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2003-12-10 5:20 PM
Icebiking in Forest Hills
There's a road that winds through Forest Park, in Queens, that's really an overgrown bike/skate path. Saturday night, when the blizzard hit, I figured the city wouldn't bother plowing it. So I elbow-greased the studded tires onto the bike, suited up in my blue tights--no cape--and went out into the thickening white.
Momentum is your friend if you're trying to stay upright, but it's your enemy if you're trying to make sure you can stop suddenly on ice. I rode the brakes down the icy one-way downhill of Austin Street, respectfully swung wide around the dark garbage trucks lumbering uphill wearing snowplows like tusks, fell in with a little cautious traffic edging along Austin where the shops and boutiques were closing early, and parted with them at 71st, turning right into Forest Hills Estates, the closest thing we've got here to Encino. At the end of Forest Hills Estates is Forest Park, which is exactly what it sounds like.
The road was closed by one of those wide gates made out of pipe. No chain link or anything, so it was easy to push the bike through the snow up to the beginning of the road and stand there grinning at the smooth, winding surface.
With regular bike tires, when you try to start pedaling on ice, you're sending too much power to the back wheel, and it can't get traction. Forget fears of falling over--you can't even get started. And if you do manage to gentle the back tire into rolling, you're going so slowly that you don't have time to get your other foot onto its pedal before your momentum is exhausted.
Studded snow tires: zoom. Touch your own face, it feels like cold wax.
A mile of virgin ice, cracking under my tires up to the old carousel. Maybe a mile, anyway--it's hard to tell when you're concentrating on trying to read the surface of the snow. It all looks smooth, even when what's under it is iced wheel ruts that detour your front wheel and make the back fishtail. The best technique for staying upright is to do nothing; usually things straighten out by themselves. But often enough that you can't relax your focus, you've got to stomp down hard with one foot to keep from capsizing--and when you do, you just have to hope there's something under your shoe that isn't slick ice.
I passed some kids who were tobogganing down a hill onto the path in front of me. (On my way back, the same way, one of their mothers yelled down--You got special tires? Just dark adult shapes up on the hill, a stringent Long Gisland accent.) I saw three people out walking, sharply shadowed under streetlamps that cast light I remember as orange, but my memory is wrong. It was gray at the time, just like everything else.
Oddly, I was the only bicyclist.
I had a sort of Ray Bradbury, Tim Burton image of the old carousel, dead gray in silent snowfall. Cold metal, frozen animals. What I got was a blue and yellow carousel-shaped tent. I stopped and looked at it, one foot on a pedal, one sunk into the snow, and on my other side, a Ford Bronco--the boxy kind--did donuts in a fenced-off parking lot. He'd stop for a long time, then hit the gas and swish and spin all over the middle of the lot. I was an introverted and wary child, so when he headed for the far exit, I planned my escape for when he came after me and tried to run me down.
As his taillights receded, another car entered the lot where he'd exited, did a donut of its own, and headed out. A third was doing the same when I raised up on the pedals, got traction, and headed back down the hill.
The streets of Queens are now cleared--just rotted piles of ice losing their juice along the curbs. I don't feel like wrestling the studs off, and don't have my second set of rims yet, so I'm taking the subway to work.
The cell phone camera battery was dead when I went on my snow ride, but here are some phone snaps from elsewhere this week:
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