Yesterday, I joined 32,000 cyclists in the Financial District for Bike New York's 5 Boro Bike Tour, a 40-mile joy ride through New York City’s five boroughs. And never again will I be able to bike so gleefully through the city’s streets (until next year's tour).
I managed to score the second of five start waves and took off from Church and Dey Streets at 8:10am on Sunday. Around me, my fellow bikers were in high spirits. The tour is supposed to be fun, not a race, so I saw riders of all ages and skill levels and bikes of all kinds: some with souped-up bikes with “exhaust pipes,” stereos and horns instead of bells. (Signs throughout the ride warned us that blowing those horns would result in a $350 fine, which bikers merrily and loudly ignored.) Several riders were pedaling horizontally on recumbent bikes, while others pumped away on stand-up pedalboard bikes. I was surprised to see a fair amount of tandem bicycles holding couples and parent-child pairs.
The tour shot straight up the normally car-packed Sixth Avenue and through Central Park. It was amazing to coast through Soho, Greenwich Village and especially midtown (usually the cycling section of my nightmares) without giving a single thought to cars or traffic lights. Groups of friends wore cutesy, odd helmet attachments, like orange antennas and small doughnut pillows, to easily find each other in the crowd.
After cycling through Harlem, we did a quick, short loop through the Bronx before heading back to Manhattan and hitting FDR, the first stretch of serious highway we got to ride on without cars. As bikers passed under the FDR Drive Tunnel, everyone cheered and whooped to fill the air with echoes. Throughout the whole tour, Bike New York strategically placed local music bands to serenade us as we passed.
Most of the tour’s miles are accounted for in Queens and Brooklyn. From the Queensboro Bridge, we looped up to Astoria Park, down through Greenpoint and Williamsburg to Brooklyn Navy Yard and then to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where we boarded the BQE to the Verrazano Bridge.
Since there are so many riders, it was rare to find yourself with tons of room to cycle. I saw several bikers get too close to each other and fall (don’t worry, there are volunteers and medical staff seemingly everywhere along the route, so someone is always close by if needed). So when I finally reached the entrance to the wide-open BQE, just below Brooklyn Bridge Park, it felt amazing to pedal as fast as I could down the spacious highway as cars zoomed past across the divide.
For those of you who think you couldn’t possibly bike 40 miles in a day, I’m telling you that you can! Most of the ride is actually quite flat. After 10 miles, which took us all the way up Manhattan, through the Bronx and back, I still felt like I had barely started. The ascent up the Queensboro Bridge into Queens and that of the Verrazano Bridge were the steepest climbs, but truthfully, the Queensboro Bridge was totally manageable. I will admit, the Verrazano Bridge was more difficult: Though not steep, the ascent is a long, gradual push, and since that point is toward the end of the tour, energy levels are low. But the bird’s-eye view from the top, all sky and water and a distant Manhattan skyline, will make it all seem worth it.
After that, a coast down the bridge brought me and my fellow bikers to the party at Staten Island’s Fort Wadsworth, where I collected my medal and gobbled down a cheeseburger and fries before riding the final four miles to the Staten Island Ferry, which transported us all back to Manhattan. All in a Sunday’s work.