For 48-year-old road and century cyclist, Kevin Toomer, cycling is much more than just a hobby. It’s simply a “lifestyle.” When this Rockaway Beach resident isn’t inspiring and leading success as a Director of Sales for the Corporate Housing industry, he looks for any chance to clip and ride. With an impressive collection of tour and marathon experience, I sat down with Kevin to get a look inside the mind of a road cyclist and what makes his hometown and New York City a prime location for any person on a bike.
Tell me a bit on how you got into cycling.
I was an ex-track and football player in college, so I always wanted to stay in shape. I tried running for awhile, but I kept pulling hamstrings and sustaining knee injuries. I’m not really built for jogging or running long-distances. Somebody told me about cycling and how it had the same calorie burning and health-related benefits without the injuries. A little more of a low-impact sport. I saw groups of guys that were riding from Brooklyn and from the city passing through my area, so I realized this is a viable sport even for middle-aged guys like me and that definitely peaked my interest. I started to look around for bikes probably about 4 years ago. Eventually, I bought a bike from a friend of mine. It was used, but I can tell you that the day I got on that bike…I took my 1st turn around the block…and I was totally hooked. I couldn’t believe how light, responsive, and FAST today’s road bikes are. I’ve fallen in love with the sport. I still get to go fast without getting hurt.
What is it about cycling that you love so much?
A lot of other sports, particularly forms of exercise, require you to stay in one place. Cycling lets you see things. You get to go to a lot of cool places. You get to meet a lot of cool people. I’ve learned more about New York City and points of interests around Brooklyn, Queens, and the outer boroughs from cycling than I ever would have learned from driving around. I think it’s the combination of exercise, that kind of competitive nature of being able to ride fast, and being able to see cool things is really what has driven me in cycling. I don’t think there are too many other sports that give you that.
What kind of cyclists do you find in the Rockaways?
Rockaway Beach is a popular cycling area. Funny thing about it is - I don’t know a lot of Rockaway Beach area cyclists. I’m finding hardcore long-distance cyclists that are probably coming from pretty far away and it is just a destination for them. The guys I’m coming across are usually between 35-55 years of age. I always joke with them that we’re maybe the only ones that are old enough to afford these really expensive bikes.
I’m sure you’ve probably been through a few bikes since you started. What kind of bike do YOU ride now?
My first two bikes were aluminum. I kept hearing everyone talk about carbon-fiber bikes how they are lighter, faster, and easier to climb with. Eventually, I upgraded to the current bike I have now. I ride the Specialized Tarmac Sport SL4. It’s a fully carbon-fiber bike. It has a Shimano 105 gear group. It probably weighs under 15 lbs. It’s built for a hardcore road biker.
Any advice to someone purchasing their 1st road bike?
No matter how nice the bike is you buy - you are always upgrading it. You become a real techie when you get into road biking because the sport has become so technical. You always want to add something else to it. You start wanting to get the best of this…the lightest of that. Whether it is a computer, better tires, or better wheels. My advice to people who are getting into this sport is to find a bike that you really like, but that you can continue to upgrade. Don’t feel like you have to buy all the best stuff immediately. Get a bike that you like which has the main features you want, but be prepared to upgrade year to year.
What is the difference between the way a road cyclist thinks than your average commuter?
A road cyclist is very knowledgable about his bike, his body and his ability. You become a data freak when you become a road cyclist. You start becoming concerned about your average speed, maximum speed, distance traveled…some guys go as far as knowing their heart-rate and their cadence. I think that’s the difference between a commuter, who is really just worried about getting from A to B , and road cyclists. Yeah sure A to B is important, but how fast you got there, what your average speed was, how long it took you, and how you can better that time next time - that’s a road biker’s mentality. I don’t care how old you are. I see old guys doing the same thing. Sometimes they’ll pull up next to me and they’ll say “Hey, how you doin’? What’s your average speed? Can I ride with you for awhile?” We’re all data junkies!
Tell me about your bike tour and marathon experience. How many have you accomplished? and which was the most challenging?
I’ve probably ridden about ten distance events, but three centuries. A marathon in road cycling is the century, which is 100 miles (160.9 km). I’ve done three of those - one last year and two this year. I’m probably going to do two or three next year. The most challenging one for me was the NYC Century, which is now I believe 40 years old. The real challenge there is that it’s a combination of a marathon cycling event and riding on the streets of New York. You cover all the boroughs, except Staten Island. It’s 100 miles and the last stretch of it is in the Bronx. You start at 6 A.M. so the roads are empty, but by the end of the day you are riding through the Bronx say around noon and that’s a real challenge.
Given your marathon experience, do you consider NYC an ideal place to bike?
I think it really is because of what you get to see. I rode in one century out east, which is the North Fork Century. It’s really nice. The roads are flat. You get to ride through vineyards and what have you, but there is nothing like seeing the city in a cycling setting. There is nothing like looking down when you are riding over the Triboro Bridge. There is nothing like riding across the Brooklyn Bridge. There is nothing like seeing the change of neighborhoods and the change of cultures. It’s nice to ride on a flat road out in a country town, but you just don’t get the flavor that you get from riding in NYC. That’s why I think NYC is such a great cycling town. It’s a challenge, but it’s also breathtaking as far as the neighborhoods, the people, the diversity, and all the landmarks you see.
Having biked through most of the boroughs, where is your favorite place to bike?
The Shore Parkway Greenway that surrounds Jamaica Bay. I’ve been riding it since I started road cycling. It’s probably one of the few areas where there are 10 or more miles of path that are separated from the main road. You can really challenge yourself. There is a lot of safety there and it’s also very serene.
Within your 4 years of cycling, do you feel NYC has improved in becoming more bike friendly?
Absolutely. I think that NYC has done a much better job of improving the cycling infrastructure. I was really impressed to see bike lanes go up as far as Brooklyn and Queens. I was really happy to see signs being put up about cycling - where it is safe to cycle, where you should dismount the bike, where you should be mindful of cyclists, etc. I think we still have a ways to go. Now, the real challenge ahead is to create a cycling culture, not just materially - but also in the way people think. Cyclists have to be more knowledgeable about how to ride in NYC. Drivers and people are walking in the city or in the boroughs need to be more familiar with cycling culture. That’s where there is a real disconnect right now.
Most of the efforts to improve bike infrastructure appears to be aimed mostly in Manhattan, Western Queens, and Western Brooklyn. Do you ever feel your neighborhood is missing out?
Yes, I think in some ways it is. We do have a great bike path, but the main roads through the Rockaways could use a little bit of work when it comes to good bike lanes, creating a cycling culture, and also drivers and cyclists sharing a road a little bit more safely. Being “No Man’s Land” to a lot of people, I think the Rockaways didn’t quite get the kind of attention that I think some of the more populated boroughs and neighborhoods are getting. There really isn’t a commuter bike culture in Rockaway either.
You mentioned about this “disconnect” between cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. What do you suggest to get everyone on the same page?
To be honest with you, every time I get on that road bike there is always an element of concern that I’m going to get injured in a crash today. I’m concerned about texting and driving. I’m concerned about aggressive driving. I’m concerned about people who are making sudden turns, short stops, driving too close to parked cars and that’s where there are no lanes to differentiate where cyclists and cars go. We need more education. I think what should be included at the driver’s ed level is drivers being educated on sharing the road with cyclists. There should be questions on the written exam and there should be a component of it in the practical road test. If we are trying to encourage more bikes on the road, then I think the people who are sharing it with us need to be more knowledgable about what cyclists do, what are the potential risks when sharing the road with cyclists, and how to be more courteous or a more bike-friendly operator of a motor vehicle.
How could our city streets be improved?
The bike lanes need to be widened a bit in some areas. It’d be nice if the roads were improved a little bit. I really think where you can if there can be an additional barrier between a bike lane and a driving lane - whether with pylons or something else. That would be helpful too. Think about some of these intersections that are really really dangerous for cyclists. Maybe there needs to be some additional precaution offered in busy intersections where bikes and cars are crossing at the same time.
At the rate it’s going, how long do you think it’ll take NYC to match up to big international cities like Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, and Montreal with an already established bike system?
We’re probably five or more years away, for the simple fact that you do have a culture of New Yorkers who are always going to insist on driving. I’m not sure why. So long as New York is as accessible as it is by car. Think about all the bridges and tunnels that connect to Manhattan. There is always going to be a car culture here. If NYC can get involved in maybe educating some of these drivers that they don’t have to drive in or they have great opportunities to bike in or maybe create incentives for people to bike in. Maybe that’ll help. Many of these other cities have almost made the bike culture preferable to driving in the city, so it has become a more popular way of commuting. NY is not exactly encouraging people right now to commute by bike. I think there are people who are sort of self-educating. It could be nice if the city helped to make it more of an incentive to bike.
At this point with all your cycling experience and future plans, do you still consider it a hobby?
It is a lifestyle! It started out as a hobby for me, but now it’s a lifestyle. It’s a part of all my weekend plans during the summer. It’s also part of my weekday plans. Even my wife checks in with me before the day starts “What time are you going to go ride?” It’s part of my life now. Absolutely.