On Sixth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan pedestrians fill crosswalks like liquid aluminum in an anthill. At intersections every inch between waiting cars is a channel for people moving with and without purpose through the city.
I was in one of those cars as I made my way from Bike Expo NYC to my hotel. In the street, cyclists were riding though the few spaces that drivers left for their paint jobs: Citibikes, delivery beaters, Dutch-style bikes, road bikes and an array of fixies. My bike was on the roof rack.
When I finally made it to the hotel, the bellman leapt toward the car and coached me through positioning my car in the Times Square maelstrom. He called me “Dad.” I pulled my bike off the rack, added its front wheel, and leaned it against a signpost.
Bags on the luggage cart, family in tow, we followed the guy who called me Dad upstairs. One elevator trip. We stood in the lobby and waited. Wait, wait, wait … wait! Where is my bike? Where is my bike?! Holy sh#t, I just left my bike unattended in the busiest area of a city that Kryptonite will not guarantee its locks unless you have the New York edition.
This is Gotham not Metropolis—Kryptonite doesn’t matter here. As I sprinted out of the elevator I ran a little right and glanced left. The front wheel was still there! I could catch whoever grabbed running through that crowd. Except no one was grabbing it. No one noticed it until I grabbed it and then the bellman looked at me and knew exactly what happened. His face was happier than mine. “You’re f*cking kidding me!” he said and laughed with me the way you laugh when you and Dad just went through something crazy that mom was going to stare at you about.
The next morning we took a cab to the expo because I read on twitter, “the expo couldn’t be farther from a train.” The TD 5Boro Expo is free and open to the public like a Smithsonian for cyclists. Except everything is new and for sale. It is a glorious expo. So many good products and such a positive vibe.
I manned the booth for Bike Law New York’s Dan Flanzig and yapped up the quickly growing crowd. About half of the people I spoke to were doing the tour the next day. Some never had an intention of riding it. Some because they ride it everyday and others who had ridden before but bemoaned it had become too crowded. Too crowded for New York?
A couple of hours of that and we split to get lunch by grabbing a cab halfway to the Rapha store for coffee and pretend shopping. The last 15 km of the Tour of Yorkshire was on the wall and a large screen TV above the Sky stuff. The Whitney was celebrating its relocation next door and people packed the streets and bikes streamed in and around while others were locked nearby in a seemingly pedestrian way. The Gansevoort Market was great. I want to meet the designer.
A train to MOMA: Our little art historian ran up the escalator to Lichtenstien (This is a Roy), Rothko (cool), VanGogh (Dad!) and Pollack (yawn) Upstairs was Warhol. All the soup cans. Marilyn and why Elvis is framed the way like that. Picasso! Let’s go.
I had to go back to the Expo. I ran to the hotel to get my bike. Along the way, I recalled the 5 Boro book said use Google map for safe directions in beta. I knew where it was, and Google gave me a route but I started wondering if could do it.
Maybe this is the story of the South Carolina bike attorney who goes to NY and has an idyllic family day only to bike in NYC and get killed. “His son will never look at modern art again.”
I made it, clearly. I hopped on my bike in Times Square and rode in the middle of the smelly yellow sea to 42nd Street and headed east a blip to Broadway on the way to 20th. The street market on Broadway changed my plan.
I fell back on my instinct to be traffic and I just routed myself there. I made my way the east side bikeway because it seemed a good idea. It looked like fun to have a lane to the bike. It was alright. I am glad people were out doing there thing, but it was a drag to go so slow and yield so much. I really wanted to ride fast through the city.
After the Expo, I rode home taking the bike path the other way. The West side bikeway was a mess.
The TD 5Boro Bike Tour draws in 32,000 cyclists. To make it safe for all of those people to hit the streets at the same time, riding free of cars through all the boroughs of NYC, there are wave starts. Because I was in the first start wave, I had to be at the corral before 7:30 and the earlier the better for a place in the crowd.
I got there close to 7:30. The crowd was like you’d see at a 5K or fundraiser kind of athletic thing. I think I was the only one there in a matching kit. There were Citibikes, delivery beaters, Dutch-style bikes, road bikes and an array of fixies. All of us were going to be riding together and very closely at that. I knew now why the other people stopped doing this … it was going to be a crash fest.
Whatever it was going to be, it wasn’t destined to be fast. But it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to get all the different cyclists out on the road to enjoy a ride through the city. It’s a huge undertaking and could be a logistical mess but it went relatively smoothly, at least from what I could see. Of course, it wasn’t all roses.
During the scooter like approach to the start line, an old dude in a nuevo-vintage jersey dropped himself on his perfect Italian steed and then rolled into the gutter.
Once we started “moving,” I rolled a track stand for five blocks. As I made my way through the crowd, I kept a watch over my shoulder and heard a voice tell me I was “good.” He was on my wheel and we were getting through this together. That felt good. It was fun. We were going fast (if not directly) up 6th Avenue. I knew soon I was going to pull off to say hi to my family on the side of the road and would never see that cat again. Life in the big city.
After my Yates stop, we headed north to Harlem via Central Park where some girl who was looking good on the machine ate it against a granite restraining wall while looking for her friends behind her.
Harlem was great. Huge roads. Huge. How do these things ever get filled?
The Bronx was apparently forgettable, because I forgot it. Into Queens we got the quote of the Tour from one of the volunteers; “Slow down and stay right, there’s potholes everywhere. Welcome to Astoria.” Classic.
Astoria forced a stop with a “security check” that involved eating bananas and granola bars. We had to wait until 9:05 a.m. to start the next phase of the tour. 9:05 came and went to let us ride again. When we did, that was when the sorting happened. Pothole-scarred, narrowing roads and a bridge or two thinned the herd at the front end. At every one of a bunch of turns, shockwaves went through the group as no one stacked it. If I had a dollar for every time someone yelled, “Hold your line” …
The Gowanus expressway was like an old highway that had been ridden hard and put away snowy and salted. It was weird to ride there, barrier to barrier, right behind the pace car. The drivers headed the other way gave honks of encouragement and small celebration.
The Verrazano Bridge brought out the beast in everyone left. As the grade kicked so did a few and the others kicked harder; one at a time towards the top, following the pace car that was now floating upwards.
We had to slow down for the marshals as we bombed into Staten Island not really knowing that was it. We were finished.
In Fort Wadsworth Park, the finishing bash was all set up. It was a rather empty feeling until people started trickling in. Soon it would be a crowded community again. Filled with Citibikes, delivery beaters, Dutch-style bikes, road bikes and an array of fixies.
I left to catch the ferry with a few dozen others. A dude with a foreign accent and I made the right turn (which was left) toward the ferry. The cops stopped us at the bottom of the hill at the gate to the park. The accented guy told me how the last few years the ride to the ferry was a race. Guys would go berserk. I guessed the cops caught on and the neighborhood didn’t want that no more.
We had an escort to the ferry. As we got closer the cops and the escort lost interest and it was a race to the ferry. I had never seen the ferry before so I just followed the dude off the front. Depending on where the imaginary ferry finish line was, I either “won” or placed second. Who gives a flip? It wasn’t a race. It was fun.