One aspect New Yorkers love most about their city is its diversity. From bankers and bike messengers to fashion designers and florists, the city’s streets vibrate with eight million unique ways of living.
During the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, I learned New Yorkers’ reasons for biking in the city are equally diverse—as are the cycles they choose for the forty-mile ride across its boroughs.
As riders waited to join 32,000 fellow cyclists in downtown Manhattan, I asked them their reasons for participating and the parts of the tour they most anticipated.
“It’s a cultural spectacle,” said Lisa from Rochester, who was back for her second tour after a ten-year hiatus. She described her bicycle as a Frankenbike, with new wheels, altered gears, borrowed pedals and replaced brakes. “The frame is the only original part,” she said, petting its handlebars like a loyal pup.
Lisa was thrilled to be riding with her husband for the first time, who sat patiently in his recumbent. When asked why she loves cycling, she said, “If I ride to work I’m happy when I get there. In a car, you just stew.”
Another rider, Abdel from Algeria, rides for speed. “You get to work faster and you work your fitness,” he told me. We conversed at an intersection where it was unnaturally quiet given the thousands of cyclists nearby. He had stopped to photograph the line of riders waiting one block behind, held back for traffic control.
Abdel was participating in the tour for the first time as a celebration of his 50th birthday. His reason? He wanted to ride in a carless version of New York. He was most looking forward to ascending the ramp of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and cycling over the Verrazano Bridge.
New York’s built environment was the draw for a much younger rider as well. “He’s loving the architecture, surprisingly,” said one mother of her young son. We only spoke for a few moments before the wave of riders swept the little family away. It was long enough to learn the mother and her husband had participated in two tours before having children and now the daughter and son were along for their first experience.
The father was riding tandem with the youngest member of the family, who sat beaming in the backseat. Everyone agreed Central Park and Brooklyn’s waterfront would be highlights of their journey together.
For another family, the highlight was wearing matching uniforms. While most riders stick to a nondescript jersey, some use the tour as a way to stand out as a group. One set of riders had red lobsters attached to their helmets, for example, while another group donned rainbow unicorn horns. This family had minions sticking up from their helmets like pom-poms on a beanie.
The father had used a 3D printer to assemble the custom accessory and printed matching yellow t-shirts reading Bob2BuildIt. “Now we won’t lose each other,” the mom said, explaining her husband had spent weeks crafting each uniform. The couple had traveled from Barton, New York to join their daughters for the ride—two young professionals living on the Upper East Side.
“We were up at 5:45am,” the mother told me, but waking early hadn’t dampened her enthusiasm. “We’re so excited. We’ve never been to the other towns,” she said and then corrected herself. “I mean we’ve never been to the other boroughs!”
The tour draws many who live outside the city’s limits. The final rider I spoke with had come from New Jersey with his Long John—a traditional Danish delivery bike weighing 80 pounds. Along with his rider number, he’d attached a placard to the frame reading “The Biking Viking."
“It’s only fitting given my name is Thor,” he laughed.
Thorkild was on his sixth tour. He was looking forward to the party, the music, and the smiling people, he said.
“He’s also looking forward to his buddies giving him a hard time,” his friend told me. The Biking Viking waved the comment aside and simply posed for the camera.
Whether riding solo or with a group, on a recumbent, tandem, or Long John, my five interviews revealed a coherent theme. Each rider loves biking for its own sake, but the TD Five Boro Bike Tour is a singular opportunity not to be missed. It's a chance to ride with fellow cyclists through a city transformed—a city where, for a few hours, the bike becomes king.