Before I get started on my post, I want to take a moment to raise some further awareness on mental health. Discussions are being had every day and artists are talking about it in their songs, so I want to do my part here on the blog. It came to my attention that a 37-year-old man jumped to his death off the Verrazano bridge early this morning before the bike tour began, unbeknownst to us all.
As an open message to everyone and anyone, if you or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate to get help – there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! Every weekend when I ride across the GWB, there are motivational signs posted on the fencing for this reason and one is particularly profound. It reads (and is a direct quote from someone), “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Today was finally the day, after 6 years, that I was going to ride in the 5 Boro Bike Tour. I had heard many mixed reviews from year’s past. The general consensus was that it should be called the “Five Boro Walk Tour” with a TON of stopping points, including a scenic hour-long walk on the FDR drive (ouch).
This year was also a special one for the tour, as it was the 40th anniversary! The welcome booklet they gave us at the Bike Expo talked a little bit about the original tour and how it was the first time that anyone had ridden on the Verrazano-Bridge – it actually looked like they rode on the upper level (which would have been neat).
I was assigned to Wave 1, but in an effort to avoid the crowds and added bottleneck, I started a little ways up from the start. It’s been a pet peeve of mine each and every single non-competitive ride that I’ve been to. Being corralled into fenced in areas, waiting upwards of an hour and a half, kind of ruins the joy for me in a sense. Nevertheless, when I started, I watched the motorcade roll by and embarked on the journey.
Luckily, being near the front and averaging 15.4mph for the entire tour, I was able to avoid the people who haven’t ridden a bike in years. Even still, I saw at least 3 or 4 crashes on the route today, brutal and dangerous. I rode the entire tour with a fellow cyclist that I met in Central Park this morning – you never know who you’re going to meet at these events, so it was neat to have a talking buddy for the whole tour. I found out after the fact that 3 of our Cyclehaven9w Strava Club riders were also riding.
In terms of the tour, I really felt that the section in the Bronx should have been considerably longer than the <1-mile stretch. There are some really incredible areas of that borough that not enough people get to explore. If it were me, I would start the tour North of Central Park, and carry it further into the Bronx instead.
After the Bronx, the FDR section was pretty smooth, we were averaging 18-19 mph on that section, which was amazing (knowing what I knew about the traffic jam in previous tours). Cars were honking and drivers were waving at us along the way. When I was about to exit the FDR, I could see the lead police motorcade nearly halfway over the Queensboro, so we were definitely near the front. Being on the upper level of the Queensboro was really special, the views were amazing, the roadway was pretty smooth, and the descent into Queensboro Plaza had a stunning view.
After that, 21st street in Queens (which had been freshly repaved as of the past few weeks), was pretty calm. Not much to report here. The Astoria Park rest stop soon came into view and we were asked to dismount. After a quick pitstop there and grabbing some fruit, we exited the rest stop, but soon realized that we were being blocked by the motorcade since it sounded like all of the roads had not yet been closed off. Oh well, the wait was ~12 minutes, not terrible. There wasn’t much else to report on the Queens section of the route, other than an additional rest stop at the Con Edison Learning Center just south of the Queensboro Bridge on Vernon Boulevard. Presumably, this rest stop was intended for those that were stuck walking on the FDR and over the Queensboro later in the day, and wouldn’t have had time to make it up to Astoria Park.
In terms of Brooklyn, the route became far more interesting as we were approaching Red Hook and merged onto the BQE. Before this, we stopped again for ~10 minutes because of the SAG support buses having to pull up onto their intended spots on the freeway in case people needed to bail at that point in the ride. I was expecting it to be extremely windy on the BQE, but it actually wasn’t bad and I got up to 29 miles per hour after an extended downhill section, so that was great. Overall, the feeling of being on a large freeway (that is typically bumper to bumper on a daily basis), with plenty of space and no cars, was really unique.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge climb wasn’t bad at all. Thank you 9W and Bradley-Tweed for exposing me to much higher % grades! There were a lot of motivational slogans spraypainted onto the roadway like, “You can do this!” “Keep Calm and Pedal On”, etc… It’s important to keep perspective here. 40 miles is not an easy distance, especially for those people who do not ride regularly. Combine that with not knowing how to handle their bike in close proximity to others, it can be a very daunting challenge.
The finish festival left much to be desired – Nestle did have a cool booth where they were handing out little cups of their new protein chocolate milk drink (delicious!), and there were a few food vendors, but really I just wanted to catch that first ferry back to NYC, set to depart at 11:30. Of course, the motorcade was blocking off the exit, as the finish festival wasn’t really the end of the 40-mile tour, there were still ~4 miles to the St. George Ferry Terminal – luckily with entire streets blocked off.
After another 15 minutes or so, the motorcade departed and we carried on. Staten Island definitely has some very scenic neighborhoods, from what I could see on that limited route. It’s interesting because historically Staten Island hasn’t been the most bike-friendly borough, but it seems like the infrastructure development is coming along. At one point, I realized I was passing directly by one of my good friend’s apartment complex over at Urby Apartments in Stapleton.
Before long, we were asked to dismount and walk our bikes to the ferry. There were bomb-sniffing dogs checking out every single cyclist that walked by. It’s really good to see that they were thorough with this and as a dog lover, seeing the majestic K-9’s was a nice way to end the tour. My watch read 11:15 and I was boarding the ferry, perfect. I slowly made my way up to the front of the ferry (lower level) so I could get some fresh air and see the view of lower Manhattan coming into view. At one point, I could see the GWB off in the distance!
I rode back up the West Side Greenway to the 34th street Hudson Yards subway stop and took the train back to Queens.
After exiting the subway and getting outside, I saw a 5 or 6 cyclists with the Five Boro Bike Tour white helmet covers and I asked them if they were just coming back from Staten Island. Turns out they were bailing on the tour because they spent the last hour and a half walking on the FDR Drive and over part of the Queensboro. They asked me for some subway directions, but wow. To think that I had ridden 40 miles, taken the ferry, subway, and was 10 minutes from my apartment, while a large number of cyclists hadn’t even entered Brooklyn – that realization was pretty shocking.
All in all, I’m glad that I participated in the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, it was a really unique experience and I’m extremely thankful that I decided to bypass the massive crowds at the start – it made all the difference. Of course, getting the Verrazano-Narrows bridge onto my Strava Heatmap was also crucial!
Last, but not least: the video recap (my GoPro stabilization needs to improve, might have to get a gimbal at some point in the future, but it’ll do for now!)