Kate Freitag of Bike and Roll NYC featured in the "Great People" Column of the New York Daily News
Kate Freitag has been around bicycles since she was a kid growing up in Staten Island’s Port Richmond neighborhood.
She was blessed with uncles who were skilled carpenters, mechanics and motorcycle aficionados with tool shops to match. She also had a backyard conveniently full of hand-me-downs from other family members.
“We (Kate and her brother, David) never got new bicycles,” she said. “All my uncles were motorcycle enthusiasts. I was completely surrounded by mechanics who always had their tools available.
“I never had a time in my life where I was not surrounded by tools and I have never stopped acquiring them. We were never allowed to buy new bikes. We had to put bikes together with what we had in the backyard.”
Of such circumstances are careers made.
Bicycles remained a part of Freitag’s life at Port Richmond High School and while she was majoring in English and American Sign Language at the College of Staten Island. She was involved in one of the first pedi-cab ventures in the city, where she was also a mechanic.
“I can talk about bikes in sign language,” she said. “I’m glad to know sign. In just about every business I have worked in I was the de facto sign guy.”
Now, at 32 years old, Kate is Manager of Fleet Operations for Bike and Roll New York City, a bicycle rental and tour company with nine outlets across the city, including Central Park, Governor’s Island, and Brooklyn Bridge Park and Battery Park.
She builds bikes — including the four-wheeled, up to eight passenger “quad” bikes that are popular rentals on Governor’s Island — and repairs bikes and has sidesplitting tales of the early days of renting bikes in the city.
“I could tell you stories of chasing people trying to ride off with bikes, of having to go find bikes wherever people left them,” Freitag said. “Now we tell people not to chase anyone trying to steal a bike. There are other ways to recover them.”
Bike and Roll has some 2,000 bicycles on the road during summer months and some 100 employes, a figure that will drop to around ten during the winter, said company president Chris Wogas.
Meanwhile, Freitag keeps the bikes moving year round.
“I’m never thinking about one bike, I’m thinking about fifty bikes,” she said. “Whenever something goes wrong with one bike you can be sure it’s going to happen to another one. So I have to manage fixing many bikes, not just one bike.
“The good thing about Kate is you don’t have to worry about anything as far as the fleet goes,” Wogas said. “She also has such a diverse background that she is a great person to bounce things off when you’re trying to come to a decision.”
Freitag loves her job, and plans to return to it after a yet-to-be-determined date in the future when she will have the transgender surgery which will complete her rebirth as a woman.
“Biology is not a marker of gender,” she said. “I probably knew as young as eight years old that my birth gender was not consistent with what I believe, but I didn’t have the skill to verbalize that.
“At eight it really confused me, trying to figure out if I was identifying with this thing they call boy or girl.”
She “played the part,” as a boy, finding out along the way that her love for baseball had nothing to do with gender — she just loved the game and still plays.
She came out as gay at around 20 years old — though she did and still does date women — and found she was “definitely transgender. And I didn’t think I was in a bad place to come out; I am in New York, which is to say New York is a very supportive place to come out.”
Five years ago she had her name legally changed to Kate — she insisted her birth name not be used in this article — because she wanted people to know her “as who she is, not who she was.”
She’s started taking the hormones and counseling, and has no idea when she and doctors will deem her ready for the gender altering surgery that starts a new life.
“Normally you don’t come out with this openly, while you are going through the process,” Freitag said. “You find a few people you trust, and you look for support and you look to be stealthy about it. Then one day you’re a boy and the next day a girl.
“I didn’t want to follow that same path.”
Freitag has been keeping her co-workers and employees updated on her progress. She’s had intimate conversations with her colleagues, and found for the most part most feel it makes no difference.
“Kate is my mentor and my friend,” said Bike and Roll mechanic Jonathan Rocha. “I never even thought about her transition. I know Kate as Kate. I have a lot of respect for her.”
Kate will be catching for the SIP Pirates in the Alumni League championship series at South beach Field #4 in Staten Island at 9 a.m. Saturday.
She can be contacted through the Bike and Roll New York City website, www.bikenewyorkcity.com.