Events

Cycling in New York City

2013-08-02

Living your bicycle messenger dreams

In the city that never sleeps, cycling is alive and well. We recently had the opportunity to visit New York City and get a from-the-saddle glimpse into the cycling culture there. What we found was a city of a million bicycles, a city that respects cyclist, a city we’d visit again with pleasure.

On the first day, we rented bicycles near Central Park and found ourselves content to simply ride a few loops within the confines of these grounds long sacred to recreating New Yorkers. Central Park offers a paved 6.1-mile road loop with endless scenery. The route itself is fairly flat, and the loop follows the outline of the park. We rode city bikes, which we thought was appropriate, and they might have even kept us out of trouble. We were tempted by a few exposed rock formations that called to our inner mountain biker, and we wished for our fat-tired bikes for a few minutes. At any given time, you can expect to see hundreds of other cyclist, runners, and others enjoying the wonderment of nature, right there in the middle of Manhattan. And we’ll confess that the people-watching was a big part of the scenery. There seems to be no limit to what is possible.

Our second day started early, as we planned to cover a lot of ground. We pedaled south on the Hudson River Greenway, from Hell’s Kitchen. Using the Freedom Tower as a guide, we made our way to the first attraction of the day, the Brooklyn Bridge. We were pleased to see that we could get to the entrance of the bridge with only a slight deviation from the bicycle/pedestrian path of the Greenway. The route is easy to find, and there are green signs to guide you all the way.

This was the point where we started to understand what it feels like to be a NYC bicycle messenger. While the first exposure to mixing with cars can be intimidating, we soon learned that NYC drivers are actually very respectful of cyclists and often give you the lead on your route. We rode on towards the Brooklyn Bridge. This 143-year-old landmark has been adapted from its original design to stay current and to allow a free flow of modern traffic of all sorts. It now offers a 3rd deck for bicycle and foot traffic that resembles an elevated boardwalk. As we ascended, the vehicle traffic disappeared below, and a panoramic view of the city was revealed. We learned to be aware as we rode on the bridge; there are many other users, and quite a few were taking pictures rather than paying attention. We recommend crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and returning to Manhattan Island via the Manhattan Bridge. It brought us right back onto the Greenway.

While riding northbound on the Greenway trail, we encountered a few waterfront parks and were able to see Queens on the other side of the East River. The Greenway trail disappeared, and we had to interact with traffic once again.  We learned not to worry, as it seems that NYC loves cyclists. As we continued to navigate north through Midtown, we experienced a city that was alive with pedestrian and cycling activity; there were noticeably fewer automobiles in these neighborhoods.

From the Upper East Side, we were able to drop back down to the Greenway, and Roosevelt Island rolled into sight. We soon started to make our way westward through Harlem toward the Hudson River. What was once NYC’s most feared neighborhood was clean and felt very friendly. We then found ourselves in Riverside Park heading south to where we started. As the name would imply, there are many views of the river and a peaceful vibe through this area. This is when we found ourselves wanting a sweet treat, and we found vendor carts offering drinks and ice cream.

We estimated this ride to be about 40 miles. We found that a smartphone map was a handy tool for staying on course and getting us back on track when we did make a wrong turn. Of course, the phone maps were essential to help us navigate to sights and attractions that were on our list of things to see. It was also handy to use as we looked for certain foods to fuel us on the urban journey.

While we love bikes and riding of all sorts, an urban exploration of one of the world’s largest cities by bicycle almost seemed like a strange way to spend a few vacation days. And it may not be on your list of things to do. However, we had a great time. You should consider moving a bicycle tour of NYC up on your list. Our trip confirmed something we’ve always known; no matter the destination, the best way to see any place is by bicycle. New York City is no exception.

-Dan Lysk