Despite what you might think, there is a vibrant road racing scene in the Big Apple. The season starts in late February and runs through the end of September. Most weeks you can race two or three times without having to leave the five boroughs. Racing in New York was always an underground sort of affair, and though the Internet has made it much easier, it can still be tricky to find the starting lines if you are new to it all. So if you are interested in racing in Gotham, here is some information that might prove helpful.
As with most races in the United States, New York races are divided into separate fields based on the United States Cycling Federation category system. The categories range from Cat. 5 for beginners to Cat. 1 for elite amateurs. Points are awarded for the top placings (how deep depends on the type of race and the number on entrants.) Upgrades from one category to the next are based on earning a specified number of points in a 12 month period (with the exception of the move from Cat. 5 to Cat. 4 for which you need to race ten times.) The vast majority of local races in New York (i.e., races to which you can ride your bike) are circuit races consisting of multiple laps around a closed loop.
Typically, there are a combined Pro/Cat. 1/Cat. 2/Cat. 3 field, a Cat. 3/Cat.4 field and a Cat. 5 field. At some races, there are also separate fields for Women and Masters (i.e., riders over a certain age, usually 35 or 40.) Each field goes off a few minutes after the previous field and competes for its own placings and prizes. The P/1/2/3 races are the longest with distances ranging from 30 to 50+ miles. Depending on venue and time of year, the fields fill up to their limit which can be as many 110 riders. Such large fields make for some fast racing, and although there are some successful breakaways, many of the races come down to a field sprint.
The bulk of the New York City calendar is comprised of what are called “park races” because they take place in a park. There are three primary venues.
Central Park (Manhattan): Smack in the center of Manhattan, the six mile Central Park Drive is the primary weekday training ground for the thousands of Manhattan-based cyclists. The start/finish is on Cat’s Paw hill on the east side, just north of the 72nd street entrance off Fifth Avenue. The loop consists of rolling terrain with short-power climbs. The east side is flat and fast culminating in a quick descent at the top of the park. Harlem Hill, a half-mile, big ring climb, starts the west side portion which consists of three additional rollers.
The section past Tavern on the Green as you near the bottom of the park is fast, followed by a slight incline and slight downhill leading back to Cat’s Paw for the finish. The races take place on the weekend when the drive is closed to traffic. They are usually 5-7 laps, and start at 6 am or 6:30 am so that they can finish before the park fills.
Getting there by bike: Central Park is bordered by 60th Street to the South, 110th Street to the North, Fifth Avenue to the east and Central Park West to the west. You can enter from just about anywhere, and once inside, you want to get on the main park drive. The drive is ridden in a counter clockwise direction so follow the path until you come to the Boathouse restaurant just past the 72nd Street exit/entrance on the east side. The start/finish is at the top of the hill just past the Boathouse, which will be on your left.
Prospect Park (Brooklyn): A staple for the Brooklynites, the loop in Prospect Park is 3.4 miles long. The start is on the east side just north of the Lincoln Road exit that leads to Ocean Avenue. The loop is mostly flat with a big ring climb at the top of the park that leads towards Grand Army Plaza and the corresponding downhill at the bottom of the park where speeds can top 40 mph. As with Central Park, the races take place on the weekend when the road is closed to traffic and early, usually 6:30 am, before the park fills up.