Cycling in Manhattan and Brooklyn may not always feel like a big joyride, but New York City is becoming truly bike friendly. Lauren Jones of TriBeCa-based Brilliant Bicycles, Manhattan's only purveyor of locally made, low-upkeep, budget-friendly cycles, shares her favorite routes for everyday cyclists and casual riders.
NEW YORK CITY – Biking in New York City can be daunting, especially for beginner cyclists. The traffic. The crowds. The logistics. But it can also be fun and exhilarating and a great way to see a different side of the Big Apple, even when you're headed where everyone else is. The trick? A little planning, a sweet set of wheels, a fully charged phone with Google Maps, and a list of the city's best beginner bike routes.
FIRST OFF: GET A BIKE
Fitting enough shoes in your bag for a trip can be hard enough, let alone bringing your own bicycle. Rent one from Bike and Roll's Central Park location if you're checking out sites uptown or from their downtown location if you're crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, riding to South Street Seaport, or shopping in Soho and Nolita. Prices start at $28 for two hours ($44 for the full day) and include a helmet, lock, map, and storage bags.
STAY ON THE ISLAND: DOWNTOWN WATERFRONT
When you don't have time, or simply don't want to leave Manhattan, head downtown and explore the greenway waterfront. The scenic route, which can be picked up anywhere below Dyckman Street on the west side and 34th Street on the east, is perfect for beginners and groups as it's almost exclusively along protected bike paths and doesn't touch street traffic.
Route: Hudson River Greenway to Battery Park; East River Greenway to South Street Seaport.
Length: The stretch from Pier 25 to South Street Seaport is three miles one way.
Cut it short: Double back along the greenway or jump on the subway by Battery Park.
When to go: Early or late. There is limited shade and lots of foot traffic during the day.
Good to Know: There are plenty of Citi Bike stations downtown for shorter rides.
What to do along the way: Starting at Pier 25, stop at Brookfield Place for snacks, coffee, and shopping, continue around the island to dine in the revitalized South Street Seaport district, and, if you're up for it, head back to the west side for sunset cocktails atop the historic wooden schooner at Grand Banks.
TAKE A MINI-VACATION: GOVERNORS ISLAND
With history that dates to the 1600s, an exciting summer events series, two food courts, and a variety of outdoor spaces, Governors Island has become a hot destination for New Yorkers looking to escape from the city. Take your bike on the ten-minute ferry ride over, or rent one on the island. The goal is to ride and relax, so give yourself at least half a day for the trip.
Route: Ferry from South Street Seaport to Governors Island.
Length: The loop around the island is one mile long.
Cut it short: Find a hammock, nap, then walk back to the ferry.
When to go: Between May 1 and October 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (7 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays).
Good to know: Blazing Saddles does free rentals on the island for up to an hour on weekdays between 10 a.m. and noon.
What to do on Governors Island: Alternate between forts, museums, public art installations, mini golf, cocktails at Island Oyster Bar, and taking in sweeping views of downtown Manhattan.
BIKE INTO BROOKLYN: WILLIAMSBURG AND DUMBO
It's a stereotype for a reason: Biking is the best way to explore Brooklyn, especially the built-up areas by the waterfront. Weave through the side streets or stick to the path along the river — you're bound to stumble upon something cool. After scaling the bridge, you'll want to post up at a restaurant, bar, boutique, or park, so give yourself at least four hours for the trip (or just stay the day). Don't forget where you parked your bike.
Route: Ride across the Manhattan Bridge into Downtown Brooklyn, up the waterfront to Williamsburg, and over the Williamsburg Bridge back into the city.
Length: The full circuit is just over six miles, not counting distance traveled while exploring.
Cut it short: Not feeling the bridge on your way back? Take the East River Ferry to Wall Street.
When to go: Early on a weekday morning to avoid the DUMBO crowds.
Good to know: Cut across the protected bike lane on Grand Street if you're coming from Manhattan's west side.
What to do along the way: For a nice break, grab a coffee at VHH Foods, catch your breath on the Brooklyn Promenade, have a drink on the rooftop at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, or sit down for a meal at Sunday in Brooklyn by the Williamsburg Bridge.
HEAD TO THE BEACH: CONEY ISLAND
Brooklyn's iconic beach playground is within biking distance of downtown Manhattan. Pack light, bring plenty of water, and spend the day people-watching on the boardwalk, screaming at the top of your lungs on amusement park rides, and chowing down on Coney Island classics. The mostly flat ride takes between 70 and 90 minutes and is well worth the sweat.
Route: Going, cross the Manhattan Bridge, ride south on 5th Avenue, and continue along Shore Parkway Greenway Trail to Surf Avenue. Returning, take Surf Avenue to Ocean Parkway, bike north through Prospect Park, then make a beeline for the Manhattan or Williamsburg bridges.
Length: Roughly twelve miles one way.
Cut it short: From the beach, take the N or Q train back to downtown Manhattan.
When to go: Depart early. Biking on the boardwalk is prohibited after 10 a.m.
Good to know: Shore Parkway has gorgeous views of the Verrazano Bridge. Ocean Parkway is one of the country's oldest bike paths. Bring the camera.
What to do along the way: Play games at Luna Park, grab a beer at Coney Island Brewing Company, chow down at the new Kitchen 21 food court, and, if you bike through the park on your way back, stop into Brooklyn Museum of Art for an A/C cool down.
RIDE UPTOWN: THE CLOISTERS
Medieval works and gardens inspired by southern France in New York City? An easy ride to Inwood will take you a world away. Give yourself four to six hours for an enjoyable trip to The Met Cloisters.
Route: Head north along the West Side Highway.
Length: The ride from Bike and Roll on the UWS is roughly eight miles.
Cut it short: Jump on the A train if you don't want to bike back.
When to go: Early enough to enjoy The Cloisters before they close around 5 p.m.
Good to know: There are a few short climbs along the way. Take your time and don't feel bad if you need to walk your bike.
What to do along the way: Grab a quick bite at Boat Basin Cafe, take a photo at the iconic Little Red Lighthouse at the base of the George Washington Bridge, and, on the way back, ride through Morningside Park into Harlem for a meal at Red Rooster.
CYCLE THE LOOP: CENTRAL PARK
Leaves rustling in the wind, birds chirping, frisbees flying. It's almost like you're no longer in New York City, except you couldn't be anywhere else. Grab a quick two-hour trip and see the ponds and mall of lower Central Park or ride the full six-hour route for for reservoir views, relaxing, and getting lost at your own pace.
Route: Enter the park on Central Park West, then choose your loop.
Length: Take the two-, five-, or six-mile loop.
Cut it short: Transfer to a shorter loop or exit the park and jump on the subway.
When to go: Weekday mornings and evenings when cars aren't allowed in the park.
Good to know: If you do the full loop, Harlem Hill is a half-mile climb that will get your legs pumping. Don't worry, there's a nice downhill coming back.
GOOD TO KNOW
- NYC law requires that your bicycle is equipped with a bell or horn and front and rear reflectors or lights.
- Let Google Maps find the safest path for your ride. Plug in your destination and select the bike option.
- Always wear a helmet and make sure it's properly fastened. It should fit snugly and not move when you shake your head.
- Especially in the summer, drink plenty of water before you leave and bring a bottle for the ride. Hydration is key.