Faces of AWNY: Bek Chew on Building a Bike

AWNY member Bek Chew built a bike last summer (and created an inspiring video with her husband Jon about the process). Here she offers some great tips for cycling in NYC and beyond.

Are there any great bike routes in NYC that you’d recommend?

If you are looking to stay within the city, you really can’t beat whizzing up or down the west side highway. This route (located on the far west of Manhattan from Battery Park all the way to Inwood) offers waterfront views and a couple of outdoor cafes where you can stop with your bike and grab a drink.

Outside of the city, I would recommend starting with routes along the regional railroads (Long Island Rail (LIRR), Metro North etc). Last weekend, a group of friends and I took the train to Riverhead (LIRR) and then cycled our way up to Greenport. Cycling direct, this would take around 2 hours. However we stopped at lots of wineries along the north fork and made it into a full day trip. You can take the train back to the city from Greenport, which makes it a great day or weekend trip.

Where do you live and do you and Jon bike to work?

Jon and I live in Brooklyn and we both commute to work. I work in midtown, which is about a 40 minute cycle from my house. It used to be a struggle against the traffic on 1st Avenue to get to work but now I take a slightly longer but more scenic route. I cross Williamsburg Bridge and then double back to the East River bike path, up to 37th street. From there it’s not far to my office.

Tips for keeping safe while biking in the NYC traffic?

Whether a pedestrian or a cyclist in NYC, always check for traffic even when you have the light or the right of way. Around one pedestrian or cyclist dies every other day in NYC. Always do a second check and never presume that a vehicle will stop for you or that they have seen you. I have been cycling in NYC now for over 2 years and I haven’t been hit or injured. Maybe I shouldn’t jinx myself but I have been extremely lucky. I had a near miss once because a pedestrian stepped off the curb into the bike lane without looking and she didn’t have the light. My bike was minimally scratched but she would have had a colorful bruise the next day.

Do you belong to/know of any bike clubs in NYC ?

I think I belong to them all. There’s New York Cycling Club (NYCC), they run a great training program in Spring if you are looking to build mileage. There’s the Five Borough Bicycle Club. The bike racing club CRCA holds official races in Central Park and has a number of bike teams. There are a bunch of different bike shops that regularly run shop rides (Rapha, Bike HABITAT, Red Beard), and then a number of different social cycling groups do slower rides with a focus on consuming beverages together at the end (search meetups.com or facebook for a social bike group in your area). Something I’ve found really useful is the Facebook group Babes in Bibs. It’s a closed group, but once accepted people regularly post various training rides and events – most of them specifically for women and all of them are in NYC or surrounds.

Do you travel with your bikes?

Yes. I recommend it! You haven’t truly seen a place till you’ve cycled through. If you’ve never cycled to work or your favorite hang out spot in NYC, do it! You get to know the city so much more.

The picture for this post was taken in the Finger Lakes in upstate NY. My husband and I put the bikes in a rental car, drove up for a long weekend, and cycled around a couple of the lakes. Again, great wineries in the Finger Lakes, which makes for some excellent afternoons spent partly on the bike and partly in a tasting room sipping on wine. I am quite partial to bringing my love of bikes together with my love of wine. Whatever it is that you enjoy, you should aim to work it into your cycling adventure; cycle down to Coney Island for a swim in the ocean, cycle over to Brooklyn to one of the numerous Aussie coffee shops and pause with a coffee and the newspapers, cycle out of the city to Piermont to meet some other cyclists and have a feast at one of the local cafes.

What inspired you to make the film?

Jon: There is a general lack of online presence and videos related to women and bikes, and women building bikes more specifically. I love watching bike videos and exploring bike blogs but I came to realize that it was quite gendered and I thought that there’s probably something I could do to change that. I also wanted Bek to build her own bike. I have done a couple of my own bike builds now and I knew that she would love the challenge. I also wanted her to realize that it’s not difficult to build your own bike and that it’s a really enjoyable experience.

What was the hardest part of building the bike? Of making the film?

Bek: Putting on the headset! We didn’t have all the right tools because we were doing it at home and we were sort of doing a DIY version of the bike build so some parts were difficult, like putting on the headset. We actually put it on upside down the first time we did it too.

Jon: For the film, we had a lot of footage so it was difficult choosing what to put in because there was lots of nice clips but you want it to be short and sweet at the same time.

What was the most rewarding part?

Jon: Have a beautiful bike and video at the end of it.

Bek: Finishing the project and having a ridable bike! Riding my bike around and knowing every part of the bike and how it was put together is really rewarding. I feel like building the bike myself has taken my love and knowledge of bikes to the next level.

Anything other thoughts on bike building?

Bek: There’s no way that I would have attempted to build the bike without Jon there to show me what to do but I hope that’s not a limitation to other women who are interested in building their own bikes because, like everything these days, if you want to build something you can find out all you need to know on the web. I really encourage other women to give bike building a go. It is not as difficult as you might think, doesn’t require physical grunt (as I thought it would), and it will help you a lot with your bike maintenance in the future.

Any tips on building a bike? E.g. do you start by buying a bike kit? or??

Well, it definitely helps to have someone there who has built a bike before. But in saying that, you can learn to do anything these days on the internet. It definitely was not as hard as I thought it would be. I have no upper body strength but I managed to do all the tightening and adjusting myself – no grunt work involved as you might have thought. I built the bike in one day, but the key to doing that was pre-ordering all the parts. That is probably the trickiest bit. If you’ve never built a bike before it might take a few goes to get all the parts right (some parts have unusual threading or joins etc) but this time spent is a solid investment into learning more about your bike and how it works, which means that it is easier (and cheaper) to fix and maintain in the long run.

photo credit: Bek and Jon Chew at the Finger Lakes in upstate NY