Five Boro Bike Tour: Sweet, Sweet Revenge!

Last week I shared my plans to exorcise the demons that have haunted me for decades by unleashing my vengeance upon the Five Boro Bike Tour–or, more prosaically, to show my son a good time since I was able to wrangle us a couple of fee entries thanks to that promotional video I did for the organizers. Well, this past Sunday was the fateful day, and I’m pleased to report I was successful on all counts.

As a semi-professional blogger and bike media barnacle my registrations included a preferred starting position and media credentials. The Tour route is 40 miles, and riding to the start from our home would have meant an extra 15 miles on top of that, which would have been a bit much for my almost-but-not-quite 12-year-old son. So we elected to take the subway in order to make our 7:30am start time, and headed to our local station at 6am.

You’re allowed to take bikes on the subway, and the usual method of ingress avec bicyclette is to pay your fare at the turnstile, then have the token booth clerk buzz you in through the service entrance. However, the token booth was empty, and it occurred to me the clerk must have been the MTA employee I’d seen entering the deli mere moments before. Fortunately, a helpful straphanger who’d already gone through the turnstile went to open the servie entrance for us, but unfortunately it turned out to be locked. So we were forced to pass both our bicycles and ourselves over the turnstile, which, if you’re not familiar with the way these things are configured, is extremely awkward. We did pay our fare, though I regret not withholding it out of principle.

Once on the train, we affixed our numbers. Like a schmuck I’d heeded the Tour’s no-backpack rule (even though I had both media credentials and special tags allowing me to carry a bag) and instead went with a handlebar bag as well as that charity ride mainstay, the fanny pack. With only twist ties at my disposal I couldn’t put the number on the bag, but happily the non-aero brake cables of the Vengeance Bike came to the rescue:

Despite the early hour we were not the only Five Boro riders on the train, and as far as I was concerned the race had already begun. The first attack came at 168th St., where a breakaway group made the transfer to the A train in an attempt to open a gap. However, I decided to let the move go:

Meanwhile, my son entered a state of deep mental preparation that an onlooker might have mistaken for sleep:

Unannounced service changes threatened our start time and forced an additional train transfer, though this did afford us an opportunity to size up the competition:

This only intensified my son’s intense resolve and hyper-alert state:

Finally, we reached Chambers Street mere moments before our designated start time, and began the cyclocross portion of the event:

For all the frustrations that came with the subway trip, it did deposit us almost exactly where we needed to be, and we joined the formidable queue of riders:

Where I immediately felt deeply inadequate about my lamely unadorned fanny pack:

The one other time I’d done the Five Boro Bike Tour I recall the crowd being so thick that we basically walked all the way from lower Manhattan to like Central Park. Not this time! After maybe five or 10 minutes of shuffling at most we reached the start line:

And from then on it was smooth sailing:

After heading through Central Park and into Harlem, the Tour then visits the Bronx:

For like five seconds:

While the Tour route is a fantastic showcase for the city, it really does give the Bronx short shrift. Then again, we do live there, so in our case at least we were still getting our money’s worth*:

*[Disclaimer: our fancy registrations were free and we paid no moneys.]

After fleeing the Bronx, the Tour heads back into Manhattan, and the riders get their first taste of car-free highway action on the Harlem River Drive:

Then it’s over the 59th Street Bridge:

And onto the dramatic sweeper into Queens:

The views from the bridges are spectacular, but the porta-pottys at the rest areas are a close second, especially if you have to go:

In all sincerity, every rest area we availed ourselves of was incredibly well-stocked:

And I was able to transform my handlebar bag into a veritable horn of plenty*:

*[Disclaimer: we brought our own Haribo.]

There were also ample retrogrouch energy bars, or “bananas” as they’re commonly called:

And while they were less popular than their sickly-sweet pre-packaged counterparts you’d beter believe I partook in the downtube shifter of energy foods:

[Photo: Elliott Weiss]

In addition to serving as places to refuel and relieve yourself, rest areas also allow you to take in the vibrant hues of both spring and cycledom:

And of course to check out the bikes, such as this purpose-build charity ride slayer:

Speaking of amenities, besides the well-stocked rest areas, 100% car-free route, mechanical support, and helpful marshals every three feet, they also send you lots of pictures of yourself afterward:

Here we are turning the screws to the peloton:

By the way, someone somewhere commented that I was morphing into the Lone Wolf:

I don’t think I’ll ever be worthy to assume that mantle, but I’m honored nonetheless:

Anyway, from Queens it’s onto Brooklyn:

Where I completely failed to get a photo of longime commenter and Five Boro Bike Tour volunteer Leroy executing an incredible feat of marshalling whereby he managed to stop like the entire ride for cross-traffic. It was truly miraculous, like Moses parting the Fred Sea.

Bridge views, harbors, parks, and architecture are way more beautiful than concrete slabs. Still, having the run of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is nothing short of sublime:

From there, the Tour takes you over the Verrazzano Bridge, once the longest suspension bridge in the world, and one upon which you can only ride a bicycle once a year:

Not only does this make it a hotly-contested Strava segment, but it also means it’s hard to decide whether to take in the view of the harbor:

Or of the freakshow in front of you:

Alighting on Staten Island, we hugged the waterfront and then rolled into the finish at the ferry terminal:

Here’s me taking video of my son’s finish, resplendent in my vintage Nashbar t-shirt:

The organizers sent a follow-up email apologizing for the long ferry waits. Perhaps this was the case for people with later start times, or who lingered at the finishing party, but as for us we were able to get right on a boat without any undue hassle:

I don’t know if my erstwhile Kestrel-riding tormentors were out there with me. However, I do know I returned not only with a (borrowed) Kestrel of my own, but with a son who rode the Tour with considerably more aplomb than I did all those years ago. In all it was a beautiful day. Revenge is a dish best served sweet.

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