Sunday, May 01, 2011

Five Boro Bike Tour 2011

Last year I recall nicknaming it the Five Borough Bike/Walk/Stand. It was a little worse this year.

I parked in Staten Island again. I happened to follow two cars that seemed to know the area, into a small unmarked lot only one mile from the festival and bridge. From there it was a four mile ride to the ferry.

The morning ride to the ferry was cold and unpleasant. For me, this "tour" is early in the season, so twice in a row I have been less than prepared for it. From where I parked there is a steep hill towards the festival area, and it was almost the first thing I had to navigate. That said, I think my legs are stronger than last year, perhaps even stronger than they were after a season of riding last Fall. Or maybe the bike fits better after my handlebar and seat adjustments. Or maybe I'm no longer ashamed of using Granny Gears when I need to.

The ferry ride was nice. I carried my bike upstairs to Level 2 without too much trauma - had to carry it down also after disembarking. Since so few people did that, I managed to park it right up front of the ferry. Nice view of the skyline from up there.

I followed the crowd and found myself at Church St. and Park Place, three or four blocks closer to the start than last year. I was there at about 7; the ride was scheduled to start at 8, and we actually got moving at about 9, after walking at least 5 blocks north to the starting gate. They had some kind of ceremonial gas flame bursting from two nozzles at the gate, and I could actually feel the radiant heat each time they went off. The air was otherwise was pretty cool, so the flames felt good.

The trip to Central Park was slow and crowded, with a couple of stops and slow walks. Another necessary bathroom break put me further behind the leaders. Central Park itself also had some walks, though not as bad as last year. There were more walks and stops in Harlem, and along 135th street as we moved towards the Bronx. Just like last year, we were in the Bronx for all of 15 minutes.

There was a unicycle on the FDR drive as I rode down. The guy had to pedal rapidly to keep up.

Just like last year there was another walk towards the Queensboro Bridge. Although I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath, I managed to ride all the way up, which is better than I did last year. Hooray for those Granny gears!

I had mixed feelings when I found that Astoria had already been cut off by the time I got there: on the one hand, I had wanted to go, and this proved that I was in the last 1/3 of the pack again. On the other hand, I was getting tired already so I felt it was just as well.

I skipped the Con Ed Learning Center rest stop and kept moving over the Pulaski Bridge, a moderate hill which I was proud to have navigated without stopping. At Commodore Barry Park there was time for a banana and some water refills before I headed onward.

Just like last year, I have nothing but unhappy memories of the Gowanus Expressway. Yeah, it's nice that it was closed and carried bicycles exclusively. But there were a couple of tough hills, and when I tried to startup after resting at one point, I took a spill by grinding the rear wheel of the guy in front of me. It was entirely my own fault, and I assume I had little effect on the other guy, since I don't even think he knew I went down. I earned a skinned elbow and bruised palm (lightly because I had recently found my padded gloves), but no serious injury except perhaps to my self-esteem. Then later, after a couple of pauses to catch my breath, the entire parade went into standing/walking mode. There was construction further ahead, so everyone had to squeeze into one car lane. We were delayed by about an hour.

As we started to move past the road construction area, we noticed that every piece of Rebar (hundreds of them) had been capped with little red cone-shaped bonnets, probably to prevent injury to the workers. Someone nearby yelled to his friend, "Hey Jim, look at that! I love Spring in New York City, with the Rebar in bloom!" Yes, they looked like flowers. Got a good laugh out of that one.

Once we got going, the period of standing had taken its toll on my muscles and joints, and I found it tough going for the rest of the trip. On the flat Belt Parkway I had to pause several times, and although I made it up the ramp towards the Verrazzano and the Cannonball Park rest stop (just water and potty for me), I completely gave up trying to ride up the bridge. I walked about 2/3 up the Brooklyn side, then mounted my bike and fit-started to the highest point. Going downhill on the other side was quite a relief.

At the festival, "I rode 34 miles and all I got was this t-shirt." Well, I also got some chocolate milk, but there was no way I would wait an hour on line for a free picture. I found my way out of the park after about 45 minutes and headed towards the car.

Now, where was the car? Here at 3pm I had absolutely no memory of the area that I had left at 5:30am, and I ended up passing the little parking lot where my car was. I rode about 3 miles past it, then back - a very sore 5+ miles after the previous 38. I stopped to rest, then on a hunch, instead of going back along the same route again I went further back towards the bridge. And there it was, less than a mile from the festival site. It turns out that this morning I had parked in the closest lot to the festival.

On the drive home I saw that the last few hundred feet of the Gowanus bottleneck was still occupied by bikes, with people mostly standing, not moving. Then behind them, there was a monumental traffic backup that extended all the way up towards the Brooklyn Bridge. There must be a better solution: I think someone opened the road to traffic before it was cleared of bikes. People were leaving their cars to try to figure out what was the problem. Hours earlier, I was through the area fairly quickly by comparison, for which I am grateful.

Takeaways: I should not do this event again unless:

1) I figure out how to get much closer to the front at the start of the ride,
2) I am in good enough condition this early in the season to consistently keep up with the pace.

Since you have to register in early February for this early May ride, I can't know about #2. Perhaps I could figure out #1, but if I'm going to fall behind, why bother?

Also, this really is not a ride, but a ride-hike. The negatives outweighed the positives in my eyes: I did not get enough of a rise from the scenery and from being able to bike on major NYC arteries, to overcome the irritation of waiting, walking, and waiting some more. Next year, it would be better use of my time and money to sign up for the 50-mile version of the Montauk ride, if it's available, which runs in the middle of May. Last year I did the "metric century" and paid for it with knee and elbow problems afterwards - WAY to much of a ride so soon after the Five Borough tour. In fact, the problems I developed after the Montauk ride are still bothering me - especially my left knee.

Anyway, it's done, I completed it, I'm satisfied. I came home and took a nice, hot shower, turned on my bed massage, and got a good nap.


Anonymous said...

I have ridden the 5 Boro for more than 30 years, and I have given up standing in the start queue. First, because no matter how early you get there, you can't be near the front unless you pay extra to be a "VIP". Second, because unless you are very lucky you will be subjected to the countless stints of walking that turn the ride into an ordeal.

I now enter the ride north of Canal Street, after waiting a respectful time for the front of the ride to pass. This being NYC, it is impossible to block off every side street along the ride to bikers. Some bikers ride all the way up to Central Park before joining the ride.

I'm glad they have limited the number of entrants, but they will have to limit the entrants even more before I return to standing in the queue. And my sincerest apologies to those who suffer in the queue.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't make this too public. There are already a couple of hundred people who start the ride north of Canal Street including me. It makes the ride much more enjoyable. We had very minor congestion at a few intersections where we were stopped only to let a car or two cross.

Chris said...

Nobody reads this blog, shouldn't be a problem! :)

Anonymous said...

The organizers are already aware of this situation. This year they asked us to retreat to a side street so as not to be so obvious. We did, but a new wave of people quickly replaced us. The organizers have no doubt become aware because of complaints from the "VIP's" that paid extra to be at the front. By the time the "regular" participants pass, all the "jumpers" have moved on and no one in the following crowd even knows they were there. In my opinion it doesn't much matter if this practice becomes more well-known, because you only need to move up a few more blocks and join in further along if the jumpers are driven away from the Canal Street area.

I think eliminating the "VIP" premium would also eliminate most of the issue.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog on a Google search, but don't worry, I got the same advice from other folks. I too started around Park Place, but we made it to the Astoria section. However, by the time we hit the BQE, we waited TWO HOURS to get through that construction point. And we "cheated" a little by hopping the retaining wall and staying on that side (until it closed due to traffic).

It was so bad I will definitely never do it again. Or if I do, I will be " one of those" who starts above Canal, or in Central Park.

Patrick said...

Now you are ready for the next step. Running of the NYC marathon. I'll train you!!!

Anonymous said...

You should start in Central Park at 8:00. You stay at the head of the pack and can actually enjoy the event.

Anonymous said...

Another BIG issue I had with this year's ride was the requirement to pick up my rider number at the JJC on one of only three days prior to the event. I live in NJ and I work and can't use up nearly a whole day to do something that has been done easily and efficiently by mail in the past. Because of this I gave up riding in 2012's edition for the first time in so many years. I told the organizers they could keep my fee this year but if they plan on doing this again I'm out and they are out the money.