In the early hours of a brisk and windy Sunday morning in October, we queued up at Bedford Park Boulevard West as the sun was rising, to pick up bibs for the 22nd annual Tour de Bronx, the largest free cycling event in New York State. Over 7,000 people had signed up to ride, and a line snaked up and down the street and onto Harris Field, where organizers handed out bibs and maps. The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) was giving out free helmets, with DOT personnel custom-fitting riders who sat in a long row of chairs, as if at a beauty salon.
Waiting in line gave us a chance to meet the cyclists around us, many of whom had arrived in groups, dressed in team bike wear, from the black leather Vintage Bicycle Club jackets adorned with Puerto Rican and Dominican flags and raised lettering and logos, to the neon orange tech-wear windbreakers of the Yonkers Bike Club. What everyone seemed to share was solidarity with the Bronx — either because they had grown up there or because they were current residents or employed there. Some riders said they just wanted to enjoy a day getting to know the city’s largest and most geographically diverse borough.
Along the course, we traversed the hilly and urban Grand Concourse into the South Bronx, before passing through the restored natural landscapes of the borough’s riparian and sea coasts, from Starlight Park along the Bronx River, to Soundview Park and Pugsley Creek, and finally to City Island and Orchard Beach on the Long Island Sound, before ending at the botanical gardens in the heart of the borough.
Once we got started, nobody seemed to be in a rush, as riders coasted, slowing and stopping along the course to take selfies amid the quickly shifting scenes and crowd. The streets remained open to traffic, with police intermittently stationed along the route to help protect and orient riders. Some sections were slower, and packs of cyclists had the opportunity to mingle and socialize while waiting at red lights. There was a palpable solidarity between cyclists, and the characters of the lovingly customized bikes were as present as their riders, as the high-tech carbon frame of the lycra-clad racer and the souped-up 1930’s fat-tired Schwinn of the leather-jacketed club rider cruised together in sync and in unison.
The Tour de Bronx is New York City’s premier bike parade, a moveable feast for the eyes, with all the diversity of bicycle culture on display.
Are you guys from the Bronx?
Thanks. These are real vintage Schwinn bikes. We spend a lot of time working on them — fixing them and adding different parts to them. We’re good at fixing bikes. We have a code when we ride, to stop by the side of the road to help anyone who needs it, free of charge — if someone has a flat or anything. It’s part of our code of conduct.
Do you guys always ride together?
Yes. We ride together all over the Bronx, sometimes to the beach.
Do you feel safe on the road?
You really have to be alert. A lot of people don’t respect the bike lanes — they just park their cars there. That’s the problem in the Bronx.
Are those ornaments on your bike for Halloween?
This is Pepe.
(The President pushes a button and the skeleton on his handlebars starts to light up, its red eyes flashing.)
There can be a lot of death on the road. It’s dangerous out there. This is a way of letting people know.
Where are you from?
I live in the Bronx, but I’m from Colombia.
Are you a racer?
I’ve raced a lot in Colombia. It’s very hilly over there.
I love the colorful outfit and the Colnago bike.
It’s the King of the Mountain!
That’s right. Just like the polka-dotted jersey of the Tour de France.
I have a number of bikes. This is the one I chose for today.
Are you planning to go super-fast up the hills?
No, not at all. Today I’m just going to go slow and take it easy.
This is your first time on the Tour de Bronx?
This is my first time.
Are you from the Bronx?
I’m from Manhattan, born and bred. I used to be a junior cyclist — junior pro, category 3.
Have you ever done the Red Hook Criterium?
I did. It was fun.
Did you qualify?
I didn’t qualify. There was a point where I had to give up biking and focus on working up the professional curve. Now, finally, I can say that I have time that’s my own. So I’m getting into it.
What’s your profession?
I’m an investment banker.
Do you ride to work?
I used to, at an old job where they had a bike room in the building. Now I don’t. I ride in Central Park, on the Hudson Greenway. Now that the greenways are being developed all around the city, it’s a great place to ride and I love doing it.
Do you ride to Bear Mountain?
I’ve taken a train and ridden up there on my mountain bike.
Do you feel safe on the streets?
Of course. If you’re a born and bred New Yorker, then you’re used to dodging cars in the streets. Bike lanes are important, obviously. But cars still are going to turn. The way to be safe is by paying attention — whether you are in a lane or in traffic, it’s about paying attention.
Is this your first time doing the race?
Are you from the Bronx?
Do you guys ride to work?
I’m a building inspector, and I do ride to work. I work all over the Bronx and sometimes to Manhattan.
Do you feel safe riding on the roads?
For the most part, yes. The bike lanes aren’t as numerous as in other boroughs, but it’s getting there.
How about you? Do you bike to work?
No, just for fun.
I really like your bike! Is that tape you’ve wrapped around the frame?
Yes. It’s an acquired taste. I did it by hand.
What’s your profession?
I’m an architect. We’re both architects, actually.
So are we!
Why are you riding today?
I want to see the Bronx.
It’s my ancestral homeland; I grew up here.
I’ve always wanted to tour the Bronx too. That’s why I’m here.
Where do you live now?
We live on Long Island. We drove in with Hal. We van-pooled.
Do you ride out on Long Island?
All the time. The three of us — not necessarily together.
When I think of Long Island I think of car culture. How do you feel about that as cyclists?
You have to be careful.
You have to be tough-minded. Just like you drive defensively, you have to ride defensively and anticipate the things motorists do. Sometimes you also need to anticipate the things pedestrians do.
One of the things you have to do is look for alternate routes that don’t have a lot of traffic on them.
So you guys are car drivers too, right?
How do you deal with bikes?
We try to run them off the road. (Laughter)
Driver behavior has to be changed. We want to get a three-foot law passed. It’s good for everybody. We tried last year but we didn’t succeed. We’re going to try again this year.
Why do you think it didn’t succeed last year?
Just not enough interest from elected officials.
Favorite part of the Tour de Bronx?
We’ve never done it before.
What did you do with your bike?
This one is a 1930’s bike. Everything here is original.
What do you do for a job?
What’s your favorite thing about the Tour de Bronx?
To enjoy the day and enjoy the Bronx.
Where are you from?
I live in the Bronx, on Gun Hill Road.
What do you do?
I’m in sales. I travel a lot around the Northeast and Southeast.
That’s a great bike. It looks like a track bike. Are you a racer?
No — I’m a regular girl.
Where are you from?
I’m from Jersey.
Have you ever done the Tour de Bronx before?
This is my first time.
Do you normally ride a unicycle?
Always — it’s interesting. There are always new things to learn.
Do you ever commute on the unicycle?
I have, but I’m a programmer. I usually work from home.
What do you do?
No such thing. We’re always riding a bike. (Laughter)
Where do you live?
Midwood, and Coney Island, on the same block.
Where do you usually ride?
Do you like bike lanes?
Not in the city. Definitely not. The road is so cracked. They need to fix the roads.
What’s your favorite part of this ride?
There are some bad parts. The worst are the bikers doing willies — the teenagers. They go out in the beginning. Last year someone got injured.
Nice to see you here in the Bronx, Chuck.
We love doing this ride. Yonkers is New York’s sixth borough. The Bronx is our next door neighbor.
Yonkers is well represented here. We’ve seen so many Yonkers Bike Club jackets today — they’re bright orange so they’re hard to miss. What do you like about this ride?
It’s great to see the landscape. Riding the Bronx is actually relaxing compared to Yonkers. Yonkers can be so hilly, with all its ridges.
There’s a great feeling of camaraderie on this ride today — so many different people and groups here. We even saw a unicyclist doing the tour, making his way down the Grand Concourse.
When I was at Yale, I played in the Precision Marching Band. At hockey games, we would go onto the ice riding unicycles, either juggling or playing instruments. I would switch off between playing a triangle and a tuba. The ice was so slippery — you had to be really skilled not to fall.
Where are you based?
Right now, I’m stationed in Yonkers.
Have you participated in the Tour de Bronx before?
No, this is my first time; some of the friends that I kayak with decided to get together and do the ride.
What’s your favorite portion of the ride?
I’ve kayaked down the Bronx River in the past. I’m used to being in the water, experiencing the river on the same horizontal plane that it’s flowing. So, when the ride takes us along the new bike lanes in the South Bronx it’s such a pleasure to see the Bronx River from above, from a different perspective.
Yes, it’s great to experience the recently completed Starlight Park along the Bronx River Greenway.
On your business card, right below your name, it states “Knit Quilt Kayak Bicycle.” Initially we were imagining you riding some sort of combo bicycle-kayak, knitting and quilting all at once. How are these activities related? Is this an organization that you’ve put together?
I’m retired now, so I was just rushing to put something on my business card. Let’s put it this way: it’s not an organization, it’s not a composition of that sort. Rather, it’s my motto. I do often, however, have a knitting project when I embark on a longer kayaking or cycling excursion.
Do you feel safe cycling in New York City?
It’s definitely true that I prefer bike trails to cycling in the street. I grew up in Detroit, the Motor City, so it’s not as though I’m not used to cycling in traffic, but too many motorists in New York City either aren’t aware of or don’t care about cyclists. In comparison, a city like Seattle feels almost Dutch: motorists seem to have the same respect, or at least some concern, for cyclists as they do in the Netherlands. Of course, there are changes that could be made in New York City in regard to cycling, but ultimately any step or measure that gets people moving helps. Cycling, or any alternative mode of transportation, is important to us, not just as a city, but as human beings. Not only does it create connections among the community, but on an even more vital level it helps us understand how our bodies work.
What are your names?
My name is Tom.
I’m Twisted700. I’m from the Bronx, NY.
I’m Deeprox from Planet Earth, aka Harlem.
My name is Rahm I’m from Soundview.
Al, from the Heights.
What do you enjoy most about the Tour de Bronx?
This tour — I join it every time. This is fourth year I’ve ridden in it. I love it. All the kids riding, the music, it’s a great day. It’s a nice organized ride for everyone to come out and ride for free.
What’s your name, and where are you from?
They call me Jordan but my name is Bundy. I live in the Bronx — Southern Boulevard at 175th Street.
What’s your favorite part of the Tour de Bronx?
This is my third year riding this race and my favorite part is here on City Island.
What do you do when you’re not on this ride?
My job? I deliver food, on bike. You have to get used to it because cars don’t know what they’re doing. You need to babysit them. The driver can make a right turn without you knowing it and it will cost you. You have to be alert at all times. Some bikers aren’t used to that. I’m so used to riding with the cars and figuring out the patterns. You have to learn the pattern.
The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.