Riding into New Opportunties: Yara Rincon
Words & Photos by Yara Rincón
Hello! For the past four years I called Sarasota my home, as I first studied Marine Biology, then Biochemistry, at the honors college of Florida, New College of Florida (NCF), not to be confused with The New School located in Manhattan, NYC (a school you guys may have heard of before). Throughout these four years, I had the privilege to make innumerable memories and friendships that will last a lifetime, some of which began and were persevered with the New College tradition of watching sunsets over the Sarasota Bay.
It was with one of these friends that I had a conversation my last few weeks of school, where we reflected on our time here. We discussed the obvious things like the unique academic culture offered by NCF, and the even more unique night culture that can be experienced by attending the college parties. But we also talked about the more nuanced gifts New College had brought us, such as an appreciation for the experiences of other people and identities, as there is a big emphasis on learning how to respect and appreciate people from other cultural, sexual, racial, economic backgrounds at NCF. Another, more subtle, consequence of attending NCF was gaining an appreciation for bikes and their tantamount diversity.
I was stoked the day I rode my bike to get my thesis committee copies printed
Before New College, I only really thought of bikes as a vehicle – probably bought at your good ‘ol local Walmart, or other similar locale -- used for pleasure, maybe once or twice a year max, when the weather was nice and there was nothing else to do. However, it was during my time at NCF that I was exposed to what bikes could be. I was presented with all their glory and complexity, and with the assorted roles they play in people’s lives.
Sure, some people treated them like I had before attending NCF; buying the cheapest ones they could find, only to lock them up on a rack and leave them to rust for the rest of the year until they were rounded up by the cops during the summer. Even worse, some were left anywhere their owners pleased, without a lock, waiting for an opportunist to come around and collect the bike before the cops could. But others took bikes more seriously. They thought of bikes as something to be treasured, to be kept safe because bikes were just as much a part of their identities and lives as were their sexual, racial and economic differences.
A bike left unlocked at the waterfront, the U-lock instead left hanging from the handlebars
These people rode their bikes with pride, perfecting and demonstrating their skill by effortlessly riding their bikes “with no handlebars” or hopping curbsides to avoid the longer path to a ramp. It was these people that ultimately came to influence me, without my noticing much at all, until I found myself deep in my passion and interest for bikes.
Combining my passions of photography and riding "with no handlebars"
My appreciation for bikes was really sparked my second semester at NCF when I decided to buy my first ever road bike (or what I thought was a road bike, anyways). Up until this point in my life I had only ridden bikes my parents had bought from Walmart, which tended to be heavy, low-grade steel mountain bikes – you know the type: Mongoose’s, Huffy’s, certain Schwinn models. But this time I wanted an upgrade. I had seen most people on campus riding road bikes and I liked their sleek look. They were attractive and I assumed also offered practicality, with lighter frames that allowed the rider to achieve higher speeds than when using clunky mountain and cruiser bikes. So, after being granted my parent’s go-ahead, I excitedly searched online for what would become my new bike.
Within hours, I was disheartened by the steep prices of the bikes I was finding, and, ultimately, decided that if I was going to pay this much for a bike, it was going be one I couldn’t take my eyes off of, so I ended up purchasing a Pure Fix bike with fluorescent green rims, model name: “Hotel.”
My first bike: a Pure Fix flip-flop fixie
I looked at the specs and it all checked out, at least with my limited knowledge. The bike was made out of hi-tensile steel, which I thought would be good because of its durability; it had a flip-flop hub, which after some research, I learned would allow me to switch from a single-speed bike (I didn’t want to mess with gears, which I used to think were difficult to use and, in general, just a hassle) to a fixed-gear bike, which I had never heard of before, let alone ridden; and it had front-wheel brakes, which was better than having no brakes at all, a typical feature (or lack of a feature) on fixed-gear bikes. Most importantly, though, it looked sleek as hell, and I was excited to be able to ride it around campus and have it be easily identified, making people say, “Yeah, that’s Yara’s bike.”
Striking another pose at the bayfront
Buying this bike ended up being a huge mistake (read: learning experience). Despite its high-profile look, it really wasn’t that much better than a Walmart bike. From experience and research, I learned that deep rims, while they might look nice, don’t really do much for a bike except weigh it down. And, ultimately, the front rim didn’t even look that nice after riding the bike a few times because the brakes rubbed away a strip of the fluorescent paint. I learned, too, that front brakes are generally unsafe because sudden stops could lead to the rider being flipped over their handlebars, possibly leading to serious injury.
My biggest mistake with this bike, though, was getting it stolen. I thought that, because people could so-easily identify it as mine, I didn’t have to leave it locked, especially because I usually left it right outside my room and because so many other people around campus left their bikes unlocked. I even remained convinced of its safety after being told that there had been a spree of bike-thefts around campus. But my turn eventually came, and one morning I awoke to a missing bike, which I’ve never seen again to this day (except in my dreams).
After a few days of grieving, I decided to take this as an opportunity. The year was ending, so this just meant that I no longer had to worry about finding storage for a bike, which would by far be the biggest item I would have had to store. The end of my third year at New College also meant that I was done with all, except one, of my required classes. This meant that the upcoming year I would have a lot of time on my hands, which gave me the opportunity to design my own classes through something offered by New College as part of their unique academic approach called “tutorials.”
One of the bikes I decided to take apart and reassemble. Please excuse the quality of this and the following pictures, they were taken as part of my tutorial and I originally had no intention of sharing them publicly
I decided I would create and enroll in a bike building tutorial, and I would do it with one of my best friends who was equally as interested in bikes, but a lot more knowledgeable. At the start of the Fall semester, I met with my friend and a professor who had agreed to authorize and teach the bike building tutorial, only the second ever at New College, to my knowledge. It was at this meeting that we agreed that we would each take apart and reassemble two bikes of our choice; they could be any type, and we could do whatever we wanted with them. The only requirement was that they be rideable by the end of the semester.
We started slowly, first taking apart and rebuilding the front, then the back wheel of our first bike. I used spare wheels from the bike shoppe on campus because I was afraid that I would mess up past the point of repair and render my friend’s bike, which I had borrowed as my first muse, unrideable. I surprised myself, though, and ended up being able to successfully unlace, relace and true both the front and back wheels, despite a lot of trial, error and frustration.
Reassembled front wheel before truing
After being told by one of the bike shoppe TAs that this was an impressive feat that not even he had attempted before because of its difficulty, I became hooked. I enjoy a challenge, and I could tell that bike building would be able to engage me in a way that no other school subject could. After a month and a half I took apart and put back together my friend’s bike and moved on to the next one, which I had salvaged from a “cop shop auction,” of bikes they rounded up during the summer for a low-low price of $10, plus taxes. The bike was a black-and-green Magna mountain bike, pictured below, and it was mainly just in need of a new chain and kick stand (the old ones were completely rusted), new cables for the brakes and gears (the old ones were loose and frayed), and a nice cleaning. This bike was a lot easier to take apart and reassemble than the first, as I had some experience under my belt, and a list of online resources I could use. I was also more confident in my abilities and learned to take better reference pictures before and during disassembly.
My second bike project after reassembly
To this day, I still use this Magna bike and, although it’s definitely not as pretty as my first, I am a lot more proud of it and the story behind how I acquired it. I know it intimately, after having taken it apart and put it back together with my own hands and I trust it to take me the 10 miles I need to travel to get to work, in any and all weather conditions -- I even used it to go get my senior thesis printed! Until now, it’s given me a lot less trouble than my Pure Fix bike and, after getting my first bike stolen, I make sure to lock it up, because it’s become a part of me, just like bikes are a part of a lot my peers’ lives.
It was through this bike tutorial that I got in contact with Anna Maria Wolf, after she reached out to the bike shoppe TA asking if he knew of any femme people interested in the bike world. The TA passed on the word and, as luck would have it, one of Anna’s main shops was only an hour and a half away by train from my home in New Jersey. She offered me an opportunity to continue to learn about bikes and to blog about my experiences, and so here I am!
I've been in NYC for a whirlwind-of-a-week, learning more about bikes, the subway and New York than I ever could have imagined: I've gone on a few bike rides through the city - something I would have never dared to do before - met some new biking friends and (barely) successfully rode on the subway with my bike. Ultimately, this opportunity has made me that much more eager for the future, as it is the perfect stepping to my future plans of touring the United States on a bike that I’ve built with my own hands and blogging about it. Thanks for reading!