Bike Craft

Author Ben Cheever reveals why he doesn’t need E.T. to soar over the County on his bicycle.


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“Once you learn how to swim, or ride a bicycle,” they say, “you never forget.” That’s wrong. You don’t learn how to swim, or ride a bicycle—you remember. You are born knowing.     

We learned weightlessness while still floating around in Mom’s amniotic fluid. To the primitive mind—which is the kind we all have—there’s no difference between swimming underwater and flying. Floating over the countryside on narrow wheels is also a lot like flying. It’s only when we think about it that we crash, or drown. This region provides a splendid and varied background for flying—I mean riding. When complete, the North and South County Trailways will slice Westchester top to bottom. Michael Oliva is mid-Atlantic coordinator of the East Coast Greenway, which will also bisect Westchester on its way from Maine to Florida.

There’s a lot of flying in our imaginative past. Icarus, Dorothy, and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi all flew. Peter Pan actually taught flying. You needed fairy dust and happy thoughts: picnics/summer/candy. This helps explain why American adults never used to ride bicycles. I grew up in Westchester County in the 1950s and, in those days, joy and innocence were the exclusive preserve of the extremely young. An adult was as likely to mount a bicycle as he was to vote Democratic or eat raw salmon. Adultery was okay. Alcoholism was required. Bicycles? Nope!

Today, the Westchester Cycle Club numbers 1,400 members. On weekends, the roads are sprinkled with a bright confetti of adult cyclists in outfits more appropriate to Naples than to New Rochelle. Sundays, I ride with County Legislator John Nonna and his longtime friends, James Periconi and Dan Franklin. Dan Franklin sometimes commutes from his house in Pleasantville to his office in Yonkers. Jim Beplat of Pleasantville’s Art of Wine rides a bicycle to work in all kinds of weather. My neighbor John Hough jets all over the world for his UN job but pedals to the Pleasantville railroad station on a bicycle.   

And yet there are folks who still feel about bicycling the way the adults of my childhood did. When Merrill Cassell, age 66, was hit by a Bee Line Bus last November and died, the bloggers piled on. What was a 66-year-old man doing on a bicycle anyhow? I rode with Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner at the tail end of the bicycle honor guard for Merrill’s funeral procession. Feiner was on a borrowed bicycle. I’m naturally slow. In December, on the day that would have been Merrill’s 67th birthday, I stood in the rain at the installation of a ghost bicycle near the sight of the accident, at the intersection of Aqueduct Road and Route 119, just west of the County Center. The widow, Maximilla Cassell, was still in tears.

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Westchester Cycle Club President David McKay Wilson and Greenway’s Michael Oliva recently founded the Bike Walk Alliance of Westchester and Putnam Counties. BWAWP is the acronym. For a mnemonic, imagine the sound made by a smallish man and his 20-pound road bike when kissed by a half-ton Chevy Suburban. BWAP! I’m Vice President of BWAP but do much of my traveling in a black SUV. When a string of cyclists blocks the roadway on a hill, I’d like to speed up; I’m as impatient as the next man. But think about it. Bicycles don’t pollute. Or burn oil. Our culture is drunk with oil. Some of that money we spend on it goes to people in Iraq and Afghanistan who are trying to kill American soldiers. 

When these traffic-impeding cyclists reach the top of the hill, they’ll coast down the other side at a terrific speed—they’ll fly. Adults having happy thoughts. All this without the intercession of crude oil or of gin. How bad can that be?


Photo by Michael Polito

When he’s not writing novels, author Ben Cheever of Pleasantville is riding around the County and beyond.

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