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32,000 cyclists ride in 37th Annual 5 Boro Bike Tour, biggest bike event in US

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Jennifer Kauffman, a 42-year-old certified coach, teacher and speaker, is riding to show her mettle as a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that caused her to miss the 2013 Bike Tour (she also trained for the 2014 Boston Marathon).

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Gurbeer Singh is riding in his second TD Five Boro Bike Tour with a group of Sikhs based in Jersey City, NJ, with a particular purpose: to highlight Sikhism as a peace-loving religion that believes in equality.

They are just two of more than 32,000 people who came together Sunday in this 40-mile long festival that is the 37th Annual TD Five Boro Bike Tour - the largest cycling event in the country.

They came from all 50 states and 65 countries - more than 3000 riders came from abroad.

The TD Five Boro Bike Tour also is the largest charity bike event in the world - this Sunday's event raised $1 million for various causes, with 1000 of the riders raising money for a cause.

Bike New York, which is one of the key organizers of the Five Boro Bike Tour, is a non-profit that uses proceeds from the event to hold free bicycling educational programs in all five boroughs and also promote safe biking. It also partners with 45 charitable organizations for the tour which raise money on their own for various worthy causes. Individual participants have some amazing stories of their own including riders who have recently survived bouts of cancer, just underwent an organ transplant or had to overcome a giant obstacle in order to join Bike New York for the tour.

Most come for one of the most thrilling ways to spend a day in New York City, a day when bicycles take over the streets and you get to ride places you are not otherwise allowed: the FDR Highway, the roadways of the iconic 59th Street (Queensborough) Bridge, the Verrazano Bridge.

It is a 40-mile long festival - with music, refreshments - and one long smile.

It is a heady experience to actually take over the city streets - a sense of incredible control. But it also brings you in an intimate way into New York's diverse neighborhoods - at a pace and perspective where you can really appreciate the communities.

"Grab life by the handlebars, we like to say," Ken Podziba, CEO and President of Bike New York, said in launching the ride.

This year's ride also showcased a lot more entertainment which cheered the riders every few miles - showing off the character and spirit of each borough and making for a festival atmosphere all along the route.

They were: Good Morning Nags who played at 1 Exchange Plaza; Cornell Brothers at Church & Murray; Frank Ocasio Brother Band at Father Demo Square; Music with a Message at W20th & 6th; Diamonds in Jupiter at W32 & 6th; The Jonzes at @ 43 & 6th; Cheer NY at 55th & 6th; Angela Missy Billups at 125 St & Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd; Inner Roots at 135 St & 5th; Bomba Yo at 138 St & Rider Avenue; Across the Aisle at 38th Avenue & 21st in Queens; Jose Conde at Astoria Park; Thaddeus Strauss at Socrates Sculpture Park; Dancin' Machine at Con Ed Learning Center; The Clubs at 11 St & 46 Rd; Giant flying Turtles at 41st Avenue & Vernon Blvd.; Triskelion Arts at Calyer & Franklin Ave.; and Bonnie Brae Knights at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Riders had to contend with strong winds and chilly weather, which was particularly challenging on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Verrazano Bridge.

But it is the diversity of the city, its variety and richness that you appreciate so much riding a bicycle.

Riding through the canyons of 6th Avenue, into Central Park where you are greeted with pastel-colored blossoms of springtime, into Harlem and over the Pulaski Bridge - surreal view of riding through the FDR overpass, then through the Queensborough (59th Street) Bridge, wrapping around a 270-degree turn with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop.

Into Queens, under the Triboro Bridge, and along the waterfront, through modest neighborhoods and over the bridge under the sign that says "Like No Other Place in the World" so you know you have arrived in Brooklyn. Here the contrasts roll by from neighborhood to neighborhood, under the Williamsburg Bridge, and then the Manhattan Bridge into the hip Dumbo neighborhood (best view: the Empire State building frame din the arch of the Manhattan Bridge), and prettiest of all, the Brooklyn Bridge, where there is a waterfront park that lets you take in the full beauty of NYC.

After Brooklyn Bridge (which can provide an exit back into Manhattan), you have an hour almost entirely uphill, onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway where the ride is the most physically challenging, onto the Verrazano Bridge which has the first mile entirely uphill, with the wind pushing us over.

And then into the festival site. But the ride isn't really over, there is still another five miles or so through Staten Island to the Staten Island Ferry. Now you relax and enjoy the ride and the view of lower Manhattan.

Once there, most of us still had to bike further- but here we divide up, go our own separate ways, and it feels strange. I take the gorgeous Hudson River Park Trail up to 34th street - along with dozens of other riders - and across back east to Penn Station.

The ride has come a long way from 1977, when the 5 Boro Challenge (as it was known then) had just 250 riders.

What is most impressive is how well organized it is in terms of the routes and the way the roads are closed, and especially with 2000 volunteers who keep the riders on the right trail, provide water and refreshments, assist riders if they have problems.

It's one of the most remarkable events anywhere, and, as Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, who joined the ride, "one of the premier events in New York City" - which is saying a lot for the city that never sleeps.

This year's ride made a statement for sustainability, becoming the first sporting event in New York City certified by the Council for Responsible Sport.

To achieve this certification, the ride organizers collaborated with NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection to provide fresh NYC drinking water to the riders (who all brought their own reusable bottles), eliminating the use of more than 4,400 gallons of bottled water and tens of thousands of plastic bottles; providing environmentally-friendly ultra green bike plates, newly designed helmet covers, Tyvek bibs and 3,000 organic cotton T-shirts for staff and volunteers; donating all leftover food to City Harvest, a non-profit in NY who feeds the hungry. More than 60 percent of the waste will be diverted from land fill.

“Our goal is for this certification to encourage other organizations and events to join us on this essential green path to sustainability,” says Ken Podziba, CEO and President of Bike New York. “We firmly believe there are many groups out there who care about our planet and its future to the point that they’d be willing to invest their time and financial resources into these efforts simply because it’s the right thing to do. We look forward to the day when responsibly produced events are the norm and certification is a thing of the past.”

For more information on the TD Five Boro Bike Tour along with Bike New York’s programs and charitable partners, visit www.bikenewyork.org.

See a slideshow to get the feeling for the ride.

Karen Rubin, National Eclectic Travel Examiner

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