Six years ago I got into cycling. I would normally ride by myself, or maybe with a friend. I loved the freedom that cycling brought, and the exploration that it allowed. Some of the rides that I continue to lead today, The Dead Pool and Ramblersville, were the result of these early rides. When I first found out about the 5BBC - my initial reaction was NO. I do not like group rides. I am a lone wolf. But, I did try it - and immediately discovered that riding in groups was indeed enjoyable. Here is what I learned.
FRIENDSHIP - We are indeed the Friendliest Bike Club. Before the ride starts, you see everyone milling about, enthusiastically greeting one another. We truly represent the diversity that is New York. We are not a "boys club", as some of our stronger riders have always been women. We come from all races and backgrounds. We have all sorts of different jobs and economic backgrounds. Some of us are gay, and some are straight. This is an amazingly accepting club, as long as you are not a jerk - welcome aboard. We are, however, one of the more sarcastic groups that I have ever encountered. But, the teasing is always good natured. One of the things that I love is when we break for lunch. I have found that it does not matter where I sit. There is no "cool table". Whatever group I end up with, I am surrounded by friends. I have also observed that new riders are not shunted to the side - they are brought into the group and made to feel a part of the whole. Of course, as in any family, there are occasional disagreements. But six years later - these are my closest friends - my cycling family.
DISCOVERY - New York and its environs are a big place - and nobody - not even Ed DeFraites, knows it all. I am a Brooklyn boy. I thought I knew every inch of the borough. Then Bill Mastro took me to "The Hole." Even in my own back yard, there are places that I had not known about. As a leader, I have turned my curiosity about the City into numerous rides. Along the way I have visited The Hall of Fame for Great Americans in the Bronx. Stepped inside the 17th Century Manee Seguine Homestead in Staten Island. Saw magnificent stained glass mausoleums at the Calvary Cemetery in Queens. After a while, what you discover is that you can find your way back from odd areas of Da Bronx without a cue sheet. And, you do not get so turned around with the diabolic street system that is Queens. In addition to the urban adventures, the club has taken me to the quiet back roads of New Jersey and the Gold Coast of Long Island. In leading a ride to Mamaroneck - I discovered that you can go home again. As a leader - i have found that when I am interested in something, I can be sure that there will be others interested in seeing it as well. As a tripper - I have been continually impressed by other leaders' routes and knowledge.
FOOD - You cannot talk about the 5BBC without discussing food. Our club celebrates the diverse culinary scene that makes New York special. From vegetarian Indian food at the Ganesh Temple, to Kosher pastrami at the Mill Basin Deli, we take in the entire breadth of the NY food scene. I have had amazing latkes at Killmeyers in Staten Island. The best blintzes I ever ate -including my grandmas - were at the Polish Slavic Center in Greenpoint. Spicy jerk chicken at The Feeding Tree by Yankee Stadium, and amazing Pho in Kingsbridge. Empandas at a hole in the wall in Corona. Pancakes in New Jersey. Night rides to the paninni place in Bensonhurst. On a hot summer day, what could be better than watching the boats go by from the deck at Paddy's By the Bay in the Bronx. I also remember an especially cold winter ride - where the lunch stop was at Cafe Glechik for some hot borscht and palmeni. And yeah, we do occasionally stop for pizza. It's no wonder why the number one question you hear on a ride is "when is lunch?
SAFETY - Every ride we do starts with the two minute bike check - making sure that we are riding a safe machine. Our leaders are attuned to the unique skill set that is required in group riding. What are the best and safest routes for the group to follow? How do we safely navigate that tricky intersection? As riders, we help each other by calling out hazards - GLASS, DOOR. HOLE. Through the point, drop, sweep system, we ensure that individuals in the group can ride at their own comfort level, while at the same time keeping the group together. But, accidents do happen. And when they do, we have trained leaders who make sure that both you and your bike are secure.
I still like my solitary rides. Last week, I had a wonderful solo night ride back from Ridgewood, Queens. But there is something about riding with the 5BBC that makes every ride enjoyable. I mean, what's not to like? I am riding with my closest friends, seeing someplace interesting, eating a great meal, and getting in some great exercise as well. Perhaps most importantly - I am having fun. Not a bad deal for the $25 membership fee.