wheels, One Planet in Costa Mesa, California, as that was en route from my brother’s place to Legoland in Carlsbad.

I wondered if the ride would happen again this year, as I longed for some pleasant memories, so I checked their website.

I not only saw that this year’s ride will be on October 11, again over Columbus Day Weekend, but also that my brother and I are in the photo that the shop features on their website.


We’re at the front of the pack. I’m wearing a grey t-shirt and riding a red Serrotta that I rented upon arriving in Southern California, and he’s right behind me decked out in a pink t-shirt and socks.

I talked with my brother, and we will very likely ride again, provided I can find an affordable flight over that weekend. Since it looks like that I won’t be riding in the Hilly Hundred this year, which falls on the same weekend, and I really want to ride with some family. There’s another ride in Ventura which not only includes a 10-mile and 25-mile route, but also a 75-mile loop to Santa Paula. My brother prefers to ride in Costa Mesa so he can go to Legoland again after the ride. If it’s miles that I’m after, I guess I could bike the additional sixty miles to Carlsbad and meet him there.

Why It’s Worth Overpaying for Coffee

As much as I love getting a bag of freshly roasted specialty coffee, it is painful when you take a 12 ounce bag of coffee to the counter, hand the cashier a $20 bill, and save for being asked if I need it ground, getting nothing back in change.

Thrillist’s Dan Gentile had Lorenzo Perkins, a coffee instructor at Cuvée and executive council member of the Barista Guild of America, brew and taste ten different “second-wave” brands of coffee. For those who are smart enough to avoid knowing these three “waves” of coffee, here’s a brief primer. First-wave coffees refer to your father’s canned coffee, such as Maxwell House, Folger’s, and Chock Full o’ Nuts. My parents drank Taster’s Choice for most of my childhood and switched to brewing Peet’s in a press pot only about ten years ago. The second wave refers to more specialized brands such as Starbucks, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, and Lavazza. I’m not sure where a brand like Illy fits in, which is served at theaters, museums, and other institutes of culture, but it comes in a can, already ground fine. The third wave refers to the hand-picked coffee beans that are directly sourced from a single farm with the occasional blend that has been carefully “curated.” The coffees in each wave also vary in price. Whereas a single sixteen-ounce can of first-wave coffee costs about five dollars at the grocery store, a one-pound of second-wave coffee will cost about a dollar per ounce. As I mentioned, third-wave coffee costs about 50% more, and it’s not unusual to pay about twenty dollars for a twelve-ounce bag.

Perkins’s tasting and his findings redeemed my silly spending habits. It’s worth overpaying for coffee. He found that Starbuck’s coffee, which I used to consider to be pretty good and will settle for while on the road, smells “gnarly” and tastes “smoky, but not ashy… actually kind of endearing,” and upon having the initial smoky flavor subside, it tastes “very bitter and astringent, but not in an unpleasant way.” For the longest time, I used to be a Peetnik, a delivery subscription to Peet’s Coffee. I always liked their coffee, but having become used to fruity third-wave coffees, I can’t drink it anymore. Perkins found that the coffee did have a nice “dark chocolate” aroma. But it let him down in the flavor department. He said it tasted like a cigar, “not a great cigar, more like a Philly. But there’s some sweetness — bittersweetness, but still sweetness — despite tasting super dark.” He also noted that “the darkness would lend itself well to cream,” reaffirming my belief that most people drink coffee as a delivery vehicle for milk and sugar.

Perkins also sampled a third-wave coffee, from North Carolina’s Counter Culture. Here, he noted an aroma of “green pear and cucumber” that seems more familiar to those of us who have been to tastings, known as “cuppings” in the barista world. And the flavor was more suited to hand-picked beans, noting that it was “really juicy and acidic, with a peachy flavor and lots of sweetness.” Doesn’t that sound better than a cigar from the local bodega?

And if you’re wondering if he liked any of the first-wave coffees, he did appreciate the venerable Chock Full o’ Nuts, although he thought Maxwell House tasted “like death.”

I’ll raise a cup of Stumptown’s Burundi Kayanza to that!

A Little Dab Will Do You

There’s been a lot of road milling and repaving going on lately in South Williamsburg, particularly on Driggs and Berry. Many bicyclists have noticed because we cross those streets along South 4th Street, a vital access route to the Williamsburg Bridge. As I biked to the bridge this morning, I rode over a small but thick pool of tar. Predictably, the sticky tar covered portions of both my tires.

Before I rode over the bridge, I tried to get as much of the tar off as I could. As anyone who rides regularly knows, the tar would pick up any bits of glass or sharp rocks and hold them there until one of them punctures my tube. But because I like to travel light, I didn’t have anything to remove the tar. I had to use my hands.

Had to take some tar off my tires this morning. At UCSB, we learned that it comes off with baby oil. "A lil' dab will do ya." #collegeknowledge

As a UCSB alumnus, I know full well that the best way to remove tar from your skin is to use a bit of baby oil. You don’t need much, just enough to dilute the tar. Since there’s a drug store on nearly every block of this city, I stopped in to a Duane Reade and picked up the smallest bottle I could find. For $1.09, plus tax, I had my solution at hand, so to speak. Rub a quarter-sized dollop of baby oil into your hands and the tar comes right off. Be sure to have a cloth or paper towel at hand to clean up the mess.

A friend of mine suggested that I could use gasoline.

That might be good option, should this happen again, except for two reasons:

  1. Where can you find a gas station in Manhattan? There are almost none left.
  2. Sure, I would have been free of tar on my hands, but now I’d have gasoline on my hands. How do I get that off?

Besides, with baby oil, my hands are clean and moisturized. And they’re soft as a… well, you know…

Art Ride: Guided Bicycle Tour of Rockaway! Public Art

PS1's Rockaway! on view until September 1

NYC DOT and the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance is organizing a free bike tour of public art in Rockaway. The ride takes place this Sunday, August 3, beginning at 9:30. Unlike yesterday’s forty-mile EPIC ride from Greenpoint to Rockaway along the Brooklyn waterfront, this ride is only six-miles long.

This is a great way to see Rockaway!. It is a public arts festival that MoMA PS1 is staging at Fort Tilden, not a musical about the seaside peninsula. It is open now until September 1.

And Now I Feel Old

All this month, Soundcheck, the daily music show on our local NPR cash-cow WNYC, is airing a series on the music of the summer of 1994 because that was twenty years ago and, looking back, that was a pretty nifty year for music. That was also the summer after I graduated high school and eagerly anticipated my move to college.

Man, that was a long time ago.

To give you an idea of how long ago that was, most of my music listening happened in my car1, and my way of listening in a car seems downright antiquated. The centerpiece of my in-car music system was a $300 Sony Discman CD player that came with a three-second memory buffer. That memory prevented the CD from skipping anytime I hit a pothole.

The Sony CD Walkman (Discman) D-235 from the 1990s

I could power this device with batteries, but it would barely last an hour, especially if the buffer was being used, not nearly enough for a drive from my parent’s home in the Antelope Valley to my school in Santa Barbara. To keep the tunes going, I used a DC adapter. I know many people still use these to charge a phone or, if you’re a cab driver, a standalone GPS unit. The charging port in cars from those days was designed as a cigarette lighter because in those days, there were more people who smoked than people who used a handheld computer. Getting that outlet to power an electronic device was, I think, one of the most clever hacks ever devised.

Listening to the CD player through the car’s audio system required another hack using a car audio cassette adapter that connected to the line-out jack from my Discman. I would insert the other end, shaped like a cassette tape, into the tape deck. Also, with that adapter I was guaranteed backward compatibility: I could listen to cassettes and CDs, and I wasn’t forced to upgrade until I was tired of exhausting my tape deck’s cutting-edge features, such as auto-reverse and song seek.

With all this great hardware, of course, I had great software. In 1994, and years before the iPod, carrying my entire music library was virtually impossible. I needed to bring a small batch of CDs with me. In 1994, I probably owned about 200 CD but didn’t travel with more than twelve discs at a time.2 Every car trip required careful curation and anticipation about what my friends and I might want to hear many hours in the future. This might seem inconvenient today, but I really got to know my music back then, especially how good a particular band was beyond their hits.

After college, I found myself listening to music in my car less frequently. Santa Barbara and UCSB were particularly friendly to walking and cycling, and long drives with my friends became a rare thing. That combined with a move to New York City made riding in a car a less common occurrence for me that riding in an airplane. Whenever I get into a car today, I just get turn the radio to the local NPR station.

As much as Soundcheck’s bidecennial retrospective on 1994 makes me feel like an old man, it at least confirms that my music is objectively better than anything these kids listen to these days.

  1. Yes, this is the same guy who drives about 200 miles per year but pedals about 20x that. 
  2. I never got the 100-disc binders that held a chunk of every single CD I ever owned. That was a good thing, in retrospect, because at least two of my friends had their big binders stolen from their cars. Those were, without exaggeration, devastating losses. 

Trivia Night at the Hostel

A novel but increasingly common sight in Long Island City is the presence of baggage-toting tourists descending to the subway station at 23rd Street-Court Square. Part of the reason is that the area has a healthy concentration of hotels, such as the Z Hotel and the Wyndham Garden, and our very own hostel, appropriately called The Local. I think a lot of travelers end up around here because the hotels must be cheaper than staying in Manhattan but are located one subway stop from Manhattan, although a hotel such as The Ravel is about a good ten-minute walk from Queensborough Plaza.

My travel experience wasn’t that of the typical youngster backpacking around Europe after college. Most of my travel consisted of many short trips, partly because I always had a steady job after college and, because my father worked for an airline, I could fly anywhere for practically nothing. Throughout my various travels, I only stayed in a hostel a handful of times: once in Italy with a bunch of college friends, once again in the Garden District of New Orleans, and most recently in London to attend an academic conference. As far as I remember, these hostels resembled university dormitories: they all had a shared bathroom, a communal kitchen and dining area, and a front desk with supportive staff to help you experience the city you were visiting. One thing that I don’t remember seeing at these hostels was a bar.

The Local has a bar, and in the spirit of promoting conviviality among its guests, the hostel features activities such as a Thursday trivia night. Some of my friends like The Local because it’s a nice space off the beaten track. There is no “bar drama” because there are no regulars among its transient clientele. And best of all, it features some very inexpensive craft beer and decent wine, or so I’m told.

Last week, Sarah and I went to the Thursday night trivia contest. Assuming we were the only locals who would regularly attend this trivia night, we named our team LIC You Next Thursday. The questions consisted of some common knowledge questions, such as whether alligators sweat. (They don’t.) Because the guests undoubtedly have New York on their minds, there were questions about the city, such as naming and ranking the five boroughs in order of physical size. The pop-culture round were mostly about movies from the 1990s, and our having come of age in that decade really helped us answer those questions.

The prize was a $50 bar tab, which I am happy to report we won.

Last night's big trivia winners!! #thelocalhostels

The prize was so big we had to call on friends to help us spend our winnings. However, we also could have saved for another day: the prize expires after seven days.

Aside from winning the trivia contest and spending the prize, I received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

The Brooklyn Greenway Epic Ride

Less than two weeks remain for the Brooklyn Greenway's annual Epic Ride. This year's route goes from Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Rockaway Beach. The forty-mile route is a preview of what could one day be a complete recreational route along the Brooklyn waterfront.

Route Map: The Epic Ride 2014, from Greenpoint to Rockaway Beach

The Scenic Route: Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Rockaway Beach via the Brooklyn Greenway

A significant part of the route already hugs the coastline, especially the greenway runs along the Shore Parkway and another large section of greenway east of Sheepshead Bay towards Howard Beach. However, some part of the route runs along Third Avenue, a major artery with lots of high-speed automotive traffic, from Red Hook to Sunset Park.

Yesterday, the organizers distributed a ride guide and a route sheet to registered riders. For those who want to see the route, download a PDF turn-by-turn sheet, or download a GPX file, I drew the course on Ride with GPS. You're welcome to download the route, but don't be a douche and “pirate” the ride. Please register and support a good cause.

Newark to Philadelphia via Washington Crossing

After much anticipation and excitement, I finally rode my bike from New York to Philadelphia for Bastille Day weekend. After riding from Long Island City to Manhattan to catch a PATH train to Newark, the ride covered two states, and each state offered a very different experience.

PATH Train to Newark

The New Jersey part of the ride, from Newark to Pennington, was cycling nirvana after completing the first five miles, from Newark to Springfield. Those first five miles along Springfield Avenue went through some relatively blighted parts of the city with some pretty poor roads to match, but thankfully, traffic was light for a weekday morning, but I swear I must have watched every signal turn red as I approached it. The rest of the ride was on some very pleasant back roads. There was one significant climb in Springfield but once I crossed I-78, it was an exhilarating downhill.

Map of Newark to Philadelphia via Washington Crossing on a bike

I rode through the first quarter of the ride at a pretty good clip, averaging close to 16 MPH, and it was much faster than I had anticipated. For example, I had planned to reach my first breakfast stop in South Bound Brook around 9:30. I arrived there around 8:30.

After eating breakfast, I followed the Raritan and Millstone Rivers along Weston Canal Road but encountered a road closure. My planned route had me head north on the Manville Causeway, but the bridge that spans the Millstone River is closed for repairs. I had to detour by continuing south on Mettlers Road and then west on Amwell Road. The benefit of this detour is that I came upon a duck crossing, and to my surprise, the drivers of New Jersey patiently waited until every duck had crossed and without a single one of them blasting their horns.

I had arrived at the fifty-mile mark, in Hopewell, by 10:30 AM.

Hopewell, New Jersey looks quaint

I figured that if I kept that pace, I could arrive in Philadelphia as early as 2:30 PM. While that might sound great, it presented a logistical challenge. My friends weren’t due to arrive until much later in the day, around 5:00 PM at the earliest, so I decided to take my time once I arrived at the New Jersey–Pennsylvania border, 62 miles from the start, at about 11:30 AM. I slowly walked my bike across the Delaware River, toured the Washington Crossing historic site, took some photos, and made a few phone calls.

Washington Crossing in New Jersey

A little after 12:15 PM, I headed out on the Pennsylvania section of the ride. My route basically followed the Delaware, keeping the river on my left. For the first four or five miles, through Yardley, the ride was absolutely pleasant. But once I crossed Trenton Avenue, into Morrisville, the ride became much uglier. First, there were long stretches of industrial sections and the roads were in terrible shape with potholes. Second, because I was riding between the Delaware River, I-95, and the Northeast Corridor rail lines, my route was dotted with various distribution centers. That explained the endless stream of eighteen-wheeler trucks passing me as I headed towards Philadelphia. At one point, I had to turn on to a short section of Tyburn Road in Morrisville and to get on what seemed like a highway on-ramp to ride over a railroad. Compounding the danger was that the bridge was undergoing construction so there was no shoulder for me to ride next to high-speed traffic. I had to wait for a sufficiently long break in traffic and sprint for about a half-minute until I reached the first off-ramp. That was the most death defying riding I had done in a long time.

As if merging onto a highway with no shoulder wasn’t bad enough, I had to salmon on a narrow road with high-speed commercial traffic barreling towards me. For whatever reason, the eastbound lane of Bristol Pike east of Tullytown just ends. My route sheet instructed me to continue riding, and I did so because there was no other way for me to continue riding, other than to ride on, US-13, an actual highway. There was however a three-foot-wide shoulder on the left side of the road. As soon as I saw that, I carefully rode my bike like a velocipede on that narrow shoulder.

Finally, much like the beginning of the ride in Newark, the ride went through some blighted neighborhoods, and despite the presence of bike lanes on Torresdale and Aramgino Avenues, the roads were in terrible shape. Much like the beginning of my ride through Newark, it seemed like every stop light I approached turned red.


I arrived in Philadelphia’s City Center just before 4:00 PM. I checked in to our weekend rental, and immediately grabbed a shower. I needed it!

Biked to Philadelphia

The last bit of the ride, just under forty miles, took me about three hours to complete. It was so absolutely stressful, especially compared to the New Jersey part of the ride, that upon returning to New York, I began searching for more pleasant routes from New Jersey to Philadelphia. It appears that the best way to do that is to ride a bit north of Washington Crossing and cross the Delaware River at Lambertsville, New Jersey, continue to New Hope, Pennsylvania, and approach the city from the northwest. I’ll take that next time.

And, yes, there will be a next time. I had a great time in Philadelphia, and if you know a better way to get there, other than by bicycle, I’d like to hear it!

Tessa Hughes-Freeland at Millennium Film Workshop

Lest I be accused promoting only men filmmakers at the expense of women, allow me to inform you that Millennium Film Workshop will be screening a collection of films by Tessa Hughes-Freeland, a filmmaker closely associated with the Cinema of Transgression.

The Cinema of Transgression was a 1980s film movement that documented the underground arts and culture scenes of New York City. The movement disavowed the production style and principles of the commercial cinema. Some of the films are not for the faint of heart.

The following Hughes-Freeland films are scheduled to screen:

  • Baby Doll, 1982, 3 mins
  • Hippie Home Movie, 2013 , 2 mins
  • Joker, 1983, 5 mins
  • Kind, 2013, 1 min
  • Rat Trap, 1986, 12 mins
  • Gift, 2010, 6 mins
  • Playboy Voodoo, 19991, 12 mins
  • Western Tests, 2011, 2 mins
  • Nymphomania, 1994, 9 mins
  • Instinct: Bitches Side, 2007, 13 mins

Of these, I’ve only seen Baby Doll and that was at least a decade ago. You can watch it as a low-quality video on YouTube, but it’s NSFW. However, as the video is about the working girls of the long-gone Baby Doll lounge in Tribeca, I guess it really depends on what you do for work, right?

Having vacated their old theater on East 4th Street in Manhattan, Millennium Film Workshop now holds their screenings in Bushwick, at the Brooklyn Fireproof, at 119 Ingraham Street.

Cheesesteak Century

Tomorrow, I will be riding my bike to Philadelphia, and spending the weekend there, because…

  • It’s something I’ve heard New York cyclists do.
  • It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
  • It’s something cool to do in observance of Bastille Day.

One of the more challenging parts of the ride is getting to New Jersey. One option is to go all out and ride over the George Washington Bridge and head southwest towards Philadelphia. It’s something better suited for riders living in upper Manhattan but not for someone in Long Island City, Queens. A second option is to take the ferry from Manhattan, at either West 39th Street or Wall Street, and go to Paulus Hook in Jersey City. This is a very common option and an especially nice one because it keeps you above ground the entire day, and it’s a quick trip that would only cost $9 for me and my bike. A third option is to take a train, either NJ Transit or PATH, to Newark and start there. This is the option I have selected.

My plan is to start from home and ride to the World Trade Center to catch an early morning PATH train. From there, I will cross the Hudson River into New Jersey and continue to the end of the line in Newark. I will start pedaling just outside of Newark-Penn Station. Part of me feels like a cheat for taking the train and starting in Newark, instead of New York proper, but two factors changed my mind:

  1. There’s only one feasible way to get from Jersey City to Newark, and it sucks. This requires you to cross two rivers, the Hackensack and the Passaic, along US-1/US-9. From all accounts, it’s a treacherous route. Traffic is heavy and moves fast. There is little room on the shoulder to ride. There’s also a steel bridge to cross, and I’m terrified of crossing steel bridges on a bicycle. This seems like a terrible way to start a long day on the bike.

  2. Continental United Airlines refers to its northeast hub as New York/Newark, NJ. If they get to pretend that Newark is the same as New York, so do I!

A map image of a planned route from New York/Newark, NJ to Philadelphia

My planned route will go through the hills of Summit and Middlesex before descending into South Bound Brook, briefly following the Raritan River as it splits into the Millstone River, which I will follow for about 20 miles. I will then head southwest through the towns of Hopewell and Pennington and then crossing the Delaware River where George Washington himself did in the town, appropriately called Washington Crossing. The rest of the route follows the west and north banks of the Delaware River to Philadelphia.

I have planned a few stops for food and fluids:

  • Mile 28. The town of South Bound Brook has some fast food chains and independent delis where I can have breakfast. It comes after riding through the most significant hills of the day, which appear to be rollers in the elevation profile.
  • Mile 64. After crossing the Delaware, the town of Yardley offers some sit-down and more casual options for lunch. I’m considering the Yardley Inn, which offers a three-course lunch for $15, or maybe opt for a simpler lunch at Cafe Antonio.
  • Mile 85. I’ll be going through a few towns as I follow US-13/Bristol Pike, and there appear to be a great deal of shops, service stations, and eateries for that last stretch into Philadelphia.

The one part of the trip I can’t control is the weather, and it looks like I’m getting a great day tomorrow. The forecast high will be in the low 80s, with little humidity, and it even looks like I’ll have a slight tailwind as get through central New Jersey. That’s so much better than my last really long ride with a steady headwind over a 150-mile route.