Yesterday was the 5 borough bike tour which I participated in for the first time in my 15 years of bike riding in New York. I had a really good time and hooked up with a great bunch of people from various age groups, bike riding abilities and political affiliations (towards biking).
I understand the political debate about this ride and why bike activists shy away from what would appear to be a great space for cyclists and for bike riding in general. The notion that you would have to pay for an event to participate in an activity which you might do on a daily basis seems unnerving to some bike riders, especially when other groups try and promote community by having free bike events. On top of that, there is a political climate in NYC where bike riding is criminalized and normal daily bike infrastructure is often ignored. Critical Mass is the big sticking point and the city does a great job of trying to make a distinction between good bike riding and bad bike riding. Critical mass also divides the bike activists…those who want to work with the city and not piss off their sponsors and those that believe in direct action and taking matters into their own hands. It is an endless debate. In my opinion the 5 boor bike tour is a great for bikes, so you have to pay a little money…you get to ride on major road ways never imagined such as the FDR, Belt Parkway and lets not forget about all the free bananas you can eat. The money is also put to good use with security, marshals, first aid and a large group of paid staff facilitating the ride. The problem is that that thousands of people in attendance, and it is big, may not think about biking any longer than it takes to put the bikes in the Hummer and drive off to the suburbs. They may not think about the daily commuter who is at risk of being killed by a garbage truck that doesn’t see them for 28 blocks and not get any fines and never finish those bike lanes. But hey, you can’t make people care. Also it plays into the cities hands when you have these official events and makes you cater to the authority, the same authority that feels its ok to allow cops to tackle people on a free bike ride in the city that doesn’t need to apply for a permit. It sets the standard of what bike riding “should be…” Permitted, helmeted, controlled and only big once a year as long as everyone follows the rules and gives money to Con Ed. It gives the city officials a bench mark to say, “Why can’t all your events be like that nice 5 borough bike ride?” But alas I am cynical. Like I said, I had a really good time, I would do it again. I support all things for the bicycle, but those Hummer bikes have really got to go. It’s like Marlboro making a clean air filter.
Video is coming soon!