Monday, May 4, 2009

Five Boro Bike Tour 2009

Just days after I signed up for the Five Boro Bike Tour many previous attendants told me to be careful. It would be quite hectic and that they would probably not do it again. I would say the assessment was quite accurate. However, If I have the opportunity, I'll certainly to it again. It was crazy fun! If you add the rain into the equation and the bath of spray I received over the entire ride from the fenderless bikes, it was even more fun. Hey, I didn't even have to shower after the ride. As I write, I haven't yet. Yikes!


The Five Boro Bike Tour was the second event in a very strenuous weekend. I volunteered to operate a secret contrôle and provide all the post-ride food for a randonneuring event in Pennsylvania on Saturday. My wife Grazie did the food part. We slept two hours from Saturday to Sunday, worked at the event all of Saturday and finally slept at midnight. Then on Sunday at 3am we woke up, leaving Quakertown PA towards NYC at 4am. I arrived in NYC at 6am, parked the car in a garage and made my way to the start. This is where the Five Boro Bike Tour story begins.

Grazie and I walked to Battery Park only to find out that the start was actually not there, but at the intersection of Church St and Frankin St, about a mile away. As Grazie was not riding, we both walked up Church St until I could no longer move forward. I had never seen so many people together, much less on bikes. There were 30,000 of us ready to ride. Well, some of us seemed more ready than others, but I am sure the level of excitement and eagerness to turn the pedals was shared equally.

After a long wait of 90min I heard the announcer give the final countdown. Then I waited another 10min to start walking the bike. It was only when I crossed the starting line that I was able to clip in. During the initial miles I rode with Justin Manzo from my department at Cornell. We met at the starting line without knowing that the other would even be there. What are the odds of that?

I was told I would likely be stuck on Staten Island for a while before I would be able to return to Battery Park on the ferry. That thought was not very comforting, since Grazie would be waiting for me. She had some plans of her own, but it was raining and chilly. The day was not very inviting for exploring the city on foot. I made the decision to try to ride as close as I could to the front of the pack. That meant I could not enjoy much of the scenery. On the other hand, it would be hard to enjoy the scenery moving at any speed, since with so many cyclists around, you have to be very attentive. My rear-view mirror proved a very valuable asset.

Weaving through the sea of other cyclists was a lot of fun. I tried to do it as safely as I could, indicating when I was moving sideways and checking behind for approaching cyclists on my left through the rear view mirror and on the right by turning my head. I would often be stuck for a while because there simply was no safe way to move through.

In no time we reached Central Park. This was the first bottleneck. Just before the park entrance I lost Justin and would not see him again. There were two converging streams of cyclists as we entered the park and I saw several falls. Most of them were at very low speed and probably of little consequence to those involved. I was doing my best to avoid any accidents and so far all was going smoothly.

The first bridge crossing was on Madison Ave into the Bronx, followed almost immediately by a crossing of the Third Ave bridge back to Manhattan. Shortly thereafter that we began riding on the FDR drive. The speed picked up and with it also the rain. A bad combo for fenderless bikes. Worse for riding behind fenderless bikes. The spray was almost impossible to avoid. For obvious reasons, I grumbled at MTB's with knobby tires.

It was while on FDR that I was involved in an accident. As I was passing a cyclist on his right side he moved towards the right and his handlebar hit my left thigh. I heard him go down and immediately pulled over and stopped. I went back to him and checked if he was OK. He did not sustain any apparent injuries but his front wheel was misaligned. His friends also stopped and after asserting that all was OK I continued. It sucks to be part of an accident, but at least I was comforted in knowing that he was OK and able to ride on.

Along FDR I also saw several cyclists with flats. The road conditions were not very good on this stretch. My Vittoria Pave EVO CG tires did a great job and I did not have any problems, even though I often rode in the nasty parts of the road where there were less cyclists. It was time to cross the Queensboro Bridge. On the climb to the bridge I jokingly mentioned to a rider next to me that I had never heard of hills in NYC. We both laughed and moved on.

I was steadily passing cyclists and no matter how many I passed there were so many more ahead of me. This was confirmed when we reached Astoria Park. It didn't look very different from the start, huge lines of cyclists waiting for their turn in the porter-potties. I heard on the speakers that this was a mandatory stop and we would be held there until 10:05am. It was 10:00am. Although I had felt like going to the bathroom at the start already, I had no intention of spending more time than necessary at the park. I immediately joined the long line at one of the exits of the park. I did eat a banana and more of my granola.

It didn't take long before we were moving along the streets of Queens. At one point I caught a glimpse of police cars. They were pace cars! The streets were now wide and there was more room to share. A few miles down the road I reached the pace cars and the many cycling marshals riding behind. It was quite a trip, to ride just behind the pace cars. It was also nice to hear the people on the streets cheering for us. It is much more of a novelty for them to see the first cyclists moving along than the last among 30,000. The bad news is that the rain picked up. None of the marshals had fenders, or any of the cyclists in that front group. Now I had nowhere to go in order to avoid the spray and I soon felt the first drops of water penetrating my shoes. There would be many more by the time the ride ended.

The ride continued into Brooklyn until reaching the Cannonball Park. Before we crossed the Verrazano-Narrows bridge we made a sharp turn and a cyclist went down a few feet in front of me. With so many of us converging in narrow turns I was happy not to fall. The cyclist that I saw go down was up on his bike in no time, so I imagine nothing serious happened.

After the bridge crossing we arrived at the festival grounds in Fort Wadsworth. There were many stands with free stuff, including coffee and other goodies. I was tempted to hang out but I decided to head for the exit signs. I was determined on getting on the ferry as soon as I could. It was rainy and chilly, not a good time to stand around. I exited the festival area and together with another cyclist we were stopped and told we would have to wait there until 11:45am. That meant standing there for about 15min. Not too bad.

At 11:45 the police officers let us go and to my surprise we still had to ride another 3 miles or so to reach the ferry. I thought the ride had been over! Along this stretch I almost went down. On the bottom of a small descent there was a left turn. I had a good line, but as I reached the bottom I noticed there was an iron plate and I was turning on it. My rear wheel started to slide but I had enough traction on the front wheel and made the necessary adjustments to stay upright. This occurred instinctively. Whew!

Together with another guy I was riding with at this point, we were the first cyclists to enter the ferry. No lines! Yay! I took a nap while we crossed back to Battery Park. I needed some rest after two nights without proper sleep.

Upon arriving at Battery Park I headed back to the garage to get my car. I found a phone booth and made a call to Grazie. She was at Macy's on 34th. It took me a full hour to get there. I assume that the traffic was partially caused by the Five Boro Bike Tour.

I picked up Grazie and we went to a photo exhibition at the International Center of Photography near Bryant Park. I did not go in cycling gear, but we did see Five Boro cyclists throughout the afternoon up until we left NYC towards Ithaca at 4:50pm.

All told, it was quite an experience. It probably would have been more enjoyable without the rain and with the sun in its place. But those are things one cannot choose but rather deal with. It would be nice if people learned more about fenders.

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