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 5, 2002, once again I woke up at 4:30 am to participate in the annual two-wheeled party known as Bike New York, the Five Borough Tour of the Big Apple.

I wound up in a group waiting to start right by Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center. It provided an eerie and somber counterpoint to the festive mood of the day. I couldn't see that much between the crowd and the wall around the site. During the excavation, some of the workers had found a piece of metal crossbeams in the shape of a cross. They had a priest bless it and they erected it in view of the street. I guess it depends on your perception. Some would see it as a divine message, others as simply a cross-shaped piece of debris.

Each year, Bike New York attracts 30,000 cyclists of every variety: Tour de France wannabes, gonzo mountain bikers, folks on old clunkers, and most of all, cyclists who do it for fun, like myself. There were a few riders using hand-propelled bikes, even a one-legged guy pedaling up the Pulaski Bridge. One guy sported sunglasses, mutton chop sideburns, a coconut shell bra, and a grass skirt. Elvis in Hawaiian drag. Still, even in that getup, he managed to get leid.

As he's done every year, DJ “Cousin Bruce” Morrow of WCBS-FM radio gave us a send-off as we pedaled past the reviewing stand. Conspicuous by his absence was the new mayor of New York, Michael R. Bloomberg. Like Clinton, Bloomberg admitted to smoking pot many years ago. Presumably, however, Hizzoner inhaled. Cousin Bruce led us in a brief moment of silence for the WTC victims before we pedaled off.

There is a 42-mile tour and a 36-mile-tour. After a period of time, they shut off the 6-mile section in Queens. It's my observation that unless you're a very fast rider who manages to start at the front of the pack, you're going to end up doing the 36-mile tour.

The ride starts at Battery Park at the lowest end of downtown Manhattan. It travels up 6th Ave. into Central Park (after waiting half an hour to get in), emerges into Harlem, over the Madison Ave. Bridge into the Bronx, then back into Manhattan and the first rest stop at 116th St. and FDR Drive. It continues along the FDR and over the 59th St. Bridge into Queens and the next rest stop at Con Edison headquarters. From there it's over the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn, along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Belt Parkway into Fort Hamilton, where you can relax at another rest stop before waiting in line for an hour to get on the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island. Pedaling over the bridge, you've got to contend with a 600-mile per hour crosswind that can blow you back into Manhattan. Finally, the festival at Fort Wadsworth before riding to the Staten Island Ferry (and another long line). The entire route is closed off to motor vehicles. Planning an event of this magnitude requires the logistic and tactical planning skills of General Patton.

The rest stops were packed with cyclists enjoying free bottled water, bananas, oranges, energy bars, and organic purple potato chips. So help me God, purple potato chips. To quote Dave Barry, I swear I am not making this up. They're supposed to be made from a strain of purple potato (reminds me of the science experiment we did as kids where we dropped iodine on a cut potato and the starch turned it purple.) The brand name is Terra and they were very tasty. You can probably find them at organic food stores. There are cyclists who eat to ride, and those who ride to eat. I am firmly in the latter group. The rest stops also provided bike repairs, Port-O-Sans (bring antibacterial wipes. Trust me on this), first aid, and reunion centers to catch up with your riding companions (thank God for cell phones). Many participants also refreshed themselves at the numerous restaurants, delis, and bars along the route.

The only bad part came at the end, where I had to wait 2 hours for a ferry back to New Jersey, because NY Waterways was only running one boat back and forth between Battery Park, Jersey City, and Hoboken. Next year I think I'll drive to Staten Island and avoid all that hassle.

Despite the long lines at places, Bike New York is a wonderful event, and I'm planning to do it again in 2003. Which brings me to put forth a challenge to all of you: I want a cycling buddy (or buddies) to join me next May. If I can plop my big, fat, tired, 54-year-old ass on a bike seat (after working a 3-11:30 shift the night before) and have a great time bicycling for 36 miles, there is no reason why most of you, who are presumably younger, thinner, and more physically fit, can't do it, too.

I know, most of you are thinking, "Diana, are you out of your *&^%#@! mind? (Yep, but you knew that.) Do a bike ride when I have finals coming up?" Hear me out: Give yourself permission to take a one-day vacation!! Just for one day, forget the books, the laundry, the grocery shopping, let your mother mind the kids, and spend a day riding a bike in the fresh air (at least fresh by New York standards), getting to know the city, experiencing the Zen-like state of cruising along the Belt Parkway at 15 mph, and meeting 30,000 cyclists from all around the world. Then you can get back to your studying with a fresh, relaxed mind. Not to mention snorking down all the free water, oranges, bananas, energy bars, and purple potato chips you want.