By Dustin Brown
Most people in Queens have heard of John Bowne — the Bowne of Bowne Street and John Bowne High School — but how many know of his legacy securing religious liberty for the settlers of what was then New Amsterdam by sheltering Quakers in the 17th Century?
For that matter, how many know that his house, one of the oldest buildings in the city, sits next to a former stop on the Underground Railroad and down the street from a landmark beech tree that grew sideways until its death more than a decade ago?
Those gems of Queens history are all to be revealed during the “Oh My Gods” Ethnic Queens Bike Tour on May 9, one of many borough events offered as part of Bike Week NYC, a 10-day celebration of the two-wheeled man-fueled mode of transportation.
This year’s festivities, which kick off Thursday and last through May 10, feature a wider range of events in Queens than in years past as organizers expand their focus beyond western Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan, where the city’s bicyclists are most heavily concentrated.
“There’s more rides in Queens and the Bronx and all over Brooklyn and Staten Island to encourage people to go around the neighborhood and learn about their borough and see their own borough on a bike,” said Noah Budnick, the project director for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that sponsors Bike Week with the city Department of Transportation. “Hopefully, the next time they go to the store or they go to a movie or over to a friend’s house, they’ll ride their bike.”
The “Oh My Gods” tour is so named not only due to the reaction riders are expected to have as they behold the wonders of Flushing, but also because it features a stop at the Bowne Street Hindu temple — a polytheistic religion that recognizes multiple gods.
“Leave your bike outside, leave your shoes outside, and then you’re welcome to come in and it’s a whole different world,” said tour guide Joel Seidenstein, the president of Bike the Big Apple, which offers the ethnic bike tour.
Bicycles are an ideal way to observe the legendary ethnic diversity of Queens, Budnick said.
“Bicycle is the best way to see all of that in one day because since you’re traveling on street level you can take in the people and the smells and the architecture and the sounds and the languages,” he said. “And you can move at a decent pace so you can cover a lot of ground.”
The Ethnic Queens Bike Tour requires advanced reservations. Call Bike the Big Apple at 201-941-0100 for more information and to secure a spot.
A slew of other Queens rides and activities are also available for adventure-minded cyclists:
• Saturday, May 3: The Kissena Velodrome, a decades-old bicycle track that fell into disrepair but was recently repaved, will be rededicated Saturday to kick off a new season of bike racing.
• Sunday, May 4: Bike New York — The Great Five Boro Bike Tour is a 42-mile ride on traffic-free streets throughout the city. About 30,000 riders will cross the Queensboro Bridge from Manhattan, ride north to Astoria Park and then straight south through Long Island City before crossing out of the borough on the Pulaski Bridge.
• Thursday, May 8: Borough President Helen Marshall will host a free breakfast for bicycle commuters on the Long Island City entrance to the Queensboro Bridge Bike Path.
• Friday, May 9: Join more than 100,000 commuters who ride to their jobs for NYC Bike to Work Day.
• Saturday, May 10: The longest Queens ride weighs in at 90 miles, starting at Union Turnpike and 196th Place and winding along Long Island’s North Shore to Eaton’s Neck.
• Sunday, May 11: A more leisurely Mother’s Day ride starts at the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge. The scenic 28-mile route passes through Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Herman MacNeil Park in College Point.
For more information about these and other events, visit www.transportationalternatives.org.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.