Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Be an ‘Urban Explorer’ At Tour de Brooklyn

This Sunday approximately 2,000 bicyclists will participate in a one-of-a-kind ride through Green-Wood Cemetery — which doesn’t normally allow bikes — during the fifth annual Tour de Brooklyn, held by biking advocacy group Transportation Alternatives (TA).

“It’s probably the highlight of the tour,” said TA spokesperson Wiley Norvell. “It’s definitely a real treat.”

The ride will begin at KeySpan park in Coney Island at 9 a.m., traveling through such South Brooklyn neighborhoods as Gravesend, Kensington, Windsor Terrace and Victorian Flatbush. In addition to Green-Wood, the tour will ride through Prospect Park, where there will be a rest stop. The 23-mile tour will conclude at about 1 p.m. back in Coney Island.

Norvell says the ride follows a different route every year. Since many riders have seen neighborhoods like Park Slope and Williamsburg by bike, the south Brooklyn loop this year is “a great stretch of Brooklyn that a lot of our riders probably aren’t familiar with,” he noted.

And after the ride ends, “everyone can stay and spend the day on Coney Island at the beach.”

The important part about the Tour de Brooklyn is that it’s not a race, said Norvell. “It’s a leisurely day biking around Brooklyn,” he said. The pace is family-friendly, with “a gentle incline up and a gentle incline down.”

All 2,000 participants ride in one big group, stopping at points to let the riders in the back catch up. Cars are cleared from the streets with a “rolling closure,” during which police escorts will drive in the front and the back of the group, closing streets as the ride goes on. It’s about five minutes from the front of the group to the back, Norvell said.

Bicyclists from all over — Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Virginia, even California — registered for the free event. In other years, online registration has sold out before the ride, but this year it sold out within 24 hours. “It’s the hottest ticket in town,” Norvell said, laughing. There will be a limited number spots for same-day registration before the tour starts, he added.

You won’t see many serious cyclists during the ride. “We tend not to get the spandex set,” Norvell said. Instead, he called the riders “urban explorers.”

“We want this to be accessible,” he continued. “What we want to inculcate is slow, civic riding. We want people to really enjoy the city around them.”

And they do. Molly Sullivan rode in her first tour in 2007 and loved it so much she volunteered for TA and is now the organization’s events coordinator.

“I had such a positive experience,” Sullivan said, describing it as a safe, family-friendly, calm ride. “It opened up bicycling in Brooklyn for me.”

She was amazed by the number of people and families that gathered for the ride. “It was a wonderful sight to see,” she said.

“The feeling I came away from the tour with was: I have to do this every day, I have to become a bike commuter,” Sullivan said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Visit www.tourdebrooklyn.org for additional information about the tour, including what to bring.

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