Bike MS NYC (Almost) Century Ride Part II: The Fun Part

Yesterday I started a post about last Sunday’s Bike MS NYC ride.  I signed up for the century (100 mile) option, despite the fact that I had never ridden anywhere near 100 miles, and the last time I had ridden for so long was at last year’s Bike MS NYC, when I completed the 55-mile route.  If you haven’t already read the first post, I suggest you start here then come back.  At the end of the last post, I described how the day started off rather inauspiciously, due to both the unexpected rain and the fact that I was already sore from a 4-mile run to pick up my rider packet at the last moment.  This post picks up where the last one left off, as I headed to the starting line on my bike.

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A packed starting line on a rainy day at Bike MS NYC 2013.

My mood began to improve as I rode down to the Hudson River Greenway from my building.  The streets were quiet, and the most frequently heard sound was the whirr of bicycle wheels spinning down the street alongside me, all on their way to this huge ride.  The mix of riders at Bike MS NYC is certainly not the same as that on your typical New York bike path.  I saw much lighter and more aero bikes, much thinner riders, and plenty of Lycra.

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Looking back from the starting line, cyclists as far as the eye can see.

Although many average-looking riders on average bikes participate in the 30-mile loop, which takes place on completely closed roads, the 55 and 100 mile participants tend to come much more dressed for the occasion.  Road bikes with drop handlebars are the norm, and many also have tri-bars, aero wheels, and even aero hydration packs.  Many riders come in jerseys specially made for the event, typically with the team name, such as Barclays or Bloomberg, clearly displayed.  Others come in jerseys from previous NYC area cycling events, or even previous years’ Bike MS jerseys.  This year I also noticed quite a few riders in the Bike MS Top Fundraiser jerseys, which I must say are far more attractive than last year’s version.

After about a half hour of mingling in the crowd and eating bananas (this is apparently all they could muster for the “free breakfast” for a crowd of 5,000), there were a few speeches and then the ride began!  Five thousand bikes making their way down the West Side Highway is truly a sight to behold.  The pack doesn’t move very fast, an inevitable necessity given the sheer magnitude of the crowd (and in fact, it wasn’t until after the first major rest stop, about 25 miles into the ride in Alpine, NJ, that there wasn’t constantly someone riding beside me).  It almost felt like being in a parade, except that the marchers were the only ones doing the cheering (aside from a few volunteers and some cops).

After a few miles of easy pedaling, we reached the highlight of the event for 55/100 milers: a traffic-free ride through the Holland Tunnel.  This was only the second time ever the ride was going through the tunnel, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the metal grooves in the road that gave so many riders problems last year were conveniently covered.  [While there will be time for critiquing the ride organizers later on, I was rather impressed overall with the improvements in remedying key problem areas from last year.  The route signage, in particular, was dramatically better.]  Approaching the tunnel, I overheard another rider ask “why is everyone screaming in there?”  “Because of the echo,” I answered back, feeling like a seasoned veteran familiar with the course.  The echo, in fact, was one of my most memorable experiences from last year’s ride.  If you’ve ever been through any of New York’s automobile tunnels with the windows open, you know that the overwhelming sensation is of painfully loud engine noises.  In contrast, being there on a bike is sheer pleasure, as the reverberations of hundreds of wheels spinning, chains turning, and riders yelling lends the event an amusement park feel.

Once in New Jersey, the ride mostly hugs the waterfront while making its way north to Henry Hudson Drive in Palisades Interstate Park.  At the last bit of this section, along River Road, comes a steep hill that makes its way up to the George Washington Bridge.  Last year I had to get off and walk the bike at this point.  But I knew this was coming, so I prepared by riding easy for a couple of miles beforehand, and I easily made it up the hill and past many stalled riders who either couldn’t make it without stopping or were stopped for teammates who couldn’t.

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Henry Hudson Drive two weeks earlier, sans Bike MS riders.

At the top, someone shouted “congratulations, you’ve made it up the hardest hill of the day.”  Ahh, if only that were true.  Henry Hudson Drive starts out as a steep descent down the Palisades, almost all the way down to the Hudson River.  But, as is often the case in cycling, the steep descent went by far too quickly, only to be followed by a long, hard slog back up the Palisades.  This, in fact, was the hardest ascent of the day.  Last year I figure I must have spent at least a half hour slowly walking my bike up the hill.  Here, too, though, I had come prepared, having done exactly this climb as part of a practice ride just 2 weeks prior.  In just over 11 minutes I made it up the approximately 1.5 mile climb with over 500 feet of elevation gain.  Just one mile of easy pedaling up Route 9W later I made it to Alpine, the first major rest stop and site of some of my best memories from last year.  Tomorrow’s post will pick up from here, but it now looks like it may take me four posts to finish the story.

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