The Five Borough Bike Tour is an annual event in which tens of thousands of New Yorkers ride 40 or 50 miles from lower Manhattan up through the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to Staten Island. For the last three years I’ve supported a wonderful organization called Bronxworks (http://bronxworks.org/) that helps families in need in The Bronx. I ride with a number of friends, some of whom live in the Bronx, and all of whom have adopted this wonderful group.
I rode with the Bronxworks team in 2011 and 2012 but a conflict prevented me from riding in 2013, though I donated to support the rest of the team. Fortunately for me I will be riding again this year. If you want to contribute to Bronxworks in support of my ride you may visit my fundraising page http://www.crowdrise.com/BronxWorks2014BikeTour/fundraiser/marcdonner. If you do so, I will be eternally grateful!
Last year I rode in the 2011 Five Borough Bike Tour and blogged about it. The photo service that took pictures of riders got three very good pictures of me, which I purchased and published on my Picasa page, suitable for blackmailing me in the future :-).
I rode again in 2012 with the BronxWorks team (Tamara [unofficial captain], Jane, Declan, Julio, Josh, Cristina, and me). We raised money for BronxWorks, a wonderful settlement house in the Bronx that runs programs to support homeless families with children. Several of the riders on the BronxWorks team volunteer in programs at the organization’s facilities in the Bronx. All of the riders raised money to support the organization’s activities, including me.
This year’s ride was on Sunday 6 May 2012. The weather was cool and overcast in the morning, clearing and warming by mid-afternoon when I got home. Conditions were perfect for the ride. Cool enough to help riders dissipate the heat of the exertion, while clear and dry to keep the riders safe during the ride.
Unofficial captain Tamara rendezvoused with teammates Julio, Jane, and me in the Upper West Side at 6:20 AM. Registration materials this year had to be picked up in person at South Street Seaport, something that Tamara had organized, so she brought Jane and me our identification bibs and rider numbers, which we donned on the street corner. We then rode down to the starting point in TriBeCa, arriving at about 7:10 AM for the 7:45 AM start.
Starting ceremonies began at about 7:30 AM with a series of dignitaries addressing the crowd. The starting gun, well, actually the starting bursts of flame, came at 7:45 sharp and we were off.
One of the benefits of riding for an organized charity is the starting position. The over-30,000 riders in the Five Borough Bike Tour are organized into several tiers. The VIP tier of several hundred riders starts at the very front. Right behind the VIP tier is the charity group, another several hundred riders whose sponsoring organization, in our case BronxWorks, has arranged for them to start next. After that is the vast majority of riders.
Last year there were numerous points on the tour where traffic bottlenecked and we were forced to pause for long periods of time, standing still or walking our bikes. Last year’s bottlenecks included the first mile or two after the start, the mile of Sixth Avenue before we entered Central Park, and somewhere on the BQE where construction forced the route onto a narrow ramp. I know that one of my friends who rode last year in a non-charity group, spent over an hour after the starting gun before he got moving.
This year, by contrast, the bike tour operators implemented a collection of improvements to the starting process and the route that resulted in essentially no bottlenecks anywhere. As a result our team finished fifteen minutes ahead of our finishing time from last year, despite two equipment mishaps.
The first mishap affected me in Central Park. As we started a long descent I decided to shift from the low range to the high range on my 31-year-old Motobecane Jubile Sport. The cable connecting the shift lever to the derailleur slipped loose and my chain popped off the gear and hung up around the axle of the crankshaft. I pulled over and lost five minutes getting things sorted out. I was soon back on the road. I could still pedal fine, and I could shift with the rear derailleur, so I had a fine six-speed bike on which I could easily finish the ride. At the same time I noticed a little vibration in my rear wheel that signaled that some of the spokes were loosening, a more alarming situation.
Aside – my road bike
Mine is a steel-framed road bike that I bought new in 1981 or 1982 and that I still ride to commute to work. It’s a beautiful bike with gorgeous lines made possible by its steel construction and a lovely aquamarine paint job. The old Motobecane company was a French maker of bicycles and motorscooters that went bankrupt in 1981, about the time that I bought the bike. Their market niche in France was low-end, but in the US they were a premium brand catering to the upper end of the cycling crowd. The Jubile Sport that I bought in 1981 (or 1982) when I was a grad student was a midrange road bike for the time. It had very good components, though there were better ones, and a reasonably light frame, though there were lighter ones. Today the bike is completely dated, but it remains an eye-catcher with its beautiful lines and color.
Rejoining the team
After crossing the Queensboro Bridge (aka the 59th Street Bridge aka the Ed Koch Bridge) I rejoined the team just outside the Astoria rest stop. There one of my teammates, Declan, executed a miraculous set of repairs to my bike, restoring the front derailleur to functionality and sorting out the loose spokes in my rear wheel. The result was a smoothly functioning bike that allowed me to finish my ride comfortably and without anxiety.
After the rest stop we resumed and rode across Queens and Brooklyn. Along the way somewhere in Brooklyn Christina ran over some debris on the road and got a flat on her bike’s rear wheel. The whole BronxWorks team stopped and, working together, made quick work of changing out the inner tube and reinflating the tire. We were spinning down the road again within five minutes of the flat. There was something stimulating about addressing the flat as a team, even though most of us did nothing more than stand by watch the action.
The rest of the ride to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and across to Staten Island, where the ride ended, was uneventful. We took a break at the festival grounds at the end of the route and ate a box lunch provided as part of the charity rider package. We then rode another three or four miles to the Staten Island Ferry terminus and boarded the John F. Kennedy, on which we rode back to Manhattan.
This year, rather than carrying our bikes on to the subway, we decided to ride up the west side bike path. This was a bit confusing in the early stages, since the bike path is a bit incomplete and confusing near Battery Park, but we were able to navigate it. The final fifteen minutes of the ride were, as a result, the same as my ride on the days when I commute to work by bicycle, which was curiously comforting.
Tamara, our unofficial team captain, used a rather cool GPS device to track the ride and distributed a wonderful map to the riders this morning. I captured it in Google Maps and include it here.
Here are some statistics about the ride from Tamara’s application:
Distance: 38.29 miles
Average speed: 11.5 mph (!!!)
Maximum speed: 22.3 mph
Pace: 5:11 minutes/mile
Elevation gain: 6844 feet
Elevation loss: 6909 feet
All in all, it was a lot of fun. It was work, but except for the first seconds after my front derailleur mishap, I never felt like I was unlikely to be able to finish and when I was done I was very tired but quite content that I’d done a good thing.
I would like particularly to thank my sixteen incredibly generous donors (David, Ron, Igor, Michael, William, Maxine, Trevor, Hal, Steve, Jon, Stu, Satish, David, Silvia, Amy, and Lucy). Thanks to you, homeless Bronx children and their families will have access to a range of wonderful supportive programs.
The day was perfect for riding. Not too hot, not too cold. Not too humid. I rendezvoused with my teammates Jane and Tamara at the corner of 70th Street and Columbus Avenue at 6:20 AM. After pumping up our tires and adjusting our bicycles, we headed downtown five miles to the starting line. Because we were riding for them, Noelle Ito of BronxWorks arranged for us to start near the head of the pack, enabling us to get moving soon after the starting gun (it wasn’t really a gun, but rather big jets of flame emitted from the starting gate).
The first few miles, north on Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas, for tourists) were slow, but we began to move more smoothly once we entered Central Park. We rode north along the eastern side of the Park Drive, exiting at 110th street and continuing north through Harlem to 138th Street, where we cut over to the Madison Avenue bridge and the Bronx. We didn’t spend long in the Bronx, returning to Manhattan by the Third Avenue Bridge and then south along the FDR Drive to the 59th Street Bridge.
We crossed over to Queens on the 59th Street Bridge (with me humming the famous Simon and Garfunkel song in my head) and then proceeded north up to Astoria Park where there was a mandatory rest stop. At this point we had traveled 18 of the 42 miles of the ride. After a ten minute break we headed back south through Queens and then across the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn.
We cruised through Williamsburg, past the Williamsburg Bridge, and then cut over towards the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. We passed through DUMBO and under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass near Brooklyn Bridge Park. We then cut over to the BQE. The BQE stretch was fast and straight, if not entirely the most visually exciting.
We paused for a final rest stop at the Fort Hamilton Park, at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. The ride organizers had set up a stand from which they were passing out bananas to the riders. We all remarked at how perfect these bananas were … cool but not cold and exquisitely ripe … not hard and grainy and not soft and mushy … just perfect!
Finally we mounted up for the final stretch, the three or four miles that it took to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge over to Staten Island. I had been nervously anticipating the climb over the bridge all during the ride after some daunting comments from my teammates, but in the event the slope was not so steep as to make riding up it particularly challenging … it was long but not particularly difficult.
Down the other side, carefully using my brakes to avoid approaching the speed of sound, and a final rest stop at Fort Wadsworth.
In total I rode 47 miles – the 42 miles of the bike tour plus the five miles from home to the starting line. We completed the 42 miles of the tour by about 1PM after the 8AM start. Tamara’s trip computer, which recorded our speed and distance all the way, reported that we averaged 10 mph for the 42 miles.
It was a lot of fun. I neglected to put sunscreen on my exposed skin and picked up a sunburn, but that was my only mishap. Seeing the city up close on a bicycle this way is really a treat. The ride is quite level and not strenuous. And the ride organizers did a remarkable job of making it easy and safe. The route was well marked, there were repair and refreshment stations everywhere, and the riders were courteous and friendly. All in all, a great way to spend a Sunday.