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biketourSix wards, fifteen miles and hundreds of spinning wheels are the key ingredients in the Jersey City Ward Tour set for this weekend.

The tour, which was founded four years ago by Chris Englese and Damian Weiczorek of bike advocacy group Bike JC, has become one of the most anticipated recreational events citywide and sees hundreds of riders (and non-riding bike supporters) come out each year. To get an idea of the event, check out the video by Jason Burch that follows several bikers along last year's tour route.

"In the first year we did it, we were filing applications at the police department and they asked how many we were expecting. We said maybe 75 to 100, but we had over 500 riders," says Englese, who is the president of the group. "Last year, our third year, we had over 800. This shows that there's a need for something like this in Jersey City and highlights the growing culture of cyclists in JC."

Starting in Downtown Jersey City, the tour winds through Greenville, West Side, Lincoln Park, Journal Square, the Heights, the Hilltop, the Village, Hamilton Park, Harsimus Cove and Exchange Place, going through all six wards (A through F) of the city.

As one would imagine, organizing a ride through Jersey City is a huge undertaking. But Bike JC gets it all done with a core group of about five, dozens of volunteers and over 400 members supporting the cause.

"There are always challenges when it comes to events of this scope and size: dealing with the police from every district in the city, a lot of paperwork and finding volunteers to make this happen," says Englese. To make matters more difficult, he says the process for getting the necessary permits and other approvals is archaic. To get paperwork processed, volunteers have to go to municipal offices to file the papers. Englese, who works as a filmmaker and documentarist, says without the option to file online or a more streamlined process, it can be difficult for volunteers with full-time jobs to work within the constraints of municipal office hours.

The organization has had good fortune, however, in other difficult areas like fundraising. "We usually rely on private donations through local businesses," says Englese, adding that several companies have been consistent and generous contributors. "We really want this to continue to be a free event and we take great pride in that." The event, which costs a total of about $5,000 to pull off yearly, is also sponsored by the city.

The Healy administration, Englese says, has worked with Bike JC to make major strides. Most recently, the first permanent bike lanes were  installed on Grove Street. The city plans to eventually have 35.2 miles of striped bike lanes plus 19.5 miles of shared lanes marked on the street with “sharrows” that will connect JC’s various neighborhoods.

In addition, new residential buildings with more than five units must provide a half-space of indoor bike parking per unit according to revised zoning requirements. Also, new retail buildings must provide a mix of indoor and outdoor bike parking, depending on the size of the building. Lastly, in March, the city established a Bike Rack Fund which helps local businesses more easily obtain bike racks, cutting costs to between $250 and $350.

Englese, who ditched his car in 2004 and has been biking as a means of transportation and recreation ever since, says bikes are here to stay and that more needs to be done to make JC an even better place for bikers.

"There needs to be more bike parking, especially at transit hubs. We also want to work with the PATH trains to slim down the times when bikes are not allowed on trains and push for more bike parking and bike lanes," he says, adding that he expects the Fulop administration to push even harder than the Healy administration to make these changes.

Mayor-elect Steven Fulop has been a major supporter of the ward tour, participating last year and also planning to make a short speech before Sunday's ride. Also at the starting line will be a drum circle to get riders enthused and revved up.

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At the other end of the ride, there will be an After Tour festival at Exchange Place Plaza featuring live music by They Live, Universal Rebel, Overlake, Sandra Small and the Smallworld Band and The Hipstacrites as well as DJ Motorfunker Radio. Other festival attractions include food carts, a finish-line photo booth featuring a JC-inspired mural by local artist Norman Kirby where festival-goers can have their portraits snapped by Rebecca Ferrier, a bike rack design competition (a collaboration with the Jersey City Art School and the city), and a Gold Sprint racing tournament where speed demons can compete to beat each other's times on stationary bikes.

"The festival will show that there is more to supporting bicycling and Bike JC than the tour," says Englese. "It's about meeting other riders and talking about ways we can make riding in JC better for everyone."

One former bike tourist, Mark de Guzman of Greenville, says the tour also had other benefits. "Honestly, I thought it was going to be really difficult since Jersey City is just huge, but it turned out to be super leisurely and great cardio at the same time," he says. "Also, I learned how to navigate around Jersey City's back roads, which is always handy."

Englese says it also speaks to JC's bike culture in general. "There's a sense of camaraderie and a lot of people have started doing smaller group rides after the tour. It's nice to know there is a growing cycling culture here and it's important that we continue to demonstrate that bicycles are also a means of transport and belong on the road as well."

Don't have a bike? You can get one before this weekend's event at one of these local bike shops Animal Bikes, Grove Street BicyclesJames Vincent Bicycles, and Jersey Cycles.

The Jersey City Ward Tour will be held on Sunday, June 2, kicking off from Exchange Place at 11 am. The rain date is June 9. The After Tour festival runs from 1 pm to 5 pm and will also be at Exchange Place. There is a suggested donation of $5. Riders must be older than 10 to participate and must wear helmets. They are advised to leave bags at home and carry necessities on themselves and their bicycles. For more information, visit Bike JC.

Catherine Hecht contributed to this article.

Photos courtesy Chris Englese

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