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No bike lane on a bridge? No problem. Just use a water bike. That’s what Judah Schiller did to cross the Hudson River on Thursday (October 3), when he became the first person to ever ride a bike across the iconic waterway.
“It’s the perfect commute. In the time it takes to to buy a ticket for the ferry, sit on the ferry, get off, do all those things … Again, a little bit of infrastructure, this could be even easier and certainly cheaper than riding the ferry.”
Any bike can be turned into a water bike according to Schiller, who founded the BayCycle Project in San Francisco, an organization dedicated to water biking. The bike is retro fitted with a drive mechanism that is attached near the seat post. There is also a heavy cylinder much like the kind that is used on stationary bikes. So as the rider pedals the cylinder moves and then turns the propeller.
There are two inflatable pontoons that can be blown up just before a rider hits the water. The entire system folds up into a backpack and weighs less than 20 lbs (9 kg).
“Any bike in theory can go on this. The reality is the system that I’m riding was developed in the late 90s and bikes have evolved considerably to now, 2013. Different sized frames, different sized forks … So that’s what we’re working on now at BayCycle Project is to design something that really fits the needs of bikes that we all use here in the United States.”
In cities like New York, bicycling has increased in popularity as a means of transportation. Earlier this year New York unveiled a bike share initiative that has been largely successful in the city. Schiller is confident that once they learn about it, commuters and recreational bike enthusiasts will take to water biking naturally — and he says he thinks in time it will even become an Olympic sport.
“Water biking as a sport is perhaps even easier than solving some of the city’s major transportation issues. But as a sport this will probably take off even faster. Everybody who sees this wants to give it a whirl and once they get on it they quickly realize why it’s no different than another kind of biking. It’s a lot of fun, it has its own unique elements to it but it’s biking on the water and that’s pretty special.”
Indeed, a handful of New Yorkers who were hoping to get a glimpse of the water bike were waiting for Schiller on the pier when he arrived in Manhattan.
Andrew Dolan bought one this summer and said it is fantastic to use when the weather is warm.
“It’s just easy. It’s not bulky. It breaks down into nothing, a backpack that you can — it’s easily transported. And you can get on the water without having a boat,” Dolan said.
Cyclist Alex Zinc was hoping to take a spin on the water.
“It looks a little safer than I thought it would be and I think it frees you from getting stuck at the edge of a body of water. When you’re with your bicycle it’ll give you a great sense of freedom to just ride anywhere.”
Biker John Knudsen said he thinks the idea is interesting as a sport, but he doesn’t think the weather will make it realistic for commuters.
“He talked about commuting and I thought okay, San Francisco might be another thing. Here we’re much more of a two season city so February would be a real hard push. But for recreational purposes I think it looks like a real interesting idea.”
The BayCycle Project plans to bring water biking to the masses in 2014, when it launches a tour through other U.S. cities including Miami, San Diego, Los Angeles and Portland.