Biking in New Jersey

I’m in New Jersey for work at the moment.  And this trip is like no other work trip.  This trip I found an amazing, kind, generous, fellow bikey advocate to rent-at-a-steal/borrow a bike suitable for mild touring.  It’s my first experience biking in the US outside of RI/MA (as a road/fitness cyclist) and OR/WA/CA.  New Jersey isn’t what I would think of as an okay place to bike, but I’d now say they deserve their #7 ranking.

On previous work-trips to NJ, I have staying in NYC – bunking down on a friend’s couch or blow-up – and commuted for 90 minutes each way.  This time, I wasn’t willing to invest the time.  So I’ve bunked down in suburban *I shouldn’t really insult my regional compats* at a B&B and am commuting 5 miles to Bell Labs.  My borrowed bike fits me like a dream.  The exercise and friends and colleagues is a combination that I couldn’t ask more for from a work stint.

Biking in NJ is much better than I imagined.  Maybe I’m not sure what I imagined.  The drivers in this suburban region give me the widest berth I’d ever experienced.  Given that I haven’t seen another bike on the roads (except for the person that I am borrowing from), I think this is a “what the hell is that thing on the road oh dear god I better stay away from it” effect.  It makes sense.  If you see 100 bikes on the way to work, you are probably less happy to slow down and wait for a safe time to give a 6ft berth to each bike.  But if you see one per week, maybe not that big a deal.

I encountered a police-guarded road block for a running race and asked a cop “I can’t get through?” and he laughed.  He said “you can on a bike” and sent me on my car-free way.  On the other end of the block another chatty cop was happy to talk to me about Oregon and biking as I waited for the light.  I concur with a League of American Bicyclists’ “sign of success”: Bicycle Education for Police.  Combine that with wide roads and I’m quite happy.  The B&B is happy to give me secure bike storage, including overnight for a night in NYC over the weekend between work stints.  The roads are softly rolling hills – a nice change from the Willamette Valley’s flat or insanely steep treats.

Sure, it isn’t all roses.  The grates in the roads have tire-wide slots and are right in side-of-the-road bike-placement hell.  The traffic lights are not sensitive to bikes, so you either have to wait for a car or risk life and law to cross.  The amber period also seems much shorter – car-cearing time, but not bike-clearing time.  And there is roughly no bicycle parking.  (A chicken-and-egg supply-and-demand problem.)

The biggest problem I’ve encountered is the NYC/NJ barrier.  I had intended to bike into NYC for a night – roughly 40 miles one-way.  But, as area riders would know, you cannot get across the Hudson by bike except by the George Washington Bridge, which is far into the north end of Manhattan and 23 miles out of the way.  You can take a bike on commuter rail to cross the river, but not during commuting hours – right when I need to travel.  Excellent.  Hence my storage at the B&B for a night.

So far, a positive experience.  One at much less cost – both financially (big saving) and environmentally (little saving) – to bringing my own bike across the country.  An experience I hope to repeat.  For part two of work stint, I will be biking 40 miles to Princeton.  And back.  On New Jersey roads.  Stay tuned!