As the sun rose on Staten Island, riders were already queued up and ready for the ferry. It was a very diverse group. Some were decked out in team or club kits, others looked like commuters heading to work (minus the bag). The lucky ones had warm layers on, while others shivered in the cool morning air. The line continued to grow as thousands of riders were preparing to converge on Manhattan for the start of the TD Five Boro Bicycle Tour.
Once on the ferry, I had a chance to eat my light breakfast I had brought and chatted with other riders. One couple came in from Connecticut for their second year riding the event. The woman told me about rides they do back home, including one that you have to use one of the oldest ferry’s in the nation to get to the island for. We chatted about bikes and had her husband pick my 18 lb road bike up when he came back from the bathroom, telling him she wants one like mine next. Her 25 lb hybrid was fine for commuting to the market, but for tours, she wants a road bike too.
The ferry landed in Manhattan, and the masses of riders started to flood into the city. Many people were not sure exactly where they were going, but it was hard not to just go with the flow and find your way. The closer we got, signs and volunteers began to appear, along with the staging zones for the later groups. And then, a wall of people appeared. This was the back of the staging for the first wave. Up ahead, VIP’s and the Giro d’Italia gran fondo riders were staged, resplendent in their pink numbers, many also wearing their gran fondo jerseys, with the Giro d’ Italia trophy on display in front of the starting gates.
As the minutes ticked down to the start of the first wave, riders made their final checks on their bikes. Others took the time to take pictures with friends and strangers, something you might not normally see in New York City. Today, we were all friends, united by two wheels, given the chance to ride free on streets, bridges, and highways, traditionally dominated by cars. The police presence was greatly appreciated by all to ensure the safety of the participants. Many riders displayed stickers to show support for Boston after the recent Boston marathon bombings. The theme of the event became “Ride For Boston.” Funds collected through the sales of the stickers were donated to One Fund Boston to support those affected by the tragic bombings. Announcements were made, “God Bless America” and the national anthem were played, and the horns were sounded, signaling the start of the ride.
At the beginning, the pace is typically slow. With between 6,000-8,000 riders, it is best to take your time and ride cautiously until things start to thin out. Being the largest mass ride in the US, many charity events are smaller than even one wave of the Five Boro Tour. It felt good to get moving again though. The temperatures were only slowly climbing, and the cool breeze off the rivers was not helping. Riders of all ages and abilities streamed down 6th Avenue, as curious pedestrians looked on. It was an interesting sight to ride along and come across the many NYPD officers riding patrol bicycles as part of the event. Some looked more at home than others, as I am sure that many at least ride recreationally off duty.
The first major attraction the ride hit was central park. While many residents ride through the park normally, this time, it was almost completely closed off for just cyclists. Missing were walkers, runners, and inline skaters they normally would see.
The first bridge the ride crossed was the Madison Ave Bridge. It was not nearly as exciting as other bridges later in the ride, but still, one down, four to go. The ride also made it’s short appearance in the Bronx. A water stop and right turn later, the course went over the Third Ave Bridge and back into Manhattan. For some, this is one of the rides highlights, a trip down FDR Drive. One NYC based cyclist I was riding with was almost giddy over the fact that we were on the often congested road. Some riders preferred to ride along at a leisurely pace, but the flat roads provided those who wished to go faster the opportunity to do so.
NYC might be known for its potholes, but during the ride, not many were seen. Some riders opted for the plush ride of mountain bikes, a large number were on road or hybrid style bikes. There were the occasional choppy sections, grates, or cracks you wanted to avoid, you could easily ride a road bike. A cyclocross bike with wide slicks could be the perfect bike for the route. Forgiving enough for the rough sections, but still nimble for the Strava segments over the bridges, if you chose to make a run at them.
After the trip down the FDR, the route took a turn over the Queensboro Bridge, and into Queens we went. The course took a turn north up to the Astoria Park rest area. All rest areas along the course were stocked with goodies for the riders to consume. KIND was on hand to provide nutritious snacks, and Fairway had tables with fruit waiting. Water was plentiful, with at least 20 large bottles ready for riders at all times. The Bike New York did a great job making sure that riders had what they needed to get through the ride, even if they were not completely prepared nutritionally. At this point, one of my only complaints faced the riders in the early group. Organizers held the ride so that the police could work to clear the route ahead. While it is a complaint, it is understandable under the circumstances. It could have been that the riders arrived faster than expected, but it really hurt the flow of the ride for the earliest group.
All throughout the course, entertainment zones were set up to provide riders with encouragement to pedal on. Gospel choirs, DJ’s, bands, and even a drum line greeted riders in each of the boros, giving a taste of the neighborhood we road through. In other areas, volunteers were ready to help guide along the course, help with emergencies, and even offer a friendly cheer to help you up a hill.
The course then moved south through Queens to the Pulaski Bridge (Bridge #4) and continued along the East River. After passing through Williamsburg, it made a right hand turn to head to Dumbo, and the Brooklyn Bridge was in sight. I was disappointed that the course had not crossed the Brooklyn Bride, but logistically, it could be tough to shut down the bridge for an extended period of time. Another road that was a highlight for many was the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Riders made the climb out of the trench in Carroll Gardens, and continued on to the east of Red Hook. After about six miles of riding along the BQE, the final and most anticipated bridge of the tour was waiting to take riders to Staten Island, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. By far the longest bridge on the route, approximately a mile long, the view offered looks back to Manhattan, Staten Island, Bayonne, and the Upper Bay. Cargo vessels, ferries, barges, and their tugs moved along as riders crested the highest climb of the day.
On the other side, riders arrived to a festival atmosphere at the Ft. Wadsworth rest station. Vendors were on hand with food and drinks for riders, along with massage tables and plenty of volunteers handing out branded goods from the main sponsor, TD Bank. Music played while riders got their pictures taken in front of TD displays to celebrate their ride, but there was still another four miles to the finish. After another pause in the ride, police lead the way back to the St. George Ferry terminal to conclude the ride.
Riders again queued up to take the ferry back to Manhattan, many with smiles on their faces from riding a route that, for only once a year, is their’s, free of cars.