Early on Sunday we set out for Bowling Green and our designated starting point for this year’s 5 Boro Bike Tour.
A quick jaunt on the A train later, we were at Bowling Green, milling about with the multitudes who were already waiting to be sprung into the fray.
Bag restrictions meant that both of our Brompton bicycles rode with their saddle bags, which were well under the 420 cubic inch limit. We had spare tubes and various useful other pieces of kit in these bags, but not a lot of room for much in the way of discarded jackets.
In addition, I’d strapped a fanny pack onto a modified Brompton S frame. This inelegant accommodation pained me, but there was nothing else to do this year. If we ride the 5 Boro next year, I think I’ll make 5-Boro-legal front bags for both Basil and Argyll. They both have Brompton Mini O bags, but sadly, those bags — perfect for this kind of tour — are twice the permitted size.
This year we were all required to wear green bonnets on our helmets, ensuring something of a uniformity of appearance; toward what exact end, I do not know. In hotter weather, the helmet covers would have led to heatstroke.
Last year flamboyant helmet mods were everywhere; this year’s bonnets put the kibosh on most, but these fringe-festooned cylists were not deterred from making their own statement, Boro sponsors be damned!
Dr. Diarist commited a little sartorial indulgence of his own; I found these argyle socks at REI, in nearly perfect colors. (Sadly, the matching Twin Six jersey comes only in a women’s cut, and the men’s only in an entirely wrong — for our Argyll — black and gray.)
We were in the third, and last, wave of riders, and by no means near the end of the long line of cyclists waiting to head out in this last group of 10,000 or so.
As we moved forward, two priests from Trinity Church wafted fumes above the crowd. “I’m incensed”, said Dr. Diarist, whose comment probably reflect the reality of the moment more than they did his actual religious views, which are not necesarilly catholic. Or Episcopalian, for that matter. Generally cheering ensued, regardless.
Heading out involved a remarkable amount of stopping and starting, which, as it turned out, set the theme for quite a bit of the tour. This nifty recumbent tandem was one of the first of many tandems we saw on the ride; stopping and starting this vehicle required some skill, but both riders were up to the challenge.
We rode a few feet, we walked a few more. The crowd before us was smaller (amusing concept, no?) than the one behind us.
We finally got to ride, and keep riding. See that standing rider in the high vis jacket on the far left? He’s on an ElliptiGo, a device which somewhat resembles an indoor trainer, but which has wheels. Later, we saw him with two other ElliptiGo riders, so we suspect they were a team, of sorts.
I can’t imagine riding 40 miles/64.3 km on that device, but, then, people say the same thing to us about riding our little Bromptons that distance, and their surprise couldn’t be more misplaced. But, of course, a Brompton really is a bicycle, after all!
We were walking again only an hour or so later, an activity we were to repeat over and over at various points during the tour. Was this an inevitable result of being in the final wave?
One thing that surprised us was the amount of carnage we saw. We counted four cyclists down, flat on their backs, along the route — one of them wearing an inflatable cervical collar, which couldn’t have been a good thing. We also saw many, many instances of cyclists being knocked, or falling, off their bikes, most of whom, as far as we could see, remounted, and carried on.
Of course, that’s a real hazard of an event that requires, for whatever reason, many stops and starts; there are that many more opportunities to lose balance or to miscalculate a stop or a start. It was clear that inexperienced cyclists were having the roughest time with this, and falling disproportionately.
I was in the first wave last year, and saw nothing like this quantity of injuries and collusions. I did finish rapidly, and I did have little company on many stretches of the tour last year, so maybe that’s the difference.
Someone in an official vest of some kind came along and announced that the Astoria rest stop would be closing in fifteen minutes, which surprised us.
We had been no where near the end of the third wave when we started, and had left quite a lot of the pack behind in the time we’d ridden to Astoria. Though there was another, smaller, rest stop only two miles away, we wondered how it would accommodate the thousands of cyclists behind us. We took pictures of each other, too, hoping that there would soon be very little opportunity to do so as the tour continued. We wanted to move, and so did our Bromptons!
We were shortly en route again, and were able to actually cycle for a bit. Hurray!
Half an hour later, though, we resumed walking. That didn’t happen last year, either; except for the trek through Astoria, I had ridden the whole way.
At one point, we walked for nearly three miles. We never learned the reason for the delays. Were they due to an unusual amount of injuries? Or is this just inevitable when 32,000 cyclists are on the road?
The good news is that everyone seemed to take the interruptions in stride, and just forged onward as best as possible. It isn’t ever possible to predict how an event like this will go; best to expect that, whatever happens, it will be an experience, and to enjoy it for what it is.
At some point we found ourselves behind these brilliantly-plumed folk. Dr. Diarist has apparently spent too much of this new spring considering the courtship rituals of our avian friends: He commented that these riders were “apparently expending unnecessary energy to demonstrate their reproductive fitness”. Dr. Diarist has been in academia too long; it’s good that he’s getting out more.
It wasn’t long before we were walking again. Does it seem odd that I should point out that the tour, all this trekking by foot notwithstanding, seems very well organized? It does, and did; managing this kind of event is no mean accomplishment, and, all in all, it went very well.
After this final hike, I took no more no pictures: We were riding! The winds were high and we were too eager to move after moving so slowly for so long.
Dr. Diarist and I, and our two 6-speed Bromptons, made it up the Verranzano-Narrows Bridge without stopping, despite battling winds of 15 mph/24.1 kph or so, and gusts from 19 mph/30.5 kph to over 26 mph/41.8 kph.
At mile 37/km 59.5 or so, we dismounted once again to join the festivities [nearly] at the finish line.
At this point we’d ridden though all five boroughs (Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island) and ridden over five bridges: the Madison Avenue Bridge; the Third Avenue Bridge; the Queensboro Bridge; the Pulaski Bridge; and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. And we’d bicycled on the FDR, Brooklyn-Queens, and Gowanus espressways. (No cars — whoo-hoo!)
Last year, Basil and I had just gone on to the ferry once we’d reached this fête at Fort Wadsworth; I wasn’t really in any kind of mood to slow down! This year, Basil and Argyll were just as sprightly as ever; I think they would have been happy to just keep going this year, too. But the humans decided to have a bite or two to eat, so we stuck around a bit.
Just walking through the park was not without its diversions. All in all, we saw and counted a total of 22 Brompton bicycles this year — an impressive tally, and surely not nearly as many as actually participated; hanging around meant getting to see a few more.
The route around the park included a turn past the port-a-potties, next to which we spotted this beautiful titanium Brompton.
We had a great time talking with its rider, and then circled around to the lawn, across which were despoiled quite a number of obviously fatigued cyclists. Some of them may have ridden much faster than we did; in any case, all of us had fought some pretty serious winds in order to reach this point.
Basil and Argyll collapsed, too, but not from fatigue. A gust of wind knocked Basil over while Dr. Diarist was off getting something to eat (satay chicken kebabs, which he reported were quite tasty), so I set both of them down in order to prevent further chaos.
A “fold” of course, is a group of Bromptons. We had heard that a whole team had flown in from the west coast (Seattle?), tossing their Brompton bicycles in the overhead bins for the flight, and had done the 5 Boro together. (Now that’s a cross-country jaunt worth making!)
Then I spotted these two with their riders. That white bit under the folded handlebars on the left is the back side of the 5 Boro placard. Happily, it was possible to fold our Bromptons even with it attached.
Eventually I went in search of food, too. I’m guessing that some of the vendors had cleared out by the time the third wave came through. (No popsicles for us, for example.) There were horrendous lines for nearly everything except the goodies at Chinese Mirch, which was offering dumplings of various sorts.
They sensibly offered only a few choices, but covered both meat-eaters and vegetarians with the selection. I was able to order my tofu dumplings immediately, but it was a twenty-five minute wait before I received them.
Owing to what was possibly the least-efficient food-delivery system imaginable, I had plenty of time to circle around and observe the process from behind the scenes. That’s one impressive set of steamers!
The order-taker at Chinese Mirch was very nice, and worked diligently to see that we got our goodies, but this vendor could have used another table along the other side of the stall, and really needed more staff than the 1.5 persons it had assembling the ingredients.It was so worth the wait, though! Bunches of fresh cliantro; perfectly steamed dumplings, wonderfully done tofu (and I don’t even like tofu!). I drowned it all in Sriracha sauce: Pure bliss!
We picnicked under the bluest sky, and I took another walk around before we rode the final three miles to catch the ferry back to Manhattan.
While ambling about, I spied this conveyance: It’s a bike train!
Well, no it isn’t: It’s a Bike Friday Tandem Traveler with a Burley Kazoo trailercycle attached. Hauling an incredibly long vehicle and a couple of kids over 40 miles/64.3 km of the 5 Boro? Now that’s really impressive!
Then it was onward, toward the ferry. On the way I saw a bike I’d never seen before: it’s a Brown Cycles Kidz Tandem. Sweet, isn’t it? And we were off, briefly as part of a much-less-crowded field. One last surprise awaited us, though, and “wait” is the relevant syllable.
This one involved less walking and more standing, but there was one more fifteen minute delay before we were able to officially finish the 5 Boro. This, too, may have been a “last wave” problem, as well as a way to stage the loading of the ferry.
We waited again once we’d reached the dock, but for a much shorter period of time. Then we boarded the Guy V. Molinari, carrying our Bromptons to the upper deck and settling into a far less crowded space than the one on the deck below.
Then we hopped back onto the subway, and returned to Washington Heights.
Dr. Diarist detoured into a local market for something important (beer, I think). Basil, Argyll and I waited outside, where I had a long conversation with an experienced cyclist named Melchoir, who was just about to resume riding after having been seriously injured last year by a car driven by a tourist.
Back at the Manhattanites’, Dr. Diarist handed the groceries to me and performed a final heroic act, carrying both Bromptons up to the Manhattanites’ fifth floor apartment by himself.
It was all a blur to me . . . a happy blur. We loved the 5 Boro, and Dr. Diarist wants to do it all again next year. Me, too!