Just hours after the last fans went home from the Yankees’ extra inning game Saturday night, the streets near 161st and Grand Concourse filled with thousands of cyclists who rolled in on a chilly Sunday morning to ride in the 18th annual Tour de Bronx.
The Bronx Tourism Board, in conjunction with sponsors Montefiore Medical Center and Alternative Transportation, hosts the Tour de Bronx each year to give cyclists a chance to glimpse the Bronx’s neighborhoods and sites. Organizers hope participants will enjoy the health benefits of cycling while encountering the borough’s architectural highlights and friendly denizens. The ride, which is free for participants, is billed as a recreational ride, attracting everyone from families and young riders to serious racers, bike clubs and commuters.
As the start time for the ride drew near, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. mounted the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse overlooking the colorful mass of cyclists. Teardrop-shaped racing helmets and round skateboarder helmets, helmets of every size and color, bobbed up and down through the crowd. Fluorescent windbreakers and safety vests lit up some riders like fireflies. Entire teams sported matching cycling uniforms. But all eyes turned to Diaz as he welcomed the riders. He then revealed that he was riding the 25-mile instead of the 40-mile circuit, drawing some hearty boo’s from the crowd.
Finally, at 10:30 sharp, several air horn blasts rang out and the rattling of gears and chains joined the crowd noise as thousands of riders mounted up and pedaled down 161st Street.
After being massed together for so long, some riders burst ahead while others wove in and out of the crowd, trying to find space. One woman under a red helmet cackled with laughter as she rode.
The bikers were not the only ones on the trail. NYPD provided traffic escorts for the riders throughout the ride. Those officers unlucky enough to pull the Sunday assignment still tried to have some fun. One officer, playing on perceptions of the Bronx, called out to stragglers at the starting point that they would be left all alone in the Bronx if they didn’t pick up the pace. Dozens of Police Interceptors, tiny three-wheeled vehicles that could double as golf carts, cruised alongside the bikers, darting up to each intersection to block off motor traffic.
The riders had plenty of encouragement along the way. Young residents stretched out from the sidewalks to high-five riders streaking by. Pedestrians, dog-owners (and their dogs) and shopkeepers cheered and even cajoled the riders to keep going. One onlooker told the riders to keep their eyes on a bigger prize. “Now you’ve got to train for the marathon!” he yelled.
Any such aspirations might take more work. The Bronx is New York’s hilliest borough and at the first steep incline, many cyclists struggled, dismounting and walking their bikes up. Hannibal pulling elephants through the Alps, this was not.
Still, minor obstacles could not stop the streams of riders from enjoying the tour. On their precision racing machines, mountain bikes, city cruisers, road bikes and vintage Schwinns covered in flashy chrome, the riders wound their way through the Bronx. Cruising down the (closed) Sheridan Expressway and drifting into Hunts Point, cutting through St. Raymond’s Cemetery and skirting along Shelter Cove, with its mix of luxury bungalows and Mansardian rooftops, for many riders this was a Bronx they rarely experience.
By noon, the sun was out, and riders shed layers and shared laughs at each rest stop while munching on bagels provided by the city. Mile after mile, the riders struck up friendly conversations with fellow riders while taking in the sights, picking up speed on flat straightaways, and sliding back into lower speeds for twists and turns.
Organizers reported that about 5000 people rode in this year’s Tour de Bronx.
At the finish point in the New York Botanical Gardens in Bedford, some riders were openly calculating how many calories they had burned. Estimates hovered around 1500-2000. However, event sponsor Domino’s Pizza threatened to dent those achievements by handing out free slices of pizza to the arriving riders. As the throngs of bikes and exhausted cyclists flooded in, another rider had a seemingly more immediate concern: “I lost my husband!” she said, but that did not stop her from waiting in line for pizza.
John Petralia, a Connecticut resident in his 40’s who was in town just for the ride, almost lost something else: his legs. “Riverdale is just one big hill!” he said, before grabbing some pizza and stretching out on the lush Garden lawns with other bikers to soak up the sunshine.
But as 5 p.m. rolled around and the sun started to dip on the Bronx horizon, some riders found a new concern.
How will they get home, they wondered, without the police showing the way?