This Sunday, streets and bridges across the five boroughs will shut down and more than 32,000 riders will pedal their way from lower Manhattan up to the Bronx, down through Queens and Brooklyn before finishing on Staten Island.
But for five International High School at Union Square students, the 40-mile trek on the TD Five Boro Bike Tour is more than just bragging rights. It’s an activity that has helped them adjust and acclimate to life in New York City.
During Tuesday afternoon’s practice ride along the East River, Khadim Lo, who didn’t know how to ride a bike when he moved to New York City from Senegal in 2011, leads the pack of riders along the path, single-file, signaling turns.
“It feels great, you just go all over with your bike and you don’t have to worry about a delay in traffic, or something like that,” Lo said of bicycling, which he said only took him a day of trying before he was ready to ride the city streets.
Lo was the inspiration for International High School to start a bike education program, said Meredith Klein, who teaches math at the high school that serves ESL students, many of whom recently arrived in the U.S. When the school started a bike shop to teach students how to repair bikes, Lo asked if the school could start a program to help him and others learn to ride.
Over the last three years, Klein said she has seen students’ lives change, and integrate cycling into their daily life.
“It’s empowering. You learn how to ride, you learn how to ride in New York City… and then they know how to fix their bikes. The whole thing is so liberating,” Klein said, adding the classes help students improve their confidence with speaking English, or give them a break when they’ve been speaking English all day.
Lo, 20, now commutes from Bronx to school, and works at Dos Caminos as a dishwasher and bike deliveryman. He explores the boroughs from the back of his bicycle, and on Tuesday worked to repair the derailleur on his old white Peugeot bike, and helping out the other students in the shop, who look to him for advice.
“Pretty much all of them should be biking,” Lo said of New Yorkers. “Maybe they would be happier and enjoy the outdoors.”
Lo, an aspiring filmmaker, said he’s planning to film the bike tour along the way.
Serigne Diba, 20, who is also riding on Sunday, said riding a bikes gives him the freedom to ride from 125th Street down to Union Square for school, hang with his friends and go to the mosque.
“I think it makes life in New York better,” Diba said.