Monday, May 2, 2011

The Five Boro Bike Tour 2011/You Should Ride The Five Boro Bike Tour 2012

On Sunday I rode in Five Boro Bike Tour on my early 1980s Turner recumbent, which by now is an honorary Saved from the Scrapheap bike. 42 miles, the ride starts at 8:00 in the morning in Battery Park in Manhattan, but if you don't live in Manhattan you have to figure out how to get your bike to the start.

My day began at 3:00am. I had set my alarm for 4:00am but I woke up at 3:00am because at that hour my brain likes to ring my body's doorbell and run away.

Stiff and tired, I made coffee, ate a banana, and got ready to ride to the Stamford train station, a convenient 1.7 or so miles from home. I checked the weather, and since it looked like it would still be warm I packed an extra environmentally unfriendly bottle of water.

The headlamp and the taillight I had made worked well, but it wasn't like there were any cars on the road to notice. The only life I saw were two raccoons who were crossing the road to enter a Ford dealership, which made me wonder if everyone was car shopping but me.

But I made it to the station and quickly learned the train was on track No. 5, so I waited for it at the platform.

There's a 5:49 express train that arrives in Grand Central just 20 minutes after the 5:03 does, but I like the 5:03 train a lot better because it's fun to meet and talk with the cyclists as they get on at every local stop.

The sleepy conductor didn't realize it was the day of the Five Boro, and I admit I felt sorry for him since he would spend the day telling people to keep their Trek Madone's and Cannondales out of the aisle.Since it was an old Don Draper-era Metro North car, no one (not even the conductor) had qualms about bikes being placed on the seats, but my bike has to go in the vestibule. I park it on the left side on the way in and the right side on the way out so I don't have to move it when the doors on the opposite side open.

I met a nice woman with a carbon fiber work of art she called a bike and her son, and we chatted about the tour most of the way into Grand Central Terminal while the sun rose and more cyclists came on board at nearly every stop. Eventually, we arrived at Grand Central, which was already welcoming other cyclists.

After I gave the woman and her son my tried-and-true instructions on how to get to the starting point of the tour (ride south down Park Avenue, merge onto Broadway, and follow the other cyclists) I immediately headed to Zaro's to buy my oatmeal raisin cookie, which would complete my list of the five things I can't live without on the tour. I panicked a moment when I didn't see any in the display case, but thankfully, that tea-saucer sized wonder emerged from behind the counter, was placed into a paper bag, and was immediately placed into the bike box.

I left Grand Central and found that it wasn't as cold as I feared, so the windbreaker stayed in the bike box. I then switched on my Garmin bike GPS and put on my Earbags, helmet and gloves (and snapped a quick picture) while it was finding satellites.

I gave a couple of other cyclists directions on how to get to the tour and we set off down Park Avenue, which has a rather peaceful feel to it at 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday. It took only three or four miles to get to the start, which, as expected, was filled with cyclists (all of whom seemed especially happy it wasn't very cold and was not raining). I ate half of my oatmeal cookie and alternately chatted with other cyclists and answered their questions about my bike. I think the headlight and the rear box completed the look this year, as I found the bike attracting a lot of positive attention.

For reasons I do not know someone sprung for two pyrotechnic displays near the front of the tour by the stage. When the tour began at 8:00 to the cheering crowd, we had to mostly walk our bikes to the stage and would be baked in the warmth of the fire. I didn't much care for the pyrotechnics, but I heard at least one excited participant wish they'd keep them on so she'd stay warm.

As I was passing through that area, the announcer was running through the states and countries the attendees had come from. I liked that.

We rode north, and even though there were a couple of places we had to stop so traffic could pass, the tour had picked up its pace by the time we all got to Central Park. Last year there was a mysterious stretch where we all had to walk our bikes for what felt like half a mile, but this year we all made it through the park at a nice clip.

Just as with every other tour, we crossed into The Bronx on the Madison Avenue Bridge, and within minutes we cross back into Manhattan on the Third Avenue Bridge to head down FDR Drive. It was actually getting warm, so I began to think about removing my Earbags, undershirt and even the gloves.

After a nice long run down FDR drive, we came to the Queensboro Bridge. When you're approaching it you can almost be mesmerized at the sight of tiny figures on bikes moving across it...and then you realize you have a really hard climb ahead.

I pushed the pedals as hard as I could and made my way up the incline and past the cyclists who were walking their bikes or struggling with their ridiculously light carbon fiber bikes. But I stopped to rest at the top so I could remove my cold weather shirt and take a picture of the East River and the cyclists still on FDR drive who hadn't yet gone over the bridge (I hope the photo captures just how high up it all is).

After a fast descent into Queens, it was a few twists and turns that got everyone into Astoria Park, where they were handing out bananas, the standby cycling snack.

After eating a banana I pressed on through Queens and suddenly felt myself getting weaker and tired. My stomach growled. Something was wrong.

Then I remembered: I had forgotten to eat the other half of my Zaro's oatmeal raisin cookie. I immediately pulled over, yanked the cookie out of the bike box and wolfed it down. Strength back, I pedaled on toward Brooklyn, borough Four of Five/The Borough That Does Not End.

There's a stretch of the tour by New York Harbor (and around the 30 mile mark) where the best views are when you turn around and look at where you had just been. However, all of that changes when you're coming up to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and you can almost always hear a Five Boro Bike Tour first timer moan "I'm going to ride up that?!"

At the John Paul Jones/Cannonball Park is the last rest area until the festival at Staten Island, which was just four miles away, but it isn't the easiest four miles. Having chosen my portable toilet breaks carefully throughout the day, I skipped that rest area and rode onto the on-ramp for the Verrazano Narrows bridge, knowing that the festival awaited.

As I rode, I realized one of the reasons (other than the weather) why I was enjoying this ride so much. In the year since the last FBBT I had built my own mountain bike and had begun to work on, dismantle, or otherwise be around bikes more, I was picking up on things I had missed in earlier tours. Throughout the day I was checking out the bikes of others and would diagnose what was going on with them.

For example, on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, I listened and I could hear the unmistakable chattering of rear cassettes as riders all around me were trying, desperately, to find another gear. I guess I had always heard that sound but never paid attention to it before.

After a long ascent, I stopped briefly at the top to take a picture before riding down into Staten Island and into Fort Wadsworth where the festival was. There's food, drink, and several booths featuring bike manufacturers as well as clothing and other things. Sometimes I buy a Five Boro Bike Tour T-shirt at the merchandise table, but since I have so many T-shirts with a bicycle printed somewhere on it I have nearly snooty standards about the design and quality, so I skipped it this year.

Once I had browsed the festival and drank some more water, I rode the final three miles to the Staten Island Ferry. I just missed a ferry and had to wait with a few hundred cyclists waiting to board, but I didn't mind. Since I was one of the first people on the ferry I got to ride up front and take a few more pictures of New York Harbor on the windy ride back to lower Manhattan.

Upon disembarking, I immediately hit the road and headed to the West Side Greenway and headed north, stopping briefly to reflect on the ride and the bike, which despite having a seat held together with duct tape and a wheel from a trashed Fuji Espree, had brought me through with style, comfort, and admiring looks/stares.

The bike is pictured here at the Intrepid Museum. Just on the deck you can see the SR-71 Blackbird Will Smith was hitting golf balls from in 'I am Legend.'  I made up my mind that I'm going to finally visit that museum this summer, but my first order of business after taking this photo was to find an Energy Kitchen, which is a chain of smoothie/health food stores in Manhattan. As a promotional thing, they were offering a free smoothie to anyone who showed their tour vest. Later that afternoon I sipped a rather excellent 'creamsicle' smoothie while riding from their 300 East 41st Street location back to Grand Central Terminal to catch a train back to Stamford.

Once I settled on the train, I overheard a young woman complaining loudly that she was very thirsty, so I  handed her my unused extra bottle of water - which rode with me in the bike box the whole day. She thanked me profusely. 

A great tour, a great day. I hope to see you at Five Boro Bike Tour 2012.


  1. Great job Mike...and Wonderful pictures! It was a great day. I'm glad I did it too.

  2. Thanks for a great tour of NYC. So happy the ride went well for you.

  3. Fantastic pics and great commentary. Love your blog.