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Where Are You Nyack?

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I was in Manhattan.  I had a bike.  Where to go?


The most popular ride from Manhattan Island is over the George Washington Bridge to Nyack and back.  About 70 km / 44 mi round trip from the bridge to Nyack.  Plus another 10 km / 6 mi or so from where  I was.  I looked at an online route map.  It seemed simple enough to get to the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway.  That would take me to the George Washington Bridge.  Once across the bridge it was due north to Nyack.  I thought there would be lots of cyclists whom I could follow.  This was after all the most popular ride from Manhattan Island.

Riding along the Greenway on a Saturday morning required constant vigilance.  It was a nice day, and the Greenway was clogged with pedestrians, joggers, inline skaters and tourists crossing over to heliports for joy rides over the city.  And of course with other cyclists.

Jersey Heliport

As expected I could see the George Washington Bridge up ahead, stretching across the East River.

Jersey George Washington Bridge

I didn’t expect to come across the Little Red Lighthouse under the bridge.

Jersey Bridge Lighthouse

I certainly didn’t expect to be 60 meters / 200 feet below the bridge.  Of course the climb to the bridge deck was worth it.  This is the view along the East River back towards Lower Manhattan.  The border between New York and New Jersey runs down the middle of the East River.

Jersey GWB View

There weren’t many cyclists to follow across the bridge and down into New Jersey.  I had left it too late in the morning to get started.  There was one cyclist ahead of me so I followed him.  After ten minutes I realised he wasn’t going to Nyack.  The route described online follows the river shoreline.  You can see from the route I took that I was well west of the river as I rode north.

New Jersey Route

I had lost the rider who had been ahead of me.  I saw no road signs for Nyack.  Which was okay.  The sun was shining.  The roads were good.  The towns I rolled through were pretty.  Englewood, Tenafly, Cresskill, Demarest.  There was a lot of German steel on the roads with me.  Audi, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Porsche.  I was clearly in a wealthier part of the world.  Near the Knickerbocker Country Club I came upon little reminder of The Netherlands.

Jersey Tulips

The views continued to be lovely.  This is on the Tenakill Brook in Demarest.

Jersey Color 1

After 40 km / 25 mi I was ready for a coffee and something to eat.  As pretty as the ride was, it was time to forget about Nyack and its fabled cyclists stop, the Runcible Spoon Bakery.  I had been alternately behind and ahead of  a pair of cyclists for about fifteen minutes.  They rolled past me again as I stopped to take this picture where the road carries us back into New York.

Jersey New York State Line

I hoped that they were in need of coffee too, and knew a place where we could get some.  4 km / 2.5 mi down the road we came to Piermont, and the two gentlemen in front of me pulled up at Bunbury’s Coffee Shop.  Perfect!

Jersey Bunbury Cafe

Having tailed them for so long it was the least I could do to introduce myself.  We sat together as we drank our coffees and ate our cakes.  I had the chocolate zucchini almond bread.  Which was possibly better than Sharif’s roti canai.

Jersey Bunbury Cafe Eats

It turned out that I had chosen some interesting people to follow.  One was the mayor of Englewood, who was on his first bike ride in years.  He was being pulled along by a friend who was clearly a regular cyclist.  And who knew the President of Hotvelociti Cycling Apparel, who joined our table.  I don’t often have conversations about a USD180 million light rail project, or about the 400% increase in the cost of manufacturing clothing in China, during my coffee stops.

Their advice was to skip The Runcible Spoon Bakery, which suffers from its fame by always being very crowded.  And to follow US Route 9W back to the George Washington Bridge.  What they didn’t tell me was that there is 160 meters / 525 feet of climbing in the 6 km / 3.7 mi.  It is a good thing that it was a big slice of chocolate zucchini almond bread!

I hooked up with another rider just as I got to the bridge.  He used to live in Austin, so we had something to talk about as he guided me along an alternate route to the Greenway.  I am not sure which would have been worse.  All the other people on the Greenway, or the taxis, buses and trucks along Broadway and 7th Avenue.  Riding a bike through Times Square was an experience perhaps not to be repeated.

I didn’t get to Nyack, but it was a very nice ride.  Thank you Google.

Oh Happy Day!

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What started in 1977 with 250 riders is today America’s largest cycling event with 32,000 riders.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour logo

I had a taste of what was to come when I went to the Bike Expo New York at Pier 36 to pick up my Tour packet and rider vest.  I went on Friday morning, assuming that I would beat the crowds later in the day and on Saturday.  Fail!

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Bike Expo

Fortunately the queue started moving ten minutes after  I joined it.  Once inside the Expo building we split by registration number and it didn’t take long to get through the identification check and to collect my packet.  I wandered around the exhibitor stands, determined to keep my cash and credit card in my wallet.  I succeeded, except for pulling out $5 for a sticker in support of a benefit fund for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 I Ride For Boston

I spent a bit more for a present for guess who?

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Biker Chick T

I didn’t bother to pick up most of the swag on offer.  Key chains, can cooler sleeves, pens, bags, that sort of thing.  I did accept edibles though.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Swag

By a stroke of good fortune I was allocated the earliest of the three staggered start times.  7.45am.  The other start times were 8.30am and 9.15am.  I thought it best to try and get toward the front of the 10,000 or so other riders who had the same start time as I did.  So I got to the start at about 6.30 am.  There weren’t many people ahead of me nor behind me.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 630am

An hour later and I had been joined by just a few more riders.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 730am

It was an unseasonably cold and windy Sunday morning.  New Yorkers were literally hunkered down to get out of the wind.  You can’t tell from the photograph but there were goose bumps under those tattoos.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour 2013 Cold Start

Underdressed yet again, I resorted to ducking into a porta-potty to get shelter.

Fortunately for me the ride started on time.  Unfortunately for me the first 6 km / 4 mi of the ride were through the concrete, steel and glass canyon that is 6th Avenue.  Where no sunlight reaches the street at that hour of the morning.  I shivered and shook, wondering why I hadn’t thought of waiting in the warmth of the apartment building I was staying in and joining the ride as it rolled past the front door.  It was not until I got to the open terrain of Central Park that I could aim for patches of sunshine, looking for any warmth at all.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour Route

By the time I got to Harlem in northern Manhattan I was lukewarm.  Warm enough at least to get into the upbeat mood generated by the gospel choir standing on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, belting out a rousing rendition of “Oh Happy Day”.

The ride route crosses five major bridges among the islands of New York City.  The Madison Avenue Bridge was the first.  It connects the island of Manhattan to the Bronx, which is the only bit of mainland America in New York City.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour Madison Ave Bridge

We crossed two more historic bridges; the Third Avenue Bridge, which opened in 1898, and the Queensboro Bridge, which opened in 1909, before getting to the mandatory stop at Astoria Park.

So as not to paralyze road traffic in New York City for the entire day, the city conducted rolling street closures.  I was among the group that got to Astoria Park before Shore Boulevard and 14th Street were closed to traffic.  The park is at the 18 km / 11 mi point of the ride.  As good a point as any to eat something.  The bridge is the Robert F. Kennedy, one of the New York City bridges that we did not ride across.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Astoria Park Bananas

As we left Astoria Park we had the Hell Gate Bridge over the East river and behind us.  The gentleman to my right was on an Elliptigo.  I saw one during the BP MS150 ride too.  Looks like hard work!

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour 2013

The Pulaski Bridge carried us over Newton Creek between Queens and Brooklyn.  Brooklyn is the fourth of the five New York City boroughs that the ride took us through.  The Brooklyn leg generally followed the East River, past the Brooklyn Bridge and onto the Gowanus Expressway where the Hudson River empties into the Upper Bay.

Talk about saving the best for last.  To get from Brooklyn to the fifth borough of Staten Island we had to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  When it opened in 1964 this was the longest suspension bridge in the world.  Just over 2 km / 1.3 mi from end to end.  The only other people allowed to cross this bridge without using a motor vehicle are participants in the New York City Marathon.  The crossing was spectacular, even on the lower deck.

Photo courtesy of J. Mazzolaa

Photo courtesy of J. Mazzolaa

The Staten Island end of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is at Fort Wadsworth.  Where the finish Festival was.  I had managed to get to the Festival ahead of the majority of the other riders in my start group.  So there weren’t many others around us as we took in the sights at the finish and waited to be released to ride the final 5 km / 3 mi to the St. George Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Finish Festival Stilt Walkers

Many of the cyclists already at Fort Wadsworth were veterans of this event.  One gentleman was riding it for the eleventh time.  It became clear from talking to the experienced ones that getting to the finish quickly was key to getting back to Manhattan at a reasonable time.  The waiting time for the ferry increases geometrically as more and more riders get to the Festival.  It could be 4pm or later before the riders at the back of the group got on a ferry.  So I was happy to be on a ferry at 11.30am.  My only regret was that I chose to sit on the wrong side of the boat to see the Statue of Liberty as we passed Liberty Island.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Staten Island Ferry

I had a great time on what has become an iconic ride in America.  It would have been just as appropriate if that gospel choir in Harlem had been singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”