A chorus of bicycle bells and bagpipes replaced the sounds of the pipe organ in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Saturday morning.
Beneath scaffolding and construction equipment, more than 300 cyclists from around the city lined up to have their bikes blessed in the 15th Annual Blessing of the Bikes. Rev. Julia E. Whitworth walked down the aisle, sprinkling holy water on the bikes and the bikers, who responded by ringing their bells instead of applauding.
“It’s really the only day of the year all of the cyclists get together,” Glen Goldstein, the event’s founder, said. “The racers, the commuters, the delivery workers.”
And as the network of bike lanes continues to expand across the city, Goldstein said the number of people who attend the quirky annual event has increased from year to year.
“There’s a lot more people riding because of the bike lanes,” he said. “I saw more kids this year.”
Two of them were Whitworth’s children. She led the ceremony for the first time on Saturday after Rev. Thomas P. Miller’s retirement last year.
John Henderson, a longtime bagpipe player and a longer-time bike commuter, has set up his pipe cases so that he can carry them on his bike—not wanting to choose between bikes and bagpipes, he said. He has been coming from Brooklyn to the blessing since it started in 1999.
“It’s something we look forward to,” he said. “Then we go down the street and have pastries and coffee.”
Nina Skriloff, who rides a six-year-old dark blue bike with a white basket, said, “It’s good to be mindful, reflective, communal. And it doesn’t matter what religion you’re from.”
Ed Pino and Liz Baum rode to the ceremony on a black tandem bike with blue handlebars.
“It’s always nice to have some extra help,” Pino said, referring to the blessing. “Whether you believe it or not ... When you’re in New York City, you’re always taking a chance.”
The Blessing of the Bikes is not St. John’s only less-traditoinal ceremony: The Blessing of the Animals every fall draws even larger crowds.
Part of the ceremony Saturday morning was dedicated to remembering the cyclists killed in the city the year before. The danger of cycling in the city was not lost on many of the attendees.
Skriloff said ever since an accident years ago, she’s been sticking to roads with bike lanes. Joanna Cowitt, the owner of a brand-new blue fixie from the Upper West Side, said she now rides only on the fully separated Hudson River Greenway. Henderson recalled one year when he narrowly avoided a crash just hours after leaving the blessing.
“I thought, I just used my blessing right there,” he said. “It can’t hurt.”
Whitworth said she blessed both bikes and bikers at the ceremony, so that they can be “guided in all their journeys.”
“What something like this reminds me of is that gathering around in community is sacred,” Whitworth said.
“It brings everyone together. It takes the competition out of it,” Cowitt said. “It reinforces the cycling community.”
Her husband, Neil Cowitt, said “It’s very welcoming to all faiths and religions.”
As per tradition, the event marked the start of the spring biking season, and the cold air and overcast skies Saturday didn’t stop the 300 cyclists at the cathedral from riding off into the city after the ceremony.
Casey Tolan contributed reporting.