Saturday, September 13, 2008

NYC Century Recap


The night before the big day the NYC Century website still claimed the ride was going to take place “rain or shine”. An email sent out by the organizers re-enforced that point even though the remnants of tropical storm Hannah were dumping heavy rain on the city. With multiple alarms sounding at 4:45 AM, we staggered out of bed. A check of the weather showed that the forecasters had got it right. The storm was long gone, leaving behind blue skies.

The ride makes a clockwise loop around the city of New York. It begins and ends at the Harlem Meer entrance of Central Park on the upper east side of Manhattan. There are five well staffed rest areas in public parks along the way

Jim and I had our bikes all geeked out. Our handle bars looked like the CIC on the Battlestar Galactica. We each had a Magellan GPS, and a bike computer. We communicate back and forth with Motorola Walkie-Talkies with VOX head sets. I also had the Oregon Scientific solid state action video camera mounted. I had so much crap mounted to my handler bars I barely had enough room for my hands.

I’ve uploaded the track file from my GPS to the website. A mini version of the route is embedded above. I prefer the full version which has additional tools to view notes and step through the route in sequence. If you want to see the full version CLICK HERE.


This was my favorite part of the ride. We left Central Park right at the scheduled 6 AM start. The organizers claim that 6,000 cyclists would ride one of 5 courses of 15, 35, 55, 75, or 100 miles. We rode almost the full length of Broadway, going by the Ed Sullivan Theater, through the middle of Time Square and by the famous Flatiron Building. We then crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and weaved our way through Brooklyn to Prospect Park where our first rest stop was located. It was in this segment where Jim and I learned how to properly ride a bike in New York City.

The rules posted for the ride made it very clear that when on the roads, you are a vehicle just like a car and expected to follow all the laws accordingly. We’ll dumb us – At the first intersection we hit a red light and stopped, only to be passed by two ride marshals and about 50 people! At one intersection in Time Square, we were waiting at a red light with a NYC police car parked across the intersection. No less than 30 people go roaring by us – nothing said by the police!

Later I saw some people wearing “Georgia” shirts. When we caught up to them, I exchanged pleasantries and told them I was from Georgia too. One of the guys said “We knew you were from out of town because you actually stopped at the red light!”


It was on this segment I figured out why so many New Yorkers are angry. There are 8.2 million people who live in New York. Of the many who live in Brooklyn and also own a car, no one has a driveway let alone a garage, All the houses are built wall-to-wall. Can you imagine what a pain in the ass it must be to park? I take for granted driving home each day from work and pulling into my garage. After a tough day at the office, these people now have the additional stress of trying to find a parking spot. When we road through Brooklyn, most of the city was still asleep. I didn’t recall seeing a single empty parking spots on the street. If I lived in Brooklyn, I would bike everywhere!

The neighborhoods in Brooklyn, looked like every movie you ever saw that was set in Brooklyn. Best way I can describe is the neighborhoods look just like the main set of “Sesame Street”. Lots of stone and brick buildings built side-by-side with visible fire escapes. Check out the video below.

The highlight of this segment was the view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline from the pier at the entrance to the Belt Parkway Greenway. Riding along the greenway also presented a nice view of the Verazano Bridge. We also rode by Coney Island and the original "Nathan’s Hot Dog" to our second rest stop at the Canarsie Pier. Coincidentally that day the local news reported that this Nathan’s was closing becaue a lease agreement with the owner could not be reached.


Shortly after leaving Canarsie Pier we entered Queens. Like Brooklyn, everything in Queens looked old. Riding around the neighborhoods, looked just like the opening credits from “All in the Family”. This section had a few hills. Nothing was too tough but it was surprising. The temperature by now was climbing above 80 too.

We did have a nice stretch in the Forest Park Greenway. It was nice to get off the roads and enjoy a car-free ride in a shady park for a few miles.

I’m really glad I did this ride. It was a day I will always remember; a once in a lifetime experience. I really got to see New York in a way most haven’t. With that said, I also don’t have a burning desire to do it again next year. I wouldn’t call Sunday’s ride “relaxing". Most of the ride was on roads with traffic. We were always very busy watching for traffic, opening car doors, intersections, fellow cyclists, pedestrians, and scouting ahead for the next turn marker painted on the road. It was hard to even take a couple seconds and grab a drink from your water bottle. I had to keep reminding myself to hydrate.

What I will remember from this segment was the route took us to the ¼ mile Kissena Park velodrome. The route directs you to take a single lap around the high banked oval. The only place I have ever seen a velodrome was watching goofy bike racing during the Olympics. Since at this point we still had 50 miles to ride, we both took an easy lap. I estimate the banking in the turns to be 15 degrees. Staying up on them wasn’t easy. Here’s a video of my lap. It was fun! (Note: I have since found a website that claims the banking to be 17 degrees!)


Fifty miles done, fifty miles to go. Segment #4 was going to be another 25 miles in Queens. We road by Shea Stadium (home of the Mets) and La Guardia Airport. This segment is best known for what we didn’t ride past. In years past, the ride went around the famous New York World’s Fair globe fountain. We didn’t go around the fountain this year because the US Open tennis tournament was being held in the area.

We ended the segment at the Astoria Park rest stop at the base of the Triborough Bridge. We were about to enter the championship rounds. The knees were sore, the back had a knot, but we just had 25 miles to go. In case we needed extra motivation, in addition to the usual peanut butter and jelly bagels there was a “Mr Softy” ice cream truck.


Gilbraltor. There is a moment in the classic World War II U-boat movie “Das Boot” when the crew receives new orders to forgo returning to their home port on the French coastline. Instead they are ordered to travel across the Mediterranean to Italy. The previously elated crew grows silent. They know that first they must pass through Gilbraltor. Gilbraltor, a narrow 7 mile opening between Spain and the African coast that is crawling with British destroyers. Growing up in Massachusetts I always heard the stories of cars routinely left burning and stripped on the side of the roads of the Bronx like something from “Mad Max”. For the next 3 hours, the Bronx would be our Gilbraltor.

After leaving Astoria Park, it was less than 1 mile till we reached the Tri-borough Bridge. We would be taking this into the South Bronx.At the base of the bridge we were told to dismount and carry our bikes up a flight of stairs to reach the pedestrian path. Little did we know that this would not be the only time we would have to carry our bikes. Because of construction on the bridge, more times than I care to remember we were waiting in queues, pushing and carrying our bikes up and down stairs. Check out the video below. Our choice of riding our 35lb Trek hybrid bikes instead of our 18lb road bikes was a good one till this point. The bikes handled the mean streets of New York like a Hummer. Broken roads, potholes, and loose gravel presented no obstacles. Over the course of this ride we passed countless people on skinny tire bikes fixing flat tires.

At one point on the bridge we finally cleared all of the stairs, and had a fast downhill run towards the street. I looked down at my bike computer and saw that I was coasting downhill at over 20 mph. I look up and saw about 500 feet in front that the bike path had disappeared. It was like we had reached the end of a cliff. Without warning, the path abruptly ended and there was yet another flight of stairs that took us down to the street. Jim stopped with less than a foot to spare!

Once we finally got off the bridge, we were now in the South Bronx. It was rough, lots of bars on windows and doors, but surprisingly quiet. There were lots of people hanging around outside around stores and apartment blocks, however many just gave us words of encouragement. We were only on the streets of the Bronx for a short time before we picked up the greenway network. Check out the video below on what it was like riding the streets in the Bronx.

The only time we got lost was in the Bronx. We picked up a Greenway alongside of the cross Bronx Expressway. We were traveling in a group of cyclists, lead by a NYC century ride marshall. We came to a point where things were not looking right. The GPS was telling us that the final rest stop in Van Courtland Park was behind us and getting farther away. We vetoed the marshall who wanted to keep going, and doubled back. Turns out we only went ½ mile out of our way because of a poorly marked road crossing. We righted the course and slogged our way to the Van Courtland Park.

The miles were starting to wear on us. hungry, tired, and thirsty we pressed on. At one point I was starving and had to reach back into my bag for a cliff bar. It was with great relief we pulled into the final Van Courtland Park rest stop. One quick snack, a refill of the water bottles and only 9 miles to go!


Not much to report on this segment. We left the park and were back on the streets of the Bronx. We soon crossed the bridge back onto the island of Manhattan. We followed the Harlem River back to Central Park. Before we knew it the ride was over. We arrived back in Central Park just after 5:00 PM, 11 hours after we started. We picked up our event t-shirt and water bottle, and headed back to the hotel. Counting riding back and forth to the hotel, we rode 104 miles, averaging over 11 mph in ride time. There is nothing like the simple pleasure of a hotel shower after a full day of bike riding!

1 comment:

Ambrosia Chiller said...

Wow, felt like I was there! I thought your videos would make me sick but they really weren't too bad. Thanks for sharing!

So say we all.