. . . or maybe for any big cycling tour. I rode the 5 Boro for the first time this year. As a relatively new cyclist, and one who had never done such a formal (or big!) event, I learned some surprising things. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of things I want to remember, and that others might find useful, too:
- If relying on pubic transportation in NYC, make sure you check subway service for the specific day you plan to travel. Events mostly occur on weekends, and weekends are when MTA shifts schedules around to do maintenance. Changes are usually posted in advance at stations, but may not be, or you may not see them, so double check online.
- Plan for delays, not only on the way to an event, but during the event. Stuff happens. A half-hour or so into the 5 Boro I saw a stretcher and medics to my right, and, a little further along, a cyclist lying on the roadway, in a recently blocked-off protected area. Obviously, shortly after I passed, there was going to be a break in the tour to transport the fallen man. A couple of hours later, a different man had a heart attack on the Queensboro Bridge and died; the Tour was stopped for a half hour so that aid could be rendered, and he could be transported. Expect that the way may not always be clear, nor the road your own.
- Train before you go, not just so that you can make it for 40 miles/64.3 km, but also so that you have practiced what to do if a cyclist rides too close to you, or stops without warning. Know how you need to ride, and brake, to keep a safe distance from other riders. Do these things enough so that they become second nature, long before the event.
- Know your personal hydration and fuel requirements, and adjust for weather. I was lucky enough to have had an object lesson in not paying attention to hydration/temperature requirements on a ride that stretched my abilities just before the 5 Boro. What I learned from a much more experienced cyclist (thanks again, Saul!) changed my thinking and made me consider these issues more seriously.
- Pay close attention to your hydration for at least two days before an event. I heard one speaker at the Expo say that you want to see clear urine every time you look for those two days, and during the event. (Good luck checking at an event, but you get the idea.) This is great advice; starting out with a well-hydrated body puts you ahead of the curve, both from a comfort level and healthwise.
- Along the same lines, eat well at least for the last few days before an event. There’s no need to protein- or carb- load before a slow, recreational event like the 5 Boro, unless you plan to cycle it as if it’s a Tour de France, but living on potato chips and ice cream in the days leading up is probably not the best idea.
- Never try any new foods, energy bars or gels, etc., at an event. Take what you’re used to, and what works for you, given your expectations of the ride.
- Have enough water and food-type fuel on hand, if possible, so that if rest stops run out, you’ll still make it through.
- Roads cleared of motorists in a city like New York are not roads clear of pedestrians. Watch for people straying into the path of the Tour. There is no pedestrian as oblivious as a New York pedestrian bent on getting somewhere. A man being dragged by two Golden Retrievers flopped in front of Basil and me completely unexpectedly; I saw people carrying large boxes and other cargo plunge directly into the hoard of Tour cyclists. Watch for these suicidal types to ensure that their death wish doesn’t become your homicide.
- The views along the 5 Boro Tour are often breathtaking; don’t forget to watch the road. The streets (and expressways) were amazingly clean, but, inevitably, water bottles fall from bikes and land in the path of cyclists; bolts come loose; tires blow. There will be debris when you least expect it. Watch the road surface as much as you would on any other ride.
- Watch for daredevils and idiots. They will be present. Avoid them. If you can’t, forget them as fast as you can; the day is meant to be fun. I was hit by a careless cyclist who bumped me sideways as he salmoned his way at high speed horizontally across the roadway — so he could ride all the way to the left, in the putative fast lane, with both hands in the air. (He said “sorry” as he hit me.) I wasn’t thrown, but he’d come up so fast, and from such an odd direction, that I couldn’t have done much if he’d hit me harder, or at a different angle. I saw him just before he hit my handlebar as he flew by, and was able to steady Basil. That was the only close call I experienced all day; for the most part, the people I rode near, every mile, were considerate and focused. But I was very glad I hadn’t been daydreaming when Mr. Reckless-and-Speedy hit me.
- In crowds this big, and geographies this large, how you progress may have little to do with your abilities. Be prepared to stop when you may not want to, and to ride more slowly than you’d like. It’s the nature of the beast.
- Next time, I’ll be mentally prepared for the cognitive dissonance of being told to ride the wrong way on city streets, and to blow through red lights. It took me nearly a half hour to adjust to this bit of Tour peculiarity.
- Watch for trouble, in general. Those pedestrians mentioned above; an ambulance that has to get through even if there are thousands of bicyclists in the way, the marshals who have to narrow the course for whatever reason. Bikes break; collisions occur. The unexpected will happen.
- Watch the weather, and dress accordingly. If you normally wear street clothes, consider what 40 miles/64.3 km in a cute dress and thin underthings, or your favorite basketball shorts or jeans, may do to your anatomy. Try out any unfamiliar clothing long before your event, and make necessary accommodations. Friends who run recommended Runner’s World’s What to Wear Tool; I used it to check my calculations for what I wore on the 5 Boro, since temperatures were going to be in what was, for me, a borderline range between tights and shorts. It asks about gender and personal preferences, and, I felt, offers sound suggestions that are probably applicable to other cyclists’ needs, too.
- I don’t have to point out that your bicycle should be in good working condition, recently tested on those practice rides you took, with working brakes, and with chain greased and tires inflated, right? (I didn’t think so!)
Did I miss anything?