Talking Bike Shop with Redbeard's Kasia Nikhamina
Image: Les Brown / Transportation Alternatives.
In honor of Women's History Month, and to highlight women's contributions to New York City each and every month, BikeNYC will be riding with and profiling the city's leading ladies of bicycling: spotlighting the entrepreneurs, athletes, activists and moms who are helping realize the bike's revolutionary power and growing the ranks of women on bikes, two wheels at a time.
The Women BikeNYC series kicks off now and culminates during Bike Month (a.k.a. May). Catch the following five profiles here and on Transportation Alternatives' Instagram account, where each subject will share her view as a two-wheeled woman in NYC.
In this edition, BikeNYC spoke with Redbeard Bikes' co-owner Kasia Nikhamina, a Polish-born, Queens-raised writer and cyclist, who didn't let a car crash set her back.
What are you riding?
Today I'm riding my main bike, the Lynskey. I love the way its titanium frame sings when I'm in the zone, doing laps around Prospect Park on my way to or from the shop. And with the rack and top mount brakes, it's a nimble commuter. Ilya and I got matching Lynskeys as wedding gifts in 2007. For us, bikes trumped diamonds!
The Liv Envie is my super fast bike. That bike took me outside my comfort zone and to the next level of riding. I also have a red two-speed Brompton folding bike for casual zips about town, and I just got a Gunnar Sport, a steel frame that Ilya and I are going to build up as my workhouse. One day, that will be my supermom bike!
How long have you been bicycling?
My first adult bike was a nondescript black mountain bike. Ilya got it for me in 2003, when I started college. I was up at Columbia, so I used to ride casually in Central Park and on the West Side Greenway. One summer, I got really ambitious and commuted from the “cemetery belt” of Queens, where I lived at the time, to my summer job at Columbia. It was a really taxing ride — I used to eat all the food I’d packed for the day by 11am!
In 2008, I was hit by a car. Thankfully, I made off with only scrapes and bruises. After a short hiatus, I was back on the bike. I grew addicted to the freedom the bicycle gave me and have considered myself a cyclist ever since.
How did you go from casual commuter to "serious cyclist" and co-owner of one of Brooklyn's most renowned bike shops?
Bike shops are busiest when the weather’s nicest. So ironically enough, when a cyclist starts a bike shop, they’ll often stop riding. But the opposite happened for me. When I quit my day job in Manhattan to help Ilya run the shop, I suddenly had a feasible commute from Kensington to DUMBO. I started doing an extra lap on my way home from work, stealing time from myself, for myself. I found that riding gave me clarity and an escape from the constant human interaction involved in running a bike shop. I realized that there was a difference between tired and sated. I was not sated. So I rode more, got stronger and faster...and here I am.
But really, there's so much more to this story. I'm actually writing a book about it, so stay tuned!
If you could change one thing about New York City’s streets, what would it be?
As urban dwellers and street users, we are all bound by a covenant to look and listen. Sure, we need smarter street design. But by being aware of each other — drivers, cyclists and pedestrians — and making informed decisions on the road, we could prevent many deaths and injuries.
In spite of the growing numbers of women bicyclists in New York City, there's a stubborn gender disparity on the streets. What do you see as the biggest obstacle to getting more women riding?
Drawing on my personal experience, and conversations with women who shop at Redbeard, I think it's three-fold: (1) Infrastructure: are the roads safe for me? (2) Community: do I have people to ride with? (3) Gear: what bike do I get?
At Redbeard Bikes, we help with the first two things by supporting the advocacy of groups like Transportation Alternatives and by organizing shop rides.
But as a shop, we make the biggest difference when it comes to gear. The universe of bikes and components is vast. You don't have to master all of it: that’s our job. We are here to set you up on a bicycle that fits well and rides well. That way you can be a confident rider and achieve your goals. At the end of the day, we want your bicycle to give you joy, even if you're just riding it from point A to B.
What do you find most encouraging?
Maybe I'm just especially attuned to the women's cycling scene, but it seems like there are lots more resources springing up. After a brutal winter, Rapha ladies' rides are already going strong. Redbeard Bikes will also be kicking off a ladies' ride series soon, led by yours truly.
There's a line that stuck with me from a blog post about women's rides in Sydney, Australia: "Nervous excitement from a year ago had grown into a sense of pleasure, belonging and ease." A year from now I want to be hearing that from women all over New York!
This article brought to you by Transportation Alternatives: your advocate for better bicycling, walking and public transit in New York City. Become a T.A. member today for a free set of front and rear bike lights, discounts on T.A. bike tours and savings at over 150 NYC-area bike shops and businesses.