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DeTour de France: Stage 1

Freshie Bwogger Justin Vlasits arrived in New York City from his automobile-friendly DC suburb only to find that he is sorely lacking in the city’s fastest and cheapest mode of transportation.  So, with helmet and vehicle provided by editors Armin Rosen and Lydia DePillis, respectively, Justin is set loose in the Wien courtyard in a vain attempt to learn how to ride a bicycle.

bikeI mean, even monkeys can do this, I told myself. Riding a bike can’t be that hard–and besides, I’m so good at the stationary ones in the gym! But after 45 minutes of ball-bruising, shin-banging fun, my body would tend to disagree. 

Each time I tipped over when I started to pedal, I realized just how nice those stationary bikes really are. When I’m in Dodge, I feel like I could have a leg chopped off and beat Lance Armstrong. Out in the elements, the tiny drainage inclines seem like a mountain course requiring minute weight shifts so subtle and complex that I felt like my internal gyroscope must be either missing or fundamentally out of whack. 

Now would be a good time to explain the motivation behind this endeavor.  Normally, one who is extremely inept at something like riding a bike would never try and learn after the age of 10.  During a conversation with bike-addict Lydia, however, she convinced me that it is totally unacceptable for a city-dweller to rely on the subway and my size 10 Reeboks to get me where I need to go, and subsequently offered to teach me.  Unfortunately, even those who know how to ride a bike are nearly incapable of communicating in words how they do it–the necessary steps are so ingrained into the process of cycling that, despite the most earnest attempts to aid me on my quest, she couldn’t get me through the learning process without a measure of physical anguish.

And while the gangly boy careening around the courtyard on a too-small bike must have seemed absurd to onlookers (who were, for the most part, kind enough not to laugh in my face), an unbearable pain began to emerge between my legs and I soon forgot I was in the center of the free world and thought that I might be experiencing some sort of ancient genital mutilation ritual.  Sorry ladies, the boys are not available this evening.

On the bright side, I did successfully move forward on more than one occasion and only lost my crotch and my dignity.  But watch out New York, I’ll be back and pedaling soon.  Once I can sit down again.

Photo by Lydia DePillis

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  • melikes says:

    @melikes endearing, and without any of that usual lit hum name-dropping, hyper self awareness that characterizes most freshman writing. good work.

  • rmb says:

    @rmb …Why are you trying to learn to ride in the Wien courtyard? Go to a lawn in Central Park where there’s nice soft grass to fall on. Get a friend to give you some forward momentum and start pedaling until you fall. After a while, the difficulty of riding on grass will outweigh the pain of falling on pavement and you can go back to the Wien courtyard. Also, borrow a bike the right size – that’s probably why your crotch hurts. On a properly adjusted bike, you should be sitting with the bones in your butt resting on the widest part of the seat so you’re not taking any weight on your crotch.

  • Sumaiya says:

    @Sumaiya I know how you feel! Paris has a great self-service bike system called the Vélib. I have to learn and take advantage of it:

  • ...... says:

    @...... Are we ignoring the fact that this boy never learned how to ride a bike? I’m not blaming him, i guess it was his parent’s fault…but who doesn’t know how to ride a bike?!

    1. Cantrideeither says:

      @Cantrideeither Hey, I grew up in the city, and never learned either. Didn’t learn to drive a car until this past year. As long as I never leave, knowing how to swipe a metrocard is more than enough.

  • Hampster Muffins says:

    @Hampster Muffins That bike thing is pretty fab. You know what’s pretty more fab? Cruising the roads, wearing some spandex, and jamming to Bloody Wall of Gore!

  • it's endearing!! says:

    @it's endearing!! a lot of columbia kids who grew up in the city never learned how to drive, either. really, is there any way to highlight how different people’s backgrounds are then when there are these elements of your childhood that are wholly absent from the other person’s, and visa-versa? driving, biking, kids that grew up vegetarian, grew up with 2 moms/no dad, went to boarding school/went to public high school in the midwest like me

    1. Oh, come on says:

      @Oh, come on It’s “VICE versa”. Yeah, people might pronounce it as “vice-uh versa”, but it isn’t spelled like the credit card (which, I may add, is pronounced “vee-sa”). Sheesh.

      And ARR? Yes, the verb is “maintain”, but when you change to the noun form, the word becomes “maintenance”. Strange how English works, huh?

  • LanceBassIsAnAce says:

    @LanceBassIsAnAce You know what’s better than Columbia’s football team? Well… pretty much anything…even BLOODY WALL OF GORE. HOLLA!!!!!

  • floyd landis says:

    @floyd landis stay away from steroids, Justin :(

  • ARR says:

    @ARR Cheaper? I think not. Factor in the 20% discount on metrocards above $10 and a good road bike pays for itself after 75-100 round trips. Add up maintainance and equipment and a bike isn’t “cheap” unless you’re consistently using it to go distances of over 20-30 blocks…

    They are a lot faster than the subway, though. One can easily get from campus to South Ferry in under 45 minutes at any time of day on the excellent, traffic-free Manhattan Greenway, which is, it’s worth noting, a lot prettier than a subway tunnel.

    1. Eh? says:

      @Eh? Rosen, your math is way off. (A) The 20% discount is being eliminated in the new fare structure. $2 a ride means a decent $100 Craigslist bike (easy!) is 50 subway rides. I personally ride the subway 50 times in a month (or, at least, I did until I got my bike)

      I agree that bikes is hella fast in Manhattan, though. There’s nothing like getting cut off by some asshat and then speeding fourteen blocks ahead of him two seconds later.

      AND Central Park West is a blissful ride going uptown, so whatever. Foliage!

      1. can says:

        @can you still get $100 craigslist bikes in nyc? as far as i’ve seen, most of the cheap ones are snapped up lickity split by flippers and resold for $250+

  • greenway says:


    It really only works heading south since Manhattan Island slopes gently downward heading south making for an easy ride. Coming back up actually requires a bit of effort.

    1. ARR says:

      @ARR It’s still not as bad as taking Broadway or Central Park west uptown. And if it were, it’s always safer getting out of traffic, even if it isn’t as much fun.

  • This is funny says:

    @This is funny Thanks Justin for your lack of velocipede skills

  • yes says:

    @yes cute article, a breath of fresh air in a world of stuck up journalist wannabe types. love his style, hope he keeps it up.

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