An EDM version of “Treasure” by Bruno Mars blared through the speakers to pump up the crowd for the bike ride ahead. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. started the countdown and the first group of cyclists, the 40 milers, were off followed by my group, the 25 milers.
Sunday, October 22nd marked the 23rd Annual Tour de Bronx, New York State’s largest free cycling event. I joined with more than 6000 people who trekked up the steep urban terrain of the Grand Concourse to take part in Tour de Bronx. Some 2000+ avid riders tackled the scenic 40 mile route through City Island, Orchard Beach, Woodlawn Cemetery and more. While those choosing the casual 25 mile course rode through several lovely Bronx parks.
Riders from all over New York City, visitors from New Jersey, Connecticut and a few participants from out of the country were greeted by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. He spoke highly of the birthplace of doo-wop, salsa and hip hop, and also reminded us that the tour was an opportunity to make strides in #Not62, a collaborative campaign for a healthier Bronx by 2020. #Not62 was created after the release of the 2014 Robert Wood Johnson County Health Ranking Report which ranked the Bronx the unhealthiest county; last of 62 counties.
I spoke with riders who participated in Tour de Bronx for many years, one rider mentioned this was his seventh year. Another rider told me this was her comeback after a few years hiatus. For me, the novice, Tour de Bronx was an opportunity for a new experience and to view the Bronx from a new perspective.
My favorite route was the Soundview Greenway, a trail along the Bronx River. The sun bounced off the river while golden brown leaves fell from the trees, it was the perfect view to complement the unusually warm mid-October morning.
Some riders pedaled past me, the bikes they rode were as diverse as the crowd. Unicycles, bikes with the thickest tires I’d ever seen, some that looked like motorcycles, and bikes made for two, carried the young and the old, experienced and the novice. Together we shared this experience. The unity was palpable.
That feeling began for me after I carried my bike up the steps to the Lexington Avenue bound 4 train platform and spotted a few riders on their way. It grew as I exited the train at 161-Yankee Stadium and saw the sea of people rolling their bikes out of every train car. It grew even more still along the way to the finish line. Bronx residents encouraged us almost every step of the way with signs. Some shouted, “Keep going! Don't quit!” This was the fuel I needed to keep going.
I crossed the finish line and received my trophy, a t-shirt commemorating the 23rd ride. We sat in a large grassy field in The New York Botanical Garden enjoying the music festival and a free slice of pizza courtesy of Domino’s. My legs felt like jelly but It was worth it.
Putting yourself in new situations is a great way to learn about yourself and the world around you. It connects you with people you may not otherwise meet. I gained two new bike riding partners that day. They’ve invited me to do a 40 mile ride with them, my acceptance is pending. But I don’t doubt that I can do it, Tour de Bronx was a testament that I could.