Line up for the Five Boro starts downtown in and around Battery Park. Riders arrive early and kill time drinking coffee and batting around beach balls. Once the ride starts, bikers follow a route along many roads regularly featured in NYC traffic reports such as the Belt Parkway, FDR Drive, and BQE. Cyclists pass within sight of a myriad of New York landmarks: Ground Zero, Radio City, the New York Public Library in mid-town, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, John Paul Jones Park, the Roosevelt Island Tram, the United Nations, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Fort Wadsworth, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty, even the Intrepid one year while it docked in Staten Island for repairs. And the bridges! You cross five famed NYC bridges over the course of the ride: the Madison Avenue bridge into The Bronx, the 3rd Avenue bridge back into Manhattan, the Queensboro Bridge (a.k.a. 59th Street Bridge, idolized in Paul Simon’s baby boomer song Feelin’ Groovy) over the East River into Queens, and the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn. Riders leave Brooklyn via the lower level of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to enter Staten Island.
For me, the Verrazano, with its gorgeous views of Lower Bay and the Hudson River, serves as the highlight of the ride. At 6,690 feet including both side spans, and an average 3.9% grade, the bridge presents the most difficult part of the entire route; fairly straightforward for anyone training regularly, but quite difficult for all the weekend warriors. On the Verrazano, many people dismount and start walking. When it opened in 1964, the Verrazano laid claim as the longest suspension bridge in the world. Today it comes in at 7th on the list. The bridge only closes to cars for the Five Boro Bike Ride and the NYC Marathon.
I’ve done this ride many different ways: with one other person, with a team, solo, with an infected toe, in unseasonably warm weather, and in unseasonably chilly weather. I’ve gotten stuck in the pack and walked many miles on the ride. Sometimes I ride straight through, and other times I’ve taken breaks at the rest stops. I’ve started downtown, from Staten Island, and from Brooklyn. I’ve seen some pretty spectacular crashes on this ride. One year, a pedestrian trying to cross 6th avenue in mid-town got upended when neither she nor the cyclist bearing down on her gave way resulting in a barrage of bagels strewn all over the street. Another year, someone had a heart attack on the Madison Avenue bridge. Having grown up about ten miles west of the Lincoln Tunnel, I have visited New York hundreds of times at this point in my life, but biking the five boroughs – no matter how I ride or who I ride with - remains the most unique way to experience the city.