Yesterday I did my first NYC Century ride, 100+ miles of Gotham glory, everything from stunning ocean vistas to broken-bottle-strewn tunnels, from estaurine marshes to riverine gulleys. Given that the event is supposed to demonstrate the joys and possibilities of everyday city cycling, I did it on a bog-standard Trek commuting bike (thank you, Bontrager Hard Case Race Lights, for not flinching as you rode over the detritus of millions). As invigorating as the riding was, the event highlighted something else: The sheer panorama of the spectacle of the city, unfolding at a scale that is beyond the limits of pedestrianism, but more closely-observed than the car. Here, in no certain order, is a sample of the things we saw: Morning tai-chi in Sunset Park; Chinese fisherman in Sheepshead Bay, Russian guys in fatigues in Brighton Beach carrying assault rifles (let’s hope this was for paintball); an apartment building on fire; a woman being dragged unconscious out of a bar in Queens (at ten in the morning); an aerial view of soccer games, looking like Playstation, from the towering bike bath of the Tri-Boro Bridge; the huge bustle of sound, dancing, marching and speechifying that is African Day; the similarly boisterous San Gennaro Festival in Lower Manhattan (whose streets were so traffic-clogged suddenly it was Canal Street that seemed the least chaotic option); white-suited West Indian cricket in Queens; striped-shirted women’s rugby in the Bronx; a motorcycle training course (which we accidentally rode into) in the shadow of the Steinway piano factory; Evangelical storefront churches booming with praise; slack-jawed European shoppers in Soho; the tote-bag clutching patrons of the Brooklyn Literary Festival; the emerald constellation of city parks from Marine to Forest to Van Cortlandt; the Cyclone of Coney Island quiet but proud in the early morning light; pitbulls barking from high terraces; a handful of “ghost bikes” lending sober perspective; the shining Unisphere, which we circled twice looking for the ‘C’ to guide us (a hot dog vendor had pulled over it accidentally)…
I could go on, but you get the picture. And while there were some dodgy connections, some threatening three-way intersections, some fading sharrows, what the event spoke to was the possibility — and promise — of riding in the city. People kept asking, ‘is this a bike-a-thon’?, as if to ride means it must be for something; and of course, it is — for the right and pleasure and utility to ride itself. In the depths of the South Bronx, on some of the least cycling friendly streets, there was always a kid waving, giving a thumb’s up, or shrieking “bikes.” The city felt at once vast and intimate.
Curious to hear of others’ experiences, highlights, low-lights, in comments section.
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