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Grab life by the handle bars

The NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour

Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island – all in one day! See them all with the NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour: an annual bike ride through the five ‘boros’ of New York City. For the iFly Bucket List, our reporter Iris van den Broek hopped on a bike… and crossed the finish line!

Hit the road
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Nine degrees Celsius, heavy winds and rain, rain and more rain. Not the best weather for a bike ride: let alone one that is more than 40 miles long (almost 70 km). But that’s what I’m about to do. With some trepidation, I get on my bike at 6:30 am outside my hotel to ride to the starting point on the southern tip of Manhattan. ‘Grab life by the handle bars’ is the tour’s motto. So let’s do this!

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Smack in the centre

I’m staying at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway, across the street from Macy’s, very close to Times Square and around the corner from the Empire State Building. You can’t get more central than that! The hotel also features a great restaurant and bar. Nice touch: my bathroom is stocked with Rituals toiletries.

Kick-off with Frank Sinatra

When I arrive at the starting line, I am happy to see that the weather hasn't dampened the mood. Thousands of excited riders are gathered and a speaker keeps the crowd pumped. The tour will start at 7:30 am and while we wait I am entertained by music, the other riders and of course the American national anthem, which is concluded by loud cheers from the crowd and thousands of ringing bike bells. This year’s event draws 32,000 riders so we start in different shifts. I luck out and depart with the first group at 7:30 am, when it is still relatively dry. As the starting shot is fired, Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ blares from the speakers and we are off. I’m in a New York state of mind! 

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Car-free avenues

The first stretch goes along 6th Avenue across Manhattan, past the iconic Radio City Music Hall and through the heart of Central Park. Instead of honking cabs and blaring fire trucks, the avenue is completely reserved for cyclists. A unique and almost surreal experience on the usually hectic and bustling streets of Manhattan. 

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Then I arrive in The Bronx. I am greeted by a gigantic roadside sign ‘We love da Bronx’ and dozens of excited volunteers who welcome us to the second boro with a ‘Welcome to The Bronx!’ cheer. 

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The Queensboro Bridge

We head back to Manhattan and across the FDR Drive towards Queens, the third boro. This road has also been made completely car free for us. By now, the heavy rain is starting to take its toll and I am surrounded by rain ponchos and soaked backpacks. But nobody complains and everybody smiles: the true American spirit! As we ride onto the Queensboro Bridge, a small group of cheerleaders spurs us along.

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Banana break

Across the bridge, at a rest stop, volunteers hand out bananas, apples and pretzels for a much-needed energy boost. The band that welcomes us fails to draw a crowd; everybody is too cold and wet. This would be so nice on a sunny day! Alas, there is nothing we can do. 

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Off to the fourth boro: Brooklyn. Fortunately, people in fancy dress – like these men with cardboard heads and two girls dressed in green – keep our spirits up! 

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Keep calm and pedal on

The 5 Boro Bike Tour is not a ride in the park. And the sting is in the tail: the long and steep Verrazano Bridge. This brings us to the fifth boro: Staten Island. Dozens of cyclists get off and walk their bikes up the steep hill, but I feel compelled to keep pedalling. Through the puddles on the road I can still make out encouraging graffiti slogans: ‘You can do it!’ and ‘Keep calm and pedal on’. On the other side of the bridge awaits the tour’s finish line: Fort Wadsworth. An excited group of volunteers pulls me in: ‘You made it!’ Yes I did! But now it’s time to race back to the Staten Island Ferry that will take me and thousands of other chilled riders back to Manhattan.

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Despite the rain, I wouldn’t have missed the 5 Boro Bike Tour for the world. Put the next tour, 7 May 2017, on your bucket list (and hope for good weather)!

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