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‘We’re Not Going to Drop You’: NYC Cycling Groups For Everyone

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Achilles International holds bi-weekly workouts in Central Park for handcyclists. Cesar Jimenez, left, said riding with a group is crucial, both for safety reasons, and to have someone to chat with. Photo: Skyler Reid

Riding a bike alone in New York City can be intimidating; so can trying to ride with those guys in Central Park whose bikes are worth enough to put a kid through college.

“Ten years ago, all the bicycle clubs had people wearing spandex and having these road bikes and all that stuff,” said Steven Huang, whose club, Foldie Foodie Brommie Yummie, holds group rides for folding-bike-and-lunch enthusiasts. “When we showed up with our small-wheeled bikes, they kind of laughed at us. So I said forget that, why don’t I just start my own bike ride. My motto is, we’re eaters, not racers.”

For Bike Week here at We The Commuters, we’re highlighting a few cycling groups dedicated to creating a safe and encouraging ride for new cyclists, casual cyclists, and people who’ve felt alienated by certain aspects of the cycling culture in the city.

WE Bike NYC

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WE Bike NYC requires a basic level of familiarity with cycling on New York City streets, but there’s a deliberate “no-drop” policy, and they obey all traffic laws on group rides. Photo: Diane Jones Randall/WE Bike NYC

“Commuting to work can sometimes seem like a difficult thing for women cyclists, because they don’t want to arrive to work sweaty,” said Becky Hahn, the Director of Operations for WE Bike NYC, a cycling group for women. “So we’ve had workshops where we talk about what you can do — things like carrying a change of clothes in a pannier instead of in a backpack, since backpacks cause sweaty backs.”

In addition to group rides — which are open to non-male cyclists with at least some experience on city streets — WE Bike NYC holds all kinds of events, like happy hours and cycling workshops.

“We’ll do winter riding workshops, for example, so what gear do you need, and what do you need to know if you want to ride through the whole winter?” Hahn told We The Commuters. “And we’ve done an Introduction to CitiBike workshop for people who are not riding in the city, or who want to try the Citi Bike system.”

Foldie Foodie Brommie Yummie

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Foldie Foodie Brommie Yummie, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, combines a love of Brompton folding bikes with a love of ice cream and sandwiches. Photo: Steven Huang

“I live in Flushing, and there are a lot of Asians there who bike, too,” Steven Huang, the founder of Foldie Foodie Brommie Yummie, told We The Commuters. “As a result, bike parking is an issue. So what you end up finding is that bikes get chained to parking meters, and there’s not enough space to park your bike. So I figured, why don’t I get a folding bike so I can take it with me?”

Foldie Foodie, a New York City-based club, holds a group ride once a month between May and October, where folding bike enthusiasts ride between a series of restaurants. Huang has also led a group trip to his native Taiwan.

Get Women Cycling

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Angela Azzolino, left, who’s also a bike mechanic, helps women shop for and maintain their bikes. Photo: Get Women Cycling

“When you’re in a group environment, it’s very different from when you’re alone,” said Angela Azzolino, who runs Get Women Cycling.

“It’s very intimidating alone — bike commuting is still 70, 75 percent male. I don’t see a lot of women. Being alone among these trucks, feeling the heat off the engines, a lot of times you still get heckled,” she added. “If you go into a bike shop and ask for women’s gear, there might be a rack, but 90 percent of the gear is for men.”

In addition to holding group rides, Get Women Cycling offers one-on-one consultations to help women through the process of acquiring bikes and gear, or getting bike maintenance, in a way that’s welcoming and budget-friendly.

Achilles Handcycling

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Cesar Jimenez, a 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran, said that handcycling has not only saved his life, but he’s in the best shape he’s been in in years.

“I think a lot of people don’t know about handcycles,” Dominic Romano, a 51-year-old Bronx native, told We The Commuters. “People with disabilities, a lot of times, they just stay home. They need to get out, and just try it. There’s people who come here who just ride in the park, they’re not looking to compete. It’s good for your health, wellness wise — it’s not just about your arms, it’s about your overall spirit.”

Achilles International, a group dedicated to helping people with disabilities participate in running events, also supports handcyclists. Many Achilles handyclists are military veterans who were injured in battle, but the group is open to all, and holds workouts in Central Park on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.

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Katherine Valdez, who moved to New York City five years ago from Ecuador, was recruited to try handcycling through a rowing club. Photo: Skyler Reid

“I’m the newest here, I’ve been doing it for one year,” said Katherine Valdez, 25. “The energy here is so contagious. One day, I decided to do the New York City Half Marathon, and I ended up in third place! Now, I’m going to compete in the New York City Marathon in November. But, you can come here and just do laps. Everyone is very welcome.”

NightCAP Brooklyn

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NightCAP Brooklyn was one of many cycling groups to participate in the July “die-in” in Washington Square Park to bring awareness to the city’s 15 cyclist deaths so far this year. Photo: Courtesy of Sanja Wetzel

“I think everybody who’s come into cycling has been intimidated by the culture,” Sanja Wetzel, a founding member of NightCAP Brooklyn, told We The Commuters.

“And I think we’re aiming to break that down and just be a casual ride. There’s no speed expectation, there’s no ‘you gotta be cool and know somebody and be referred to get into the club,’ there’s nothing like that. We meet in a park, come if you want to, ride with us, we’re not going to drop you.”

NightCAP, which stands of Cycling Against Patriarchy, began in Oakland in 2006 and now has chapters around the world. In Brooklyn, the club holds regular rides intended for women, trans, non-binary, and queer riders.

“It’s empowering — we all feel it — when there’s enough of us to take the lane and people’s heads are turning like, ‘Yeah!’ at us,” Wetzel said. “That’s really cool. And I think that’s the feeling we want to create.”

Listen to James Ramsay’s report on WNYC:

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