Being in a city where cycling is ‘hard’ can make you love it more. Anna Bugbee thinks so. She grew up near the mountains in a childhood of adventure, and fell in love with cycling even harder when she got to New York. Anna’s most likely to be found doing weird rides in NYC, exploring out of the city in search of an adventure back into nature, riding around Mexico and Europe or disappearing into soon-to-be-real travel memoir dreams (and she shares an epic reading list at the end, too). When I meet her in Brooklyn in the spring, she is between being back on the bike after breaking her collarbone and heading out on the next adventure.
How did you get into cycling?
My Dad used to organise this race called ‘The Tour of Two States’ that went from our house, near the northern border of Utah, up to Idaho. It goes over these two big peaks and it would finish at the house. I was just a little kid when he would do these, but I remember our backyard being full of all these tired cyclists after doing this long ride.
He has a tandem bike that we used to go on rides with. I was pretty young – I think I was eight or ten. He put these foam blocks on the pedals so I could reach them. I kept a little game in his back pocket that I could play while we rode. We’d go on some pretty long rides and I’d spend the entire time asking when we’d go home. He put me through a lot when I was little and at the time I didn’t want to, but now I’m really glad I did because I think it made me the person who I am. It made me able to put up with more. We’d go around Utah, which is super beautiful with the mountains. He’s really stoked that I’m as into cycling as I am now. He’s definitely been a positive influence in that way on me.
“I think it’s the challenge of biking here that makes it more interesting, and makes it more unique.”
I didn’t really get super into riding until I came to New York though. In Oregon, everyone has a bike and it was no big deal. I loved my bike and I loved riding it, but I wasn’t like “Yeah, biking is awesome!” I think it’s the challenge of biking here that makes it more interesting, and makes it more unique. In New York, some people are like “Wow, you’re going to try and ride in the city?”
And you’re like: “Try? I am.”
Yeah. One of the people who influenced me in New York was Cordell, who does Stay Alive Studio. I met him five years ago when I was working at an art supply store. I remember riding with him for the first time – really riding through traffic and just going fast. The adrenaline rush was so amazing. Then I did my first alleycat and through that met so many more people. It was just this thing that grew and opened the community.
What kind of cyclist in New York would you say you are?
A casual one. I just commute to work but I also ride for pleasure. Right now I have a fixed gear, a road bike and touring bike.
Stella is my first love. She’s a Surly Steamroller that’s powder coated gold – a fixed gear that I got at my friend’s bike shop in Oregon. I brought her to New York with me, and then to Europe and Mexico, so she’s been all over with me. I got that bike shortly before I moved to New York. I fell in love when I saw her.
Luna is my road bike. It’s my Dad’s old bike: a Giant TCR aluminium frame. Two summers ago I got it powder coated indigo, because it was a bright yellow and covered with logos – really ugly.
My touring bike is a Miyata. It’s a Japanese brand from the 80s, it’s a classic bike with a front rack and a back rack. I have full fenders on it and it’s kind of like my all-purpose bike that can do anything.
Are you into racing?
I’ve never really been into racing – I’m not competitive at all. I like to be fit but I’m not trying to train for anything specific. I enjoy watching some races though, like the Red Hook Crit. Of course it’s fun when you know people in it. Some of the girls from FWOD did it this year, too.
I’ve done a few alleycats. Some of them – the ones that are super competitive and full of guys, I’m not so into because they’re too intense and not my thing. Last summer – actually when Tamara was here – FWOD threw a girl’s alleycat and that was super fun because it’s just about being inclusive for women. Not crazy competitive, just having fun. I’ve done a few like that, that are just more goofy and for fun.
Who put those goofy ones on?
Just FWOD, Lockfoot Possi and Cranksgiving. My first ever alleycat that I did was thrown by Lockfoot Possi. It was a memorial ride. You did it in teams and the checkpoints were like to chug a beer or do silly things. Part of it was to take photos to document the dumb stuff you were doing, and then add up points instead of finishing first and the whole point of it was just to have fun.
The Mala Bruja alleycat is cool too. They’ve done it two years in a row now – it’s around Halloween time and just for women. It’s cool to meet and see all the girls who come out for that.
Cranksgiving is another one. It’s a food drive for Thanksgiving where you go and collect food – the checkpoints are grocery stores and you have to collect a can of beans or a thing of potatoes. It’s for charity and everyone’s in a good mood, people dress up as turkeys and stuff. Tonnes of people come out and do it. Which is cool too, because you have these older couples out there doing it next to the young hipsters. It’s spread to tonnes of cities across the US. It’s cool because you can go on their website and they have a thing: ‘Want to throw your own Cranksgiving? Here’s how to do it.’
Does NYC have a lot of weird cycling events like that?
There’s the critical mass that I’ve never actually been on. I keep meaning to go on it and always miss it. I went on the Berlin one a couple of times and I really loved it. When I came back I thought ‘Yeah, I have to do it.’ There’s one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. There’s a group called Times Up who are an environmental activist organisation and they do free bike workshops for how to fix your bike and different community oriented things, too.
One of the coolest events here is called Bike Kill. That’s put on by the Black Label Bicycle Club. It’s every year at Halloween and they build all of these crazy freak bikes. Like tall bikes and weird choppers and a swing bike that has like two bikes parallel with a swing in the middle. Crazy things that you couldn’t even imagine. It’s the one day that they bring them out every year, and they have bike jousting and you can just ride all these crazy bikes around. It’s really fun.
If you could have a perfect day of cycling, what would it look like?
I guess to get out of the city and into nature is usually my goal with a ride. I pick some park or beach or lake to ride to. That’s the ultimate goal.
I tend to ride solo. I mean, I love riding with friends of course but sometimes it’s nice to just go at your own pace and leave whenever you want. It’s easier but it’s also a meditative thing for me sometimes. Being in the city, you’re always surrounded by tonnes of people and it can be really nice to just get out and have a moment to yourself.
Do you find riding in New York at all meditative?
No, not meditative. [laughs] It can be, but it’s pretty stressful.
It’s super fun but meditative is not the first word I would use. Once you get out of the city on like – you go over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey and up north – there’s this road called 9W and it has trees and you can just go and you don’t have to worry about traffic.
Also River Road is another one right after that bridge. It’s really hilly and super beautiful – it’s right along the Hudson River. Once you get to that point, that’s meditative.
Are those your favourite routes to get out of New York City?
That’s actually one thing that I don’t like about New York: that there aren’t very many options for going on long rides out of the city. Like riding to the [Rockaways] beach is fun – it’s not that far, like a 30 mile round trip – but it’s not really a scenic ride. Going up north is the main way that people get out and on a beautiful sunny weekend day there will be tonnes up there. Sometimes I wish I lived in LA or places in California or whatever, where there are so many different ways that you can get out. Here, there are some other places you can go but as far as going for a ride where you can just go and not worry so much about traffic, that’s kind of the easiest.
Tell me about your time in Berlin and Europe.
So I was studying abroad in Berlin, so I did a semester of school from January to May three years ago. I brought my bike with me on the plane. I loved it. I miss it so much.
Like I was talking about being able to get out here but it involves such a long ride through the city. In Berlin, sure you have to ride through the city a little bit, but it’s so much easier to get out. You can get into the woods, towards Potsdam and the west really quickly. I love the lakes. I did my first century ride in Berlin – I just remember riding around all these little lakes and fields over there, full of little yellow flowers – not really having a plan but I wanted to do 100 miles and did all these loops around the lakes.
I knew I wanted to go on some sort of touring adventure and I found out about the European Cycle Messengers Championships (ECMC) that was happening in Stockholm. There was a group ride from Copenhagen. I was like ‘okay I’m going to do this.’
I heard from someone how nice it was to ride from Berlin to Copenhagen and so me and my friend Christina, who I’d met was starting to get really into cycling. We cycled to Copenhagen, just the two of us. There was a whole pre-event there. There were 30 other people who did this group ride from Copenhagen to Stockholm, and then we spent the weekend just partying and doing bike stuff in Stockholm. It was amazing.
How was riding Copenhagen to Stockholm?
It was amazing, so beautiful. I wish we would have had more time to do it because there were places that I wanted to stop and take it all in but we had to get there for the event. Some of the days were over 100 miles. We were pretty fit and by the time we’d ridden that far we were used to long days like that. By the last day we were so shattered, so exhausted.
ECMC was amazing and so fun. Lots of partying. After riding that far and then staying up late and drinking, I was so tired. I slept under a tree while they did some of the racing and came back to life just in time for partying.
It was really cool to see all the couriers together, with such an amazing sense of camaraderie. They come together from all over the world. No other job is like that. I’ve never been messenger so obviously I don’t know, but there are so many unique things you have to deal with, and having that in common brings people together. Even if you just like bikes: that shared sense of adventure and being willing to put up with discomfort. There are certain things that come along with it, and you know that you can get along with other people when you share that.
That was probably the most amazing adventure of my life. It was such an amazing trip.
Have you guys done another trip since? You mentioned Mexico.
Two summers ago I went to Mexico with Christina who I did the Copenhagen ride with – it’s her home base. Riding down there is crazy. Mexico City is similar to here but even a little bit crazier, and also since it is so crazy the drivers don’t really honk at you. I was never scared someone would run my off the road – they’d give me space. Actually, the most scary thing was the enormous pot holes that if you hit it, you’re fucked. There’s a huge cycling scene down there that’s really cool.
Then we went to Guadalajara. It’s the second biggest city in Mexico. It’s really cool – way more laid back. It’s still a big city but it’s a lot more chill for sure. There was a bike polo tournament there and there was a women’s team that totally kicked ass. They were really cool to see – they were so good. I loved it.
Are there bits of the world that you’re most interested in seeing next?
I read this book about a woman and her husband who rode around the world. It was super inspiring. You have to put up with so much crazy shit and be so uncomfortable. I would want someone to do it with, too.
They took two years off and they went from California, up to Alaska, and then down through Minnesota, to New York and then south. Then flew from Florida to Spain and rode all over Europe and to Morocco a little bit, and then they had to take a bus through the Middle East to Asia. It was too crazy politically to ride through there.
I loved reading it. It’s called Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage. It was written in the 70s and I definitely felt inspired – not to do the exact same thing, but just to do more trips like that.
What are some of your other favourite books about cycling?
There’s this other one called ‘Where the pavement ends’ by Erika Warmbrunn who rode by herself from Mongolia down through China and Vietnam. That was super inspiring too.
David Byrne wrote a book about his adventures cycling around the world, because he’s really into cycling and he brought his bike all over with him.
There’s this other one that’s called ‘It’s all about the bike’ by Rob Penn and it’s about a guy who’s been into cycling all his life, and he wants to build the perfect custom bike for himself. As he goes through the process of picking each component, he talks about the history of each part of the bike, which is super interesting. It had a lot of technical things about bikes that I didn’t really know.
The last one I read was called ‘Himalayan Passage’ by Jeremy Schmidt and it was about him, his wife and another couple who all went traveling around The Himalayas for seven months. Part of it was cycling but after the trip, if they were to do it again, they wouldn’t have brought the bikes just because it was hard to ride there because it was crazy dirt roads, or no road at all. Half the time you have to deal with storing them and how to load them on top of some crazy bus.
I really like travel memoirs. I feel like I can live vicariously through them.
You injured your collarbone recently. When you’re back on your bike post-injury, what are you looking forward to doing?
One thing I want to do more of this summer is bike touring and going camping with my bike. I went camping a bunch last summer, just taking public transportation up to Harriman State Park and hiking. This summer I’m not going to be able to take enough time off from work to do a real trip – I wish I could. I’ll be doing weekend trips up state.
You’re a full-time printmaker, right?
Yeah. I studied printmaking in school and I work at a screen printing studio in Red Hook. It’s all fine art stuff – our biggest screens are 10 feet tall. So it’s a lot of work and is exhausting sometimes, but it’s fun to get your hands dirty all day and make things.
But [in the future] I want to be able to do longer touring, and spend a year travelling.
What kind of thing are you thinking about for your longer trips?
I want to go to South America, I have a friend in Chile that I really want to visit, and I don’t know why but I’m really intrigued by the Himalayas. I really want to go backpacking through there.
How do you feel about riding and your own plans to go to in different parts of the world. Do you think you’ll ride or do something different?
It depends. In the Himalayas it’s just not worth it. South America I feel might be similar, where the roads might be so bad. But Europe, definitely. I love riding around in Europe. I don’t know if I’d do the entire world – that’s a little daunting. I think it’s such a great way to travel and see things.
After our interview in NYC in April, Anna sent me a little update about her first trip from June:
I went on my first bike camping trip of the season in early June. My friend Becca rode all the way from NYC to Montreal, so a few of us met up for the first night of her trip. I left straight from work on Friday and rode 30 miles north, camped in a little state park that you’re not supposed to camp in but I got there late enough that it was fine. I found a spot overlooking the Hudson River and watched the full moon rise, it was amazing.
The next day I rode 40 miles farther to meet the rest of the crew at Clarence Fahenstock, it was a lot of climbing and my bike was fucking heavy so I was beat by the time I got there.
It was a beautiful ride though, going along the Hudson then over the Bear Mountain Bridge. Sunday we took the train back so we had time to swim and rent kayaks in the lake nearby, it was so nice! It was just a regular two day weekend but it felt like such a journey, it was a great little adventure.