Monday, May 7, 2012

Astoria to the Five Boro Bike Tour (May 6th - 60.6 miles)

After all this talk about cycling at Bike Expo New York, it was time for a serious ride. The Five Boro Bike Tour was to be my first organized ride, and I was sure it would not disappoint. Unheard of car-less Manhattan streets, effortlessly passing through many unique, and iconic neighborhoods, traveling over roadways, and bridges usually off limits to cyclists, to make it possible to ride all five boroughs in just 40 miles.

As I ride down Crescent Avenue in the predawn darkness, I (in hindsight) ironically comment on how my bike should be in perfect running order. Little did I know, my rear tire was worn down to the Kevlar lining, and was a flat tire waiting to happen. Oblivious to this fact, I hauled myself over the Queensboro Bridge for what would be my first of three crossings over that bridge that day. Gliding downtown along Second Avenue, the city is quiet, and the avenue, nearly empty. After waiting at Broadway, and Park Place for a little while, I was told that the start was around the corner, and made my way there to find, that I was still very early. I found a spot, one person back from the starting line, and tried to stay warm and comfortable, for the hour and a half before the tour started. At one point a small Japanese media crew was filming a Japanese cyclist, and taking pictures of the crowd, asking us to wave, and yell "hi". Slowly the start time approached, and a ride Marshall came out in front of the barrier to give last minute instructions. Even though I was in the front, I believe that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 VIP's ahead of the group I am in. These people had a corporate connection to the tour, or raised money for a charity, to earn a spot to ride the tour. From the sound of the starting horn, to actually passing the first gate to begin riding, took about 5 minutes

Starting out early for the Five Boro Bike Tour, I comment on the fact that I think my bike is in perfect working order (famous last words).

Descending to Manhattan on the Queensboro Bridge in the predawn darkness, my first time over the Queensboro Bridge that day.

Arriving at the start for the Five Boro Bike Tour, I film a recumbent tandem bike that looks comfy.

Japanese media commentate, and pose at the starting line while taking pictures, and video, of the crowd, and a Japanese cyclist.

Shortly before the start, instructions regarding the fork in the road ahead, are given.

2nd crowd shot.

The long, slow start of the Five Boro Bike Tour; 4 minutes of slowly walking your bike down church street to reach the starting line where you can ride.

Giddy with prospect of 40 miles of unhindered NYC riding, I start out strong, using my well honed traffic weaving abilities to try to safely make headway into the crowd in front of me, as we glide uptown. The East Village gives way to Chelsea, and soon I'm passing Herald Square, and Radio City, before entering Central Park. So far, all of these streets are familiar to me, each conjuring different memories of the people I associate them with. Looking around me, I feel as if I'm taking the world on a bike ride with me through my neighborhoods.

Inside Central Park, I had hoped my familiarity with the loop would be more of an advantage, but found myself frustrated by the lack of passing room, and the density of the slow moving packs. I made good time after the first curve by carrying some good speed into the incline before the straightaway, and bigger curve, but I was tied up trying to bomb through, and did not enter Harlem with as much speed as I had hoped. As you enter Harlem, you pass a live gospel choir, serenading you from a stage by the roadside. It had seemed to me that most of the trip uptown was through some headwinds, and when we hit the open avenue in Harlem it began to become significant.

The Five Boro Bike Tour being the largest cycling event in the world (35,000 riders), I find myself speculating as to who could possibly be pedaling beside me; from athletes to zen masters, I think I saw almost every type of person, on any type of bike you could imagine, yesterday. I would say the percentage of road bikes on the tour seemed pretty high, maybe as high as 75%. I saw many more mountain bikes than I had expected, including mountain bikes with knobby tires. Many tandem, recumbent, and other unconventional bikes were seen, including a Father who had a tandem with a trailer bike attached to create a three person bike for him, and his daughters.

Climbing the Madison Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, the tour merely touches the borough before turning South, over the Third Avenue Bridge, and burning straight down the FDR to the Queensboro Bridge, and Long Island City. When I'm nearing the last stretch of the FDR before the Queensboro Bridge, I realize that my rear tire is now gradually going flat. Almost as soon a I realize this, I begin to see signs for the first rest area. I resigned myself to standing while pedaling the last mile to try to preserve my new rear rim, and rode into the first rest area grabbing a snack, and walking straight to the mechanics tent. Here they change my tube, and pointed out that my tire was worn down to the protective lining, but then told me I should be able to finish the ride with it as well, and sent me on my way. This would be my second time over the Queensboro bridge today, but this time, I was able to ride the upper deck, which is usually only open to automobile traffic. Climbing to this level of the bridge was significantly more difficult than the usual pedestrian, and bike path level. After arriving in Long Island City, I had the most pleasant experience riding down 21st Street. This road is usually a nightmare for cyclists at anytime of day, with taxis, garbage trucks, buses, and all types of vehicles trying to drive through as quickly as possible; my normal route from the bridge goes more than a half mile out of my way just to avoid riding there. Today, 21st Street was the perfect option to reach Astoria from the Queensboro Bridge. I rode happily up to Astoria Park, under the Triboro Bridge, and greeted my friends from Tonys Bike Shop, explaining that I had just had a flat tire before the bridge. Here I grabbed more food, and a sports drink, before heading to my apartment only blocks away to use my own bathroom, and drop off some gear from the morning that I no longer had need for.

Leaving my apartment I joke to the officers on my corner about how nice it is to live near the tour, and proceed to ride back to reenter the route. Almost as soon as I start out along Shore Blvd leaving Astoria Park, I see 2 riders dressed up as super heroes, one as Captain America, and the other as the Green Lantern. As I accelerate to catch up to them I hear a loud hiss, and discover that I've now punctured a second tube. Completely beside myself having this awful turn of events, I immediately turn back into Astoria Park, and head straight for Tonys booth, where Dino, one of their mechanics, swaps the tire and tube out with pit crew like efficiency, and waves me off when I tell him to charge me later. Very grateful to have had such speedy service, I find myself re-entering the route again, headed toward Brooklyn along Vernon Blvd, and Kent Avenue, a route similar to one that I take to my girlfriends apartment. Not long after crossing the Pulaski Bridge to Brooklyn, I once again find myself on unobstructed highway, riding down the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and merging onto the Gowanus Expressway for a long grueling stretch into persistent headwinds. At this point I was getting hungry again, and saw signs for the last water, and toilet stop, before the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I had hoped they would have some food on offer but since there was none, I resigned myself to drinking the water, and catching my breath before the final huge push over the last bridge.

Traveling 6th Avenue, through Chelsea.

From Radio City, to Central Park, on 6th Avenue.

Traveling through one of my favorite sections of the Central Park loop, I comment on how quiet it is.

Arriving in Harlem.

Stopping to fix a flat at the first rest stop, I film a tandem fitted with a trailer bike.

The FDR to Asphalt Green.

My 2nd time over the Queensboro Bridge that day, but this time on the upper level which is usually car only.

I stop to say hi to my friends at the local bike shop, Tonys Bicycles in Astoria, and tell them how I just had a flat.

Finally rolling again, I try to catch up to some riders dressed as super heroes, and get my 2nd flat tire!

Long Island City, Vernon Blvd.

Greenpoint Ave, and Kent Ave in Brooklyn.

Tandem bike, Furman Street, approaching the BQE.

BQE Part 2. (Grinding up the BQE)

Slowly ascending the Gowanus Expressway, pulling into the last stop before the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Climbing the entrance to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

The Verrazano Narrows Bridge is only open to cyclists this one time a year. At 6,690 feet, this bridge presents the last challenge before the finish line festival in Fort Wadsworth Staten Island. The grind up the Verrezano Bridge was near mile 50 on the day for me, and all of the extra power in my legs had been drained. I found myself slowly spinning over the bridge with the other heavy weights, and slower riders. After what seemed like a small eternity of climbing, I'm sailing down into Fort Wadsworth, greeted by music, and cheerful congratulations from the volunteers (who have been cheering us on the whole time). The lines for hot food were far too long for my liking, so I decided some free snacks would have to do, and munched some granola bars, and drank some sports drinks. After only resting less than a half an hour, I walked my bike down to New York Avenue to ride the last 3 miles of the route to St George Station, to ride the Staten Island Ferry back to lower Manhattan, so I could finish the last 10 miles of my ride for the day, the ride home.

The slow grind up the enormous Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and the rapid descent down to the Fort Wadsworth finish line festival.

Entering the Fort Wadsworth Finish line festival.

Walking to New York Avenue, riding the last 3 miles of the Five Boro Bike Tour, ending at the Staten Island Ferry.

Boarding the Staten Island Ferry.

Using almost the same route home as I had used leaving Bike Expo New York, I rode along the East River Esplanade, and then past the U.N. on First Avenue, and wove through traffic up towards 59th Street. Once I reached the foot of the Queensboro Bridge for the third time, I knew I had only this one last mountain to climb before the few miles of Long Island City that separated me from my shower, and my comfortable bed to nap in as I had had only 1 hour of sleep the night before. It's hard to imagine having more fun on an organized bike tour in New York than I had on the Five Boro Bike Tour, I'm hoping the century Ride to Montauk in June will be just as enjoyable.

The Five Boro Bike Tour now complete, I begin my return ride home on the East River Esplanade, passing under the Manhattan Bridge.

Riding the East River Esplanade towards Midtown.

My 3rd time over the Queensboro Bridge that day, descending to Queens, for the last few miles to home.

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