I'm a fighter, not a lover.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Five Boro Bike Disaster

Beware, this is a long one.
Sunday was the Five Boro Bike Tour, an event I've really been looking forward to. It features 42 miles of traffic-free cycling (as well as a lot of walking and standing around) and 35,000 folks from all over the place.

It was a cool event and despite all the waiting around, I'd do it again. However, I was about as unlucky as one could be.

It's very easy to lose your cycling compadres, especially early on and especially-especially when heading into and coming out of Central Park. I was in a group of six friends and co-workers. Coming out of Central Park, I got left behind thanks to a poorly timed decision to let the cars cross Central Park North. No worries, I think, I'll just hurry and catch up. In doing so, I get my first of three flats on the tour. (THREE! THREE MOFO FLATS! This spring, I've put 400 miles on my bike, bent two fenders and still HADN'T gotten a flat... I got three on the bike tour.)

Between my complete lack of mechanical know-how and opting not to bring a small pump (as 4 of the 6 in our group were carrying one), I did a lot of walking. On the first blow-out, I walked about 14 blocks into Harlem and a volunteer helped me. Then, in a desperate rush to make up time, I got on the bike and hustled. The ride goes through Harlem into the Bronx very briefly, and back down into Manhattan onto the FDR highway. I bypassed the first rest area--—with a legitimate repair station--—in an effort to continue gaining back ground. This was a mistake.

After riding past, I sensed my tire going flat again. I stopped at the 92nd Street off-ramp (because we're literally riding on a closed highway), and borrowed a pump from the volunteer there. It wouldn't hold air and because the tube didn't actually blow out this time, I suspected there may be an issue with the actual tire and not just the tube. The volunteer recommended I walk back to the last repair station via York Street...
How far?, I ask.
Oh, I dunno, quarter-mile, he says.

Nope. It was a mile-and-a-half. I walked, pissed, while the whole back end of the tour rode by me. Finally reaching the rest stop and repair station--AND THIS IS WHERE IT GETS DOWN-RIGHT FICTIONAL--and notice that it's clearing out. People are yelling and screaming and the support vehicle is rolling by. I decide that I am pretty well screwed and am not destined to finish the ride, but, ask to get my tire repaired anyway. There was some glass, or something, left in the tire.

As the repair dude was finishing up, another guy comes up beside me, surveying the now ghost-town rest area and speaking loudly into a walkie talkie:
Yeah, I got the last one right here.
Looks like he missed the support vehicle.
Yeah, I'll take him.
Should be good to open up the highway to traffic again in a minute.

He tells me I'm going with him in his van, which means that if I get back on course, I wouldn't have ridden the whole thing. Lame. Perhaps he senses my frustration, because he stops short and asks:
How fast can you ride?
Er, I dunno, pretty fast, I guess.
, he says. I'm gonna let you get back on the FDR, but you see this van [points to van]? I'm driving this van and if I pass you, you have to get off the highway or get the hell in it. Understand?
I nod, not understanding anything, except that I have to urinate like you read about and don't have time to do so.

In the words of Warren G, "I hops on my Schwinn and tell my homeys 'aight then,'" except it's a Fuji and my homeys are 20-plus miles ahead of me. Instead, all I'm met with when returning onto the FDR is a hurried case of surrealism and lonliness. Why? Because it's pretty strange to be riding a bike on a highway even with lots of other cyclists; it's about 900 times more bizarre to be the only cyclist on the highway and share the road with slow-moving ambulances, squad cars and bike tour support vehicles. Also, to add to the fiction of it all, it's at this point that I realize I am literally the last of 35,000 cyclists--not even a tour volunteer on bike lay behind me.

I start peddling my ass off, or at least my legs. Breathing heavy and wet with sweat. Hoping the tire will hold. Passing the odd bike tour vehicle. Then, the van rolled up on my left. Shit, I think, the gig is up. I have to get off the highway and head home, defeated.

Not the case. He shouts from across the van, You're doing great. As long as you can keep up this pace, you'll be fine!
(Note: I have a cheap cycling computer on my handlebars. It measures distance and speed. Also note: I generally ride flat terrain at about 14MPH or so. Back to the story...)

I glance down at the computer. It reads 23MPH! I am not heading downhill. Damn, I think, I cannot keep this up. Of course, I had to lie, and, unable to speak from breathing so heavy, I just flashed him and 80s-style-thumbs up.

Finally, I start passing the confused volunteer cyclists who had been certain that they were bringing up the rear. I make my way up the Queensboro bridge and begin passing regular riders. And so on. I passed so many. I continued to ride quickly (though nowhere near 23MPH). I made up so much ground!

Then, climbing the Verrazzano Bridge, the last bridge, the final climb, the tire blows out again. Ugh. It takes 40 minutes to get things straightened-out this go-around and I watch lots of obese people pass me. Sigh.

In the end, I finished. Long after my friends of course, but I finished nonetheless. My rear tire actually has a hole in it.


Blogger Rog said...

My god, that story was great, but depressing as all get out as well. Perhaps a mountain bike would fare better?

Good on you for sticking it through.

5:02 PM

Blogger Sara Z. said...

Oh, my god, David. That is epic. It sounds like an anxiety dream. Only it really happened. Someone needs a hug!

8:36 PM

Blogger Christine said...

Ok, I have to admit, I laughed. And then I felt guilty. My next ride will probably deliver a flat tire. It was an awesome day out there on the Tour. Hopefully, I'll get my pics posted soon. I don't think there is any rhyme or reason in a ride like this. Glad to hear you finished! Maybe I'll catch you at the NYC century ride in September.

8:50 PM

Blogger Christine said...

This seems to have disappeared the first time...

Ok, I have to admit, I laughed. And then I felt guilty. My next ride will probably deliver a flat tire. It was an awesome day out there on the Tour. Hopefully, I'll get my pics posted soon. I don't think there is any rhyme or reason in a ride like this. Glad to hear you finished! Maybe I'll catch you at the NYC century ride in September.

8:53 PM

Blogger Chelly said...

Sorry to hear about your tire. I did 35-miles of the NYCentury last year and got my first flat -- which none of the support people could fix because I have a foldable bike and it doesn't have quick release tires. I must have walked close to 2 miles till someone caught up to me who could help. This year I brought a new innertube, the patched one, a patch kit, and a wrench. I wasn't taking any chances.


1:43 PM


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