Five Boro Tour 2016

The day dawned gray and wet. It stayed that way. Paul and I dressed for the worst and rode the three miles to the Staten Island Ferry. The boat was filled with bicyclists and their steeds. In 30 minutes we were delivered to Manhattan Island. I expected to walk to the start but everyone just hopped on their bikes and rolled out. We followed. Past the World Trade Center. I didn’t look up. It’s tall. You couldDSCN4784_1198 fall over.

In short order we were in a massive street-wide queue. We soon le
arned that this was Wave 2 leaving at 8:10. We were supposed to be in Wave 3 scheduled to launch at 8:45. Yea, well…

After a half hour of waiting we started. We made it two blocks and stopped. “Gonna be a long day” thought I. After about five minutes we were underway again. Only to stop after another couple of blocks. The organizers were trying to give Wave 1 a little more time to get away. Slackers.

Two minutes later we began, this time for good. We made our way up Church Street past a building that looked like a jenga tower to the Avenue of the Americas. Really, 6th Avenue was too useful a name, I suppose. In the gray of this rainy day, the Avenue of the Americas looked unimpressive. We were going through some of the most famous neighborhoods in the city but it all looked like the back of a pack of wet bicyclists to me. I focused on not running into anyone, dodging asphalt patches, metal grates, and manhole covers. New York City loves manhole covers. It’s the manhole cover capital of the free world.

We remembered ourselves through Herald Square and soon passed Radio City Music Hall. At Central Park we were slowed and told to go either left or right. I thought the route would take us on Central Park East but instead we went left into the park, itself. The curvy, rolling road made for a much more relaxing vibe. I found my flow and went with it. Somehow, even after walking nine miles yesterday, my pedaling mechanics were dialed in. It’d been months since I’d felt this way on a bike. Which would have been great but for the fact that the flow was interrupted again and again by the thousands of bicycles I was sharing the road with. Just gotta roll with it.

We wound our way through the park, taking in views of the museums on Central Park East. Soon we were rolling through Harlem on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard. I grew up hearing horror stories about Harlem but, frankly, it was just about the most pleasant part of the ride. Clean streets. Well kept buildings. Friendly people. So much for Manchild in the Promised Land nightmares.

Soon we were crossing the Harlem River into the south Bronx. The Bronx has probably seen better days, maybe in the 1920s. Fortunately we were there for only a mile or two before re-crossing the river to Harlem Drive and FDR Drive. One thing became clear, the streets of New York are filled with debris. I saw several metal bolts, lots of glass, and other random junk. Word to the wise: don’t do this ride on a road bike with skinny tires, unless you want to get a lot of practice changing flat tires.

FDR Drive was hardly scenic. The rain starDSCN4804_1218ted falling harder. I passed a unicyclist. Seriously. Ev
ery few minutes some young dude would come blasting by in a big hurry. In the process he’d spray all he passed with the water coming across his rear wheel. Each time I said a sarcastic “Thanks” and suppressed my curses.

Along the way, we were occasionally stopped to let traffic get across the route. At the Queensboro Bridge we came to a stop because of a bottle neck. We turned right for a few blocks then left to the on-ramp for the bridge. I was surprised at how many riders had trouble climbing this bridge. I had no problem with it other than to safely ride around all the walkers and 3-mile per hour climbers.

A gondolla drifted by on wires above the East River. I hoped to see Spiderman save it from falling into the river but he was indoors making webs.

Once off the bridge we headed north into Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens. All kinds of famous people were born here. You could look it up.

At Astoria Hills Park we stopped to rest. We talked with a couple who were clearly underdressed for the raw weather. The woman was shaking but looking forward to continuing until Brooklyn where she planned to exit the ride and go home. Good luck.

Paul and I forged on. Heading south into a slight headwind down the east side of the East River. The pace picked up here as the crowd thinned and the rain came down.

Over the  Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn. I imagine Brooklyn looks better when the sun is out. I spent most of my time trying not to rear end people. I’d ride as straight a line as possible until I had to get around an obstruction. I found that the dedciated, protected bike lanes had less debris on them than the main lanes of the streets. Right lanes were pretty torn up, probably because they carried more buses and trucks.

The Brooklyn stretch was by far the longest. We passed under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and rode onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, an interstate highway. There were grooves in the pavement that occasionally made it feel like I was getting a flat tire. Little Nellie’s little wheels were probably not the best for this pavement. The BQE was just plain dreary. Rain came down. Spray from cars on the other side of the road hung in the air.

As we approached the Verrazano Narrows Bridge a security officer motioned a cyclist to the side of the road. He had on a back pack. No-go since the Boston Marathon bombings. We were warned about this.

The climb up the bridge on the lower deck was long but very gradual. Again cyclists slowed to a crawl. Some walked. Avoiding them made the climb hard, not the climb itself. Near the top word of encouragement were painted on the road as if this were L’Alpe D’Huez. The big payoff for the climb is the views but not this day. You could barely make out Manhattan through the gloom.DSCN4847_1261

The ride down to Staten Island was fun but we held our speed in check thanks to the grooves in the pavement and the water on our rims. At about 1 pm, we rolled into a park and under a finish line banner. The park had food of every sort for purchase by the riders. Paul and I partook of chicken parm subs that were delicious. After about a half hour we rode the rest of the route back to the ferry terminal and, from there, back to the B&B.

48 miles for the day. No accidents. No flats. Lots of smiles despite the crummy weather.

My Flickr pix are here.

Some other comments:

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big thank you to the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and police and other public servants who kept an eye on us. There were scores of volunteers along the route. How they stayed cheerful on such a lousy day I’ll never know. The police were out in force. Some looked pretty unhappy; others cheered us on. Imagine that, hardened NYPD veterans whopping encouragement. Every couple of miles, we’d pass a band playing under a canopy. Rock, soul, country, marching band drums, congas, you name it. Unfortunately, some EMTs had work to do. We saw or heard many crashes along the route.

The rest stops had hundreds of porta potties and seas of snacks and drinks. Apples, bananas, pretzels, energy bars. Early rest stops were quite crowded, later ones weren’t. To get to and from the rest stop, you had to walk a a block or two. Not a lot of fun in the rain but clearly a smart move from a safety perspective.

Riding in this kind of crowded event is best done by holding a straight line. Don’t look over your shoulder; you’ll drift off your line and potentially into someone behind you.

I would think that you could see a lot more of the city on a clear day, but, in truth, you’ll spend much of your focus on the bikes in front of you.

This is not a particularly hard ride. It’s easier than any metric century I’ve done and far easier than the 50 States Ride in DC. Except for the bridges and Central Park, it’s very flat. Ride it on a hybrid, cross or touring bike. Single speed riders found the bridges challenging, not for their steepness, but for their length.





10 thoughts on “Five Boro Tour 2016

  1. Loved reading about your ride! I can’t imagine riding with that many people, in one way it must be cool to be surrounded by a sea of fellow cyclists…but yeah, it must be hard to ride in such a sea!

  2. Your write up sounds a lot like a couple of my previous experiences. This ride got really bad with bottlenecks until they changed to staggered starts three years ago.

    This was my eighth ride and I learned a long time ago that if I’m not in the first wave, I have to push for a while at the start to catch up. Otherwise things like you wrote about happen.

    The first wave is much more spread out and relaxed. I was filming while riding and had no problem with the amount of bikes around me. Also, the first wave has more experienced riders it seems. Most were checking behind before making a move, rode a little faster and we only saw a handful of walkers on the Queensboro and Verrizano bridges.

    The Sunday ride is why we go but spending time in NYC on Saturday, walking around is just as good. I make it a point to spend the day in a different section every year. Last year was the Bowery and Little Italy. This year was Chinatown and East Village.

  3. Nice write-up of a ride I’ve done a few times in all kinds of weather.

    I rode it once on my MTB with 1.5″ wide, Kevlar-belted slick tires, the other three times on a road bike with 23mm tires. Never had a problem with punctures, even with the detritus that’s the sheen of NYC streets. So the “speed demon” road bike tires do just fine on the 5BBT course and on NYC streets, in general – you simply need to watch where you ride.

    I totally understand the start-stop aspect of the first bit from the Financial District up 6th to Central Park. The first two times I did 5BBT, I ended up caught up in the traffic and missed out the stretch north of Astoria Park. The last two times I did the ride, I hustled my way up to the lead group (the last time ending up right behind the NYPD police motos that paced things). Both times I ended up at Astoria Park *before* the northern stretch opened to event traffic – I was determined to see the extra bit of Queens!

    I always found riding on FDR Drive and the BQE to be a treat: so absurd, so fun, so FAST! And I had the same issue on both the Verrazzano Narrows and the 59th Street Bridges: people having trouble with the climbing, and having to slalom around them. C’est la vie.

    Would you do 5BBT again?

    1. I think whenever you ride on rainy city streets in the spring you are liable to get flats. You just can’t see the debris in the road when it’s covered in water. And your glasses are too.
      I doubt I will do this again. I had a good time but the ride is too short and too expensive (with hotels and transport costs).

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