You hate to see it end but alas, on September 8, New York City saw its 30th — and final — NYC Century Bike Tour. The weather was mild with occasional overcast and short gusts of wind. Folks, from seasoned city riders to the obvious, and maybe oblivious, out-of-towner pedaled the Big Apple.
After a rough start to a training regimen, M and I prepared ourselves for a comfortable 55 mile route. Add in the mileage to and from the apartment and we had ourselves a metric century. M and I also put in over 100 miles in laps around Prospect Park, but I admit I’m not the “training” type.
When I first move to NYC five years ago, I signed up for Bicycle Habitat’s Hal-o-ween Ride to Sleepy Hollow. It was a 60-mile round-trip ride from SoHo. I’ve never ridden longer than 35 miles in one go. I survived, barely, but I loved it and wanted more since then. The lack of preparation for this ride didn’t keep from signing up for the Five Boro Bike Tour, and then two years later, my first Century Ride.
Fast forward to 2019 and I’m rolling my eyes about doing laps in Prospect Park. It was a love-hate situation. M and I created a schedule and after a few fits and starts,we were on the loop every Saturday. I’ve never been good with hills but M made sure I conquered those fuckers.
We arrived at Grand Army Plaza around 9 a.m. on a cripsy Saturday morning. I was anxious and thought we were starting late. Of course, that was my brain still shaking off the sleepies. We were in a good place. After stitching our bibs onto our bikes and shirts, M and I headed out. It was such a beautiful day.
We set off along Prospect Park West, then down Fifth Avenue and Green-Wood Cemetery. The route took us towards the river and onto a new-to-me cycle track at Bush Terminal Park-Industry City. I wish I had my Fuji X-T1, or an action cam, because there were a lot of decaying buildings worthy of documentation.
Salty Sprays and Rumbly Ways
The next major stretch was Shore Parkway along New York Harbor. A quick hook around 67th street to Colonial Road, followed by a sling-shot around Owl’s Head Park dumped us onto the parkway near American Veterans Memorial. The sun was a beaut and the salty sprays were tolerable. When I rode this stretch in 2016, the air along the Parkway was noticeably sour. Not so this time around. It was crisper and delicate in the way a carefully crafted dish tastes.
The Verrazzano Bridge is always a wonder to behold, especially when you come onto it and continue to go underneath the pass. The bridge is a behemoth compared to other bridges. The Brooklyn Bridge is ol’ timey elegant, the Williamsburg Bridge is hip, and the Manhattan Bridge is practical. The Verrazzano is a monolith. A masculine beauty.
Around Gravesend Bay, you’re jolted back from gawking as your arms and shoulder start to jitter from the unkempt state of the pathway. It’s weathered, pockmarked and full of soon-to-be or far-too-gone sinkholes and potholes. You pedal faster to get away from the itchiness that it’s created.
The Classic Coney Stretch
At about mile 16, we entered Coney Island — a guaranteed stop for many cyclists looking for some tasty Nathan’s to fuel their ride. M and I kept riding onto Neptune Avenue/Emmons Avenue, or what I like to call the hurt trap. Between the rough driving and the parking design, you have to wonder if today will be your day. Morbid, I know.
Once we connected with the bike trail, a sigh of relief escaped followed by a deep inhale of delicious salty marsh smell (or lots of bugs). This part of the ride has become the start of one of my favorite stretches in NYC.
Creeks, Bays, and Bridges
There’s Plum Beach Channel, Shell Bank Creek, Gerristen Inlet and Creek, Deep Creek, Dead Horse Bay, East Mill Basin, Mill Basin, Paerdegat Basin, Island Channel, Fresh Creek, and North Channel.
All of it beautiful. Sometimes smelly, and where we came to our first pit stop: Canarsie Pier.
This is the moment it hit me that this Century Ride was unlike the 2016 Century Ride. For that ride we had banana halves, apple slices, grape clusters, and KIND bars. None of these were seen on the “30th and Final” citywide ride. I found smooshed PB&J sandwich halves, Honey Stinger Waffles, trail nut ‘dipped’ bars (I think with yogurt?), and sad orange slices.
With the exception of the last item, I couldn’t eat any of the offerings. I was surprised that there weren’t even any KIND bars. I was miffed, and with a scowl I gathered a half PBJ and three waffle discs for M. Even the water stations weren’t filled with Nuun-flavored water. WTF?
Luckily, we made an intense bag of GORP and homemade peanut butter cookies. I was set for the ride and enjoyed every fucking bite of my food.
After a good rest in the sun, M and I got back onto our wheeled steeds and continued on. I was hoping our route would take us towards the Jamaica Wildlife Refugee but we rode northward, back towards the heart of Brooklyn. Canarsie Veterans Circle — a traffic circle — has a bike lane on it! Who would’ve thunk.
Canarsie → Brownsville → Weeksville → Bed-Stuy
We wound our way up the eastern end of Canarsie into Weeksville, Brownsville, then Bed-Stuy. Somewhere along this segment, I soft-crashed into a man. He was trying to get to his car, parked in traffic. This forced drivers to play chicken and take turns on a two-way, two-lane way. I was crawling on the bike and I saw him step onto the street between two parked cars. I unclipped my right foot and as I did so, he stepped out and stopped right in front of me.
I didn’t crash. It was more like a tip and cradle into the guy’s arms. No one was hurt but I was flustered and embarrassed. After a quick rebalance, I pedaled on to get away from the bottleneck. The guy exchanged some words with M — apologies and acknowledgement he was in the wrong. It was all good. No one got seriously hurt. Moving on.
The Ol’ Neighborhood
That’s what I call Bushwick, the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to NYC in 2014, and most recent neighborhood before roommate changes and costs put me in Borough Park. I miss Bushwick so I was looking forward to this part of the ride — the familiarity of the streets, the shops, Maria Hernandez Park, all of it.
Sadly, a small portion of the group that we were stuck with made it difficult to enjoy. While some bike etiquette is appreciated during group rides, these folks were, imo, over doing it. It was an annoying game of Mario Kart as M and I (mostly me) tried to pass them at every opportunity we could, only to be overtaken at a light or other moment of traffic congestion.
At Flushing and Knickerbocker avenues, we booked it. We were on home turf. There was some back-and-forth with the passing and being passed along Morgan Avenue. By the time we got to the Pulaski Bridge, however, we lost them.
I continued to book it along Vernon Boulevard. I was frustrated and getting even more frustrated with every gaggling group that slowed us down. Despite one man’s insistence that we get on the cycle track for safety, I kept on the sharrows so we could bike freely at our own pace. It worked. We ended up 10 minutes ahead of these two groups, and made it to Astoria Park for the second break stop.
“Finish Festival” aka Central Park
After a good, vitamin D-soaked break in Astoria, we sped on towards the RFK Bridge which took us onto Randall’s Island. After we crossed the 103rd Stret Pedestrian Bridget and snaked our way through East Harlem, we made it to the northern end of Central Park, aka the Finish Festival. Here we made our third break and collected our memorabilia consisting of a t-shirt, medal, and water bottle.
M and I took a decent break here before continuing back towards Brooklyn — the only downside of starting the ride in Brooklyn, though after this point you’re in less of a hurry to get anywhere.
Back to Brooklyn
After our rest, we saddled up for the ride back to Brooklyn. By this point, the sky turned overcast. Rain felt inevitable but luckily didn’t happen.
We exited at 110th Street and headed west, where we jumped onto Riverside Drive — an area of Manhattan that is straight from an architectural fiction. It’s a “see it to believe it” situation. A few minutes later, city traffic came back into focus.
Hells Kitchen. Hudson Yards. Chelsea.
After a slog over the Brooklyn Bridge, we made it back into Brooklyn. Sunset was about 45 minutes away so we decided to hang out in Prospect Park to relax. We finished off the GORP and plantain chips, watched the dogs frolic on the green, and then pedaled southward to Borough Park.
All in all we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to ride around the city. It’s sad to see the ride end, but luckily, rides are plentiful here.