by Bill Batson
Last month, there were two dramatically different cycling events in Rockland County. On May 19, 7000 cyclists rode through Nyack as part of the Gran Fondo, a competition that demonstrates the growing popularity of the sport. The other, a Ride of Silence on May 21 sponsored by the Rockland Bicycling Club, commemorated the injury and loss of life that happens too often when human and motor powered vehicles collide.
From the euphoria of the Gran Fondo to the tragedy that inspired the Ride of Silence, bicycles have become an ever-present feature of the Hudson River Valley landscape. A steady stream of nearly 5,000 bikes pass through Nyack each weekend during the busiest part of the bicycle season. That’s only 25 percent less than the total population of the village.
Heidi Broecking, a local cycling enthusiast, believes that simple topography is a major reason the village is a popular destination on this two-wheel migration route. Broecking says if you want a long ride and you live in New York City you ‘gotta go north.’ “Route 9W is the easiest access point from the George Washington Bridge. Plus, we have beautiful river scenery, great hill climbing and interesting rest stops like Nyack, Piermont and Haverstraw.”
When Broecking moved to Nyack 15 years ago, she would see fewer bikes on the road. Broecking reluctantly attributes the explosion in the number of cyclists to the sport’s disgraced former champion. “Before Lance Armstrong, you wouldn’t see 60 cyclists sitting outside the Runcible Spoon on North Broadway.”
Broecking rapidly evolved from a recreational to competitive cyclist. At first, she rode for fun with her son and husband, former Village of Nyack Trustee Steven Knowlton. “It was something that the three of us could do together without a baby sitter. We bought a trailer that hitches on the back of the bike. It was a rolling living room. We would put our son Devon in there with juice, crackers and toys. He would yell, ‘Daddy, go faster.'”
But Heidi had a real need for speed and began to ride more seriously. Broecking is now a member of the Gruppo Sportivo, an eight member Ambassador team for Gran Fondo New York. A world class event imported from Italy, the three year old Gran Fondo New York is a grueling 105-mile course which starts at the George Washington Bridge, heads North along the Hudson to Bear Mountain and then turns South to finish in Weehawken, NJ. Broecking finished last month’s event with a personal best time of 7 hours and 20 minutes.
Broecking also teaches a yoga class that is geared toward cyclists. “Yoga compliments cycling. It provides release and relief. It helps me with my bike handling skills and it gives me a real understanding of how I manipulate my body and bicycle while I’m riding.
Whether riding competitively, for recreation or just to get around town, peril is the constant companion of cyclists on our roads. On June 10, 2012, Pomona resident and recreational cyclist Janet Martinez was struck and killed by a car traveling South on Route 9w. “When you are wearing Lyrca and a helmet and a driver is wearing two tons of metal, the cyclist doesn’t have a chance,” Broecking said.
The Rockland Bicycling Club held the May 21 Ride of Silence to honor Martinez’ memory and to call for respect from motorists by sharing the road with bicyclists. Board member Rita Joachim says bike safety is one of the club’s priorities. “Improving traffic and road conditions in the county is essential for the safety of cyclists and all road users,” she says.
Joachim started cycling as a way to get to school and socialize as a teen. The quaint notion of children riding their bikes to school is now a distant Norman Rockwell-era memory: carpools and buses are more likely to take kids to school on congested roads shared with cars driving a little too fast, often by distracted drivers.
Safety Tips from Rockland Bicycle Club
Motorists must remember the tremendous responsibility they assume every time they’re behind the wheel. New York Vehicle & Traffic Law requires that drivers heed posted speed limits and traffic control devices and exercise due care. They must regard bicyclists with respect and courtesy. Expect bicycles on the roadways. Pass bicyclists with at least 3-4 ft. of space.
Don’t turn right or left in front of a moving bicycle. Where a travel lane is too narrow for a bike and a motor vehicle to travel safely side by side, it’s lawful and safer for bicycles to use the entire lane.
Bicyclists must ride predictably and remain alert to the many dangers they might confront on the roads. Like motorists, cyclists must be familiar with the regulations and laws that govern their conduct on the roads. They must comply with traffic control devices and speed limits and be familiar with local regulations that may be in force in the areas where they ride. Cyclists should yield to pedestrians. When many cars have accumulated behind a cyclist, he can pull off the road at a safe spot to allow motorists to pass.
There were 677 cycling deaths in the US in 2011, representing just over two percent of all traffic fatalities, according to bicyclinginfo.org. Yet bicycles account for one percent of all trips in the United States. Further, the advocacy group suggests that police departments record as few as ten percent of bicycle accidents that produce injuries.
In 2010 New York State enacted “Merrill’s Law” to prevent tragedies like the accident that took the life of cycling advocate Merrill Cassell, who died from fatal injuries suffered after he was side-swiped by a bus in Westchester in 2009. Merrill’s Law mandates that motorists must allow a safe distance when passing cyclists; three feet is recommended.
Each weekend, there will be more bikes, cars and pedestrians on the roads of our village. No matter what your mode of transport, please share the roads safely.
Local Bike Resources:
Sales and Repairs
- Nyack Bicycle Outfitters, 2 N. Broadway (845) 353-0268
- Toga Bike Shop, 530 N. Higland, (845) 358-3455
Bike Friendly Restaurants
- Art Café, 65 S Broadway (845) 353-4230
- Didier Dumas, 163 Main St (845) 353-2031
- Gypsy Donut , 8 N Franklin St (845) 353-5300
- Runcible Spoon, 37 N. Broadway (845) 358-9398
Rockland Bicycling Club organizes regular rides all year long for cyclists of all levels and participates in local, regional and national cycling advocacy programs. For more information visit Rockland Bicycling Club.
The great American painter Edward Hopper’s wooden-wheeled bike is on display at his childhood home, now The Edward Hopper House Art Center at 82 N. Broadway.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: It’s Bike Season, Be Safe” ©: 2013 Bill Batson.