Cycling over 42 miles for the sake of pleasure is not something that I ever pictured myself doing but this Sunday I saw the sights and sounds of New York from a very different perspective. The 34th annual, TD Bank Five Borough Bike Ride brought 30,000 cyclists through Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island on quite an adventure.
Although now slightly sun-burnt and a little stiff, taking part in the event was definitely one of those New York experiences that I will not forget. Riders of all shapes, ages, colors, nationalities and styles were brought together in a non-competitive and jovial ride for the day. Some dressed as Dorothy from Wizard of Oz others as Spider-man and many with streamers, horns and beer cans strapped to their helmets.
Our group, 13 of us all wearing Hawaiian lays on our heads, joined the 30,000-strong crowd as they whizzed through Central Park heading for Harlem. Joining into the stream was daunting but we soon settled in when we arrived into Harlem and were greeted by a gospel choir on one street corner and marshals encouraging us all the way. It seemed like only moments before we were in the Bronx and greeted by a Caribbean band.
The day was made complete by the friendly, communal atmosphere amongst the cyclists and the marshals who were more like stand-up comedians than traffic directors. Having belted down the FDR Drive, in Manhattan, and across the Queensboro Bridge we were greeted by a sensible looking man, on an especially narrow ramp way, who shouted "Welcome to Queens, there is no laughing or talking in Queens" and "What are looking so smug about?"
We then snaked our way through Astoria and back down towards Greenpoint in Brooklyn. Before crossing the Pulaski we stopped at the Con Edison Learning Center car park for some refreshments and the most surreal and brilliant view of the Manhattan skyline and the Queensboro bridge from below.
Entering Brooklyn we sped through Greenpoint, down through the ever changing areas of Williamsburg and Dumbo before we hit the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway). One of the great novelties of this ride is that the roads are, for the most part, closed to cars. The bike riders have free rein on the roads and 30,000 cyclists going hell for leather down the BQE and the Gowanus Expressway is certainly something to witness.
Finally hitting the sea air on the on the Shore Road we stopped and prepared for our final challenge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Although it might look like a slightly bent, smooth piece of structure I can tell you from experience that it is one, bumpy, long mile of hill up and one glorious hill down on the other side. Though that last uphill mile nearly broke even the best cyclists amongst us it was all downhill to the celebratory festival on Staten Island.
Our reward, after taking the ferry back to Manhattan, and peddling back up the West Side parkway was burgers and sangria with a view of the sunset and New York's Irish Dance Festival as our entertainment. Even for those who are less than sporty this is a remarkable way to get a real sense of the whole of the city and mark the beginning of summer in New York City.