As the first bicyclists, led by pink-helmeted line leaders, glided toward the old Pier parking lot Saturday morning, a cheer rang out from among the riders. The more-confident riders threw both arms into the air in triumph, while the more-cautious bikers raised a single fist in solidarity.
They had ridden and conquered the Skyway.
More than 1,400 people – up from 800 last year – bicycled in the second annual SkyRide, a fundraising event for GObike Buffalo, the nonprofit organization that advocates for environmentally sustainable and bicycle-friendly transportation options in the city.
SkyRide was the “capstone” to May, which is also National Bike Month, said Justin Booth, GObike Buffalo executive director.
The 19-mile route allowed riders to twice summit the Skyway’s 110-foot peak and coast down, first toward the downtown district and then out toward the Buffalo Botanical Gardens. The Skyway was closed to motor vehicle traffic for four hours so everyone – from the young to the elderly – could complete the route worry-free.
“There is a huge transformation taking place in the City of Buffalo,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said in a speech before the ride. “One element of that transformation is the work that the city has been doing with Justin Booth and GObike Buffalo to make the city more bicycle-friendly.”
Buffalo will have more than 80 miles of bicycle lanes available by the end of this year, Brown said, promising 10 more miles a year every year thereafter.
Riders universally praised the event, citing the leisurely pace and views of downtown and the waterfront that only the Skyway can provide.
“You can’t wait to finish and ride again next year,” Carla Ahles of Springville said after the ride. “You see the same old thing in the car, but when you’re on the bike, it’s a whole new viewpoint. It’s a lot slower. You notice more things. It’s just fun.”
Although Ahles admitted she didn’t bike often, she said the SkyRide got her thinking about biking around Buffalo a bit more.
Despite the clear skies and low temperature, the weather wasn’t too kind to riders. A stiff southerly wind made the first ascent a breeze, but the return journey was another story.
“Going down the hill into the city – with the wind – was amazing,” Neil Greidanus, a first-time participant, said. “Coming back, it was so windy you couldn’t enjoy the scenery because you were working so hard.”
Still, Greidanus said he loved it and will be back again next year.
Biking the Skyway, which normally is available only to motor vehicles, meant a lot to the burgeoning biking community.
“There’s this big, huge elevated expressway here, and it’s only traversable by car. To be able to shut it down for a morning and ride over it on bikes is a huge accomplishment for bicyclists,” event coordinator Henry Raess said. “It’s a morale booster, and it also lets us reimagine the way we think about getting around our city.”
Although a few tires blew and some chains popped off, there were no reported major injuries during the SkyRide.
Food and drinks were provided before and after the event, and the celebration continued into the afternoon at an after-party at the Flying Bison Brewing Company on Seneca Street.
Brown also said that, in addition to continuing to educate the public on bike safety and biking options in Buffalo, the city is working with GObike Buffalo and Alta Planning + Design on a bicycle master plan. He said the final version of that plan will be available in about a month.
Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills, also was on hand and thanked the city for embracing him and teaching him the joys of biking around Buffalo.
“When I got drafted here, I had so much fun just picking up a bike and riding,” he said. “The community continued to teach me about riding bikes, and I’m all the way into it – it just engulfed my life.”