Casey Ashenhurst is no stranger to cycling in NYC. She’s Director of WE Bike NYC, an organization of women who aim to break down barriers to cycling and build community by offering free social rides, training rides, and educational workshops. She’s an every-day commuter, regularly goes on group rides with WE Bike NYC, and has cycled in the TD Five Boro Bike Tour more than a few times. Casey’s Mom, Jenny, is more accustomed to cycling the wide open roads around her home in the midwest at an easy pace.
After years of hearing about Casey’s experience riding the car-free streets of NYC in the Tour, Jenny decided to add it to her “biking bucket list.” In 2014 she joined the WE Bike NYC Team with Casey, packed up her folding Bike Friday, and hopped on a plane to NYC. It was a special and once-in-a-lifetime experience for this mother-daughter duo, and one that they’ll always remember. Below, they’ve shared their experience and offered tips for having a fun and memorable Tour.
THE LONG PREP
I’ve done a fair number of rides that are this many miles, and with that experience, I knew that the main thing in terms of training was to make sure I was riding enough beforehand. Since I had sat out the winter, I started riding regularly two or three times a week as soon as weather allowed, and then every weekend I would do about 20 miles or more if I had the time, just to make sure I would be in shape. I wish I had done a little more hills practice. My area of the country is flat as a dime, and NYC was a little hillier than I thought because of all the bridges.
The other main thing was making sure I knew how to pack up my bike and to put it together. If you’re shipping a bike, do it early enough, and make sure you know how to pack it up/ unpack it— practice!
I made a list of what I needed bike-wise (clothes, tools, etc.) early to make sure I had everything and could get what I needed well before flying out. I packed early to make sure everything would fit. I also have knee issues, and I didn’t want that to ruin the day, so I made sure to bring what I needed for that, like the different braces that I might need with varying levels of support if it became a problem. Basically, don’t assume that everything is going to work perfectly, so make sure to build in time to do everything early.
I’d done the ride already, so I knew some of what to expect, and did everything I could to be a resource to my mom in terms of how to train and what to bring. I’d already gotten my bike tuned up, and had a shop lined up in case we couldn’t quite get her bike put together by ourselves, knowing that the weekend of the ride, shops are slammed with people trying to get their bikes serviced for the ride. That’s my one big prep tip — be kind to your local bike shop, and make sure to give yourself ample time to get your bike in shape before the tour!
“That’s my one big prep tip — be kind to your local bike shop, and make sure to give yourself ample time to get your bike in shape before the Tour!”
Given that my mom was at a different fitness-level and would be riding a foldable bike, I wanted to make sure she had other resources and folks to bounce things off of than just me. The WE Bike NYC team was great for that—she was able to see that the ride really is for all kinds of riders, and it made her feel more comfortable knowing that in addition to me, there was a whole group of ladies who could answer her questions and give her advice.
THE NIGHT BEFORE & MORNING OF
Going through everything we were going to wear or carry the night before made early morning rising easier. Get to bed early! I couldn’t stay up all night just because it’s NYC and I was hyped. Morning of the ride was a really early start and I am so glad because I wanted to stop and get pictures on the ride in to the starting area. I wanted to savor every part because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get to do it again! Also, I was nervous at first in the traffic of the city, so leaving extra time helped my nerves, and we were not rushing to be on time.
“Get to bed early! I couldn’t stay up all night just because it’s NYC and I was hyped.”
The WE Bike NYC group meet-up was great. I bought one of the tee shirts and wearing it helped make me feel like I belonged and was part of a group. I had time to meet each team member, so when I saw them along the way (or flying past me!) I knew who they were and could say “hi.” Riding with a group is great because they were experienced and could help orient me to how this mega-ride works.
Assume that the whole thing is basically going to take you all day and plan accordingly. On the night before, figure out what you’re going to wear (layers, layers, layers) and lay it out, review the bag size restrictions and other things you can or can’t bring with you (and especially make sure to bring an extra tube), plan your route to the starting point, make sure you have an ‘exit’ strategy, and get a good night’s sleep!
That morning, make sure to eat something even if you are not normally an early-morning breakfast person, give yourself enough time to get to the starting point, and if you’re riding with a buddy, make sure you’re on the same page about hill strategies (if I was spinning faster up a hill, I’d wait for my mom at the bottom) and what to do if you get separated (my mom and I decided that we’d wait for each other at the next rest stop).
“If you’re riding with a buddy make sure you’re on the same page about hill strategies (if I was spinning faster up a hill, I’d wait for my mom at the bottom) and what to do if you get separated (my mom and I decided that we’d wait for each other at the next rest stop).”
DURING THE RIDE
I get nervous in huge crowds, so pacing was important. As an older rider, I didn’t want people rushing me and I needed to feel like I had some elbow room, and could get myself comfortable enough to actually enjoy the scenes of the city. Knowing how many rest stops, and eating as you go for energy was important. Making sure to take the breaks allowed me to catch up with most of the girls – it was good because I didn’t feel like I was by myself. There was a lot of wind on the final climb up the Verrazano and I was pretty slow, but when I rounded the corner at the end of the ride the WE Bike NYC group had waited …that made my day for sure. The gathering for a meal after the ferry ride was also fun. I enjoyed hearing other people’s experiences and stories of their day.
Easy does it. The Five Boro is a fantastic experience, but it’s a big ride with a lot of people. There’s going to be bottlenecks, and times that the ride, your ride buddy, or your bike might make things slower going than you might normally like, but there’s no “winning” the Five Boro – so why try to make it a race? On my previous Tours, I did a little bit too much zooming through certain areas and missed seeing some stuff (the lattice work on the Queensboro Bridge from the upper deck is stunning), so it was really great to ride with my mom and be forced to mellow out a little pace-wise. You’re going to get to ride on roads and bridges that aren’t bikeable any other time, so take a minute to really appreciate where you are. Go to your zen place, pace yourself, and take the opportunity to enjoy the scenery!
“Go to your zen place, pace yourself, and take the opportunity to enjoy the scenery!”
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
The Tour met every expectation I had and more. Riding through the city, with people you have things in common with (biking), is so much fun because everyone is there to have a good time. Then while you’re riding, to look up and see the boulevards, buildings, and the parks is spectacular. People can’t see the city that way with driving, and walking is so much slower so you wouldn’t see as much. Plus, riding on the BQE on a bike, I mean, now that was really great!
My mom and I had a great time, and I really loved being able to share this experience with her. I was super proud of her for having this goal and making it happen. That I got to pedal along side her during such a special ride was really amazing. I’ll have that memory forever!