I am not a bike messenger and I have never touched a “fixie.” When one of my tires goes flat, I stare at it for a while, and then I take it into the shop and pay a professional to repair it. So why did a girl like me pay $5 on a recent Saturday night to ride in a three-borough, 30-mile, sundown-to-sun-up Warriors-themed bike ride? Because it sounded like an adventure, and an excuse to stay up really, really late.
The Warriors is the 1979 cult action film that follows New York City gangs in an overnight chase from a park in the Bronx all the way down to Coney Island. For its 25th anniversary, Track Or Die and Cycle Hawk organized a ride that more or less replicated the film’s route, only on bikes, and with checkpoints and challenges along the way. The city we live in today is not quite the dystopian crime world depicted in the movie — for example, in real New York, turns out you can’t throw a baseball bat at a cop’s knees and then just walk away like it never happened — but one thing the movie gets right is that this city has secrets you can discover only if you get out of your home turf. Here’s some of what I discovered on the ride:
1. Whatever you’re into in NYC, there is a gang dedicated to it
Our night started just like the movie, with all the city’s gangs gathering in a Bronx park. And like the movie, a lot of us showed up. By 8pm, about 30 bike gangs had gathered in Van Cortlandt Park, near the last stop on the 1 train. Some had come in from Boston, D.C. and Philly, which impressed me, because I found it hard enough to get there just from Fort Greene. My gang was the Kodiaks: I duct-taped a stuffed bear to my bike, while our leader, Alix, wore a helmet covered in fur from an old bath mat. Other gangs included the Electric Vikings, with light-up horns coming out of their helmets, and the Lizzies, named after the film’s only girl gang.
2. No one knows their way around all five boroughs
No matter how expert you are at the Manhattan grid, or taking the J train, or the differences between Fifth Avenue and 5th Street and North 5th and South 5th, you probably have no clue how to get from Woodlawn Cemetery to the Bronx Zoo to Yankee Stadium, as we tried to do. We left Van Cortlandt Park and immediately turned to Google Maps for help. We were flying blind. Our navigator tucked her phone into her bra strap so that she would hear it tell her when to turn. I completely understand why the Warriors needed to run back to their own turf; I just don’t know how they did it without smartphones.
3. Looking for a late party in a public park? Try the Bronx
At 9:30pm, we reached Crotona Park, which is just south of the Bronx Zoo. One party had a giant banner strung up, honoring a woman who had died five years prior. I met her daughter-in-law, Stacey, who told me that they all come out and celebrate her every year. I left with a cup of Bacardi and a distinct sense that when I die, I too would like my loved ones to throw annual ragers for me.
4) The Bronx might have the “real” Little Italy
I am told that this is the “real” Little Italy by commenters on Yelp. Around 10pm, we got a drink at the Bronx Beer Hall which is hidden in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Unlike the gangs in the film, everyone on this ride seemed pretty convivial. So I chatted some of the Electric Vikings, including a former bike messenger who runs Bike Blog NYC. He told me that he rode in the original Warriors-themed ride in 2002.
He waxed nostalgic on the glory days of bike messengering, as it is something of a dying industry now that most things can be emailed — with the exception of model portfolios, which constitute a sizable percentage of deliveries. After our drinks, I ran across the street to Morrone Pastry Shop to buy a pound of cookies, because one, we’d already biked far and I was hungry, and two, how can you go to the Little Italy of the Bronx andnot buy Italian baked goods?
5. New Yorkers are still OK with some large-scale group events
Maybe Brooklynites have grown weary of Santa Con and Burning Man fundraisers. But this was not the response that costumed bike gangs got in the Bronx. Passerby wanted to know why we were all dressed up, they helped us find Lyons Park, and once we were there, they sat and watched our 11pm pickup basketball game. I will not go so far as to say that every citizen loved us, because a lot of them almost got run over by our bikes. But some of them were definitely fascinated.
6. The big city is smaller than you expect
Somewhere in Harlem, sometime past midnight, I heard a voice call out my name. I stopped and saw a guy who was a couple years behind me in college sitting on the curb, eating a slice of pizza. Apparently he was doing the ride, too — his gang, the Yids, had clip-on peyos and prayer shawls made out of trash bags. I wanted to stay and talk to him about how random it was that we were both here, but I couldn’t, because my gang would have left me behind, and I think we all remember what happens to most of the Warriors who get separated in the movie. (Hint: they get arrested or killed.)
7. Central Park is peaceful at one in the morning
It’s a vast expanse of open land that is almost entirely deserted, quiet, dark, and considering that it is one of the most famous parks in the world, it feels like an unspoken secret between you and your bicycle. We rode all the way down the path from 110th Street down to Columbus Circle and saw almost no one, and, while I’d be scared to do it again without a bike and a gang by my side, I now know that I’d participate in one of Time’s Up’s moonlight park rides in a heartbeat.
8) The same cannot be said of Times Square
Not peaceful at one in the morning. Maybe not at any hour. We were supposed to take a photo with a police horse, but, unable to find one of those, we snapped a quick shot with police sawhorses instead and then tried to fight our way out through the tourist hordes. It felt exactly like the Warriors trying to escape from the Orphans, except instead it was the Kodiaks trying to push past the Large, Confused Family from France. Unlike residents of the Bronx, midtown tourists didn’t even bother taking photos of us — apparently a bunch of cyclists in matching gang colors is not even noteworthy compared to Elmo and Spider-Man and a 20-story American Eagle ad showing a girl’s butt.
9. Yes, the East Village has still got it
I don’t often go out in Manhattan anymore — I know, I’m one of those Brooklynites — but apparently I ought to, because the East Village can still be a magical place, just as it seemed to me many years ago. After we fought our way out of Times Square, we biked to Union Square, which the Warriors had established as a meeting point in the movie. Some cyclists bunny-hopped bikes over their teammates, and there was sumo wrestling in a park on Avenue C, and we sang Whitesnake karaoke in a bike shop on Avenue B (all for points).
10) Bike messengers are (probably) not trying to run you over
Around 3am, we made it to North Brooklyn Cycles in Bushwick and learned that apparently bikers are into vaping, and often hang out in vapor bars. I also learned about “alley cat races,” city street races of dubious legality, testing not only speed but also navigational skills and ability to dodge traffic. Then there are “alley kitten” races, for newbies. So the next time some bike messenger whips past me when I am clearly in the middle of crossing the street, and I have the walk signal, instead of thinking, “Why are they acting like they’re in a goddamn race?” I will think, “Maybe they are actually in a race.”
11. You can truly get anything at any hour of the night in New York
Want to get a Warriors tattoo at four in the morning? That is what a whole bunch of gang members did at Gnostic Tattoos in Bushwick, because it was worth 20 points, and the tattoo parlor was open, and why not.
12) Tom’s Coney Island, however, isn’t for early birds
My gang made it to Coney around sunrise: where the movie ends, with the Warriors at last back on their home turf, the bad guys defeated, and a new day dawning. Tom’s doesn’t open until 8am so we played tug o’ war on the beach and called it a night.
13) Biking 30-plus miles is a lot easier when you’re with a gang
It makes you feel good. Real good. The best. But the next morning, your legs hurt just the same.
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