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#279 From The Cloisters to Red Hook

Grand old New York City is Nancy Irwin’s destination as she stretches out the riding season with a week down south, where she can’t help but share the passion and her memories of The Big Apple with friends.

Is it cheating to score an extra week of riding by flying south? Whatever! I took advantage of a Porter Airlines sale and spent an eight-day vacation with unseasonably good weather burning gas in NYC in November. If that wasn’t enough, I absconded with the Yamaha FZ1.
Then my friend Duane Mallaber arrived with only a shoulder bag, carrying a helmet and wearing full riding gear. A motorcycle escort seemed right. Cheryl Stewart and I arrived on two bikes, the 500 Ninja and the FZ1. Duane got to be Cheryl’s passenger and I took his bag. We rode slowly through the city to the Upper West Side where he was housesitting. The Ninja acted up on the way and we had to perform a shuttle service, and return for the Ninja, which would run after sitting. I bet it’s the coil causing intermittent misfiring. We got the Ninja back home, where it will stay until the problem is resolved. That’s how I managed to get the Yamaha FZ1.
I found myself filling the gas tank three times in eight days, and never left New York.
My plan was to give Duane a tour of a city we have both lived in and loved. It was different in the 1980s. He knew theatres, art galleries and more. Strangely, I managed to miss most of that because I spent my time enjoying the sideshows on every street corner, doing what I loved. And that was the gift I wanted to give him. I wanted to show him what incredible fun it is to ride in New York.
There’s nothing like a motorcycle to zip through traffic. And for sight seeing, it’s better than any taxi or tour bus. Being the driver requires serious concentration though: seeing patterns in the traffic and moving through them like a game. Being the passenger is carefree, but both are fun.
Duane wanted to see The Cloisters, a wonderful museum of religious art, connected to the Museum of Modern Art. I’d been there many times. My friend Deborah Krohn lived just south of The Cloisters, and that’s where I stayed when in New York. Funny that I’d never been inside, because I’d ridden around and around the museum in the past. It was one of the many places I took Deborah to practise riding. But Duane was the perfect person to be with when I finally entered. He knew a lot about religious art, and art in general, being an artist himself.
It brought back memories of meeting my best friend, a woman who had never driven and had only been on the back of a motorcycle. I had just returned from Latin America and was enroute to Europe and Africa, but was in no rush. She was a bright, physically fit artist who wanted to learn to ride. Standing five-feet two-inches, the Honda Rebel was just the trick for her. We spent a week with her on the back of my bike while I explained traffic signals and more, then she bought a 250 Rebel. The next two weeks were filled with intensive riding lessons, which prepared her for a rider training course.
I took Duane down the West Side Highway to the Christopher Street Pier, a place we both have history. It’s unrecognizable now, being nicely-paved with a patch of grass in the middle, trees and a washroom facility. Back in the 1980s it was a derelict wooden pier, covered in all sorts of debris and the aftermath of male nocturnal adventures. I understand it was very busy at night.
In the day, it was a perfect place to teach my friend to ride, and to tackle obstacles. I set out a tire for her to ride over, made a ramp with found lumber for her to conquer, and more. I prepped her to ride the streets of New York, and I’m happy to say she survived the experience!
I wanted to ride Central Park. East-west roads are open, but the north-south route that is like a track with curves is normally only open late at night. One evening I found the gate open and took that as an invitation. I hadn’t ridden it in years. It’s one of my Seven Wonders of Riding New York that I was so happy to share. I grinned the entire time. There was no traffic but joggers, cyclists and a couple horse-drawn buggies.
I took Duane to Red Hook, the old shipping port and industrial enclave that has turned posh since Cheryl and other artists moved there. Cut off from Brooklyn by the highway, it’s a safer place to sample the FZ1. Cheryl kindly agreed, and Duane was excited to try the 1000cc bike, a step up from the FZ6 (600) he’s been riding.
He spun around a parking lot to get comfortable, then I got on, and we toured the cobblestone streets with interesting old houses. We also found a stretch where the bike could be opened up.
Of all the scary things I’ve done riding, getting on the back with novice riders ranks high. I’m very selective. In 30 years of riding, Duane is only the fifth.
We went to dinner with Cheryl, then spent time in her kitchen talking shop. Cheryl is a scenic artist and sculptor. Duane designed sets and has worked in theatre, here and in Europe. He thoroughly enjoyed the backstage tour of the Metropolitan Opera House that rider friend Armen Amerian gave us days before.
Cheryl, a former employee, was greeted like a celebrity. After midnight I asked Cheryl if she would ride Duane home. What would take me an hour would take her so much less. She is the best ride in New York. But I wasn’t prepared for the morning after.
I arrived around noon. We headed off shopping. There were a couple thrift stores I wanted to visit, a trimmings place in the fashion district, and lighting stores on the Bowery. And there was traffic. Can you believe Duane had the nerve to tell me we would have been there long ago if Cheryl had been riding? I was outraged! Then I realized it was entirely true, and said so. Later he told me that he felt perfectly comfortable as my passenger for the first three days. But once he was on the back with Cheryl, he realized … yeah, he realized … that I’m nowhere near the rider she is. She rides in Manhattan every day, and teaches at the track. What can I say? It’s about pleasure. I hope Duane enjoyed riding New York half as much as I did.


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