I like to keep my promises.
If I say I’m meeting you for coffee at 10 a.m., driving you to a doctor’s appointment at 1 p.m. or coming to your party at 7:30 p.m., I’ll be there.
So when my sister Diane and I made plans to ride in this year’s 5 Boro Bike Tour in New York City, I was all in, weather be damned. When you make plans with someone, there’s a covenant. You will be there come hell or high water.
But what I’ve learned after cycling three hours in the soaking rain and a flat tire on my bike in Brooklyn that halted my ride after 25 miles is sometimes things are not meant to be, and there’s a reason for rain dates. Sometimes, bailing is the best course of action.
My friend Steve, who has participated in seven of these rides, wisely decided to stay home because of the rain. A lot of other people who registered for the 42nd annual event also bailed, making the course a lot less crowded than last year.
Here are a few more lessons from our horrendous ride:
- Sometimes Weather.com is right.
- You can’t take the easy way out.
- Expensive does not mean better.
- Rules are meant to be broken.
- Things that sound fun in your mind often fall short in reality.
- There is no substitute for warm dry clothing, or shelter from the rain.
- The worst thing in the world is being wet and cold.
- There is nothing more uncomfortable than wet socks.
- Riding a bike in the rain is miserable.
- Rain ponchos are a wonderful invention, and I probably should have invested in one.
- Some New York City police officers would rather chat with each other than help you.
- When someone says, “You can’t do anything about the rain,” you can tell them that you can by staying inside.
- My AAA membership is worth every penny.
- You never know when you’ll find a knight in shining armor.
This year’s tour was a little doomed from the start. The shifting mechanism on my road bike is broken, and when I tried to bring it in for repairs, two bike shops told me they couldn’t fix it for about two weeks.
I decided to rent a bike from Unlimited Biking in NYC. And as long as I was renting, I decided to go big: a Cannondale Quick Neo E-Bike, which retails for about $3,500. I’ve never been on a $3,500 bike and I was curious. This seemed like a good excuse to see how the other half lives.
I’d never heard of an e-bike, but they’re the latest rage because they combine the speed of a road (racing) bike with the stability of a mountain bike. The bike frame and tires are thick and muscular like my old Trek mountain bike, but the bike moves like the wind because of a battery that helps you out if, and when, you want.
E-bikes are bicycles with a battery-powered “assist” that comes from pedaling and, in some cases, a throttle. When you push the pedals on a pedal-assist e-bike, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can zip up hills and cruise over tough terrain.
I wanted to try an e-bike for a few reasons. The first and most important was the fatigue factor. I knew I could cover the 40-mile course, but I didn’t want to be paying the price in my joints for three weeks. I have arthritis, and sometimes overexertion can thrust me into several weeks of pain, exhaustion and regret. My feet ached for weeks after a 5K in early February, reminding me that I need to be careful.
The second was safety and comfort. I’m always a little nervous on my road bike in crowded events, where cyclists move in and out of traffic and cut you off without warning. I also wanted upright handlebars that allowed me to sit up straight rather than hunch forward for four hours.
Diane fell off her bike and hurt her hand in a tunnel when the cyclist in front of her suddenly stopped, and she was still clipped into her pedals. Three cyclists crashed into each other going down a hill and hit a cement barrier. I wanted to come home in one piece.
On the bright side, the e-bike delivered on comfort and speed, and is hands-down the best bike I’ve ever been on. It’s an incredibly fun ride. I put it in sports mode, and pedaled with ease, surging past riders trudging up hills. It was hard to fully appreciate its speed because of the number of riders on the road and frequent stops, but it’s fast and would make commuting to work or covering a long ride a breeze.
But my e-bike got a flat at about mile 25 just as we entered the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. I called the Unlimited Biking’s help number and was told no one was available to help me in Brooklyn. She advised finding a tour volunteer or bike shop and having it fixed. Yea, right.
At this point, all I really wanted to do was get rid of the broken bike and go home. Diane, who was by this time shivering in the rain, felt the same way.
I considered taxis, Uber or the subway when I thought of AAA. I had a disabled vehicle that I needed towed. Would they consider coming out for a bike?
Turns out, they would. AAA Northeast has been servicing bicycles for about 5 years. As a member, I’m entitled to two free bike tows of up to 10 miles each year. I decided to cash in on the first of my free tows, never being more relieved to be a AAA member than at that very moment.
I know a lot of people who’ve dropped AAA because their cars come with free roadside service, but we’ve kept our membership and I’m glad we did. There is no more helpless feeling than having a disabled bike, making the bike towing service worth the cost of membership.
Our AAA driver Robert arrived as promised at 1:03 p.m., and was a prince. He ordered us inside the cab to warm up while he dealt with the bikes. He figured out how to get us back to Battery Park while avoiding streets closed due to the bike tour, and assured us he’d help us find a bike drop off spot when we went to the wrong place.
“How are you going to get to your car from the bike drop-off?” he asked.
“I hate to break this to you Robert, but I was hoping you would give us a ride,” I said.
What a guy. Robert, who’s been a AAA driver for about 14 years, told us to relax, that he’d take us to our car after we dropped off the broken e-bike. And he did, delivering us to the parking garage near Battery Park where we we set off with such high hopes about six hours earlier.
I’ve since learned that I’m one of six cyclists whose rental bikes got flats on Sunday. I’ve also learned that there were far fewer bike mechanics at Sunday’s event than there should have been.
An Unlimited Biking manager told me that there are supposed to be bike mechanics every quarter-mile to help stranded riders. I saw only two or three bike mechanic stations during our ride.
I demanded a full refund for my $330 rental, but got only $100 back and the offer of a free e-bike in next year’s event. I didn’t plan to ride next year, but I guess I’m doing it now. And you can bet I’m going to bring my AAA card just in case.