By ABIGAIL MEISEL
Published: January 25, 2013
At 4:40 on a 28-degree January morning, Christian Edstrom readied for his commute from Chappaqua, N.Y., to downtown Manhattan.
Having sheathed his legs in NASA-worthy Capo bib shorts — woven from high-tech fibers that compress leg muscles to minimize fatigue — he pulled on a pair of winter cycling tights lined with fleece from the waist to the thighs. Next came over-the-calf Smartwool ski socks under Sidi Genius 5.5 shoes strategically packed with chemical toe warmers. To shield his torso, he wore a wool base layer under an Italian long-sleeve racing jersey, and a windproof vest reinforced in front to block freezing gusts and meshed in the back to vent excess heat. On his head, an Assos Fuguhelm racing cap with vents on top to minimize sweating, and a pair of Oakley Jawbones sunglasses. The final touch: a pair of $19 insulated work gloves, coated with beeswax to make them water resistant.
Fastening his helmet, Mr. Edstrom stepped outside and into early-morning indigo. In a minute he was rolling down the driveway of his snow-covered Cape-style house, his headlights aglow, on a 40-mile journey to his workplace, JPMorgan, at One Chase Manhattan Plaza, a trip he would make entirely on a Zanconato cyclocross bicycle.
Mr. Edstrom, who works in JPMorgan’s operations division, bicycles round trip to work at least twice a week, logging approximately 600 miles a month. He averages 17 miles an hour and arrives at work by about 7 a.m. “The traffic in Lower Manhattan kills my time,” he said. When he doesn’t ride, he passes for an ordinary commuter, and takes Metro-North into Grand Central Terminal.
As he spun his wheels down South Bedford Avenue, ghostly at this hour, he reflected on his reasons for riding. “Mainly, I don’t want to take away family time to cycle. I leave when my wife and kids are sleeping, and I get home in time to have dinner,” he said.
Mr. Edstrom usually commutes alone (not counting the coyote family that regularly greets him near the town of Hawthorne and trots alongside his bike), but he is one of a growing number of people who commute by bike from far-flung suburbs in Westchester County, New Jersey and Long Island, many of them riding year round even as temperatures drop well below freezing.
“It’s clear from the number of phone calls we are receiving year round inquiring about how best to travel into the city, that there are more people cycling in from the suburbs,” said Caroline Sampanaro, director of campaigns and organizing at Transportation Alternatives, a cycling and pedestrian advocacy group.
Though no one has a hard number for how many people are commuting by bike, one measure in the growth of arctic-temperature cycling is the hyperkinetic message board of the Westchester Cycle Club Web site, which buzzed with activity on a recent morning.
“I live in Sleepy Hollow and work all the way downtown — is there a route on the East Side?” one cyclist asked via iPhone.
Another wanted to know: “Anyone interested in a commute ride to the city? I leave from the Tarrytown area between 5 and 5:30 a.m. Recently, I have been doing the ride 2-3 days weekly.”
The second query was from Scott Bernstein, an electrophysiologist and assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, who commutes 30 miles on a collapsible bike from his home in Tarrytown to his office at NYU Langone Medical Center at First Avenue and 34th Street.
“As long as it’s at least 10 degrees, I ride,” Dr. Bernstein said.
Cyclists coming from the north can ride off-road from as far away as Brewster by following the Putnam, North County and South County Trailways, bike paths laid over former railroad beds. The last crosses into the Bronx at Van Cortlandt Park. There, the parks department is creating easier access into the city by upgrading the last bit of trailway. The improved trail is going to be 15 feet wide — with a 10-foot-wide paved path, 3-foot earthen jogging path and 2-foot buffer/drainage area.
“We’ve gotten tremendous support from many individual cyclists and bike groups who just can’t wait for this project to happen,” said Margot Perron, Van Cortlandt Park administrator and president of the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy
After leaving the park, cyclists navigate two miles on urban streets through the Bronx, cross the Broadway Bridge and ride into Upper Manhattan, where they can access the Hudson River Greenway at Dyckman Street. The parks department is revamping the northern entrance to the Greenway, which now has stairs, installing a ramp to make it more accessible. The project is expected to be completed in 2014.
“From the Greenway, it’s a straight shot to Lower Manhattan,” said Jennifer Post, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Transportation, who noted an uptick in commuter cycling across New York State in the past several years.
Mr. Edstrom usually picks up the North County Trailway at Pleasantville, but on this morning, with a cold snap following two days of rain, he anticipated “dicey” conditions, meaning ice, so he headed toward Route 9A, where he shared the road with cars and thunderous tractor-trailers.
Ice is the nemesis of cold-weather cyclists, even Mr. Edstrom, a onetime professional racecar driver, who is no stranger to speed and danger.
Bridge crossings can also be a bugbear for winter cyclists. “About four years ago, when more people started riding in the winter, I created a hashtag ‘NYC Bridge Report’ ” on Twitter, Ms. Sampanaro said. “We got 10 people to be bridge reporters early in the morning,” she added. They let riders know if the city’s bridges are passable. The George Washington Bridge one presents a special challenge because it closes from midnight to 6 a.m.
That is one reason the Ridgewood Commuter Group, a band of cyclists living in and around Ridgewood, N.J., leaves at 5:30 a.m., said Rob Kotch, who founded the group after moving to the suburbs from Manhattan in 1995 and rides with them every morning. “We have riders who would leave at 4:45 if they could, but the bridge is closed,” Mr. Kotch said, adding, “There’s a shift leaving at 6:30 for the lazy people.”
When Mr. Kotch, 55, started cycling into the city about seven years ago, two other riders joined him. Now, the group has swollen to more than 30, with “new people joining all the time,” he said. “I’ve also met people who commute in from Montclair, Oradel and Tenafly.”
The Ridgewood Commuters ride in a tight pace line averaging 22 miles per hour. Many are amateur racers, and they quicken their pace into a competitive sprint as they pass Grant’s Tomb. For the return trip, the Commuters meet on the corner of 61st Street and Central Park West at 6 p.m.
“Bicycling in from New Jersey and other suburbs took off after the city passed a law requiring landlords to accommodate bikes in buildings,” said Mr. Kotch, referring to the Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law, which went into effect in December 2009.
One testament to the law’s success is the office of Jodie Hein — the only female member of the Ridgewood Commuters. She keeps her bicycle propped against her desk, and hangs her jersey to dry on the corner of a filing cabinet — “my drying rack” — in her office atop the Graybar Building, adjacent to Grand Central on Lexington Avenue, where she works as an agent for commercial illustrators. Like most riders, Ms. Hein, who completed the New York Ironman Triathlon last August, showers at a gym near work and keeps a supply of business attire in her office.
Opening a bottom desk drawer, she pulled out a pair of black four-inch silver-studded heels and pointed to two folded dresses. “I like knits because they don’t wrinkle,” she said.