Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Riders

I haven't been on my bike since the 5-boro due to an injury, so even though the weather looked a little questionable, I hauled my out-of-shape self onto my bike and headed out for a spin.
Like any good urbanite, I try to avoid certain key, congested areas when I travel from place to place. These are dependent on weather, season, day of the week, time of day, and like a London Cabbie, 'the knowledge' is a source of pride amongst those of us who make this city our home.
So today, I decided to bike to Harlem for brunch with a friend - and promptly regretted it.
Why? Well, my schedule has been a bit bizarre recently so I forgot one very important fact.

Today was Sunday.

And Sundays are for Sunday Riders.

Sunday Riders in NYC fall into three distinct categories:

1. The Date or Family outing.
Riding hybrids or cruisers, these cyclists will do anything to avoid riding in traffic including riding on sidewalks and going the wrong way in bike lanes. They ALWAYS ride abreast, never in line and are impossible to pass.

2. The Tourist.
Riding rental bikes, these daring adrenaline junkies are found only on the West Side Bike Path doing no more than 8 mph and can most often be seen stopped in clumps checking to make sure that they aren't lost. (Hint - It's a bike path, not a bike maze, it goes in a straight line.)

3. The Weekend Warrior.
These lycra bedecked athletes are out in force once the weather warms up, time trialling up the Hudson with their heart rate monitors and handlebar mounted GPS.
I don't actually have a problem with most of these guys. Hey, we all gotta pay our bills, and for most of us, that means no play time during the week.
The ones I have a problem with are the headphone wearers.
I get that music makes a work out easier. It's motivating. But given the crowds on the path on the weekend, cyclists wearing headphones make me homicidal.
We've already got the power walkers, joggers, and roller bladers wearing headphones. As cyclists, you've got to have experienced the insanity of trying to pass someone on a crowded path who's meandering all over the place and can't hear you behind them. Add deaf cyclists doing anywhere from 10 to 20 mph into the mix, and it's just hair raising.

Now, I'm not advocating something like this:


It's called a "CyFi" and quite frankly, I hope if you get one of these, you ride where I don't. But at least you might hear me when I tell you that I'm going to pass.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The 2008 NYC Five Boro Bike Tour

The NYC Five Boro Bike Tour is marketed as "The biggest recreational cycling event in the United States" - and it certainly feels that way as you wait for the start.
30,000 people on bicycles, all in one place, all at one time, is a lot.


This year, I cheated.

Before you get all crazy on me about fairplay and sportsmanship, I will point out that A: there were extenuating circumstances, and B: it's not like I pulled a Rosie Ruiz.

I've been trying to ride this tour with a good friend of mine for the last two years, and as she is quick to point out, SHE is the one who got me interested in riding it to begin with. But it just doesn't seem to happen. She's very active, works out, does martial arts, but she doesn't bike. She used to as a kid, but not any more.
Now, she's a motorist, and though she says she wants to ride the tour, I don't think she actually wants to be on a bicycle.

I think urban car drivers are far less likely to be comfortable riding a bike in traffic than anyone else. Their vision of traffic is so frustrating and full of bizarre hazards, that the thought of being on the street minus all the sheet metal gives them the heebeegeebees.

But that's the point of the bike tour, no traffic. For this one and only day each year, NYC allows some of it's streets to close, and the cyclists descend from everywhere to take advantage of it. (Hmm, imagine if it happened more than once a year?) So, it's not the traffic that keeps her from doing it, but each year something happens - and she can't make it.


I made a back up plan this year just in case, and two days before the tour, when she said she wasn't going to be able to go, I called another friend who has said for the last two years that he wished he had known before hand, because he would absolutely love to ride in it. He was happy, I was happy - until I got the email at midnight the night before...

Maybe he can meet me, but he won't know until morning. Maybe at the top of Central Park? I should call him.


This is where the pathetic excuse kicks in.

I just couldn't do it again.

Last year, I lined up all by myself, even though all my friends had dropped out or stood me up. I waited patiently in the freezing cold from 7 am until after 9 am when my part of the line finally started moving. I waited alone, listening to the couples and the families and the friends with Christmas garland hanging from their helmets, and I was bummed.

So this year, I rode in across the Brooklyn Bridge, hung a right instead of a left, rode up to 30th street, and then joined into the group. I still got caught in the pre-central park traffic jam, but at least there was a sense of movement, and less of a third wheel on a date kind of a feeling.

Once we started to move, I could feel how different this time was going to be from last year. I'm no triathlete, but I did ride more in the last year than I have at any point in my life. And I did most of it on these same rutted, crappy, city streets.

I felt strong. I felt fast. I felt happy, and I wasn't waiting for anybody.

I caught some fast riders and strung in behind them, letting them clear a path for the most part. Not too fast, we were getting passed by the 'super-bombers', but fast enough to feel good. Stopped for a banana and bathroom break at Astoria Park, hit the road again, and Holy Chiquita, Batman... I was in SI by 11:40 am!


Where, last year, I could barely move until the 'halfwayers' started to bail out at the Brooklyn Bridge, and I waited for hours until I could get on a ferry back to Manhattan, this year, we cooked along at an average speed of about 15 mph (topping out at 30 mph on the downhill section of the BQE), there was no wait for the ferry at all, and I was passing people going the other way back across the Brooklyn Bridge as I headed for home.

Would I go stand in line at the start next year? Sure, if I was with friends. But it's kind of like going to a football game. Tailgating is half the fun, but not if you're doing it by yourself.

Friday, May 2, 2008

5 Boro Route Map


For those of you still trying to figure out what's going on on Sunday, here's a great source of Bike info in NYC. Click on the map or follow the link below.


These guys are a great source and I feel shamed not to have mentioned them before now. (Although honestly, there's been a link to their site from this one for about a year.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The 2008 NYC Five Boro Bike Tour is This Sunday

... And I haven't got a thing to wear.


I rode in the 2007 5Boro - AKA the Commerce Bank Five Boro Bike Tour (although why they can't spell 'borough' correctly, I'll never know.) Some people call it the New York City Bicycle Marathon, but I think that's pushing it a bit - it's only 42 miles long.

What it was, was very fun, and very cold, and from the weather report, it looks like more of the same. Last year I had the pleasure of A: being stood up by every single person who was going to ride with me, and B: ending up so far back in line at the start that I was 'blessed' by the priests of Trinity Church who came out onto the overpass a swung a censor over my head while I shivered in the cold.

I stood alone, freezing, waiting to move for what seemed like hours. From the start time at the head of the field, to the time I actually got to move, was endless and my lips were turning blue.

It doesn't look like it will be significantly warmer this year, so I'm trying to figure out what to wear that will be ok for standing around in the cold at 6:30 am, cruising along at around 18 to 20 mph on the BQE after all the 'halfwayers' leave the field at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, and then keep out the wind on the ferry ride back to Manhattan. I must admit that I'm stumped.

I know, I know. Layers. But layers of what?


If you are not already signed up, you're sort of out of luck. Registration closed about a month ago and the ride is full, but I know from experience that around this many days before, a lot of people who were gung ho a month ago start developing strange ailments that 'force' them to drop out.
If you still want to go, try getting an ID number off craig's list, I would guess there are people looking to re-sell or give away theirs.
The thing is, you can't ride without one.

This is a very well attended, and therefore, very well organized ride. It is heavily staffed and the marshals will divert you from the route if you don't have a number.
So what, you say? Well, you can ride 42 miles around NYC any old time you want to, but on Sunday, more than 30,000 of us will be closing this city down to automobile traffic. That's what makes it fun.

How often do you get to ride on the FDR or the BQE? Other than Critical Mass, how often do you get to share the streets with thousands of cyclists and watch the car drivers shaking their fists in the vain hope that someday they will get to move? And my very favorite part? How often do you get to ride a bicycle across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge? Other than this ride? - Never.