The image of Mr. New Yorker, stealing through the night in his tweedy jacket, pumping like mad on his three-speed bike (with fenders to keep his pants from getting dirty), haunted me. I pictured him pulling up to an Upper East Side walk up—or maybe a loft building in SoHo—leaning against the buzzer, and then, panting slightly, wheeling his bike up the stairs. A door would open, and he and his inamorata would be giggling as they tried to figure out where to put the bike. Then they’d fall into a sweaty embrace, no doubt ending up on some futon on the floor.
The Bicycle Boy actually has a long literary tradition in New York. The patron saints of Bicycle Boys are white-haired writer George Plimpton, whose bike used to hang upside down above his employees’ heads at the Paris Review offices, and white-haired Newsday columnist Murray Kempton. They’ve been riding for years, and are the inspiration for the next generation of Bicycle Boys, like the aforementioned Mr. New Yorker, the writers Chip Brown and Tom Beller, literary agent Kip Kotzen and scores of young book, magazine and newspaper editors and writers who insist upon traversing Manhattan’s physical and romantic landscape as solitary pedalers.
Bicycle Boys are a particular breed of New York bachelor: Smart, funny, romantic, lean, quite attractive, they are the stuff that grown-up coed dreams are made of. There’s something incredibly, er, charming about a tweedy guy on a bike—especially if he’s wearing goofy glasses. Women tend to feel a mixture of passion and motherly affection. But there’s also a dark side: Most Bicycle Boys are not married and probably never will be, at least not until they give up their bikes.
Why John F. Kennedy Jr. Is Not a Bicycle Boy
“Riding a bike is not necessarily a power move,” said Mr. Eccles. “It’s best done by power people like George Plimpton. Otherwise, you have to hide your bike around the corner and surreptitiously take your trousers out of your socks.”
Bicycle Boys don’t ride their bikes for sport, like those silly guys you see riding around and around the park. They ride partly for transportation and, more importantly, to preserve an eternal literary boyhood. Think of twilight at Oxford, riding over the cobblestones, while a woman waits down by the Cherwell River, wearing a flowing dress, clasping a volume of Yeats. That’s how Bicycle Boys think of themselves as they pedal Manhattan, dodging cabbies and potholes.
While John F. Kennedy Jr. is certainly New York’s most famous and sought-after bike-riding bachelor, his rippled athleticism disqualifies him for Bicycle Boydom. Because a Bicycle Boy would rather bike through midtown in a seersucker suit than in shorts and a chest-hugging tee. And Bicycle Boys spurn those skin-tight bike pants that have cushy foam padding sewn into the butt. Bicycle Boys are not averse to the chastising pain of a hard bike seat—it helps the literature. “I don’t own any spandex pants,” said Mr. New Yorker, who added that he wears long johns in the winter to keep warm.
Which may be one reason bicycle boys, more than their athletic cousins, tend to get physically attacked. The other reason is they ride at any hour (the later the better—more romantic), in any physical condition, anywhere.
“Drunks roar out of their windows at night to send you into a tailspin,” said Mr. Eccles.
One Halloween, Mr. New Yorker was wearing a British bobby’s cape when he rode into a group of 12-year-olds who yanked him off his bike. “I said, ‘I can’t fight all of you at once. I’ll fight one of you.’ They all stepped back, except for the biggest one. I suddenly realized I didn’t want to fight him either.” The whole gang jumped on Mr. New Yorker and began pounding him, until some innocent bystander started screaming and the gang ran away. “I was lucky,” said Mr. New Yorker. “They didn’t take my bike, but they did take some records I had in my basket.” (Note that Mr. New Yorker was carrying “records,” as in vinyl albums—not CD’s—another sign of a true Bicycle Boy.)
Mr. Eccles recalled a similar story. “Two days ago, I was riding through Central Park at 10 at night, when I was surrounded by a ‘wilding’ gang on rollerblades,” he said. “They were almost children. They tried to capture me in a flank maneuver, but I was able to bicycle away even faster.”
But an even bigger danger is sex, as a New York Times reporter we’ll call Chester found out. Chester doesn’t ride his bike as much as he used to because, about a year ago, he had a bad cycling accident after a romantic interlude. He was writing a story on topless dancers when he struck up a friendship with Lola. Maybe Lola fancied herself as Marilyn Monroe to his Arthur Miller. Who knows. All Chester knew was that one evening she called him up and said she was lying around in her bed at Trump Palace, and could he come over. He hopped on his bike and was there in 15 minutes. They went at it for three hours. Then she said he had to leave because she lives with someone and the guy was coming home. Any minute.
Chester ran out of the building and jumped on his bike, but there was a problem. His legs were so shaky from having sex they started cramping up just as he was going down Murray Hill and he crashed over the curb and slid across the pavement. “It really hurt,” he said. “When your skin is scraped off like that, it’s like a first degree burn.” Luckily, his nipple did eventually grow back.