Some years I've managed to participate in both Bike New York and MDS&W, some years they conflict [wistful sigh]. Last year I went to MDS&W with the Modern Yarn SnB carpool. This year many SnBers are going and I'm sorry to miss out, but it's Bike NY for me. Here's a preview of what I'll be doing May 6, put together from several rides in years past (mouseover photos for captions, click to view larger).
Bike New York or the Great Five Boro Bike Tour is the largest bicycle event in the U.S. The annual 42-mile (67-km) ride through all five boroughs of New York City regularly draws 30,000 participants, on a par with the New York City Marathon, but with only a fraction of the media coverage.
Tortoise that I am, I was nervous on my first BNY – as it turned out, with no cause. I followed the training suggestions and was fine. The ride is a tour rather than a race, well-organized, with lots of helpful ride marshals and an emphasis on safe, healthy, family-friendly fun. The pace vehicles lead the way at 15 mph (24 kph), which is the bicycle speed limit in Central Park, and the sweep vehicles travel at 6 mph (9 kph), plus there are options for SAG, shortcuts, and taking the subway.
For me, the best thing about Bike NY is riding traffic-free through NYC. It's a giddy pleasure [teehee] to roll along at a moderate pace on the broad thoroughfares and the big bridges – especially the FDR Drive, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and the mighty Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which are ordinarily closed to bikes and peds [vbg]. The tour includes exhilarating views of the built landscape, the sylvan beauty of Central Park in the spring, charming neighborhoods, and also a look at the working waterfront, scabby in some places but improving in others. (I'm amazed that the Gowanus Canal no longer looks and smells like toxic sludge.)
People-watching (and gear-ogling) is another draw. There are all kinds of riders (young/not, fluffy/not, handicapped/not, experienced/not, etc) on all kinds of bikes (standard, recumbent, tandem, hand-cranked, high wheeler, folder, chopper, etc). I've seen a bride and groom in formalwear, a guy in bike shorts, grass hula skirt, and coconut bra, awe-inspiring and humbling Achilles athletes who can kick my butt even though they have no legs (increasingly, these are the new generation of war veterans), highly competitive types who smirk when they pass tortoises and children, a ped playing bagpipes on the FDR Drive.
Safety concerns always come first, so there are a few places where riders must dismount to prevent dangerous congestion or for vest checks. I consider the queues a reasonable tradeoff for traffic-free streets and bridge access, but jackrabbit types and those with an aversion to crowds may want to consider the NYC Century, which allows riders to ride at their own pace, but in traffic.
The toughest parts of the route include hard climbs and fierce crosswinds on the Queensborough Bridge and the hors catégorie Verrazano Narrows Bridge – a windshell is a must. There's another steep incline and merciless sun exposure on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Around Mile 28 (45 km) some participants get a glazed look, lose focus, and do inexplicable things like ride straight into striped highway barriers [ouch]. Drinking water and munching carbs help stave off the physical and psychological effects of hitting the wall, literally.
There's a festival with food, music, Civil War re-enactors, and divers other amusements at ride's end, historic Fort Wadsworth on the Staten Island side of the mighty Verrazano Narrows Bridge. But some riders prefer to head out on the two-mile ride to the ferry back to Manhattan immediately because at peak the wait can be as long as two hours.
At the end of a long day, some participants are still going strong, others are conked out. My big brag is not how fast I turtle along, but that I finish and am not sore the next day [g].
I'm hoping to spot Debby and Devorah on the ride. Is anyone else planning to go?