“It’s going to be a long forty miles [63.3 km] on those small wheels” smirked the guy next to me at the 5 Boro Tour.
“Don’t knock it, ” I said, “this is a great bicycle.”
“I know! I’ve got a couple of folding bikes” the
twit fellow responded — but he obviously doesn’t have Bromptons.
Do we look as if we’re suffering? Forty miles/64.3 km might, under some conditions, tax me, but they’ll never tax Basil, my Brompton. See all those big boys in the picture? They’re behind us! Basil’s got the gears; no rider need supply extraordinary muscle.
Even if a Brompton weren’t an excellent bicycle, the unrealized truth about the 5 Boro Tour is that almost anyone can ride it. Persistence is the key; not equipment–or Lycra.
The tour is a 40 mile/64.3 km ride through all five New York City boroughs. Roads are closed, and support, in the form of lots of liquids, snack bars, other treats, bananas, and strategically-placed porta-potty stops, is plentiful.
Basil and I met up with Mme. Unfolded and her Monty at the front of Wave 2, early enough to be only about a block from the start line. The adventure begins in the canyons of lower New York City, and always with at least a little bit of scooter-like activity: stop-and-go.
That offers opportunities for some good-natured interaction. See the gent behind me in bright yellow? He and his buddy (yellow sleeve on the other side) spotted Basil’s under-seat bag motif, and cheerfully yelled “Lizard!” every time they caught up with us on the tour. (That’s much more typical of Tour camaraderie than Mr. Snarky’s comment, by the way!)
In Central Park, while hordes of us waited for the right-of-way, another fellow mentioned that he always tells people that the 5 Boro Tour is actually a series of smaller rides: five miles/eight km here; six miles/9.6 km there; eight miles/12.8 km; or ten miles/16 km now and then.
One stops, a lot–and everyone stops at Astoria, where we’re all required to dismount and make our way through the teeming masses.
The line Basil and I were in snaked around under the Queensboro Bridge and along the far edge of the park,wending back to us, where we stood next to a bank of essentially unusable porta-potties while we waited and I took pictures. The sheer volume of people and bikes was stunning: 32,000 cyclists participate in total. I think I saw them all at Astoria.
Most of the ride, though, especially in this second wave, went fast. Basil and I nearly always whipped along between 13/20.9 kmh and over 15 mph/24 kmh, and were hitting over 25 mph/40.2 kmh on clear down hill trajectories — and close to that elsewhere, at points.
Stray water bottles and even sunglasses tend to litter the roads, so staying alert is critical, but there’s really nothing like flying down the FDR and Gowanus Expressways (no cars!!!) on a bright, sunny, day.
Which is not to say that there aren’t challenges. The approach to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge goes on forever (and, or so it seems, so does the incline on the bridge itself). We weren’t doing 15 mph/24 kmh there; it was more like 3 mph/4.8 kmh just before the peak, and (ahem) barely 6 mph/9.6 kmh at one point on the approach. There’s no shame in walking, though, and plenty of people do. This is a fun ride, not a contest.
Mme. Unfolded and I lost track of each other early on, but caught up at the “party” at the end, at Fort Wadsworth. We grabbed some Greek comestibles and eventually headed out to join the wait for the ferry. “Partying” usually consists of some super-long lines for [really tasty!) food, and a mad crush of people and bikes packed all over the terrain.
Somehow neither one of us managed to get pictures of each other on the tour — how did that happen? No matter, I did snap Basil and Monty again before we left Fort Wadsworth. (Priorities, right?)
The final three miles/4.8 km of the tour runs from the end zone to the Staten Island ferry. Participants ride most of the way, then join a queue for loading onto the boat. Sniffer dogs, like that handsome, but bored, lad (lass?) below, were required to give each bicycle and bag a once-over.
That was dull for the canines, it seemed, but one can only be grateful that nothing discovered was worth getting excited about.
Once aboard, we were sent upstairs (or up-ramp, in the case of the uppermost level), where we, and our Bromptons, had a view out the back of the ferry.
On the sparkling water, Lady Liberty raised her torch, as always, enduring silently even in the face of changing immigration policies and the well-worn immigration arguments that endlessly percolate through the contemporary American experience. It’s good to have ideals, and monuments to them, even if reality so often falls short.
It was late afternoon by the time we returned to Manhattan’s fabled shores. The intrepid Mme. Unfolded and her Monty chose to ride home, but Basil and I, mindful of the hour, took the subway back to Fort Washington at the other end of the island, basking, admittedly lazily, in the glow of a day well-spent.
Mr. Snarky? Never saw him again. I assume we left him behind in the dust. (Or amongst the potholes.) If he had half the fun Basil and I enjoyed on our ride, he will have done well, even if he had to do it on a less-versatile vehicle!