My Rainy TD 5 Boro Bike Ride

I waited four years for this ride. Of course, the year I do it, it’s a wash-out with temperatures hovering around 45°F. Not a pleasant long distance bike ride does that make.

The first time I read about the TD 5 Boro Bike Tour was around the time that I was getting back into cycling after yeeeeaaaarrs of not owning a bike since childhood.

Ever since I first read about the 5 Boro Ride, I wanted to do it. Who wouldn’t want to ride through all five boroughs of New York City on car-free lanes?

giphy

Look of resignation and content. Maybe secretly enjoying the fun?
giphy.com

Eeyore. That’s who.
Though, he would begrudgingly do it because Tigger would somehow strap him to a red wagon and… you get the idea.

Of course, the year I finally register to ride is the year winter makes one last appearance before shoving off.

But by no means is this the first time I biked in the rain. Oh no. I’ve ridden in the rain plenty of times when I lived in Maryland. I even biked in the middle of a thunderstorm, cursing at everything while I trudged my way through the downpour that turned Georgetown Branch Trail into a running creek.

That’s the day I dubbed my bike Rocinante.

So May 1, 2016 was not even close to being the most miserable bike ride ever. Except it was miserable because in addition to the rain and cold, there were thousands of other people densely packed like a school of fish. I can’t imagine how many more people would’ve been on this ride on a sunny day.

But don’t let all this misery talk bog you down. I did enjoy myself.

My riding partner got injured and couldn’t join me so the ride was a tad lonely, sure, but it was a great 40-or-so miles of meditation.

The finish festival on Staten Island: Verrazano Bridge – beast of a bridge; pulled pork minus the buns; my bike, all tired from the ride.

It’s easy to feel angry and down about the shitty weather but I came away with a much better appreciation for the body’s ability to endure said shitty situations, and for cycling more generally.

The view from the bridges were magnificent, if only briefly. There were too many people struggling to get up bridge ramps to truly enjoy the views. Vigilance was key, particularly when some folks, without warning, just stop in front of you and walk their bikes on the narrowest points the bridges.

Awareness of one’s surroundings can go a long way, especially when there are hundreds of other people around you with bicycles. Signalling also helps.

There was a segment of the ride, on the BQE, that was utter mundanity. The only scenery on the highway was the flow of cyclists going towards the Verrazano Bridge and the cars moving in the opposite direction away from Staten Island. B-O-R-I-N-G.

With nothing to help distract from the monotony of pedaling, it was a serious struggle. I wanted to give up so bad. All I could feel were my aching legs. The muscles were on fire. My toes were wet from the rain. My arms were tired and my wrists hurt. I couldn’t stop pedaling at the risk of losing speed and momentum. The damn thing was too flat. I wasn’t even sure I had the energy to get up and over the Verrazano Bridge, but there was no way I could bail. That opportunity was gone miles ago at the last pit stop. I had no choice but to keep biking. Biking over the Verrazano Bridge into Staten Island.

There were the SAG buses waiting along the BQE but those were out of the question. I came all this way and I was not about to just throw myself into the warmth and comfort of a luxury tour bus.

I kept pedaling and eventually I made it to the bridge. That dreaded bridge. The view of Staten Island was ever so sweet. The lush green of the trees along the waterfront. The breeze off the river. And the best view of all: two men taking turns to help their mate up the bridge, a small supportive push on the small of their back. If these three can do it without walking their bikes, I can too.

Reinvigorated and motivated by all those struggling along with me, I made it. Over and across the Verrazano Bridge into Staten Island. I ate pulled pork and slaw. Walked around the finish festival a bit to loosen up, then biked another three miles to the ferry. Once we got to Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan, I biked home to Bushwick. *dead*

The Gear

Folks: When the ride organizers say dress weather appropriate, they mean it. Dress weather appropriate.

I was better dressed than many people on the ride, and I’m sure I was better off than many of them. Many people were dressed for warmth and sun, and resorted to wrapping Mylar thermal blankets onto their bodies in very ingenious ways.

I saw at least one person lying on the ground, wrapped in a few layers of thermal blankets. Probably hypothermia. I also saw children who looked absolutely miserable, their clothes soaked through. One kid was shivering so bad I wanted to tell his mom and dad they should go home. I hope that kid didn’t get sick from the ride.

Biking in the rain is its own special kind of dance. You either lovelike it or you absolutely hate it. I find it meditating, but I never biked more than 8 miles in the rain. I knew my Pearl Izumi thermal pants would keep me warm but I wasn’t sure about its water resistance. Good news! Even after 4.5 hours of riding in the rain and road spray, my legs were as dry as…. a neglected plant ?

My rain jacket
My rain jacket when it was brand new in 2012.
 The thermal barrier pants were great at keeping my legs warm and dry. My upper body also remained mostly dry and warm thanks to some light weight layering of shirts and whatnot. Sad to say my red rain jacket is shedding its liner. It probably has one more good run in it before it needs replacing.

My only mistake was not having gloves. My fingers were experiencing cycles of numbness and cold throughout the ride, but aside from some redness nothing serious. (I was probably lucky with that.) My brand new Giro Manta Rs, in combination with newly installed Nashbar SoHo pedals were a dreeaam.

This was my first time doing an event in clipless pedals and it was scary but a great way to become connected with the bike. It was amazing to think about how my body was attached to my bike, and the kinetic motion of everything from pedaling to un-clipping from the bike. The most important takeaway was learning how to ride with clipless pedals in a dense group, going up bridges (i.e. don’t clip both feet in because some idiot will inevitably stop right in front of you and you can do nothing but bash your knee into his bike, then clip out and catch yourself to avoid creating a Red Hook Crit situation on a bridge).

Despite a slight fear of not being able to unclip in emergency situations, I do love the clips. The sustained power I have from not wasting energy on the up stroke is fantastic! Hills feel so much easier to tackle! (Although I do have another fear here that I’ll just tumble over because I don’t have enough momentum to go up a steep incline, and can’t unclip before losing balance…)

The long stretch on the BQE towards the Verrazano bridge was incredible. I thought I was about to die from the constant pedaling, but at some moment, I realized it would have been much worse without the SoHo pedals.

I remembered my impromptu 60-mile ride two years ago to Sleepy Hollow. I didn’t have a clipless system or toe cages, and my knees and feet by the end of that ride were gone. My feet wouldn’t stay on the pedals and energy from having to readjust and slip and whatnot was definitely unpleasant. Now, with this clipless set up, I feel as though I can conquer everything!

Feed bags from Revelate Designs were an absolute marvel, and held up in the rain really well!
The bag restrictions for the ride were a doozey. Initially I was going to use the Blackburn Musette handlebar bag but after getting crossbar brakes installed, the bag didn’t quite fit. At the last minute, I bought these feedbags from Revelate Designs, an Alaska-based company specializing in bike travel gear made for the ruggedness of nature.

Boy, do they deliver.

I had two of them installed on the bike. One held all the food stuffs. The other had my bike tool, my phone (wrapped in a plastic baggie) and wallet. The bags are a cinch top, so they don’t necessarily keep water out, however, they are waterproof in that the construction of the body kept all my stuff dry. A little bit of rain seeped through the top opening, but thanks to the tight close you get, it was minimal. Everything stayed dry.

So far, I have nothing but praise for these feedbags. The construction is great and the strap mechanisms are really easy to use. I particularly like the stabilizing strap that goes around the fork. That’s a very nice touch.

Back to the ride

The rain and cold weather did put a damper on things, and it seems as though many people were not happy about it. Some of them rode anyway. Not all of them finished the ride, but that’s not really the point, especially when it’s raining.

They got on their bikes, said, “fuck the rain,” and biked. That’s what matters.

I particularly enjoyed these short pieces by Patty Chang Anker and Pineapple Sage. Although the weather wasn’t great, I’m glad people went out and gave it their best shot. I hope everyone had some fun.

Also: I wish I had a GoPro.

🚲 🚲 🚲

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. You did it! And you did it solo, with clipless pedals – that is true grit! Come back and do it again – the views are amazing in clear weather – Team #SomeNerve would love to have you!

    1. Gina says:

      I do want to do it during nice weather. I’ll keep it in mind, and keep Team #SomeNerve in mind when the next registration cycle comes around. Thanks!

  2. rootchopper says:

    Nice job. I rode it too. I had a lobster glove on my left hand and a bare right hand for taking pictures. My right hand was pretty raw by the end. We had 3 mercifully flat miles on Staten Island to get back to our B&B after the ride. They were automatic.

  3. chris says:

    Loved reading about your experience during the bike tour! I can’t believe you biked home to Bushwick after that. I didn’t even want to look at my bike, though it sounds like you’re much more experienced than me. And I definitely need to take your clothing suggestions if it’s going to rain next year.

    1. Gina says:

      Thanks! I did debate biking home while on the ferry, but I figured it was just easier to bike home then deal with the subway. Sometimes when you’ve already biked a while you just feel like keeping at it.

      It took me a while to figure out clothes, and I’m still learning but I figured it’s best to err on the side of too many layers and figuring out how to carry on the bike then not having enough. It’s all in practice, I think ☺.

      Keep it up! Hopefully it doesn’t rain next year. You should try the TransAlt boro rides and the Century ride.

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