The history of Bike New York is the history of the Five Boro Bike Tour. It all started with an audacious plan to take a group of high schoolers on a ride across New York City in February 1977, the daylong-ride culmination of a bike safety program organized by American Youth Hostels (AYH). The original concept of the ride was to allow the students to practice what they had learned over the course of the program. Most recreational rides at the time took place in the countryside, but this one would explore and celebrate the urban landscape.
The 50-mile ride started at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, went through Brooklyn to Staten Island, and then, after a quick ferry trip, up through Manhattan and the Bronx before ending back at Flushing Meadows. There was no entry fee and only one sponsor, Nathan’s, which gave out hot dogs and sodas at the ride’s one and only rest stop in the Bronx. The ride was so successful that AYH organizers decided to do it again the following year, and the year after that, and every year after that until 1999. By then, the event was too big for AYH to handle on its own – they did have a hostel to run! – so they created Bike New York to handle the tour in 2000.
The TD Five Boro Bike Tour is now the world’s largest charitable bike ride, with 32,000 participants. Since 2005, the annual Tour has funded Bike New York’s free bike education program, which teaches bike skills to tens of thousands of kids and adults each year. We operate our classes out of shipping containers situated in more than a dozen paved, flat, car-free spaces throughout the five boroughs. In these containers (called Community Bike Education Centers, or CBECs), we store a fleet of bikes, helmets, and the equipment we need to host classes. In 2014 alone, we taught bike skills to more than 16,000 New Yorkers.
In 2013, we received a grant from a private family foundation to bring our programming to Roosevelt Island. The mission of the Roosevelt Island Pilot Program is to raise the profile of cycling as the most efficient and practical method of transportation for residents and visitors on Roosevelt Island. We now have two CBECs on the Island. There’s a location at Sportspark where, for the first time ever, we’re able to offer year-round programming thanks to RIOC and the Sportspark staff, who have graciously allowed us to use the gym for classes. During the warmer months, we move operations to our outdoor CBEC under the helix ramp, and classes are held at the basketball court next to Capobianco Field.
Through our programs and events on the Island, we hope to become a Roosevelt Island mainstay. Last year, we introduced residents to our organization through classes and various events, including a free bike-maintenance pop-up shop, resident-only classes, and a spring kickoff party. One of our most popular events last season was the Summer Ride Series, where we lent our bikes and helmets to residents and took them on rides around the Island. We also ventured off-Island to Randall’s Island and Summer Streets in Manhattan. We look forward to doing another Ride Series this season!
Since being on Roosevelt Island, we’ve enjoyed partnering with local organizations, businesses, and schools. In May 2014, we invited the Roosevelt Island Youth Program Drum Corps to perform at our spring kickoff party. In June, we worked with the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association to organize a community art event in which we painted our white storage container under the helix ramp. In November, we went on a guided historic ride with the Roosevelt Island Historical Society. We’ve also worked with the Beacon program at PS/IS 217 and The Child School to offer after-school and summer-camp programming. On Wednesdays, we partner with The Child School for their Wacky Wednesday program. Under the guidance of our instructors, kids learn how to ride, work on their bike skills, go on rides, and learn basic bike-maintenance techniques. It’s our first time doing weekday programming, and we hope to replicate this model at our other centers throughout the city.
Right now, we’re gearing up for a full schedule of events on the Island. At the end of March, we’ll be hosting a series of presentations to introduce ourselves and our mission to residents. The presentations will include safety tips for riding a bike on the Island. Light refreshments will be provided, along with some giveaways. We are also in the midst of planning the Second Annual Spring Kickoff Party. Mark your calendars for Saturday, May 30th! All our programs and events are designed to educate people on best practices for cycling and to help make Roosevelt Island a more bike-friendly community.
For a complete listing of our classes, please visit www.bike.nyc/education.