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.

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