Meet the newest member of the Bike New York staff: Herschel Uchitelle, a mechanic and the operator of our brand-new pop-up bike shop on Roosevelt Island. He’s gotten the job already, but we figured we’d make him nervous with a few more questions.
Interview and photographs by Sam Polcer. You can see more of his bike portraits at Preferred Mode.
You’re a born and bred New Yorker. Can you tell us about how you first got into bikes?
Well, my family has never owned a car, so biking has always been part of my life. I grew up along Ocean Parkway, in Brooklyn, which I recently learned is not only America’s first bike path and but also its first greenway. Biking was and still is the preferred mode of transportation for my family. But I didn’t start getting into cycling as more of a recreational sport until I moved to New Paltz for college.
The city has changed quite a bit in the years that you’ve lived in New York. Are you pleased with its progress?
Yeah, definitely. I left Brooklyn for the Hudson Valley in 2009 and I feel like the amount of bike paths here has just exploded since then. Every year I’d come back to more and more. It was great. Obviously there’s still a long way to go before New York is a truly a bike-friendly city, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Bicycle Roots in Crown Heights. What was that like?
It’s been really great. The folks at Bicycle Roots are all really knowledgeable about bicycles and the community as a whole. So it’s been great, learning more about bikes and the New York cycling scene and just the neighborhood in general with them. But the shop that I first started working at as a mechanic was Bicycle Depot up in New Paltz. And those guys are really great. I think both shops have a similar attitude, in a way, in that they’re both trying to make biking as accessible to everyone as possible.
Any advice for people nervous about visiting bike shops? Someone just came into our office talking about a “crank-y pedal bit.” Does it help to know the terminology?
[Laughs] Yeah, it definitely helps to have some idea of what all the parts of the bike actually are and what they’re doing there. I think a lot of the time people who are new to biking will see a bike just as a whole and get intimidated if something isn’t working right. But there are plenty of things that you can do at home to keep your bike running smoothly even with just a basic knowledge of how all the components work together. But I think that in general shops get a bad rap, for being boy’s clubs or exclusionary, which has not been my experience at all. It’s really an issue of trust: you have to feel like you can trust the people working on your bike to give honest recommendations and to do a good job. So I think it’s really vital to develop a relationship with your local bike shop. You can also check out our Bike Maintenance 101 class…
Can you give TD Five Boro Bike Tour participants any last-minute bike prep advice?
I think the best advice is to take your bike for a ride and see if everything is running smooth. Make sure your tires aren’t looking too worn or old, and definitely pick up some extra tubes. It’s always a bummer when a ride gets cut short cause of stuff like that. Aside from that, pump up your tires, lube your chain, and most importantly, have fun!
You’ve been interning in the Communications department for the past several months. Was it all you expected? What was the biggest surprise about working here?
You know, I think I’ve been sent out for coffee a lot less than I thought I would. But really I think the biggest surprise was just how many different things Bike New York does, and how much work goes into everything. I was peripherally aware of Bike New York because of the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, but that really is just a part of it. With the volunteer corps, all the education initiatives, the regional rides, and everything that goes into guiding 32,000 cyclists 40 miles through the streets of New York, there’s always a lot going on here.
Any new bikes catch your eye lately? If so, can you tell me about it/them?
Well, after this last winter I’m thinking about getting a Surly Karate Monkey so I can try to actually stay on two wheels through the winter next time around. Aside from that, I’m trying to control my bike habit or at least channel it through the bikes I already own. For now, anyway…