Riding through Hurricane Irene

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The stage was set for biblical floods: even the city itself thought New York had only a day left to live. Bridge tolls were suspended, the Staten Island Ferry was docked and all subways and busses had been relocated to higher ground or inside tunnels. Sunday’s 8:30 AM high tide would coincide with the eye of Hurricane Irene and Mayor Bloomberg had issued a mandatory evacuation of flood zones. Non-compliance was punishable with a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. Perfect weather for a motorcycle ride.

I went outside to check on my motorcycle a little after midnight on Saturday. The streets of Brooklyn were almost totally deserted and the rain wasn’t torrential. It seemed worth getting wet to experience empty roads and perhaps see some floods and potentially help people out. I donned a rain slicker, fired the Cub up and headed out from Ft. Greene toward Dumbo. I treated red lights as stop signs; it seemed awfully silly to wait in a downpour when there wasn’t a single car in sight at the vast majority of the intersections. The only person I saw on a ten-block tour through the rutted cobble stone streets was a police officer guarding an entrance to a subway. Near the waterfront, I rode through a massive puddle I hadn’t expected and a huge V of warm water shot over my feet. It was on!

On my way home from Dumbo I saw — to my amazement — that the Brooklyn Bridge was still open (investigation later showed that it stays open in winds up to 60 mph). Rather than going home, I got on the bridge. It was almost empty. I saw one car on the first half of the bridge; after it passed I stopped until the car disappeared. I stood in the middle of the roadway and pretended that New York was a ghost town. Nothing else came by and then I snapped out of it and continued to Manhattan.

Sixth Avenue was eerily empty until West 4th — north of that the odd taxi prowled the streets and ruined the effect. Then the wind seriously picked up. Gusts picked spray up off the roadway and blew big drops into my eyes so hard that I had to shut the visor. It was touch and go for a little while; puddles camouflaged potholes and raindrops camouflaged potholes — I had the feeling that the bars could be ripped from my hands at any second by a hidden cleft in the pavement.

Times Square had maybe twenty people in it; some shirtless Australian men were out splashing in the puddles. Other people dribbled out of their hotels to see what was going on. They found that not much was going on.

My girlfriend texted me to come home, so I headed down Seventh toward Canal. One manhole cover was dislodged and was only partially covering the hole — glad I didn’t hit that while bombing nearly blind down Seventh. Between Seventh and Broadway there wasn’t a single car on Canal Street.

After heading back over the Brooklyn bridge (again, a solitary cab dulled the sensation of apocalypse) I decided to check out the BQE. Deserted. There was a headwind so strong that the Cub could barely hold onto third gear. Before I got to my exit, a solitary SUV roared past me on the empty highway with 2 wheels in my lane.

This morning a light rain seemed like it might be the eye of the storm, but it gave way to an overcast day. The FDR is flooded and so are a few neighborhoods, but Irene was only a Category 1 (Katrina was Category 4 when it made landfall) and NYC was well enough prepared that the storm felt like more of a Nor’easter than a hurricane.

  • Glenngineer

    Kick ass.

    Up here in Boston Irene has been a joke – I didn’t get a ride in, but I had dozens of hurricane party options last night. Everyone was out, and for good reason…storm was a joke…

  • jason McCrash

    If you had been stopped by NYPD or FDNY you could’ve told them that you were out on a rescue mission, using the basket on the front to transport people to higher ground.
    Great pic on the bridge.

  • Archer

    “It seemed worth getting wet to experience empty roads and perhaps see some floods and potentially help people out.”

    Between dislodged manhole covers and hidden pavement traps, you’re lucky you didn’t find yourself in the position of one who needed “helping out”.

    Still, it’s not every day one can park a bike in the middle of an NYC bridge lane for a snapshot.

  • Robert

    Nick, thanks for the courageous story and pics. Glad you did not find any people that were in need of your help and NYC weathered the storm safely.

  • gk848evo

    You guys should start adding feed from a GoPro camera on your stories. I would have liked to watch your ride through New York!

    • Mr.Paynter


    • Deep6Dive


  • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

    upstate NY, we partied last night over some Hurricane 40′s. This morning I woke to a tree falling on my Jeep

    • Joe

      How’s it going where you’re at?

  • paul

    shirtless Aussies, now THAT could have been dangerous, glad you made it home safe.

    • Joe

      I heard about that. Funny stuff!

  • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

    I LOVE that you did that on that goofy little yellow moped. So bad-ass. While I moved to LA to stop having to ride in shit like that.

    • rustycb450

      Hey, don’t knock the C70 Passport! I rode one in college in Michigan’s UP. Damn thing was bullet proof. Even did some “dual-sporting” with it on the snowmobile trails after the snow melted. Actually, I had to do my motorcycle test on that thing. The DMV said anything over 50cc is a motorcycle and I wanted to be legal. The lady giving the test was laughing her head off when I couldn’t get up to 30mph in the alloted distance… A C70 would be a great apocalypse bike.

      • jason McCrash

        Pinkyracer, check out the short film on here of the Cub flying through NYC traffic.
        Or look at pics from Vietnam, etc where they load those things up like pickups with chicken coops, pvc sewer pipes, 4,5,6 people. It may look gay, but ya gotta give respect to the little bike.

        • nick2ny

          It’s a Honda Hobbit moped in the video, the Cub is a motorcycle(ish), and has three gears. The “ped” in moped means pedals. Cubs / Honda 50s / Honda 90s, and Passports all have pegs and gears.

      • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

        You have to bring your own bike to the test? How do you get it insured before you even pass the test?

        In france, you have to go through a driving school so you use their bike, used to be 500-600CB or CBF now it’s usually ER6s. They train you on a relatively powerfull bike because there’s no power tiers like in Japan, so you can legally ride an R1 the next day (except if you’re under 21, then it’s 34bhp max).

        • jason McCrash

          In NY you must provide a car, driver who also has a motorcycle endorsement, bike and yourself. The DMV test officer rides with the other guy in the car and tells you “drive up to the stop sign, turn right then left and stop”. then they follow you in the car, tell you where to go for the next leg of the test, etc. It is beyond stupid. They can fail you before you even start the test if you pull up on the bike with the visor up. Only in NY………..

          • Edward

            That’s why people generally take the MSF safety course. You get two days of classroom and parking lot instruction and, assuming you pass the test at the end of the two days, a waiver for the road test portion of the license. The cost for the course seems to be higher here but still much better than showing up with all of the above for a road test in the city.

            • HammSammich

              I believe in many states they subsidize 50% of the cost of the MSF course too. Honestly, It’s a valuable course. I was raised on dirtbikes and although the basic operation ports over, knowing how to ride a dirt-bike does not endow you with the ability to safely operate a street-bike. I could have absolutely passed my riding test without the course, but I gained a lot of knowledge about street-riding that would’ve taken me years to learn by experience.

              • HolyHandGrenade!

                100% payed by the “learning permit fee” in PA, which is $10 a year.

              • ike6116

                same here.

          • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

            Wow… here there’s two exams a “drive around while i watch you” (you have an earpiece and the inspector has a radio) type and one that is in 4 steps, each being eliminatory, 2 theoreticals and 2 praticals: a fast one (timed run with braking exercise at the end) and a slow one (gymkhana syle but very basic).
            Every time i discribe the french exam to foreign bikers people are flabbergasted, and after all that shit, we’re still the only ones in the world limited to 100bhp…

            That could be an intersting feature, like the one about driving in columbia but about the exams and permit, what does it take to ride in japan, or germany for instance…

            Note to HFL crew: my english is far from perfect, but if you’re interested, i’ll do the french one, just for the sake of sharing that insane experience…

        • Joe

          In Vermont, you can register and insure a bike without a license (don’t get caught riding it though), and only need to take a written test to get a learners permit, which allows you to ride during the daytime, but you can’t leave the state or ride at night. To get the full motorcycle endorsement on your license, you take a skills test in a parking lot at the DMV, on a course set up with cones or lines painted on the asphalt. Pass that and you can ride anywhere, anytime immediately.

    • Steven

      not a moped

  • Edward

    were you in the east village today? I thought I recognized that yellow honda tooling around.

    • nick2ny

      Nope–the Cub was dormant in Brooklyn all day.

  • Joe

    The town of Ludlow, Vt is underwater. The BlackRiver is flowing down Main Street. Shaw’s supermarket has probably about a foot and a half of water inside.I jumped on my KLX650R and rode around taking pictures of the flooding, including bridges that are several feet under the river. I just got the call to tell me there’s no work tomorrow or Tuesday. Oh, and they just mentioned Ludlow on The Weather Channel, saying that we are now completely cut off in all directions by the rising water.

    • Robert

      Sorry to hear of the flooding in Ludlow, prayers for everyone to survive safely. Stay strong and keep your chin up.

      • Joe

        We’ll be ok, they are filling in the washed out areas and more roads are being reopened every day. We can actually get from one town to the next now, which is good because we have to. All of our food shopping has to be done a half hour away until the flooded supermarket here is renovated. It’s a pain in the ass, but my family was actually pretty lucky. We didn’t lose power like many did, and we were never totally cut off by washouts like many still are. I even returned to work today. I saw several people riding four wheelers through town because that was the only way to get out of their homes. Many looked like they hadn’t showered in a few days for lack of power. Overall though, Vermonters are a tough breed and and will get through it just fine. A month from now we will have things pretty much back to normal, with the exception of some paving projects and things like that. Thank you for your concern.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

    Awesome story, thanks for sharing. That Cub is so rad.

    • Noah


      • Andy Keech


  • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

    Damn, that makes me want a “hurricane” to come to france, i’d LOVE to get those kind of shots around paris…

    • Gene

      Hey, if I could, I’d send ya one of ours!

  • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

    Wonderful photos. I agree that a GoPro on the bars would add to the “being there.” Glad you got home safe.

  • randry

    Put a snorkel on that thing and ride on !

  • Rick

    Your story reminded me of that hot Russian girl (Elena?) riding through Chernobyl’s post-apocalyptic deathscape on her ZX-11…now THAT is adventure touring!

  • Will

    I absolutely love Cubs. This is one of my favorite articles on HFL, seriously. Thanks.

  • Erok

    Night rides are killer.

  • Bronson

    I’m kicking myself for getting my buddies and I to mount rain tires and bring our motards up to NYC for this. The hooliganism would have been off the charts!

  • zato1414

    OMEGA MAN… a city of your own.