Luis is a building super and handyman. After moving to New York from Chile in the 1980s he started riding a bike right away, commuting from his home on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. He now lives in the Lower East Side, closer to the properties he manages. The bike gets him around the neighborhood quickly and efficiently. “I work in many buildings around here,” he says. “Everybody knows me.” In fact he gives every impression of being a neighborhood fixture, pausing our conversation to shout multi-lingual greetings to familiar passersby (in this case, the greeting was a “Shalom!”).
He carries the tools and supplies he needs for the day in the bucket hanging from his handlebars. When I suggest he might look at installing a rack or basket, Luis waves his hand dismissively. He’s not interested in investing too much into the bike; like many long-time New York bike riders, he’s had his brush with bike theft. “I used to have a really nice bike — an expensive Peugeot. About five years ago somebody cut the lock and stole it.” He’s now gone the route of the beater mountain bike — comfortable and practical, but not flashy by any means.
Luis has mixed feelings about how the experience of riding a bike in New York has changed over the years. On the one hand, he’s seen the city become much more congested and difficult to navigate. At the same time, the proliferation of bike lanes has helped a great deal. Several years ago a work accident caused him to lose most of the vision in his right eye, so he rides more slowly than he used to. The separation from traffic makes him feel more safe.
Riding a bike may be the most practical mode of transport, in his case, but it’s one he also happens to enjoy.” It’s great exercise! Good for the legs.” It’s also clear even from our short conversation that being on the bike helps him stay connected to the neighborhood. As I thank Luis for his time, he grins and shows off some Russian: “Spasibo!” He pauses and adds, “Jesus loves you!”