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The Brakes

The Breakdown

The Breakdown

New York cyclists are a tribe. Within any tribe, there are distinctions. We parse our smallest differences and look down on one another, even as we look down on everyone else.

Picture cyclists as Italians who can tell you that Genoans are more annoying than Fiorentini and folks in Palermo are pazzo, but at least we’re not Greek.

If cyclists are Italian, pedestrians are French: clueless, frantic, carrying bags of vegetables, frequently run over. Motorists are German: steely, arrogant, dangerous when making right turns.* But which “Italian” is the most deserving of our scorn and ridicule? Which New York cyclist is the worst? 

The Williamsburg Cyclist (male)

He wears no helmet; his beard protects his chin. He bikes extremely fast, powered by Blue Bottle macchiatos. His handlebars are the size of a half-eaten sausage. His lock pokes out his back pocket for no reason. While the male Williamsburg Cyclist rates high on the ridiculous scale, he is not the worst. He is from Bologna.

The Williamsburg Cyclist (female)

She rides a rattly 10-speed and has trouble steering. She wears a flowery jumper, and striped knee socks. Her side-basket is stuffed with kale. She is creative, artistic. She is from Florence. The female Williamsburg Cyclist is not the worst either, but when she turns 30 and moves across the river and becomes…

The Village Idiot

…she may be. The Village Idiot wears no helmet. (Why do so few female cyclists wear helmets? Is it really the hair? Discuss!) She wears heels. For protection, she wears a floppy hat and headphones, as it is safer not to see or hear danger coming. A small Maltese pokes out of her wicker basket. She bikes the wrong way down one-way streets. She’s a menace on the road (sidewalk). The Village Idiot is too cute for rules. She’s pretty, and useless. She’s from Venice. 

The Businessman

His bike creaks. His seat is a leather Brooks. He wears a suit and tie and carries an umbrella and sometimes his umbrella is open. A pedaling Businessman can be endearing, and fun to watch, like seeing an ostrich run. If someone is going to get doored by a dump truck it is the Businessman. He is not the worst but probably the most endangered. Milan?

The Chinese Deliveryman

The Chinese Deliveryman may not even qualify as a cyclist (he’s from Sardinia), as his “bike” is motorized. Yet he uses the bike lane, and talks on his cellphone, and appears out of nowhere, and smokes constantly, and obeys no law. While criticism of the Chinese Deliveryman can sound xenophobic (and his job may be the toughest in the city), wrong is wrong. The Chinese Deliveryman is the worst!

The Central Park Testa di Cazzo

He is old and lean, with hairless, veined legs. His bike is new and he is not. So much money goes into his snazzy scrotum-revealing attire and shiny Campagnolo racer, it’s almost as if he’s cycling with hundred-dollar bills taped to his thighs. He whizzes past everyone. He shouts. He’s from Rome. Maybe the Central Park Testa di Cazzo is the worst?

The Mexican Deliveryman

His tires are thick. He wears an apron or a reflective vest or both. And though he wears a helmet, he wears it backward with the straps unbuckled. This is subversive. The Mexican Deliveryman is fantastic! He is from Naples, especially when delivering pizza.

The Noodge

If a cyclist uses a whistle, or a bell, or has a rear-view mirror attached to his helmet, he is the Noodge. He rides a fold-up, or a recliner with a bouncy orange flag that says, “Here comes foolishness.”  He corrects other cyclists on their infractions yet commits those infractions himself. (He’s a closet Tweeter.) He’s from the Vatican. The Noodge is definitely the worst.

The Bike Messenger

His bike is part duct tape. His clothing is part duct tape. The chain around his chest is all metal, and looks dangerous. As he darts through traffic, or balances at lights, he is an island. The Bike Messenger is from Sicily! While the Bike Messenger has been voted Worst New York Cyclist every year, we would never suggest that this is right. He is a fascinating and winsome individual. Please, go first.

The Tourist

One hand “steering,” one holding the camera, she weaves around town with other tourists like a herd of runaway sheep. The sign attached to her bike says RENTAL, but should say PRE-WRECK. Indeed, the Tourist is the worst! And if she is from France or Germany she is the worst of the worst.

And me? What type of cyclist am I? Well, I am the perfect cyclist. Some of my friends say I can be judgmental, but they are wrong.

*Skateboarders are Albanian.

Elisha Cooper writes and illustrates children’s books. His most recent ones are Farm and Beaver Is Lost. He lives in New York with his wife and two daughters. More by Elisha Cooper

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