Bicycling into New York City part II: Biking into Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge

This is the second in a 3 part series on biking into Manhattan.
read Part One

Richmond to Boston on a bicycle

Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.
Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.

I recently completed a 1,000 mile bike tour in which I lugged all of my musical equipment from Richmond to Boston and then on to Buffalo.

Continue reading “Bicycling into New York City part II: Biking into Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge”

Bicycling into New York City Part I: How (not) to Bike into Manhattan

This is the first in a 3 part series on biking into Manhattan.
read Part Two

Richmond to Boston on a Bike

Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.
Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.

When I first announced that I was going to ride my bike from Richmond to Boston, one of the first questions that most people asked was: “How are you going to get into Manhattan?”
Continue reading “Bicycling into New York City Part I: How (not) to Bike into Manhattan”

Why I’m Going to Boston on an Xtracycle Radish

For the month of April I’m touring up the East Coast, playing shows in every city from Richmond to Boston. But I’ve made a different kind of decision about my manner of travel… instead of taking the train, renting a tour van or borrowing a car, I’m going to be traveling on human power. That is… I’m traveling from Richmond to Boston on my bike.

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The first thing I said to myself once the decision was made (after are you crazy?) was: how?

I am not simply a traveling minstrel. I am a professional musician, with equipment and merchandise. I can’t just pick up and go, or play a spontaneous show. I have amps, cords, pedals, boxes, t-shirts, cds and posters… not to mention all of the personal gear needed to sustain me for a month. How was I going to fit all of that stuff onto a bicycle?

After a month of research about panniers, trailers, touring bikes, etc., I came across a small company in California that makes extra-sized bicycles for exactly this predicament: Xtracycle. I have found photos of cyclists carrying surfboards, tires, and even other bikes on Xtracycle’s cargo cycles. So I got myself a Radish.

Jon Watts and his Radish
The Xtracycle Radish

The Radish is one of the few out-of-the-box cargo bikes that Xtracycle sells (mostly people buy the kit, which extend the back of any given bike). I was lucky enough to test ride a diverse selection of cargo bikes at a sweet little bike shop in Carrboro, North Carolina called Cycle9, which is one of the few bike shops on the East Coast that stocks these kinds of cargo bikes. The good folks at Cycle9 put a helmet on me and let me ride one of their Radishes all over town, which I promptly fell in love with (check out my review of the Radish).

So with all of the cargo space in my Xtracycle Radish – and after investing in a smaller guitar and amp – the question was answered. I can fit everything I need on a bike.

But the question still stands: why go to all of this work? Why not just drive a car like any other rational American would?

Jon Watts and his Xtracycle Radish 13It would be easy for me to spout off a guilt-based justification about how quickly our society is killing the Earth, and how each of us is individually contributing a great deal to that destruction by owning and over-using personal vehicles. And it would be true. I do feel guilty and hypocritical about simultaneously mourning the destruction of the natural world and contributing to it.

But the deeper reason why I am riding my bike the 600 miles to Boston: I find driving, for all of it’s convenience, to be spiritually deadening.

So let’s turn the question on it’s head… why, when I could be actively using my body, engaging with the land and the environment around me, viscerally feeling the miles go by underneath me, and genuinely living would I isolate myself in a sound-proof, wind-proof, experience-proof chamber?

Why in the world would anyone do that?

Thus it is out of my love for this world, my love for my body, my love for experiential living that has led me to make the decision to bike.

Not out of hatred for what we’re doing to our planet, but out of love for the feeling of wind on my skin, the feeling of having my instincts engage when I’m lost or in danger, the feeling of being alive.

So, my smart answer for why I’m biking to Boston?

Because it’s faster than walking.

Jon Watts and his Radish

Xtracycle Radish Bike Review

Jon Watts and his Xtracycle RadishI recently made the decision to do my tour this Spring on bicycle, for reasons that I’ve explained in this post. I thought it might be nice to write a quick review of what I’ve noticed of the bike just in my preliminary riding around town. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say once I’ve ridden it 600 miles up the East Coast.

The concept of a cargo bike appealed to me because I have a large load of stuff that I carry with me on tour – amps, guitar, accordian, merchandise, etc – but the idea of toting a trailer behind me just didn’t appeal. It seemed like it would slow me down with its one or two extra wheels, cause me to feel bulkier and just be a hassle in general.

The first thing that struck me about Xtracycle’s Radish is the amount of stuff that it can hold. With two giant panniers beside the extended rear wheel, the Radish can hold more than four times what I would carry on the back of a normal bike. I say more than four times because all of the straps are adjustable, and the bags are essentially open flaps instead of restrictive bags, so I can have as wide a load as I want.

The Radish can hold 200 lbs of cargo in the back, which is perfect… it means that I can fit all of the stuff I need, but that the bike isn’t so heavy duty that I can’t lift and maneuver it when it’s empty.

It would be a real pain if I couldn’t lift it up the stairs to bring it into my house every night while I’m living in the city. That said, it is not light, even when it’s empty. I take a deep breath every time I’m going to pick it up.

The Xtracycle Radish

…but it’s light enough to be playful. One major concern that I had about getting a longer bike than normal is that I like to jump curbs, skid to my stops, weave in and out of cones, and all of the other fun stuff that I did on a bike as a kid. Why ride a bike if you’re not going to enjoy it? To my relief, the Radish isn’t too heavy to do these kinds of playful stunts. Even though I do feel the extra length and weight, the Radish isn’t so bulky or heavy that I refrain from being a little adventurous.

While my initial concern was that 8 gears wouldn’t be enough for me (I don’t often need to pedal when going downhill, and 1st gear is amazingly easy, even with a load), it’s getting the gears to line up with the shifter that I have been having trouble with. From my first ride on the bike I noticed that the shifter would occasionally skip a gear and after spending hours with the bike upside down adjusting the shifter and even more hours riding the bike around and fiddling with the awkwardly-placed adjuster on the handlebars, I can say that I am slightly baffled. I love the bike enough that it doesn’t destroy my experience of it when I try to shift into fifth and it surprises me by shifting 2 minutes later, when I’m about to go up a hill. But it sure would be nice if I could get that fixed… and it is somewhat ridiculous that it came with that major of a problem out of the box.

I love my Radish so I wipe it down every evening after a day of riding, but those who are not quite so attentive might get frustrated with the way that dirt stands out on the milky white frame or with the way that the chain hangs down to leave grease on a white crossbar underneath it.

The disc brakes on the back wheel of the Radish are great… they help me to feel totally comfortable in most situations, knowing that I could stop on a dime even with wet brakes. The brakes rubbed badly for the first few weeks of riding, and when I looked online it seems like that is perfectly normal. It has corrected itself, more or less.

I should also say that I’m not a serious biker. I test-rode a few touring bikes and they simply felt uncomfortable and certainly couldn’t hold the amount of stuff that I am needing to take on the road. Some may call me crazy for taking a bike as casual as the Radish on a trip this serious, but the trip is more meditative than it is goal-focused. I have plenty of time in between cities and will not be rushing or racing.

Jon Watts and his Radish

When I was researching for this trip I looked all over for stores that carried Xtracycle gear so that I could test it out. I mostly got cockeyed looks when I walked into bike stores in Richmond, VA and asked for an Xtracycle… but I lucked out to find Cycle9.

Cycle9 is a little bike shop in Carrboro, NC which specializes in cargo and electric bikes. They were super friendly and helpful when I peppered them with ignorant questions about the basics of cargo biking and touring… and best of all, they didn’t treat me with the insider snobbishness that I often encounter in bike shops! Cycle9 is the bike shop for the everyday user who may not know much about bikes but wants to live more responsibly and freely in a world where it is increasingly possible to opt-out of the destruction and everyday frustration caused by our culture of individual car ownership.