I was inspired by this idea that we could bike entire New York, while the cars were taken off the street, it’s a forty mile ride spanning all five boroughs of the city and ascend few iconic bridges to reach the final destination. I added additional spice to this event by choosing to get the event by riding my bike from home taking mass transit to get there and back.
Back in 1977 some 250 NYC bike enthusiasts held a 50 mile bike challenge to promote cycling in the city. Then with minimal security and within the NYC traffic they had completed the event successfully. Next year the then NYC Mayor Ed Koch officially changed the name of the event to FIVE BORO BIKE TOUR instead of challenge to attract more bikers to participate in the event, ever since it has been a popular NYC event, with the capacity as high as 25 to 30 thousand participants.
The journey begins…
Well below is the picture taken at 5am on a Sunday morning. Most Sundays I spend my mornings in bed while my wife goes to jog. I had signed up for New York Five Borough Bike Tour. My luck had it that it got cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19, hence rescheduled in May 2021. As things did not improve it got postponed to Aug 22nd. Then came the Hurricane Henri it got postponed to Aug 29th, finally the day had arrived, I had to get off my bed.
Most people would have written about the event experience itself, but I wanted to capture the whole stretch as to how I got to New York and back. Like the picture shows at 5am it was air/brake and water bottle check. I actually started to ride my bike at 5.30am to Princeton Jn station. The plan was to take scheduled 6.02am to Newark Penn and then board on to Path to downtown. Wanted to reach train station in time giving about 20 minutes to reach there but had reached in 10, was I pumped or what. So after a long wait the train arrived. The doors opened and there is a special section for bike storage in the train, to my amazement there were already two bikes stashed, bikers from Hamilton or Trenton headed to NYC Bike Tour. After Hellos I settled next to them. While we struck with conversations, time had passed by one of them asked what station is this, I looked up it was Newark Penn and train had started to move. Surprised as I asked them aren’t you getting off hear and taking path? to which the lead among them, now I know he is Israel, said, no we are going to New York Penn and from there will bike down the venue. Train had left the platform and now I was following them throwing my original plans out the window.
Conductor passed by looked up at us as one of us was supposed to get off at Newark Penn. I raised my hand and said “that’s me and I want to bump my ticket“, pulling the cash out. Conductor has his way giving a pass to their patrons once in a while today was that day, he goes, “why don’t you download the NJ Transit app and purchase the ticket their and show it to me, I will be back” and he took off. This generally means that he will never come back and he wants to give me a pass. I know this since I am regular commuter. As expected NY Penn came and we all got off.
New York Penn Station
Israel set out to look for the elevator and there were ten other people with their huge luggage waiting, the elevator looked small it would not fit three bikes and besides our turn would come after two shifts at least. I suggested lets ride escalator, which is what we did. Now we were in the main lobby of the station we had to take another escalator to get to the streets, riding an escalator with bike was easy, the tricky part was opening the heavy double doors with one hand while holding the bike with another. Last escalator, Israel had done and held the door for us, now it was my turn, with a struggle held the doors open and let the second biker out, by then Israel was on the street laughing at us. There was another set of double doors next to mine that was ajar all the while. Fun had begun, ice was broken.
It’s been more than two years now that I am not a regular at New York, due to Covid-19 reasons, the beautiful change I noticed was their is a designated bike lane on either side of the road marked with green patch in all of Manhattan, I am like wow, New York City is getting Europenised; if that’s a word. So it was a breeze biking down the roads to downtown, soon we saw a bunch of bikers settled in huddle.
The kick off
From the selfie below you can see the other two have Yellow number tags; they had signed up for yellow wave which would start at 8.30am and I had signed up for Orange wave which was scheduled to start at 9.20 which was basically a last wave after another which was Green. The Blue wave had started at 7.30am. We had reached the venue at around 8am. Israel suggested I hope on Yellow wave and I did not hesitate and we were off at 8.30am biking down the roads along with bunch of other bikers with no cars on the road, zipping by the red lights.
Like the event says, this biking spans all the five boroughs of NYC, starting from Manhattan downtown, barely touching Bronx, cross the river land in Bronx and then take the next bridge and back in Manhattan. I wonder why, Bronx is the most notorious of all the five boroughs, although it is home of Yankees Stadium. My guess is next route would have been on National Highways, which the city authorities had no rights to block them. Then we crossed the Queensboro bridge also known as Ed Koch bridge to land in Queens. This was the first big bridge with steep elevation, people took a break to take pictures on the iconic bridge. Soon after we were forced to walk the bike in the rest area. Johnny’s lined up on one side and volunteers serving banana and water to the bikers on the other. Grabbed a banana and few snacks, relaxed on the side and we were back on the bike.
Knowledge is power
I learnt this the hard way, while we began biking there was huge bottleneck hence we chatted while we rode, Israel asked “What is the pressure on my tires“, to which I said, “To make my riding easy I have pushed it to 20 or 22“, to which the other guy said, “What! mine is 100, 22 is way less, this will slow you down“, he rode a classic Schwinn, where he had received several compliments. “At next rest area you should check your tire pressure rating and put to the max” recommended Israel. The next break came after the Queensboro bridge. I had always put 18 to 20 on my bike comparing it to cars 33 to 36 PSI. My tire read 68 to 86, so I pumped it to 80 and then the life was smoother.
We ride through huge bridges that is given but we also constantly bike over the fly overs pushing our limit of exhaustion up the hill and then a free ride down the hill. As easy as it sounds and rewarding riding down the hill, it can be really be painful on your rear if you don’t stand on the bike pedals.
This reminds me of one thing, it is good to have a very good bike, I could see few of the riders breezing thru me with easy pedaling, they were probably very good bikes, but if I have to say one thing, if you can buy and $1000 bike then invest $500 on the bike and rest on bike seat, trust me your bum will thank you. After Manhattan, Brooklyn is the most beautiful borough, we drove thru some chic streets. Sad as it may sound we did not ride on the most iconic bridge of all the Brooklyn Bridge.
I guess Verrazano’s bridge is on the highest elevation in NYC, correct me if I am wrong, but on this bike tour it was. Also the winding road that leads to the bridge is quite a ride, a familiar car rider would know that. Hence this was the last climb up the hill of our 40 mile tour, with that excitement I pushed on and reached the peak of the Verrazano’s. I dismounted my bike to take pictures, from this peak I could see Russia but that’s me. From hear on it was down hill to the destination. Mind you there are few more flyovers and by definition there will be ups and downs.
While I was taking pictures and recording, I saw a commotion next to me. There was a man lying on the road and someone else pumping his chest. The man lay still and people took turns resuscitating him, I stood afar from the crowd knowing that I had nothing to contribute while the pro riders were at work. Most of the bikers had stopped at distance and prayed for his recovery. Suddenly cheers erupted from the crowd yelled spread out and give him some air. That is when I thanked god and mounted my bike to ride, as soon as I peddled two steps, I heard the OHHH in the background, turned and looked to see that the man was back to square one, others thumping his chest again.
Crowd was building up so I took off, paramedics and FDNY vehicles drove head on to us to pick up the man in distress. The man had made the peak, if only he had taken a little breather in between.
The finish line
As for me cool breeze was slapping my face while I zipped by the down hill, by crossing the bridge I had landed in the fifth and final Borough Staten Island, somewhere it was posted 35 mile mark, I gave sigh of relief, but then the flyover came, now you have to pump again, I had to make a decision which cheek do I like more and whom do I punish. I repeat invest in the seat comfort, don’t make the mistake I did. Down the flyover and huge right bend, not having to pedal and then I see someone standing on the mega phone shouting, “Congratulations you have done it“, I was like, did I?, 40 is done, it’s over, should I drop the bike and kiss the floor? The next megaphone lady shouted dismount your bikes and walk it to the Bike Festival arena. And just like that my Five Borough Bike Tour had come to an end.
After freshening up and some water headed to beer stall to get some beer with my train buddies, who had finally arrived looks like they decided to hang out more during the tour unlike me just riding it down. The choice was IPA or Fat Tire, fittingly I chose Fat Tire having ridden lean tire for a while now.
My friends chose to hang out there so I headed to the Staten Island Ferry that would take me to Downtown. Walk the bend led to the ferry, upon arrival the line was not huge, assumed everybody was still hanging out and having fun. The lady ahead of me was puzzled “Do we have to pay for this ferry?“, she was expecting it to be part of the whole tour package to land us back to the place we started from. I mumbled “Welcome to American capitalism madam!“, Immediately the lady attending the ferry pointed further saying that “You can board that ferry, that is free ride arranged by Bike Tour“. That led us to another ferry where more than 200 cyclists waited for the next ride. Thought this is going to be a long wait, to my amazement the next ferry hosted all the 200 and more, I had got the front seat(standing) overlooking the view to World Trade Center, Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge in a single frame. It was a cloudy day, hence the gray pastel, great for biking but not for landscape pictures. You can’t have the cake and eat it too.
Hoped off the ferry, it is amazing to watch how quickly they dock it, no wonder it is a everyday busy commuter ferry for SI residents, I had heard about this ferry as NJ residents could drive up to SI and park there cars to ride this ferry to reach Downtown for everyday work. NJ Transit trains who bag awards year after year are the worst transit system to NYC.
West Side Hwy
Now starts my personal bike ride to reach NY Penn Station. Had known from past that there was a bike path along the Westside Hwy, which I used to cross over to the park during lunch from CITI overlooking Hudson river. Bikers gave a hard ring while we crossed their path. It was an amazing ride fully divided with two way bike path, following the bike rules, the rookie NYC riders who had come for bike tour rode on the other side of the path and got yelled by the opposite side, “Stay in your lane“. Through and through the bike lane is established along the length of Manhattan, I had to get off at 34th street while I looked at my old work building. Had no mood to ride on 34th street since it was another up hill and buses shared the bike lane for offloading passengers, hence walked the bike for most of the path until I reached Penn Station. My next train to Trenton was scheduled for 3.52pm which was more than 45 mins wait, trains run every hour on a weekend schedule. Was hoping and praying that the track assigned to our train would be 10 or higher number which usually have escalators, which is what we usually get on weekday schedules. To my hard luck finally 10 mins before departure they posted track 1, you need to walk down the steps with bike, uggh!
This was going to be an hour commute to Princeton Jn, now I had to carry the bike thru underpass one last time and ride it home. I said my self “last mile” while I took a bend to my home.
It is very common in European countries that all the major cities have adopted to pollution free commuting, like riding bicycles around the city.