Go West, Young Man. . . On a Citi Bike

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Jeffrey being photographed
Jeffrey Tanenhaus gets a hero’s welcome from Bike Share riders in Santa Monica; photo by Frances Anderton

Might you consider a solo bike ride across America? If so, would you choose a sturdy, heavy NYC Citi Bike with just three gears? 

That was the ride of choice of 35-year-old New York commuter Jeffrey Tanenhaus.

Last Saturday he pedaled into a welcoming crowd at the Santa Monica Pier, looking very relaxed for someone who had just spent five months riding up to 40 to 60 miles a day.

He had covered 3,020 miles through 19 states, most of it on Route 66.

He was welcomed at a party on Santa Monica Pier (the end of Route 66), hosted by Santa Monica Spoke and riders on the City’s Breeze Bikes

As Jeffrey caught his breath, and was plied with drinks and food at the Happy Hour on a terrace glowing in the setting sun, he told DnA his two-wheel version of On The Road.

Jeffrey Tanenhaus: I was very unhappy at work. I was a corporate event planner for an agency in a windowless office where the employees were encouraged to eat lunch at their desks. The best part of my day was bike commuting. That was when I felt fee and empowered and happy.

Jeffrey Tanenhaus, a well-groomed commuter in New York. Photo courtesy Jeffrey Tanenhaus.
Jeffrey Tanenhaus, a well-groomed commuter in New York. Photo courtesy Jeffrey Tanenhaus.

I took to using Bike Share one-way, rental bikes to get to work and to get all around town. It was pretty much my exclusive form of transportation. Active commuting, being in charge of your own destiny, was so gratifying compared to what I was doing sitting in a cubicle being told what to do. I just wanted to break free on one of those shared bikes.

I thought a lot about it, and eventually when the job wasn’t working out and I left, and my apartment lease expired, I had nothing else keeping me in New York. I said, all right, let me give this a go, see how far I can get.

DnA: How was the bike to ride? Was it a bit of a clunker?

JT: It’s certainly not your ideal touring rig. It is a heavy bike, but that heaviness also translates into a sturdiness. These two-inch tires came in handy on gravel roads and rocky trails where normal, thinner tires would have failed.

DnA: What was your initial feeling when you just headed west?

JT: I was extremely nervous because I am a rule follower and I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing this.

I took a ferry from the East Side of Manhattan to the top of the Jersey Shore because I wanted to get as far away from Manhattan as fast as possible. I got off the ferry and immediately I heard people waiting to get on [saying], I don’t think you’re supposed to bring a Citi Bike out of the city.

When I got down the Jersey Shore, which took me about four days, I kind of relaxed and was like, all right, nobody’s coming looking for this bike.

Tanenhaus tells DnA he had to pay the maximum overtime charge of $1,200 plus tax for not returning the bike within 24 hours, and then he carried on pedaling. In Joplin, Missouri, he hit Route 66.

Jeffrey in Tulsa, his favorite American city; photo by Jason Perry
Jeffrey in Tulsa, his favorite American city; photo by Jason Perry

JT: Route 66 was probably the most disappointing part of the road. The condition of the roadway was so poor in so many places that I was battling some serious pavement neglect and desolate stretches of 40, 60 miles with nothing.

DnA: Would you do it again?

JT: It was a great experience but I don’t think I’ll do it again. I’m happy that I was able to fulfill a dream as well as to educate people about bike sharing and have productive conversations with bike advocates and bike sharing companies all across America, and bring awareness to the fact that I’m just a regular bicycle commuter.

I don’t have any fancy gear. Right now I’m wearing running shoes with holes in them and ripped gym shorts. I don’t have any spandex suits. I’m on a 45-pound bike with three gears.

DnA: Has Citi Bike asked you to be their poster boy?

JT: Absolutely not. They were in a tough position. They could not endorse me for what I was doing because it does not support their mission of bike commuting within New York City for short trips only.

And they also didn’t want to condemn me because then they look like the bad guy. Their position was to take no comment and I have not had any contact with them.

A New York Citi Bike enjoys a California sunset; photo courtesy Jeffrey Tanenhaus.
A New York Citi Bike enjoys a California sunset; photo courtesy Jeffrey Tanenhaus.

DnA: What’s next? Will you turn around and fly back to New York?

JT: No, this was about my leaving the rat race and discovering new places to be, new things that I can do.

I’m very much interested in starting my own business revolving around hospitality and creating travel experiences for other people to enjoy. I may want to try that in Oklahoma where I had some of the best chemistry with people in Tulsa. They were very encouraging.

It felt like a city that was on the rise, whereas “cool” places like Portland and Austin, Brooklyn, San Francisco, they’ve already come into their own.

Read all about Jeffrey’s ride across America, here. Read about Santa Monica’s Bike Share, here.

Jeffrey under pier sign
Jeffrey Tanenhaus rode 3020 miles, finishing up at Santa Monica Pier, which marks the end of Route 66; photo by Frances Anderton.