Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Bike ride

It’s been a slow weekend, and I didn’t get out much. But today I got the bike out for a ride, and had a decent time with it. I have an e-bike – it is a retrofitted Heinzmann kit that I installed on a Mongoose mountain bike. There’s a motor built into the hub of the rear wheel, and then a self-contained battery/electronics kit rides in a modular pack that fits on a rear rack. Using a thumb-controlled throttle on the handlebars, I can get going from a dead stop up to 15 MPH or so. It also enables me to pedal normally, either alone or with the motor. The motor cuts out at 18 MPH, because that’s the limit for motor-assisted bikes as opposed to mopeds or scooters, which require a license. The battery, which weighs about 20 pounds, takes an hour or so to recharge, a bit more to get a good charge, and it lasts for about 10 miles of unassisted power on a flat surface.

So I got all charged up and headed east, trying to hit a bike lane on 34th Ave that cuts across Queens. The city has started painting these bike lanes on a few streets, and you can get maps of where to bike in local shops or online. But no drivers know what the hell a bike lane is, so you have to keep your eyes out. It’s always strange for me to ride away from my own neighborhood, into the areas that aren’t near subways or main roads. Queens rapidly becomes a car-centric area as you go east, so the landscape changes to more stores with parking lots, strip malls, and bigger areas that only cars would go.

I live on 36th Street and I watched the numbers go up slowly. The bike lane helped, but I could only hit a few lights and then I’d have to stop. Finally, I got into the hundreds, and reached the area by Shea Stadium and Flushing Meadows. I cut down 114th and ended up in the roughest neighborhood you could possibly imagine outside of a RoboCop film. The only cars I saw on the street were 100% stripped out and burned down, just the frames left. Luckily, I cut over a block and then down, and got to the park entrance.

Flushing Meadows is a strange little place. It’s a park where the old World’s Fair lived back in the 1960s. Now, all of the exhibits are gone, and there are neatly cut lanes that spoke outward, with trees and park benches. Some stuff is still there – I managed to get there on a big day for the US Open, and there were cops and limos and busses all over the place. I could hear the roar of the crowd in the tennis pavillion, probably watching the men’s singles matches. There’s also the hall of science, and those two big towers that were in that Men in Black movie.

So I rode around a bit, and went to the big fountain with the globe, which was empty. What was weird though is there were two blimps overhead, and there were these planes skywriting. But it wasn’t one plane, it looked like five planes in a line, so it worked like a dot-matrix printer. I think they may have been models of some sort, maybe flown from the blimp. But it was weird because they were skywriting these perfectly linear dot-matrix letters in a perfect circle around the fountain. I wish I would’ve brought my camera because it was a truly strange sight.

I also watched some kids with remote-control cars, in an area where they had an oval set up. These aren’t the cheap cars you get at Toys-R-Us and fill up with AA batteries. They had the variety that cost several hundred dollars, and had model airplane-type radios and chargable battery packs, with gearing that made them drive at scale speeds. It was cool watching it, because the tires must have been a “real” ply – every time they braked to go into a corner and then took off again, they would leave tread and smoke a bit. I saw a pretty incredible collision between two cars where one car lost traction and went sideways in a curve, then another t-boned him at full speed. It looked like a lot of fun, and I bet you could make tons of money sitting out there and renting out some cars and fresh batteries.

I rode around a bit, and headed back without too much incident. I hoped to save enough batteries to just coast back with the motor doing all of the work, but I lost a lot of juice and ended up only using the assist on start-up. I could get it up to about 18 with a bit of effort and then cruise through three or four lights before a red. The gearing really sucks on that bike, and there’s no high-end to really let me get going on flat spots. It’s also hard to get going from a dead stop because the battery and motor probably add 30 pounds to the 20 pound bike. It rides like a fully-loaded touring bike when I’m only hauling me, a bottle, and a small kit with a couple of tools.

So that was decent, except getting the bike in and out of the house. Other than that, I am fuming and fretting about this embryonic book, and in a strangely nostalgic mode. I could go on about this forever, but instead I want to get out of here and think about it for a while. So there.