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Who Owns Central Park?


Image composed from the loop in Central Park.   

Just who is at fault, of course, is a subjective matter. “No one ever tickets the bicycle people!” says Susan Buckley, president of the dog group Central Park Paws. “They should.”

On a recent morning in the park, I stood with a group of about a dozen dog owners as their dogs romped near the Great Lawn. The mention of the word biker triggered an angry Pavlovian response. “We want to ram a stick through their spokes!” one dog walker said. “Or string up some trip wire across the road!” another chimed in, apparently pleased with the joke.

Over on the west side of the park, I found similar anti-bike sentiments. Standing with a group of dog owners, Kelly Deadmon, a flaxen-haired actress, with her six-year-old basset hound, Barney George, stiffened when I asked about the state of dog-bike relations. “They all think it’s the Tour de France,” she said, recalling how a bike had clipped Barney George a couple of years ago. “When you try to cross the road, that’s when they speed up like a bunch of Lance Armstrong wannabes!”

For a cyclist, however, loose dogs can be a mortal threat. Caryl Gale, an accomplished cyclist and creative director at a fashion company, slammed into an unleashed dog that darted into the middle of a bike race last summer. “It was like going into a brick wall,” Gale told me. “It’s ridiculous,” she said, that dogs are allowed to run off-leash near the roads, and it was lucky that she walked away with only a fractured shoulder and a broken bike. Characteristically, she didn’t mention what happened to the dog.

And a bicycle traveling at upwards of 40 mph is no longer a toy but a potentially deadly projectile. In August 2005, David “Tiger” Williams, a former Yale hockey star who founded the hedge-fund-trading firm Williams Trading, accidentally rode his bike into a homeless man who was crossing the road along the east side of the park during an early-morning bike race. Williams suffered compression fractures in his back. The unidentified man was killed. (Williams was not charged with any wrongdoing.)

To begin to understand the pressures that have been building in Central Park in the last few years, a good place to start is about 60 blocks downtown. The Cadence Cycling & Multisport Center, set on a windswept block hard against the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, occupies a sparsely furnished 11,000-square-foot loft. The place looks like a gym dropped into the middle of an art gallery. Sober black-and-white photographs of New York sporting events adorn the walls alongside racing bikes—some costing as much as $30,000—hanging like sculptures from racks. The cavernous training room can hold two-dozen riders spinning in place on their own bikes, and projectors hanging from the ceiling can display virtually any racecourse in the world onto three giant flat-screens set against exposed brick walls. Cadence opened its doors last year. Its founder, Jay Snider, son of the Philadelphia sports mogul Ed Snider (chairman of the Flyers and 76ers), seeks to tap a market of Wall Street clients who desire scientific training methods previously reserved for professional athletes. “It’s the kind of person who does a spreadsheet for their dating life,” says Alex Ostroy, the founder of the local cycling Website “You can slice and dice the numbers all day long. It’s addictive, and you can see yourself making progress.”

“The type of personality who is attracted to cycling or triathlon is an addictive personality,” Karim Pine, Cadence’s marketing director, tells me. “I always say there is very little difference between an endurance athlete and a heroin addict. It’s the same type of person who has to hit that button again to get that buzz.”

Inside New York’s tightly woven bike-racing community, there’s a rift between the old-school riders and what they see as the new-money poseurs who have imported the aggression and boorishness of the trading floor. Another group of poster boys for this new breed of cyclist is a cycling club called Foundation. Founded in 2000, the team has a large contingent of Ivy League and finance types. Established teams were exclusive, with strict admissions tests based on performance, and cliquey. But Foundation’s admissions policies were looser, and Central Park soon became dotted with bankers and lawyers sporting Foundation’s signature fire-red jerseys. Not everyone was pleased with the upstarts. “They had a reputation for being squirrelly riders,” says Alex Ostroy, a coach of the NY Velocity team.

At first, Foundation floundered. Two years ago, it finished dead last in the local rankings. The team’s official mission is to raise money for charity, but its members also harbored competitive ambitions, so they went out to assemble a winning squad. “They did what the Yankees do: They got a couple of big guys from other teams,” David Wagener, who has his own private-equity firm, says. Last year, some of the team’s wealthy patrons kicked in money, in part to recruit new talent. The team’s endowment grew significantly, and this season, Foundation lured star Colombian rider Lisbon Quintero from another New York team. Since he arrived earlier this season, Quintero has already won three races, and the team is now No. 1 in New York.

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