Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Tour de Bronx

The Bronx is New York’s poorest and poorest served borough. It also has the worst socioeconomic and health indicators in the city. But on the annual Tour de Bronx, the 17th version of which was held last Sunday, one gets a chance to see a very livable place with dozens of cozy neighborhoods where rent doesn’t cost your left, um, eye.

Unlike other organized rides that occur during the warm months from May to October that can cost up to $100 a person, this one is free. Sponsors include the borough itself and several of the largest hospitals in the Bronx, like Montefiore, Bronx Lebanon and St Barnabas, all eager to support anything that will get people moving and using up calories. My very own Transportation Alternatives, the most professionally managed nonprofit I’ve ever come across in a lifetime of do-gooderism, is another proud partner.

Sunday was an ideal autumn day, cool and partly overcast. Five thousand bikes set off from the courthouse on Grand Concourse around 10.30, late for a biking event, and pedaled through Soundview and along the waterfront to City Island (check out the 2010 Andy Garcia film of the same name, it’s amusing and was partially shot there) for a rest stop at Orchard Beach, the ‘Bronx Riviera’ [above]. It’s easy to forget amid our urban frenzy that the city is built on water; beaches abound, even up here. Staten Island also has a nice one that no outsiders know about.

The spirit at these mass cycling events is quite unusual, in my experience, friendly and laid back despite the rigors of getting to the finish line, marvelously diverse even for New York and remarkably uncompetitive notwithstanding the 80/20 male/female ratio. (Woman at rest stop: ‘I can’t believe the lines are longer for the men’s room!’) Mechanical assistance is readily available for the asking; a friendly sort pumped up my sagging tires at the merest hint of cyclist-in-distress.

All the boroughs except Manhattan itself now have these annual bike tours, relatively leisurely events covering 20 to 40 miles and ideal for a family outing. With cops stopping traffic at key intersections, one gets to sail through the city streets without performing death-defying acts of heroism and has a chance to explore neighborhoods hitherto unknown. (Example: SUNY Maritime is located under the Throgs Neck bridge in an old naval fort—who knew?) They aren’t fund-raising affairs, and you don’t have to be drumming up support for anyone’s disease. It’s just a bike ride.

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