Monday, May 08, 2006

5-boro bike ride

I rode the five-boro bike ride yesterday. 40-some miles and tens of thousands of bikes. This is the ride that the close off the streets for. That’s why I wanted to do it. You get to bike on the FDR and BQE (freeways), the upper level of the Queensboro Bridge, and over the Verrazano Bridge.

The ride starts in lower Manhattan at 8AM and ends in Staten Island. I left my house around 8:15 and met the ride at the southern entrance of Central Park. It is always impressive to see bikes as far as the eye can see in both directions.

There was a bike hold up at Astoria Park, the first rest area, till they let ride go again at 10:00 AM. Had I known that… I could have gotten another half hour of sleep.

As a bike ride, it’s a little frustrating. It’s great to ride without cars. I wish I could pay $45 to have that every day.

Bu there should be more of a race atmosphere in front, and a party atmosphere in the rear. Instead, it all has a very clean, weekend warrior feel. Helmets are mandatory. I didn’t wear mine. I mean, come on, if you’re going to close the road off to traffic, then we don’t need helmets. I’ll take my chances with other bicyclists.

And then on every downhill they have people with bullhorns telling you to slow down. I mean, I understand how thousands of bicyclists, many not too experienced, could get into a horrible mob-colliding mess. But after riding up a hill, I’m not about to use my brakes going down the other side. Stop telling me to slow down and stop treating me like a kid.

And the pace cars go too slow (15mph) so there’s this crowd and mob of bikes at the front. Kind of dangerous. But spirits are high in the lead mob, with every turn an adventure. If the pace cars just went 20mph, there would be no problem. And it would be safer. A lot of people can bike 15mph. Very few can keep a pace of 20mph.

Dropping back a bit (after eating some very delicious oranges at a rest area), the mob thins out a bit. The BQE was very fun to ride on. More space. Smooth pavement. Fast riding. I got over the Verrazano Bridge and to the finish at about 11:30. I was on a noon ferry back to the City and home around 1:15pm, about the time I’d normally be having my first frappĂ©.

There were surprisingly few spectators cheering us on. But the ones that were there were heartwarming. Old people sticking heads out windows. And a woman in East Harlem at 110th St and the FDR who was ringing a Tour de France style cow bell! That was great.

All in all, the ride is a little over 50 miles. That part wasn’t hard. Even not in great shape I can bike 50 miles pretty easily. The “other” city bike ride, where they don’t close off streets, is 100 miles. That’s tiring.

I’m happy to have done it. And it’s great to bike places you normally can’t. But I don’t know if I’ll do again. This time I wanted to do it alone so I could keep my own pace.

Maybe next year I’ll do it with friends.

For another account of this ride, see this.


Nick James said...

I got there at 6:30 AM and rode with my brother-in-law. It's nice to ride with a friend - the slow pace can be nice if you're chatting the whole time. Also, since I spend most of my time on a bike racing around in traffic, it was nice to take it slow without having to worry about getting rear-ended, but it was a little irritating when everyone slowed to 7 mph on the uphills.

I was really surprised how many inexperienced bikers are out there. Most of them have such nice bikes, too. During a long section of the Belt Parkway, just before the VZ Bridge, the pace finally picked up to a more comfortable 18-20 mph, the speed above which I can safely and comfortably take my hands of the bars without wobble. I do this all the time on my way to work, but on the tour, people around me were acting like they'd never seen it before, asking me "how do you do that?" Come on, my kid brother was riding no-hands when he was ten.

The tour reminded me that most people outside of the city see bicycles as a hobby, and not a viable mode of transportation. It's easy to lose sight of that here. I don't think I'll be leaving New York anytime soon.

Fotaq said...

Well said. All I want to bike in New York is a dedicated bike path on a couple of roads and parking meters to lock my bike to.

All those lanes of traffic, and yet they make it seem like such a big deal to even slap down a line of white paint for bikes.

Patricia xoxo said...

I definately give anyone credit who does this bike tour - wish I had the nerve to do it myself... however - About safety: Helmets are a MUST... please don't take your safety so lightly. A cousin of mine last did the bike tour 4 years back. He was riding without a helmet, and someone hit his rear tire, it knocked him over and he was in a coma for a long time. Luckily he's alive and well today, but he didn't see it coming because it was from behind. Never remembered a thing, took a long time for him to speak clearly again. Fact is, it may not be an accident caused by you... please be careful out there and seriously consider a helmet in the future! -

PCM said...

I *do* wear a helmet. Well, most of the time. And if I were to fall, I'd certainly want to be wearing one.

But overall, I still think bicyclists would be safer if there were more people biking. And I think a push for people to wear helmets makes fewer people ride.

I urge everybody individually to wear helmets. But alas, there's no proof in the aggregate that helmets make bikers safer overall, counterintuitive as that may be.

My vision is a place like Amsterdam. Where everybody bikes and nobody wears helmets. And injuries are low.

I'm also afraid that *I* really do bike less safely when I have a helmet on. I know that's silly and stupid. But it may just be true. Still, I wear a helmet on any of my fast bikes and whenever I leave Queens.

And helmet or not, there's no substitute for not crashing. Personally, I'm bothered more by bikes without lights at night than bikers without helmets. But that's just me.

And while overall the 5-boro isn't scary and you should do it, you bring up a good point. It is a little hairy at times. Because when you bike around New York, you assume other bikers can ride (or else they wouldn't be with us). But on the 5-boro, there are lots of people who ride a bike exactly one day a year.

Patricia xoxo said...

Thanks for the 'invite', but I think we're all much safer if I stick to my VERY SAFE stationary bike @ the gym!!! Can't go anywhere, or hurt anyone else!!! I would be one of those one-day-a-yr bikers!!
One of these days... they all swear I'll be out there with them (I'll be sure to alert all of you if I'll be joining!!!) :o)
All the best!