In 1978, we opened Bicycle Habitat in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Subway fare cost $.50, and and there were only a handful of us true bike commuters throughout the city.
Thirty-five years later, I enjoy how things have grown and changed.
- Our city: In 1978, there were no bike paths on the Manhattan or Queensboro Bridges. Cyclists and pedestrians didn’t have direct footpaths on the Brooklyn Bridge; we had seven awkward, bulky sets of staircases to climb and descend in order to cross from one side to the other. The Williamsburg Bridge bikeway was almost unrideable. The Staten Island Ferry cost a nickel. Bike messengers and food delivery guys on bicycles were nonexistent; the number of on-street bike lanes was zero. The number of bike lanes in Central and Prospect Park: zero – unless you count the few hours each Sunday afternoon when the parks closed to traffic.
- Our bikes: Bike design has changed as well. Our most popular, entry-level models were the Zebrakenko Storm and the Silver Shadow, $275 and $225, respectively; our cheapest bike was just under $200. While MTA fares have increased five-fold from $.50 to $2.50, our least expensive bike today has only doubled in price to $430.Technological and manufacturing advances have played a major role in keeping bike prices reasonable. Today’s bikes are in many ways better than they were in 1978. They are lighter, significantly more comfortable, with much better stopping power and more usable gear systems. When we opened, ergonomics and fit were not yet on the radar of bike designers. Top tubes were much too long, making riders stretch to reach the bars. “Upright” positioning was a dirty word among our suppliers and almost impossible to achieve. Bike helmets didn’t exist. Actually, they did for racers – it was called a hair net and consisted of leather straps which did little to protect the head. Kevlar tires didn’t exist, so flats were fairly frequent. As for saddles, however, the iconic Brooks saddle hasn’t changed in years, it was and is fairly comfortable.
- Our store: In 1978, we had one storefront, 1100 sq ft; “employees” were just myself and Hal Ruzal. Now, we have a great family of staff and friends, and a history with our customers. And very dear to my heart: Next week, I am happy to announce we will are returning to the west side to open a new location at 228 7th Avenue, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. We are designing the store with an urban focus, to reflect the urban cycling evolution of riding in our city.
Lots has changed. Except for the five-fold increase subway fares, it has mostly been for the better. Thank you for letting me part of your ride.
Come visit us in Chelsea. We look forward to creating new memories with you and reflecting on those in the years to come. We open March 15th.
Owner, Bicycle Habitat