Jersey Jaunts - Biking in (and around) New Jersey

The 5 boro bike tour

(2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)

The Bike New York website contains lots and lots of info that I wonít repeat here; rather Iíll give you my take on the tour after riding it 5 times.

The 5 boro bike tour is an event that can not be adequately described with words, it must be experienced; some love it, some hate it, but you will always remember it. Anyone with average biking ability should do it at least once, after that you have the right to trash or praise it all you want. It took me 26 years to finally ride in the tour; when I was just a teenager I remember seeing coverage on the TV news about this bicycle ride through the bad streets of the big city, and I immediately wanted to try it, but alas I had no means to get myself there, and no internet to tell me how.

At age 40 I finally made it to the tour, we were unsure how we would fare, my wife thought for sure we would be SAGed, the longest we had biked during training was only 22 miles, but we prevailed; finishing surprisingly in mid pack with lots of people behind us.

With 30,000 riders, the start is truly something to see, and experience; sure there are those who donít know how to ride in a straight line, use hand signals, or pass someone, but we were all there once too, theyíre newbies, this is all part of the fun. Strength in numbers is what this is all about, cars wait for you, police clear your way, and New Yorkers are, well, New Yorkers, you never know what youíll see, it is a unique experience. The downside of course is you have to keep on your toes, stopping occasionally, waiting for others, taking your turn; all the things we learned in kindergarten. The slow pace, and need to dismount (from toe clips) discourages many serious road riders from the tour, and thatís fine, this ride isnít about miles (although it is long), itís about New York, and New York is a very big place.

Here is a route for your GPS in gpx format, note that this route is not a turn by turn route, but rather a landmark route so you know where your at. The course is usually slightly different each year due to construction, etc. There is no need to navigate, or no cue sheets to follow, there are Marshals everywhere; just follow the bikes in front of you!

Here is our training plan for the 2006 ride.

Some hints from our experiences

If you can; park in Staten Island and take the ferry across in the morning to the start area, youíll avoid waiting for the ferry after the tour, which can get very long. An added benefit is that youíll also avoid the ride through the Manhattan traffic back to your car. You wonít be alone with this idea; about 3000 riders do this each tour, there is plenty of parking (paid) at the new minor league stadium adjacent to the ferry terminal.

Arrive early or you will start late. The 6:00 AM ferry put us in the queue around Duane Street and we rolled about 8:10. On our first year we caught the 6:30 ferry which queued us south of Chambers street, (in the ď2nd waveĒ) and we didnít roll until after 8:30. Also the further back you are, the bigger the delay will be getting into central park. Here is a map of the start area to give you an idea where you will end up based on the ferry arrival times, after 7AM the line builds rapidly. I don't know how many waves they send off, but I suspect it is more than just two, the loudspeakers from the stage only address the 1st six blocks (up to Chambers Street), so I think they probably queue six blocks worth per wave.

Unless you are at the very beginning or very end, duck into the 1st set of porta-potties you come too in the start area AFTER you begin to roll, they will be empty; the porta-potties after central park will have lines as will the 1st rest stop.

The temperature in early May varies widely from early morning arrival to the afternoon finish time, have a plan to carry the layers of clothing that you will shed, itís no fun having your favorite sweatshirt get pulled into the back wheel or chain because you tied it around your waist.

Skip the 1st rest stop. Depending on how far back you start in the tour this rest stop may be overwhelmed. We always skip the 1st rest stop since the first 11 miles tend to be punctuated with multiple stops due to congestion; particularly getting into Central Park.

If the 2nd rest stop is crowded skip it too, the 3rd rest stop is only another 2 miles, and much less crowded. Note: you have to actually go into the 2nd rest stop (Astoria Park) to continue the tour, we skipped the entrance once, and eventually ended up riding a sidewalk that had steps to get back (the Astoria rest stop is basically a U-Turn).

The festival is not the end! It is at the 39 mile mark; 3 more miles to the ferry. The festival can get very crowded; the grounds are just not big enough to hold everyone during the peak arrival of riders. There are a few places you can grab food after the festival on the route through Staten Island back to the ferry.

The big bridges are a lot taller than they look, learn to use your climbing gears or everyone will snicker at you as you push your bike up the hill.

2008 Update

We managed to get very close to the front of the start line this year, and it rewarded us with quick entry into Central park (2007 was a mess because we missed the 6:00 AM ferry). We rode fast enough this year to catch up to the front riders at Astoria park; the tour is held at the park until 10:10 to minimize the length of time that roads are closed.

This year the never ending construction on the BQE created a huge backup as the tour had to squeeze down to a single lane when it exited the elevated roadway.

2009 Update

This was a wet miserable ride, we missed the 6:00 ferry which put us back another 2 blocks at the start and kept us in the slow center of the pack. The entrance to Central park was handled different this year, which helped elevate the jam on 6th avenue going into the park. Just when we had made ground toward the front and away from the slow pack we had a flat tire, this sealed the deal and we bailed out at the Brooklyn bridge and took the ferry back to Staten island.

2010 Update

This was the first year we took our tandem on the tour. Given the difficulty of walking and mounting a tandem in a sea of people we opted to "cheat" and bypass the start line. We were able to blend into the pack as it passed us. As we discovered there were many people doing the same thing all along 6th avemue.