Bicycling, so popular these days, deserves a closer look. Even the history of this ingenious, efficient invention can be a surprise.
But first, let’s examine some trends with bicycles today that explain the riding public’s growing interest. The bicycle as we know it, first called the safety bicycle, with two wheels of the same size, and two pedals and a chain that turns the rear wheel, has had a spectacular evolution since it first appeared in the 1880s. Visit a bicycle store today, and you get to choose from among a dazzling array of bicycle types: endurance bikes, triathlon bikes, one speed cruisers, mountain (all terrain) bikes, road bikes, hybrids for both on and off the road, BMX track bikes, and the old-style racers. These are only a sampling of available bicycle designs, with gears numbering up to 20.
One interesting type of bicycle started out in Alaska, known as the “fat” bike, owing to its 5-inch-wide tires (sometimes wider) suitable for peddling over snow. As usual, down in California, the center of the universe for inventive recreation, someone discovered another use for the fat bike: it is ideal for riding on a beach. So the fat bike has another identity as the “sand” bike, and is almost as popular on the West Coast as any street bike.
The rise of general interest magazines near the turn of the 20th Century had all to do with bicycles. That was the golden age of magazines, whose publishers cut their prices when they saw big profits from selling printed bicycle ads. This was a pivotal step in the growth of mass media. Bicycle magazines opened the way for a totally new and continuing genre of specialty magazines of all sorts.
Bicycles also played a key role in assembly-line manufacturing, imitated eagerly by the new automobile industry that followed the bicycle’s path. Bicycles first introduced on a broad scale in America the benefits of physical exertion. Bicycles even helped foster aviation, as the Wright brothers were originally bicycle mechanics who applied their seemingly mundane skills to more celestial realms.
Bicycling enjoys increasing popularity in New York City, Washington D.C., and Portland, along with an avid following on the pedal on Long Island that grows by the day. Log onto SBRA.org for the closest Suffolk has to a bike club. Also try climb.org.
A candid assessment of the bicyclist’s situation on the North Fork , however, shows pluses and minuses. Riverhead and Southold towns appear at best to be OK with bicycling. They designate bicycle routes with signs painted onto, or posted along narrow (and in some spots, dangerous) roads, such as Sound Avenue, Peconic Bay Boulevard and Route 48 to name a few. But their support seems to end there. These are not really the “bicycle paths” the signs imply, but merely the narrowest of shoulders at best. The towns make up for this with bans on riding abreast (common sense). Riverhead also bans riding in “downtown areas” (so unless you walk to town or live there, it’s cars and more cars for downtown).
Some higher levels of government regs are worth mentioning. Check NY V&T law Ch. 34, sect. 1238. One important rule here calls for bicycle rear and front lights for any night riding. And bicyclists are bound by the same rules of the road as motorists when it comes to hand signals, as well as traffic lights, stop signs, reduced speed areas, etc. Suffolk County requires helmets for anyone under the age of 18. The feds require 10 factory installed reflectors on any bike sold here. Check also the DOT website for many details on bike programs. And an enjoyable, informative, highly recommended read, recently published, is “The Mechanical Horse” by Margaret Guroff.
Bicycle store workers, an almost-untapped resource, have superb insights these days. They actually brand Southampton Town as the East End’s (and perhaps the county’s) only town that simply does not appreciate bicycling. Our limited number of small bike stores is staffed by the best; they welcome questions and are generous with their time.
Bicyclists are quite vulnerable on the road. They don’t have the noise advantage that motorcycles use to excess (some motorcycles these days have decibel levels rivaling a space shuttle — very inconsiderate — they should modify this especially for those who need to sleep). A smart move to get a better edge on surviving a bicycle ride is to install a blinking LED light on the front and rear of the bicycle, to be used for both day and night riding.
So now you have some basics. Next is to take the plunge (and manage the risk). We are blessed here with a beautiful spot in the world to see from a bicycle seat. It’s cheap (well, almost) and fun and environmentally marvelous. Anyone can journey far and wide.
And car drivers, please try — really try — to give some deep thought to the real meaning of sharing our narrow roads. It never hurts to slow down (just do it already!) whenever motoring along bicycle routes, or anytime bicyclists appear, pedaling in either direction. We want to give bicycling a chance for everybody, the skilled, the experienced, and especially the newbies, as we do for car drivers. And bicyclists: you have to fight for the right to ride.
Greg Blass has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He has worked in the private sector as an attorney and served six terms representing the East End in the Suffolk County Legislature, where he was also presiding officer. Greg has worked as an adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College, as Greenport village attorney, as N.Y. State family court judge and as Suffolk County social services commissioner. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a member of the board of directors of several charities. A resident of Jamesport, he and his wife Barbara have two grown children.
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