Friday, February 26, 2010

On a wheel and a prayer

Bayonne is bridge du jour for trio of unicyclists who plan to pedal across every span in the city
Thursday, February 25, 2010
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Watching three men on unicycles dodging potholes in the cold and rain, drivers on Richmond Terrace could be forgiven yesterday for asking themselves, "Who are these clowns?"
Well, one of the riders, Keith Nelson, 39, co-founder of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, is in fact a clown, not to mention a juggler and sword swallower, though he was dressed for the trek not in floppy shoes and a red nose but in sneakers and a sweatshirt.

He was joined yesterday by friends Rob Hickman, 47, an artist and sculptor, and "The Brooklyn Juggler," Kyle Petersen, 25, who entertains the crowds at Brooklyn Cyclones' games and is also a stilt walker and plate spinner.
The one-wheeled trio of Brooklynites is on a quest to cross every bridge in the city by unicycle, and they had set their sights on the Bayonne Bridge.
Yesterday's ride marked their first foray into Staten Island and ultimately New Jersey, as they crossed number 24 off their list.
The NYC Unicycle Bridge Tour was born last October, when Nelson and Hickman crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and thought they should try all the others. Very minor crossings included, they estimate there are 2,078, which they intend to tackle during rides every Wednesday, weather permitting.
The Triborough Bridge, now known as the Robert F. Kennedy, was the most challenging so far, they said, mostly because they got lost on Randall's Island.
The Bayonne, though beautiful, was also a little hairy, they agreed, with its narrow bike path and low railings.
When they finally reached the span, it was a long pedal up the steep incline to the midpoint of the arch, where they paused to admire the architecture, before rolling downhill into Bayonne, where they paid a visit to a friend's saloon to rest their legs and gear up for the long ride back to the Staten Island Ferry.
"It's a gorgeous bridge," Hickman said. "This bridge is a gem."
Along the way, "We get a lot of thumbs up and horns honking," Petersen said.
They also got plenty of quizzical looks and chuckles, as they cycled around two construction sites along the way.

And they took the potholes and rough road along the Terrace in stride.
"It keeps it interesting," Petersen said. "It gets a little boring when it's just smooth ground."
The unicycles top out about 8 mph; the average for yesterday's ride was somewhere between 4 and 5 mph.
The trio is working up to maintaining a 6-mph clip, which they say is the minimum speed required to join the Five Borough Bike Tour. That's key because it's the one day a year that it's legal to cycle across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
The Goethals Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing aren't on the group's unicycling itinerary, as neither span has a public walkway.
Petersen, who learned to ride on one wheel at age 12, was charged with updating the group's live Twitter feed during the ride, until a Richmond Terrace pothole swallowed his tire. "It was an 'unplanned dismount,'" he said after losing his balance, as opposed to a face plant on the pavement.
Hickman and Nelson just learned to ride about a year ago.

Follow them in their journey by visiting their blog at, or

Maura Yates covers transportation news for the Advance. She may be reached at

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bayonne Bridge

Bayonne Bridge, February 24, 2010
Rob Hickman on a 26", Keith Nelson on a 26", Kyle Petersen on a 20"

After three cancellations due to blizzards and despite a dismal weather forecast calling for a 90% chance of rain and/or snow, we finally crossed the Bayonne bridge. The roads were wet and the sky was misty. Another winter storm was on the way. Rob and Keith made the go-ahead decision at 8:30 am. Kyle was to meet us at the Staten Island Ferry terminal at 9:45. Other riders abstained from this journey either due to prior commitments or simply not taking a chance on a wet arse. A press team from the Staten Island Advance would join us as soon as we got to Staten Island. Everything went like clockwork.

On the ferry Kyle and Rob were stopped by two police officers for picture taking off the stern as we passed the Statue of Liberty. Kyle backed us out of the altercation as it was revealed that one of the officers belonged to the one wheeled brotherhood. We were unable to cox him into giving Kyle's uni a spin. Kyle even offered to hold his gun. They wouldn't even let us take their pictures. It's fine to photograph a cop on a horse, but not on a unicycle on a ferry. We asked the Staten Island based officers if they knew any of the folks who ran the Riker's Island bridge. They suggested we contact the prison's media department.

We met the press team along the harbor's edge near the Staten Island Yankees ballpark. After a brief interview and photo op, a fancy video camera was attached to the stem of Keith's 26" wheel (Staten Island Advance should be posting footage soon). Afterwards we headed off on our adventure - a 6-1/2 mile ride down Richmond Terrace around the northwestern corner of Staten Island to the Bayonne bridge. We rolled past Snug Harbor Cultural Center, where Keith along with many other Bindlestiff Family Cirkus performers have run summer camps and presented shows. Keith fondly recalled all of the entertaining spectacle that Bindlestiff was able to create with Chris Catt and his crew of theater folks.

We clocked an average speed of 6 miles an hour with a top speed of 8, as we were followed by a press van toward the bridge. We crossed a small creek, which probably added another span to our count. We also cycled over a train overpass. These definitions will challenge us as the tally grows. There were numerous construction activities on Staten Island. The workers seem to always enjoy us. Rob received his best flag waving efforts yet. We didn't seem to notice how bad the pot holes were until we were asked about it by a reporter. Then it seemed like we were dodging them everywhere. It's interesting to notice how the number of potholes is proportionate to the number of auto repair shops on Richmond Terrace.

The Bayonne bridge is a breathtaking and extraordinary structure. It is the fourth largest steel arch bridge in the world. The immensity, seen from a distance over buildings and landscapes, is surreal. It's easy to see why it was used as a backdrop in the film, 'War of the Worlds'. We were a little perplexed at the bridge entrance because we were met by a sign which indicated that neither pedestrians nor bicyclists were allowed. Since we were technically neither and because our press team was waiting for us up ahead, we continued on. We were also joined by a vested escort from the Port Authority, the agency that owns and operates the bridge. The crossing was the most terrifying yet. Unlike the Triborough which had a low guard rail to one side, the Bayonne has low guard rails to both sides. Dizzying 150 foot drops to the Kill Van Kull lay to both sides of the narrow cat walk. On a positive note for design, the expansion joints used covered span plates. At first these plates looked quite pronounced and treacherous, but in the end made a much safer route for a thin tire to roll, and was done with ease. We held another press conference in the center of the cold vibrating span as a huge container ship passed underneath. Kyle performed tricks for the press team on the New Jersey side of the span and we returned the uni cam. Down the ramp into New Jersey, we headed off on our own into Bayonne. This was our first time riding as a team in New Jersey, Kyle's home state. A couple weeks ago Keith and Rob did a radio interview with Tom Sharpling on New Jersey based WFMU (which you can listen to by clicking here and scrolling 59 minutes into the program). Sharpling informed us that the uncle of his show's Associate Producer owned a bar in Bayonne. Located only about a mile and a half from the bridge, the bar became our destination. There we were greeted by Joe the bartender and a host of regulars.

Massa's unassumingly sits on the corner of West 24th and Ave A. It is the longest single family owned business in Bayonne. The bar dates back to 1934 when it began as a speakeasy in the basement. Prior to serving illegal liquid delights the bar began as a candy shop. We were given a full tour including secret doors leading to the old speakeasy in the basement. As many good bar discussions will, the conversation went into sports. Kyle's devotion to the Mets nearly lead to a bare knuckle brawl with a 92 year old die hard Yankee fan. Massa's opens at 6 am, pints are $2, conversation is lively and you are sitting in history. More pictures from our visit to Massa's Tavern can be seen at

The Bayonne bridge was our 24th bridge crossing. Next week, Tueday March 2nd, we are going to City Island.

From information about the Bayonne bridge from Wikipedia:
The Bayonne Bridge is the fourth longest steel arch bridge in the world, and was the longest in the world at the time of its completion. It connects Bayonne, New Jersey with Staten Island, New York, spanning the Kill Van Kull.

The bridge was designed by master bridge-builder Othmar Ammann and the architect Cass Gilbert. It was built by the Port of New York Authority and opened on November 15, 1931, after dedication ceremonies were held the previous day. The primary purpose of the bridge was to allow vehicle traffic from Staten Island to reach Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.

Ammann, the master bridge builder and chief architect of the Port Authority, chose the steel arch design after rejecting a cantilever and suspension design as expensive and impractical for the site.
The eventual design of the bridge called for a graceful arch that soars 266 feet (69 m) above the Kill Van Kull and supports a road bed for 1,675 feet (511 m) without intermediary piers. The total length of the bridge is 8,640 feet (2,633 m) with a mid-span clearance above the water of 150 feet (46 m). The arch resembles a parabola, but is made up of 40 linear segments.
The design of the steel arch is based on the Hell Gate Bridge designed by Ammann's mentor, Gustav Lindenthal.[citation needed] Gilbert had designed an ornamental granite sheathing over the steelwork as part of the original proposal, but as in the case of the George Washington Bridge, the stone sheathing was eliminated in order to lower the cost of the bridge, leaving the steel trusses exposed. It was the first bridge to employ the use of manganese steel for the main arch ribs and rivets.

Construction on the bridge began in 1928, and eventually cost $13 million. When it opened on November 15, 1931, it was the longest steel arch bridge in the world. It was deliberately built a few feet longer than the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened the year after. The presence of the Bayonne Bridge ultimately led to the discontinuation of the Bergen Point Ferry.

The supported roadway carries two lanes of traffic in each direction. The roadway deck could accommodate an expansion for either two traffic lanes or two light-rail lanes. A pedestrian walkway, cantilevered from the western side of the roadway, currently provides the only access by foot to Staten Island. The Port Authority also permits bicycle traffic, however the sidewalk ends abruptly at descending stairs on the New Jersey side. Due to safety concerns, bicycle riders are required to walk their bicycles across the bridge.

Tolls are collected on vehicles traveling into Staten Island (there is no toll for vehicles traveling into New Jersey). The car toll is $8.00, though discounts are available for E-ZPass subscribers.
In September 2007, the New York City Transit Authority began a limited-stop bus route (the S89 ) that crosses the bridge. The route's termini are the Hylan Boulevard bus terminal in Eltingville, Staten Island and the 34th Street Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Station in Bayonne. This is the first interstate bus service offered by the MTA.
In 2003, the bridge carried about 20,000 vehicles per day.

Height Problem
The span presents a difficult obstacle to large container ships passing under it on the way to and from Newark Bay. Its clearance of between 151 feet (46 m) feet and 156 feet (48 m) feet above the Kill Van Kull depending on the tide means that some of today's ships, which can reach 175 feet (53 m) above the waterline, must fold down antenna masts, take on ballast or wait for low tide to pass through. The problem will become more serious after the Panama Canal is widened when a new generation of monster ships that can potentially carry double the load of current vessels are expected to become commonplace. The Port Authority is considering replacing the span, and has commissioned a study of the question by the Army Corps of Engineers to be completed in the summer of 2009, and has authorized up to $10 million for planning and engineering services to develop options to deal with the bridge's low clearance. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently released a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study that looked at three options to deal with the height-challenged bridge. The quickest option is a $1.3 billion project to jack up the bridge 40 percent above its 150 feet which could be accomplished by 2019 at the earliest. It will need a clearance of 215 feet to handle the new ships. Another option is to build a whole new bridge which would take until 2022. The most expensive option would be to get rid of the bridge altogether and replace it with a tunnel through which traffic would traverse under the Kill Van Kull. This option would take to 2024 to complete. Congressmen from both New York and New Jersey are pressing the Port Authority to act quickly.

Appearances in popular culture
▪The bridge was featured in the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind.
▪The bridge has appeared in the HBO prison drama Oz.
▪The bridge has appeared in the background on a few episodes on the ▪Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Pete & Pete.
▪The bridge was featured in the 2005 science fiction film, War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise, appearing in the background several times in the scenes that took place in Bayonne. The main character's home was also located near the bridge, which is destroyed in an attack by aliens.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bayonne Bridge Crossing has been rescheduled for February 24th

Our last three attempts to cross the Bayonne Bridge by unicycle have been dashed because of substantial snowfall. We have rescheduled our Bayonne bridge crossing yet again to Wednesday February 24th. We will be crossing the Bayonne bridge from Staten Island to New Jersey. The Bayonne bridge is the fourth largest steel arch bridge in the world. It will be our first visit to Staten Island and our first trip to New Jersey. We will be taking the 10AM ferry from from Manhattan Whitehall Terminal (South Ferry) to Staten Island. It will be a 12 mile roundtrip ride. All participating riders will receive an official NYC Unicycle Bridge Tour Bayonne Bridge Spoke card. The ride will have a live Twitter feed at: For more information contact Rob or Keith

Official NYC Unicycle Bridge Tour Bayonne Bridge Spoke card

For Immediate Release
NYC Unicycle Bridge Tour

What: New York City Unicycle Bridge Tour
When: Multiple dates in 2010
Where: All Five Boroughs in New York City
Twitter feed:

There are 2,078 bridges in the 5 boroughs of New York City. Since October 14, 2009, Keith Nelson and Rob Hickman have been making weekly treks around the city to cross every one of them.... on unicycles.

The duo has been joined by several other one-wheelers and the latest two rides counted 4 unicyclists. These one wheel wonders leave a wake of amusement through every neighborhood they pass. Never able to coast, the hard-peddling riders are crossing distances ranging from 2 to 13 miles. The treks usually originate in Hickman and Nelson's neighborhood of Williamsburg.

Longer distances will be covered as the bridges in the outer regions of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx boroughs are spanned. Staten Island presents its own challenge, as there is only one day a year that cyclists can cross the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. With this in mind, Nelson and Hickman are striving to average six miles an hour, the minimum speed required for the Five Borough Bike Tour.

Taking advantage of cycle lanes throughout the city, the one wheel mission may be rolling through your neighborhood soon. Rides are on Wednesdays, weather permitting.

You can follow the NYC Unicycle Bridge Tour at

Keith Nelson One Wheels it in China

In October 2009, four mono wheelists journeyed to China in search of the land of one hundred Buddhas.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

New Kosciuszko to have Unicycle Lane

The Kosciuszko Bridge is getting redesigned. This is very good news for Unicycle Bridge Tour riders because it will allow us to legally close in our Newton creek crossings. We have three bridges left to cross over Newton Creek. The Borden Avenue bridge is closed for emergency repairs and will reopen in April 2010. The Long Island Expressway span over Dutch Kills and the Kosciuszko bridge remain out of limits. Currently neither have pedestrian, bike, or unicycle lanes and would be illegal to cross by unicycle without permission.

Last night four possible designs for the Kosciuszko bridge, which goes over Newtown Creek and connects Brooklyn and Queens, were unveiled by the DOT for residents to review and critique. All four designs feature unicycle lanes.

The four designs offer the same support and safety, with different appeal: the concrete cable-stayed bridge resembles a Modernist take on the Brooklyn Bridge; the crescent arch design is similar to the Bayonne Bridge; the deck arch is basically a more stylish box girder; and the simple, highway-like box girder would maintain a nice view of Manhattan.

Each design has an increased number of lanes, featuring five toward Brooklyn and four toward Queens. There will be a pedestrian walkway and unicycle lane. The NY Times reports that a price tag wasn't put on the project, though word is it could cost up to $1.7 billion. But as one DOT director declared, “It will be the first new bridge in New York City since the Verrazano. This is a big deal.”

Many unicyclists said that they didn’t care what it would look like, as long as it eliminates the bridge’s notorious steep incline.

The refurbished, now 60-year-old bridge would last another 100 years and keep the same name — after Tadeusz Kosciuszko, an instrumental Polish general in the American Revolutionary War.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Studs or Chains?

Three weeks in a row! Ouch- That Hurts! We're getting pretty frustrated with all this Snowpocalypse and Snowmageddon business. The snow covered roads and sidewalks here in New York City are taking a bite out of our stride. So we've asked our research and development team to come up with a few solutions:

Studded Unicycle Tire

Putting Chains on a Unicycle Tire

Monday, February 15, 2010

Will Our Third Bayonne attempt be foiled yet again by snow?

The New York metropolitan area may receive an additional three to six inches (7.6 to 12.7 centimeters) of snow tonight and tomorrow, the National Weather Service forecast on its Web site. About two to four inches of snow is possible tonight, while another one inch to two inches could accumulate tomorrow, the National Weather Service said. The service also issued a winter weather advisory and hazardous weather outlook, starting at 7 p.m. local time and running through 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Snow accumulation in the unicycle lanes will thwart an attempt. If there is no snow accumulation we will ride. As of Monday night the ride is still on. We will be making our final decision at 7AM Tuesday morning.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snowmageddon 2 cancels Second Bayonne Attempt

Our second attempt to cross the Bayonne bridge was dashed as Snowmageddon 2 blasted into the metro area Tuesday night. The ride has once again been rescheduled, this time for Tuesday February 16th. After two weeks of blizzards on Wednesdays, maybe a Tuesday ride will allow us to actually pedal together.

Satellite image from NASA

Looking at yesterday's satellite image you can see how close Snowmageddon got to the city this past weekend. Great Kills actually had 6.4 inches of snow on Saturday and about an inch fell on parts of Brooklyn. A second wave of cold air behind that storm is blowing into town today. Despite the sun it will be a cold and windy day. Look for highs a little above freezing with wind chill readings in the teens.
If you have time today or tomorrow you may want to brush up on your snow measuring skills as Snowmageddon 2: Return of the Nor'easter looks like it will arrive late Tuesday night and last through Wednesday. A low pressure system is expected to develop rapidly off the Carolinas tomorrow and move up the coast. When the moisture associated with that storm tries to ride up and over the dome of cold air over the northeast it is going to dump a significant amount of snow.

The current Weather Service hazardous weather outlook says "potential for 6 or more inches". The "or more" part of that forecast bears repeating as the storm looks like it will be perfectly positioned to dump a bunch of snow on the metro area.