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My 'green limo' is saving the world

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John Leguizamo saves the world
  • John Leguizamo thinks urban biking is a winner all-around
  • It cuts carbon emissions, saves time, improves health
  • New York added 200 miles of bike lanes, saw 45 percent increase in bike commuting
  • Added benefit: "You learn to curse in every language"

New York (CNN) -- When writer-actor John Leguizamo shows up to do a show in New York, fans outside the theater are surprised to see him ride up on a bicycle. "People go, 'Hey, John, I thought you'd be in a limo.'

"This is my limo, my green limo. I'm saving the planet for your kids and your grandkids," says the performer, who has starred in award-winning one-man shows on Broadway and appeared in dozens of films and TV shows.

Biking gets you places faster, reduces your carbon footprint, lowers noise, makes you fit and lowers your stress level -- unless you get impaled on the door of a suddenly opened cab or cut off by a guy from New Jersey.

Leguizamo thinks urban biking is a form of transportation that dramatically improves the environment and riders' physical and mental health.

New York City's government shares Leguizamo's enthusiasm about biking, having added 200 miles of bike lanes in the past three years. The city says it has seen a 45 percent increase in commuting by bike.

Leguizamo took CNN on a tour of his favorite biking spots and shared his thoughts about the best way to get anywhere fast in the nation's biggest city:

CNN: How long have you been biking?

Leguizamo: I started biking when I was 7 years old, and I've been biking in Manhattan ever since I got that first bike.

I grew up in Queens. Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, Astoria, Corona, I started going to high school in Manhattan when I was 15, and I moved to Manhattan when I started going to NYU. In high school, on the weekends I would bike to Central Park over the 59th Street bridge. Very Paul Simon and Garfunkel.

At NYU, my bike was stolen. The pole I locked it to was a fake pole, and I came back and the pole was gone. I thought at first that I had chained my bike on a different block, but then I realized there was a hole in the concrete.

CNN: Why should people bike?

Leguizamo: There are a lot of great reasons. First of all, we all want to lower our carbon footprint, and this is one of the great ways, reduce pollution, reduce traffic, reduce noise pollution, improve your heart with reduced stress. When you're out there, it makes you friendlier. You get a little bike rage, but that's only when people cross you. I usually get to places with a lot of great energy and a lot more relaxed.

I just saw this old good lady, she must have been in her late 60s, and she had like an adult tricycle, and she had her guitar in the back and a loud horn, and she was smiling and biking down Fifth Avenue. It was great. And for a lot of people who can't run, biking is a lot less stress on your knees.

CNN: What are the biggest risks of biking in New York City?

Leguizamo: Kamikaze cabs, buses, tourists, people from New Jersey. A Jersey plate will always try to cut you off for sure. And you know Miami and Connecticut plates are always going to go way slow, but that's not as dangerous. And then the crazy pedestrian that comes out between two big vans that block the view, that jump out. There's more danger for them than for you, but you don't want to hurt nobody, either.

Opening the door on the street side, my God, that's the most dangerous: passengers opening up the street door instead of the curb door. That should be taught in school. That should be part of your SATs.

It's amazing too the amount of cursing you hear from drivers, bikers, cabbies. You learn to curse in every language.

CNN: How can you get started biking?

Leguizamo: Start slowly in parks until you get maximum skill, and then start taking less busy streets. Just go slow. Don't try to race. If you go slow, you will learn all the urban tactics that you need for biking in Manhattan. You will learn that people are going to do the craziest things. People are going to cut you off. Expect the unexpected at every second.

You gotta look for potholes, doors swinging, pedestrians. It's a massive amount of focus.
--John Leguizamo

You gotta look for potholes, doors swinging, pedestrians. It's a massive amount of focus. But the fact that you survive and you're home, you feel incredible. And it's so great. It relieves so much stress. I always lose weight. It keeps my cardio up, too. Every time I get tested, they say, "You have the heart of a 20-year old." They're not talking about my liver.

CNN: What about the equipment you need?

Leguizamo: Get a recycled bicycle, recycle a bicycle, you know, something old and beat up. If you can't and you're too high-maintenance, get something really fancy and wreck it. Get sandpaper and a screwdriver, and you got to mess it up. Because if it looks shiny and nice, no matter what massive lock you have, somebody's going to cut it. If you recycle a bicycle, you get the cheapest lock, and you don't have to carry that massive chain that will weigh you down.

You got to have some rain fenders, some rain guards, or then you can only bike and be messy. You can't bike in your suit as much if it rains. And if you're going to ride at night, you've got to have lights, either on your bike or your helmet. I like it on the helmet because people can really see you. And get a front light and a back light.

And you need something for the hem of your pants. Either tuck them in your sock or get one of those little pant grips. When I don't pay attention, my jeans have gotten caught many times on the chain.

Wear elbow pads, wrist guards, a Kevlar vest. It's Manhattan. Although we're not the murder capital any more. Is it Philadelphia? Or Arkansas?

CNN: What about the tourists who come to New York? Should they try biking at all?

Leguizamo: No, not in Manhattan. You have to know what you're doing. You can bike on the West Side Highway. That's good for kids and tourists. In Manhattan, you need to know the terrain. You gotta be alert and know what those signs of danger are. If you're a tourist, you're going to be looking at the Empire State Building. "Look at how big and beautiful all those Art Deco buildings are."

All of a sudden: Pow. Crash.