Musical selection: Symphony #6 in F, "Pastorale," Op. 68, Allegro ma non troppo, Ludwig van Beethoven, courtesy of Classical MIDI Archives, © 1999 Pierre R. Schwob
On Sunday, May 6, 2001, I got to fulfill a dream I’ve had for several years: to ride in the annual 36-mile Bike New York Five Borough Tour of the Big Apple.
I got up at 4:30 am (after 4 hrs sleep), got off the New Jersey Turnpike at Exit 14C, and parked at the Harborside, Jersey City, dock of NY Waterways. From there it was a six-minute ferry ride across the Hudson and a few minutes pedaling to the starting point, Church and Liberty Streets in the financial district.
30,000+ cyclists huddled in the chilly air waiting for the ride to begin. It had been in the 90s a few days before, but the warm spell had ended and it was in the 40s. Throngs of cyclists waited in line to get into nearby delis for coffee, bagels, and juice.
Just about every type of two-wheeled human-powered conveyance was represented: vintage 10-speeds, titanium frame double suspension mountain bikes that probably cost more than what my car is worth, BMX bikes, tandems, road bikes, hybrids like my 21-speed Schwinn Sierra, recumbents, cruisers, folding bikes, classic 3-speeds (they used to be called “English racers”). Kids everywhere: riding in carriers, trailers, pedaling behind their parents on add-ons, on their own bikes. Young adults, middle-aged, and senior citizens. Bikes, helmets, and riders festooned with beer cans, flowers, stuffed animals, streamers, flags, and other chatchkes.
8:00 am and we were off! Mayor Giuliani and DJ “Cousin Bruce” Morrow gave us a send-off as we pedaled past the reviewing stand. 60,000+ bicycle wheels, spokes glinting in the morning sun, rolling through the concrete canyons of Manhattan. Throughout the 42-mile course, streets and thoroughfares more accustomed to countless cars, trucks, buses, and taxis were closed to motor vehicles to make way for us.
Up 6th Avenue we pedaled, past skyscrapers, shops, restaurants. Pedestrians waved and cheered us on as they waited for a chance to cross. Our first traffic jam came as we entered Central Park at 59th St. We had to wait a good half hour until we were finally able to ride through the park.
We emerged from the park onto Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. in Harlem. Nicely dressed Harlemites on their way to church watched us whiz by on our way to the Port-o-Sans set up by the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. building (Powell was a flamboyant and controversial minister who represented Harlem in Congress during the 50s and 60s). When you’re doing a long bike ride, it’s important to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, after which of course you have to pee, pee, pee, so the Port-o-Sans and public bathrooms along the route had plenty of long lines.
Over the Madison Ave. Bridge (The Bridges of Madison Avenue?) we pedaled, a quick ride through the Bronx (the home of the Yankees), then over the 3rd Ave. Bridge back into Manhattan and our first rest stop on the FDR Drive.
Now, of course, I was riding near the back of the pack, so by the time we got to the rest stop, all of the energy bars and most of the other free goodies had been snapped up by the faster riders. Still, there were plenty of free bananas available. One more banana, and I would have been swinging from the trees. They were starting to close the rest stop, so it was back on the FDR Drive.
Our next bridge was the 59th St. Bridge (slow down, you move too fast...)into Queens and the next rest stop at the Con Edison headquarters. Again, the faster riders had cleaned out all the freebies! I managed to grab a hamburger and use the Port-o-San before they too closed up this rest stop. From there it was a quick ride over the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn.
Ah, Brooklyn, the legendary borough of the Dodgers, the old Steeplechase, Coney Island, trolley buses, and Nathan’s hot dogs. The city of churches. Past the old Navy Yard we rode before entering the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (the dreaded BQE, a commuter’s nightmare) and a spectacular view of the water along the Belt Parkway.
We encountered another bicycle jam at Fort Hamilton Road and 95th St. getting ready to embark on the grand finale: The Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Staten Island (Brooklyn folklore has it that a workman who was killed during the construction of the bridge was buried in the concrete anchorage on the Fort Hamilton side. If you remember "Saturday Night Fever", Tony [John Travolta] mentions this to Stephanie while he was talking about the bridge. I have no further substantiation of this urban legend.)
Finally, we were embarking on our two-wheeled pilgrimage across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge! Spectacular!!!! As soon as we got off the bridge, we turned into the festival at Fort Wadsworth Park.
Now, like I said, I was at the tail end of the pack, so the festival had wound down by the time I arrived there. My trapezius muscles needed relief, but by then the massage center had long since packed it in. I bought a Bike NY T-shirt, plunked down 3 bucks for a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar, and made one last pit stop before pedaling off to the Staten Island Ferry to Battery Park.
What a ride! What a day! Despite the 36 miles, it was an easy ride, smooth as glass. The sheer volume of riders made it impossible to ride really fast. The roads were smooth and for the most part flat, with the exception of the bridges. A combination of energy gel and low gears made it easy to ride up most of the inclines. Of course, there’s no shame in getting off and walking the bike. The ride was as well organized and managed as it could be, considering the huge multitude of cyclists participating.
I’m already planning ahead for Bike New York 2002!