This Citi Bike quest isn’t your average bike race

In the
In the “NOT A RACE” Citi Bike race, the winner is the rider who can find the fastest route from north of 100th Street to somewhere south of Houston. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Paul Buijs has had a lot of jobs over his lifetime but his new one might be among the shortest. He was a Marine, a Florida cop and an NYC-based U.S. air marshal. During that period, the most dangerous thing he saw wasn’t on a plane but on the subway to the airport: a drugged-out straphanger threatening a woman in the wee hours of the morning. He’s been a fitness studio manager and is starting a fitness events website, but in the meantime he’s also organizing a not-exactly-sanctioned Citi Bike race.

The race (which is being branded as “NOT A RACE,” just in case) is being held 9 a.m. Saturday. The winner is the rider who shows the quickest time from somewhere north of 100th Street to somewhere south of Houston on the iron horses, measured by the Citi Bike app. Choose your own route. The male and female winners each get prizes, including some fitness classes and 100,000 New York Coins, a local crypto currency. May the best bike-share warrior win.

“I hope I don’t get sued,” says Buijs, 40. To protect himself, the full $30 entry fee goes straight to charity, and the only thing Buijs gets is a bit of buzz for his new website. He says the race is a one-time deal.

But there’s something entertaining about the thought of a Citi Bike race flashing downtown. It’s taking an amateur’s tool to a realm of highly specialized gear. It advances an “anyone can do it” ethos in the biking world. You can’t take yourself too seriously if you’re hustling on a Citi Bike, but it does the job.

Without much publicity, Buijs has just under 40 people signed up for his regular-person unofficial not-a-race. He’s gunning for 200.

So, for a few weeks, his new pseudo-job is bike-race promoter. On a recent publicity push, Buijs took an afternoon to distribute flyers, including at Chrome Industries, a gear shop on Mulberry Street that is much more on the serious side of biking. There he met Francisco Colón, 35, a store manager and racer.

If Buijs is your everyman roadster, Colón is a real cyclist. Buijs has ridden in a few casual races and has great stamina. Colón raced in the Red Hook Crit, a wild and crash-prone event that took place in April on a wet course in Brooklyn. Buijs sold his road bike for rent after quitting the air marshall job and now exclusively uses Citi Bike (he’s 750 miles in). Colón has some five bikes, but generously offers that he likes Citi Biking and has done it on occasion when trying to go somewhere, particularly when it’s raining. “The bike itself is rad,” he says.

Colón gamely questions Buijs about some of the race mechanics. Could you have the bike undocked and get a running start?

“There’s always a way to cheat the system,” says Colón, grinning devilishly.

Colón thinks out loud about the fastest route. Buijs guesses the West Side Highway. Colón says that for real street racers, a straight shot through traffic would be quicker. That kind of bravado riding is par for the course in so-called “alleycats,” where bike messengers and other daredevil riders compete in unsanctioned street races.

“Fun stuff,” says Colón.

Having sold the idea of his race at the shop, Buijs moved on to a new constituency of potential racers: people in attendance at a happy hour for cryptocurrency New York Coin, one of the race partners. There, he turned down chilled rosé and instead handed out flyers, pitching the race and admiring a thematic art exhibit on the wall. The objects were meditations on old NY subway tokens, a pre-Citi Bike means of travel.

The artist, in attendance, explained that he accepted crypto for his work but hadn’t yet made a sale that way. It’s tough to hustle up a good idea from scratch, as the artist and Buijs and alleycat route planners and Citi Bike users know well. Still, everyone in New York has to be open to new opportunities.