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Cycling Through the Centuries on a City Bike

By William J. Dean / March 27, 1998



Purchasing a bicycle is not a decision lightly taken by a New Yorker. Deprived of attic, basement, and garage, we cram our possessions into closets. In my apartment, the only available space is the bathtub.

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I decided to keep my new bicycle in the living room. Of beautiful design, it enhances the room. At Christmas I hung cards on the bicycle frame and spokes.

Nighttime in the city. I am on my way to a friend's apartment for dinner. I can walk, take a bus or taxi, hop on a subway, or go by bicycle. I choose the last.

I enter Central Park at 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue. On weekends, the park is closed to traffic. The air is bracing. I bicycle past Pilgrim Hill. The cypress trees there stand like sentinels in the night. The sky is clear and the moon bright. Seeing the moon is a treat, for in the city it is often hidden by tall buildings.

At the top of a steep hill I reach the obelisk. Commissioned by Thutmose III, the greatest of the pharaohs, who ruled Egypt from 1501 to 1447 BC, it took 38 days to transport it by ship from Alexandria to New York in 1879, and 112 days to move it by a specially constructed railway from the Hudson River landing at 96th Street to this site.

Across from the obelisk stands the Metropolitan Museum of Art, brightly illuminated and crowded with Saturday-evening visitors. Visible from the park is the museum's Temple of Dendur.

Two additional minutes on my bicycle convey me from ancient Egypt to the 20th century in the form of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum. It, too, is a beehive of nighttime activity.

I continue north, red lights flashing on the handlebars and behind the seat. Leaving the park at 90th Street, I arrive at my friend's apartment house.

How pleased I am to have come by bicycle! I have seen the moon, breathed deeply the park's fresh air, gazed at works of art centuries apart, and witnessed the vibrancy of the city's cultural life. My mode of transportation has transformed a routine trip into an adventure.