Yesterday we were fortunate enough to partake in the largest biking event in the USA, the TD NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour! Approximately 32,000 riders signed up for the rare chance to see NYC by biking 40 miles through the streets, without the threat of being hit by a cab in the process. The tour starts in Manhattan, then enters the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, ending in Staten Island where a festival awaits.
|Race swage - Helmet cover, bib, and bike plate|
I'll admit to being ill prepared for this event. While we run regularly and have biked many times before, we had only taken our mountain bikes out once this season and that ride was only 18 miles on a mostly deserted Henry Hudson trail. We have no experience with road cycles, and our only street biking has been a few laps around our suburban neighborhood on occasion. We knew it would be a challenge to complete all 40 miles on mountain bikes, but after talking to friends, we were assured that it was a relaxing day and easy to complete. A few friends even told us they bar hopped in the middle of the tour!
Our day started super early Sunday morning as we drove to the Staten Island Ferry. We had thought we were ahead of the game for our 9:15 tour start time, which was the last wave, but when we arrived at the ferry parking we soon realized everyone had the same idea. We put on our tour swag and headed towards the ferry entrance, where we would wait in line about 40 minutes and get sniffed by a drug dog before the ferry finally departed at 8:40. Believe it or not, even having lived in NJ for my entire life, this was my very first ride on this ferry! The views of the Statue of Liberty from here were incredible, and best of all, the ferry is free!
|The line for the ferry|
|Enjoying the ferry ride|
|Not the greatest pic, but the ferry provides great views of the Statue of Liberty|
Our late ferry departure meant we arrived in NYC at 9:10, and now thousands of cyclists were all trying to make their way to the starting line. This led to a bottleneck right of the bat, and even though we were told to mount our bikes by tour volunteers, the stop and go made that impossible and most people opted to walk their bikes until the bottleneck cleared up. At about this time I decided to flip on the GoPro camera that Larissa of www.thetravelingmortician.com had lent to me so I could video the event.
After what felt like a half hour of walking the bike, and my legs all scraped from the pedals, we finally approached the starting line. It was very high energy and set us off to a great start. They had split the crowd into 2 starting shoots, breaking up the bottleneck, and getting us off to a decent starting speed.
For the next few miles, we road down 6th avenue, and there were street performer's and cheering spectators. We then entered Central Park, and the road became more crowded with cyclists. Central park is very hilly, but since it was still early in the ride our legs cooperated and we were rewarded with some speedy descents back down hill.
We exited Central Park and moved into Harlem, which was another first for me as I had never been before, so I really enjoyed taking in all the sights. We made our way into the Bronx and over Madison Avenue and Third Avenue bridges. Some bike traffic accumulated here as there was an accident and we had to stop to allow the ambulance through, but the volunteers did a great job and we were moving again in no time.
By the time we got over the bridges I was starving, having not eaten the proper breakfast before the tour. We accidentally missed the first rest stop, so we tried to pick up the pace a bit as the next one wasn't until mile 16.
Around this time the Go-pro went dead, so below is the first half of the tour consolidated all the Manhattan and Bronx footage into 1:20!
Since we had a bit of a late start, we were diverted to the tour shortcut, which skipped Astoria park in Queens and went right towards the Queensboro bridge. When we realized this we were a bit disappointed that we were missing Astoria park as I also had never been there and we wanted to do the full tour, but it turned out to be a good thing as the hard part of the ride was still ahead and my legs were starting to get tired.
Biking up the Queensboro bridge was one of the harder parts of the tour, and my tired legs and empty stomach weren't having it. I ended up doing a ride/walk combo, walking the bike for a few minutes every time my quads were on fire from peddling uphill.
|On the Queensboro Bridge|
Finally, we made it to the rest stop. It had just what I needed to fuel me for the miles ahead. I had a banana, a bagel, and was given a bag of pretzels and a box of raisins which I saved for later. There were also stations to refill our water bottles and they even had Gatorade as an option.
Feeling refreshed, we headed back out into the tour and onto Brooklyn. Unfortunately, this is also the part of the tour where the wind really picked up and it became hard to pedal. About a mile before the Brooklyn rest area, a lady passed me too close on my left, and without warning. She clipped the edge of my handlebar, turning my bike sharply to the left, making me lose my balance. I was able to jump off and grab my bike, just barely avoiding becoming one of the many crash victims we saw that day! Brian asked me if I needed a break, but I opted to continue on to the rest area at mile 27, where Chipotle awaited with free tacos! That was some good motivation!
|Beautiful view of NYC from the Brooklyn rest stop|
Here is where the tour got really difficult as the wind picked up so rapidly it swayed my heavy mountain bike, and we were about to begin a mostly uphill ride to the Verranzo bridge. We crossed a starting line which was the point where the one mile steep uphill bridge ascent started. By this time my quads were on fire like I never experienced before, so I employed the bike/walk method again. Just when I was about to completely give up and walk the rest of the way up, I saw some motivation in the form of sidewalk chalk on the bridge "Sweating is what it feels like to be alive." That was just what I needed to peddle the rest of the way up that bridge!
We finally made it to mile 36 which was the festival in Staten Island! We only stayed for a few minutes, as we had to now bike the remaining 4 miles back to the ferry parking lot. We stopped to take a few pictures of the beautiful view, then crossed the 40 mile finish line where an ice pop awaited us, and went back to the car. There was no shortage of food at this event!
|The festival - it was very crowded|
|Another great view of NYC from Staten Island|
I was quite disappointed in my performance at this event. Even though I made it to the end of the tour, the last 10 or so miles for me in the wind were not easy and I took a few more breaks than I wanted to. I also felt defeated having to walk up portions of the bridges. This is more motivation to stick to my workout plans so this doesn't happen again! (Brian of course had no trouble completing the distance or the bridges)
Overall, I think the event was a great experience, and I highly recommend giving it a try, but I will admit it was quite dangerous at times. Having 32,000 people biking at various levels of skill and experience means you have to be extra aware of your surroundings while participating, and I would strongly suggest being experienced in cycling before signing up. In retrospect, riding a mountain bike on this 40 mile tour was not one of our smarter ideas, and being runner's and not bikers, we were perhaps part of the issue. My advice for future bike tours would be to have waves based on the MPH you expect to ride, therefore keeping the faster cycler's at the front of the pack, similar to starting corrals in road races.
We have no plans on doing the bike tour next year as we want to focus on running, but never say never!