Why The NYC Century Bike Tour Is Riding Into the Sunset

TransAlt's leaders give Streetsblog readers the context for the group's decision to stop hosting the 100-mile race.

The NYC Century will be held for the last time this year. Photo: TransAlt
The NYC Century will be held for the last time this year. Photo: TransAlt

century logoEarlier this week, we at Transportation Alternatives announced that we would present the New York City Century Bike Tour for a 30th and final time this September. The ride has been a favorite for TransAlt members and activist volunteers — many of whom are Streetsblog readers, so we weren’t surprised when folks came to us looking to know why we’d discontinue this ride.

Our approach to bike advocacy has changed over the years. When TransAlt launched the NYC Century in 1990, riding a bicycle in the five boroughs was practically an act of protest. So bringing together a mass of cyclists on one day was a way of demanding to be seen and heard as a constituency.

century1

Since then, the biking community in New York has grown and evolved dramatically. Today, about 800,000, or roughly 10 percent of all New Yorkers, ride a bike at least several times a month; 50,000 commute to work via bicycle every day; and New York City is home to the largest bike-share system in the nation. Given all that, TransAlt’s approach today is focused less toward establishing cycling as a legitimate mode of transportation, and more toward better accommodating and building this now mainstream way of getting around.

As our general approach evolved, so have the concrete needs of cycling advocacy. Our thriving five-borough activist committee structure has changed and matured over the years, and we’re actively working to elevate the unrealized activist energy that exists in our city. We want to unleash the brains and brawn of TransAlt’s events staff to uplift these committees and produce more local volunteer-led events — including bike rides like Kidical Mass and the Tour de Flushing.

Photo: TransAlt
Photo: TransAlt

It’s not that big one-day citywide events don’t have their value, but ultimately we’re advocates for everyday cycling. And to create the kind of lasting change required to nurture an environment where riding a bike keeps on getting safer and easier, we need to continue to dig deep, expand our roots, and bolster our local activist committees.

And from a purely practical standpoint, we’re a non-profit organization that has responsibility to optimize the use of our limited resources. NYC Century registrations have been declining significantly since 2013, when we reached a peak of 7,000 riders. Since then, we’ve had to invest the same level of time, money and energy into the event — all of which would have a greater impact if invested in what we’re best at.

Producing major citywide events isn’t where our power comes from. We draw it instead from our ability to bring people together to demand change; from our relationships with decision-makers and the media; and most importantly, people like you who feel the urgency of our mission to reclaim streets from the automobile — a feeling shared by hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who come to rallies, lobby elected officials, read our emails, participate in the Bike Month Commuter Challenge (sign up here!), and who walk, scoot, and ride every day.

The 30th and final NYC Century Bike Tour will be a celebratory ride for all we have accomplished to make New York City streets better for biking over the last three decades. Join us for this final “victory lap” on Sept. 8! To learn more and register, visit nyccentury.org.

Marco Conner and Ellen McDermott are interim co-executive directors of Transportation Alternatives. Follow them on Twitter at @marco_conner and @HeyNell.

  • Jacob

    Bummer, but it makes sense.

  • Going ever so slightly off-topic:

    Many large full-day event rides saw the same phenomenon – that registrations peaked around 2012-2013 and had some declines since then if all other things were held consistent. It’s made some rides unprofitable, forced many to cancel/disband, and required major restructuring & changes in promotion strategy in order to survive or thrive. I wonder what changed, and what the best approach is to reverse it.

    Nevertheless, NYC cyclists have more than a year to band together their own 100-miles-of-NYC ride if they want another one. It would be great to see even a small pack of cyclists continue the tradition, even if it’s scaled down significantly from the current event (which is truly broad and inclusive, but to the extent that it takes a small army & a lot of logistics to pull it off).

  • Wilfried84

    I’ve ridden many a 60+ mile ride in the city on my own, perhaps thanks to Trans Alt making it possible. I started riding around 2013, so I can’t compare it to the bad old days, but things have changed a lot even in the years I have been riding. So maybe the Century was a victim of its own success. I’m seriously considering riding my first and last NYC Century this year. Thanks, Trans Alt, for making it possible for me to ride where I want, when I want, without a big organized group to protect me.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Same here. I need to save my legs for the commute and other travel, but I’ll consider doing the last one. Especially since the 35 mile starts near my house, and the Triboro is one of the few metro area bridges one can cross on foot or by bike that I’ve never been over.

    Perhaps that can be the next challenge. Sign up for a list of such bridges, and check off the ones you do over time, with occasional group excursions.

  • JK

    The Century Ride was the one day a year TA celebrated bicycling and NYC together. Somehow a T.A. with one and half staff was able to grow the Century from zero to thousands of participants. The Century was about bicycling — not scooting, not Battery Powered Vehicles, not plunging into the E-future, just bikes. I happened to be an everyday cyclist when the Century started. I rode and still do because it was fun and convenient — not an act of protest. There are far more people riding today, but even back in 1990 plenty of people rode bikes in New York City. While volunteering with the T.A. Queens Committee, we counted 600 bicyclists an hour on the Queensboro Bridge South Outer Roadway on a weekday in 1991. I really hope TA knows what it is doing, because as an everyday cyclist and someone who loved the Century Ride I’m concerned to see TA retreating from an iconic celebration of bicycling while issuing endless rhetoric about how everyday cycling will be so much better once we learn to stop worrying and love the battery powered future.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk

    Time to marshal one final NYC Century tour! It’s a bummer, but I guess they couldn’t get enough sponsors to keep it going? The streets aren’t closed off and you don’t visit Staten Island, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an increase of people just showing up the Tour and taking advantage of the concessions at the rest areas. One thing I have noticed is the increase of protected and new bike lanes along the designated routes (The Rockaways, Northern Bl, areas by Alley Pond Park and Southern Bl to name a few). If it doesn’t rain, it’ll be a great day. Hope they can let me marshal one last time, I think a lot of people will go for the full 100 now.

  • AMH

    “the 100-mile race”?

  • JarekFA

    What a shame. I love the Century Ride.

  • kevd

    unfortunate.
    this one is so much better than the 5 boro bike tour, which is bigger than ever.
    though if we get some people together, we do our own next year. I haven’t done it since 2013 and I’m not sure I could manage 100 miles now. Guess I better get ready for one last NYC century this Sept.

  • Iris Reyes

    TA has been part of some incredible traffic safety on your behalf as well as every other NYer who doesn’t spend much time behind the wheel of a car. Maybe more should volunteer to aid in that while acknowledging that TA help in building a cycling community in NYC. TA has been at the forefront off all the new protected bike lanes and traffic safety measures.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk

    At the start of the 100-milers, there is a small group of cyclists that actually do race each other. They finish the full 100 in 5 hours.

  • @JK – It also raised money for TA and that’s why I bothered with it, but that doesn’t seem to be working out any more.

  • SBDriver

    Not sure if I can hang with 100, but I might have to give it a shot at my first and last century ride.

  • SBDriver

    I considered the 5 boro bike tour, and then I wondered what kind of shitshow it is for all those riders to get back from Staten Island after the ride.

  • kevd

    there are so many people in it, that there ends up being a ton of standing and walking when there are traffic jams of bikes at the numerous choke points. Though riding on the Bqe was very cool.
    also the prices have gone through the roof – maybe as a tool to manage the numbers?
    I didn’t have a problem getting back from SI, though.
    Those big boats hold a lot of people.

  • (((Colin Rafferty)))

    Sad to see it end. I rode my first in 1994 (4th Annual, I guess).

    Biking in NYC has come a long way since then, and TA has done so much to get us there.

  • M. B’witz

    This seems to be deeply misguided.

  • Anon resident

    I think TA needs to focus on the retention of their employees and address board members who do nothing like Curtis Archer. Here’s a board member who couldn’t even be bothered to show up at one single uptown community (when there was one) or do any type of advocacy in Harlem when it comes to safe streets.

  • Spirit of 76

    How can the 5BBT be bigger than ever when its registration cap hasn’t changed in years? In fact, I think at its peak way back when, the ride had something like 40,000 riders, far more than the 32,000 it’s capped at today.

  • kevd

    oh. could be I stopped being involved near that peak and quit paying attention because it was such a nightmare to ride!

  • Spirit of 76

    That peak was the 1980s, so if you haven’t ridden it in over 30 years, your opinion is suspect.

  • kevd

    omg. it was even worse in the 80’s? Hard to imagine so many people still pay through the nose to participate in that “ride” (with tons of standing and a whole bunch of walking)

  • Reality Checkmate

    SO sorry that this is the last. Have ridden it a few times and much better than the 5. BBC. I think it is a good way to attract new riders who do it for recreation as I do and for commuting. I also support the plain bikes, not the e-powered but can see their function for those who are physically unable to ride distances.

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