May, the amuse-bouche of summer, is soon approaching and with it comes the annual TD Bank Five Boro Bike Tour. For 39 years running, the 40-mile tour through all New York’s boroughs has billed itself as “the largest charitable bike ride in the U.S.” On May 1, a stampede of 37,000 riders will shut down the automobopolis (I’m trademarking this) that is our city for half the day as they ride freely in the middle of streets, across bridges, and even on some highways. I’ve done it five years consecutively, and this year, I cannot wait to skip it.
Sure, on the surface the Five Boro sounds great: you get to tour New York on a bicycle alongside thousands of other cyclists (evincing varying degrees of enthusiasm), and go where no bicycles ever get to venture on any other day: the FDR Drive and the BQE. You’re biking 40 miles, so it feels healthy and you get to have a sore ass at the end. There’s even a festival in Staten Island at the finish line, in Fort Wadsworth, just at the foot of the Verrazano Bridge. And all of that would be great! Except you’re actually walking a lot of the time, and you only really ride through three of the boroughs, and it will cost you $94.
— Joe Murphy (@joemurphy111) April 19, 2013
Here’s what happens instead: you wake up super early in the morning, get to the starting line in the Financial District, and bike through the city until you hit the first of many traffic backups. It’s around mile nine that the bike tour becomes more like a guided walk through the city while holding your bike and wearing a helmet (safety first!). And much like that other form of green transportation, the subway, you get moving again only to find yourself stopped again half a mile later.
Sometimes this is on the FDR Drive, so while you get more time to appreciate the wonderful joy of walking a bike on a street while cars are driving on the other side, you’re not exactly getting the bike experience. In other spots, you are literally walking your bike uphill to enter a bridge — something that you might have considered doing while you were grinding up that hill regardless, but it’s no fun when the decision has already been made for you.
At this point you may be wondering if the spandex was even necessary. I guess 39 opportunities to figure out the logistics of traffic flow for tens of thousands of riders just isn’t enough to work out the kinks.
And not to blow up Five Boro’s spot, but let’s be honest: it’s not actually five boroughs. The tour starts in Manhattan, dips into the Bronx for less than a mile, jumps right back into Manhattan, goes through Queens and Brooklyn, and ends as soon as you cross the Verrazano into Staten Island. Maybe that’s why it’s called “Five Boro” and not “Five Borough.” It’s like how Breyers has to say “frozen dairy dessert” instead of “ice cream” now, because they don’t have enough milk content.
The tour isn’t even a true 40 miles either, as the official tour route in Queens is only available for a limited time — organizers close off an entire four-mile loop through Astoria Park after the 59th Street Bridge a few hours into the tour (the site only mentions this in a PDF of the brochure, saying, “Riders at the back of the pack may be directed to take a shortcut that bypasses the Astoria Park Rest Area and leads directly to the Con Ed Learning Center Rest Area, trimming four miles off the route”) — and mile 35 is at the Finish Festival.
The 5 boro bike tour has turned into the 5 boro walk tour in Harlem pic.twitter.com/92LHYKM2
— John Boese (@johnboese) May 6, 2012
What are the remaining five miles? Oh, they’re the ones you ride to the Staten Island Ferry terminal from the Finish Festival. Clearly, Bike New York, the organization behind the event, is tapped into the world of cycling, where you do a distance ride, celebrate at the finish line, and then bike to the ferry for another five miles on sore cheeks. Of course, if you don’t have a friend with a car and a bike rack parked in S.I., and decide to take the ferry back at the end of the day, you’ll have company with the other 37,000 people. By now the waiting in a crush of people to get anywhere has become the theme of the day, so what’s another two hours waiting on a blocks-long line for a boat, without even the promise of gold-paved streets in America?
Oh, and that Finish Festival? It’s pretty similar to all the rest stops along the way, filled with free bananas and apples and the best #brands, trying to interest you in everything from Yoo-Hoo to whatever new type of Kind bar they made from the gatherings on the floor of a birdhouse, mixed with molasses. Sure, there’s a stage with live music, and people sitting around in the sun, and you do feel a sense of accomplishment (who wouldn’t, trying to bike the Verrazano Bridge??), but “festival” might be somewhat of an overstatement. What’s the word for “thousands of tired, sweaty people trying to find space for their bikes and lining up for expensive BBQ at a tent”?
Feels a bit like the 5 Boro Bike Walk/Stand… I'd say there are about 15k people ahead of me in line for ferry. pic.twitter.com/VMJYyDomxS
— Lincoln Ritter (@lincolnritter) May 3, 2015
So what’s the alternative to the Five Boro if you still want to explore New York on two wheels? Well, it might sound crazy, but you can actually plan your own long bike rides. Every summer my friends have at least one trip to the Rockaways to ride along the Belt Parkway and then pass out on the beach. You can spend the $94 Five Boro registration fee (seriously, NINETY FOUR DOLLARS) on some dope snacks.
If you want to know what I’m doing, the idea came to me last year, as my friends and I were walking our bikes through Dumbo, waiting for the traffic to dissipate.
I turned to my friend and said, “You know what we should do next year?” He responded, “Come down here and sit outside drinking and watching this mess?” He was exactly right. I’ll even bust out my bike shorts and a helmet, and for just one bike tour I’ll get exactly what I was promised.
Lead, get out of the way or follow Eric: @PrimeSilver.