By Eric Uhlfelder


It’s been a rite of spring for decades and it’s cancellation during the pandemic left many perennial riders feeling out of step with the season.

The weather on the first Sunday of May—always the day of the ride—is never certain, from blustery to 90-degree scorchers. Recent years have brought heavy, cold rain and wind, which once made me curtail recent rides—getting off the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) at Sunset Park in Brooklyn and taking the subway back home; another time, starting the ride in Brooklyn at the base of Roeblings’ magnificent bridge, dressed for winter, to at least get in my annual crossing of the Verrazano Bridge.

But this May 1st, the ‘Weather Gods’ were smiling, delivering the most pleasant conditions for the 5-borough ride I can recall after 25 years of making the schlep. Surprisingly,all 32,000 of the riders who signed up for the car-free tour along streets, highways, and bridges showed up.

To the ride’s organizer, Ken Podziba, President and CEO of Bike New York, the event is quintessential New York. “We have people from every state in the country and from 32 nations from around the world,” explains Podziba. “And it’s not just the largest bike event in the country; it’s the most diverse and inclusive ride in the world.”

A staggered start is designed to help move the massive waves of riders up 6th Avenue from the downtown start. But two-wheeled bottlenecks marked much of the first half of the ride: through Central Park up into Harlem, then navigating into the South Bronx long enough to qualify the ride as indeed 5 boroughs, then down the Harlem River Drive and onto the FDR drive.

“I felt I was in rush hour as I headed south toward the 59th Street Bridge,” said one suburban NY rider. And this was made more clear as much of the magnificent cock-screw rise onto the bridge and above the East River turned into a walk.

Once in Queens, the ride turned north to Astoria Park—one of the city’s lesser-known green jewels that sits on the confluence of the East River and the Long Island Sound, in the shadows of the RFK and Hell Gate Bridges.

It was a slog heading down to Brooklyn as multiple turns and small bridge crossings slowed up the more tentative riders but by the time we reached the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and worked our way up onto the BQE, all became splendid. The expansive elevated highway on the edge of the East River brought magnificent views of Downtown and an easy flat ride all the way to the foot of the Verrazano Bridge.

This is always my favorite part of the tour, the mile-long climb up to the vertical peak of the ride at the bridge’s midspan. To the right, there’s the skyline of Lower Manhattan that now bleeds into Jersey City’s towers. To the left, a phenomenal ocean view. Only from this vantage point can one take in the breadth of the ride.

Then we enjoyed an effortless glide down into Staten Island and onto the borough’s eastern shoreline that offers vistas not seen by most New Yorkers back to the Verrazano and across the harbor to the Downtown.

Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to most, the ride’s organizers decided not to direct us straight into the Staten Island ferry terminal. Instead, they sent us on a circuitous walk after biking 40 miles. It was suppose to be where participants could celebrate finishing and check out an array of supporting sponsor exhibits. For many, it was an unnecessary delay to board the ferry where one can only then relax, kick up one’s feet, and take in the skyline as we make our return back to Manhattan.

Well, maybe they’ll work out the kinks next year. but I wouldn’t have missed the ride for the world as it is indeed the one event that marks spring has arrived.

THE FIVE-BOROUGH BIKE TOUR, as seen on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Photo by Eric Uhlfelder.
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