The archetypal New York ride is around Central Park. Every part of the cycling community is on show there, and you won’t find a cyclist in the city who hasn’t spent time pedalling around the park. It’s a rite of passage, enjoy it.
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Evelyn Stevens’ time in New York starts like many others – recently graduated, she packed her bags into her dad’s CRV in July of 2005, and he dropped her off at her first apartment at 29th St. and 3rd Ave. “I carried my bags upstairs, then he gave me a kiss goodbye and said, ‘good luck honey.’” The car had no bike rack – Evie didn’t ride yet. Within five years, she’d be a national time trial champion, on course to becoming a double Olympian, and one of the leading lights of American cycling.
“My first impression of New York was one of beautiful chaos. I was overwhelmed, but I loved it. There was an energy that I wanted to be a part of.” With a job in finance, becoming a part of that energy meant throwing herself into 90-hour work weeks. “I was working a ton, living the desk job lifestyle, and occasionally going running.”
It took a trip to visit her sister in California for Evie to get on a bike. “My sister was really into cycling, and I didn’t get it at all. Spandex? Guys with shaved legs? But she got me to do a cyclocross race, and to ride up Mt. Tam. I started to see what all the fuss was about.”
A bike was bought, and it immediately found a semi-permanent parking space in her apartment’s living room. “I was a bit intimidated by riding in the city. I was nervous, so nervous, on my bike. I lived in the West Village, and remember walking my bike to the West Side Highway, because I was scared of the cars. I clearly remember being at one of the intersections near my apartment. I was clipped in, and couldn’t unclip, and I fell over at the stoplight in front of the taxis.”
By the spring of 2008, Evie was riding regularly, and visited a CRCA clinic in Central Park on the recommendation of a friend. “I loved to run in Central Park, and that’s where I got my first impressions of riding. I saw all these people zipping around in matching outfits, you know, and I didn’t really understand it, all I knew was that it looked like fun.”
“I didn’t even know you could race bikes. I didn’t know that existed, which sums up New York, for me – there are so many different groups, cultures, niches.” She didn’t win her first race, but she did win her second. “I realized pretty quickly that I liked winning, so I kept going back for more. I did that first clinic in 2008, and raced all summer.”
She reached the point in her finance career at which her peers were heading off to business school, but the prospect didn’t seem as right for her as it once had. “I found myself racing at the domestic pro level, and I had an invitation from the national team to join them in Europe. I thought I’d take a year off from work, race my bike a bunch, and maybe by the end of the year figure out what to do with my life. But I ended up racing for seven years.”
But it wasn’t just the thrill of the chase that hooked Evie on riding and racing, she began to see New York from a new perspective. “I was riding my bike across the city, and I saw so much going on – the people, the palpable energy. I had been in a world of people who worked in finance, people who went to Dartmouth, and through cycling I met people of all different ages, all different jobs and backgrounds, and it really opened up New York City to me.”
With two Olympics under her belt, she still points to New York as the place that helped her realize the role that cycling could play in her life. “I’m still heavily involved with Transportation Alternatives, who advocate for pedestrians and cyclists in the city. Think about it – if it wasn’t for organizations like that, I would never have ridden my bike. I wouldn’t have ridden to the park, I wouldn’t have raced.”
New York, for Evie, is still the city that never sleeps. “I find that I don’t need to sleep as much when I’m in New York City. There’s an energy, like a natural jolt of caffeine, so it was almost easy to balance work and riding – I had that New York high. But instead of using that energy to stay up, socialize, go for a drink with friends, I was using it to wake up before dawn to go to races.”