New York City: A Biker Mecca on the Rise

For the average New Yorker, the morning commute is the worst part of their day. For Sam Polcer, it’s the best part.

Polcer is a born-and-raised New Yorker who knows a thing or two about cycling the streets and alleyways of America’s largest city. Aside from being an avid bike rider himself, he’s also the Director of Communications for Bike New York, photographer and writer of "New York Bike Style," and blogger extraordinaire for Preferred Mode.

These three cycling focused outlets showcase the kind of desire Polcer has in sharing his love for biking with the community. Whether it’s giving back to local riders by setting up events and Cycling 101-esque courses in the city, sharing photos that showcase the true uniqueness of New York City’s biker community, or just writing about his own love for our favorite two-wheeled machines, you can see his passion in everything he does — and everything he says.

Yet despite that undeniable passion he’s got for riding, it wasn’t always that way. For more on how Polcer’s combining his love for writing, photography, and, of course, biking, read on to our interview with him below.

You seem pretty entrenched in the NYC bike scene. Have you always been this passionate about biking in the city?

Not always. It started out and remained a convenient way to get around town. That’s pretty much it. I gradually fell in love with commuting by bike 10 years ago — It’s one of those rare things that’s both fun and good for you. It’s a win/win situation.

What’s it like to bike in NYC for those of us who have never experienced it?

It really depends on what streets you’re riding on. We've got some great protected bike lanes as well as shared roadways in the city and more are in the works.

What amazes me most is how much you can see in one trip. Unlike in the smaller cities and towns, you ride five minutes here and you can travel through five different countries. Biking makes it easy to see the different businesses and cultures in the greatest city on earth.

Being such a large and dynamic city, do you think there are some unique challenges other U.S. cities don’t have?

Absolutely, because cycling can seem dangerous. If you’re considering marking it a part of your life here in New York City, that in itself is a brave act. Slowly but surely, (riding here) becomes far less daunting. This is where Bike New York comes in.

Tell us about Bike New York.

Bike New York is a nonprofit organization that supports cycling as a sustainable form of transportation and recreation in New York. Among other things, it focuses on teaching people about riding bikes and helps organize riding events in the city.

Currently, we run the world’s largest free urban bike education program. That means that in each of the five boroughs, we’ve got at least one bike center with volunteers and instructors, summer camps and afterschool programs that teach safe and responsible riding practices. Name anything cycling education related, and we probably do it.

We also put on the TD Five Boro Bike Tour. It’s the largest charitable bike ride in the U.S., and this year we’ll be celebrating its 40th Anniversary. We host 32,000 riders on 40 miles of traffic-free New York City streets. People come from all over for this, and also take part in the country’s biggest consumer bike expo during the two-day preceding the Tour.

Where did the concept for Preferred Mode and New York Bike Style come from?

The idea behind Preferred Mode and New York Bike Style is to show that riding a bike in New York City can look as good as it feels. There's no place like NYC, and there's no better way to get around. I wanted to show the diversity, the style, the confidence, and the joy possessed by those who choose to ride. New York, its people and its cityscape give me the ideas—I just have to keep up.

I love going to an area with a lot of cycling and park myself on the corner. As people whiz by and I see someone that looks interesting — for any reason — I hop on my bike and try to catch them before they’re out of sight.

As a bike photographer, how do you try and set yourself apart?

By paying attention to the light and the background. Preferred Mode is as much about New York City as it is about the bikers in New York City.

Finding a background that suits the subject is crucial. Keeping the equipment and technique consistent is key, too. Generally, I use the skills that most photographers learn. Getting the subject to feel comfortable in front of the camera is always the biggest challenge. Making people feel at ease and look natural is harder than you’d think, even while they do something they enjoy so much, like riding a bike.

What’s up and coming in bike style/fashion that we may not see coming?

For the most part, people don’t dress to ride. And that’s a good thing. Having a general attitude that you can wear whatever you want when you’re riding is important, and I hope that’s the direction it continues in. Biking used to be all about spandex-clad weekend warriors, and now you see it all — dresses and beyond. Hopefully more people will continue the trend.

Have you got a memory that sticks out as being the best moment you’ve had on a bike?

I love riding at night in New York, usually going over a bridge to Brooklyn. There are fewer cars, and the streets become yours.

There’s something to be said for having a cheat code to the city. You’re unlocking the secrets that you only find because of a bike.

How else has biking everyday changed or improved your life?

I work professionally with bikes now, so they’ve had a huge influence on my life. I’d find it tough to stay in New York City without being able to get around by bike. It’s a more interesting, more convenient and healthier place to be when you’re on a bike. I save money on Metro Cards. I get places faster. I meet interesting people.

It also benefits the communities and the city as a whole as we get more people on bikes. As someone who’s from here, I’m proud of what we do.