Biking in New York City
One of the things from The Happiness Project that really resonated with me was asking what you liked to do as a kid: I loved riding my bike as a kid, and I love riding my bike now–even though the chaotic streets of New York City are a far cry from the American River bike path. When it comes to transportation in New York City, most people opt for the iconic yellow cab or the affordable subway system. But over the past two years, I’ve realized that biking is one of the best ways to see the city: it can be a workout, but it can also be such a great way to discover new places and really enjoy the journey throughout the city. I commute regularly on bike, often use CitiBike for errands, and will take my bike on long rides on the weekends–for both work and play, essentially. It’s one of my favorite things to do in New York City, and I wish more people experienced it–so here are a few of my favorite routes, tips and tricks.
Central Park loop: The 6.1-mile loop is a standard for city cyclists of all fitness levels. An oasis in the middle of bustling Manhattan, the Central Park loop is a great way to cycle without worrying about taxi doors suddenly opening or dealing with car traffic. That said: there are lot of tourists in the southern end of the park, and not all of them are aware of the cyclists hurtling toward them. Still one of my favorites for all of the beautiful places that you can discover: there are so many ponds, lakes and intricate bridges that you won’t spot on a picnic in Sheeps Meadow.
Prospect Park loop: It’s like Central Park…but without the tourists. My boyfriend and I regularly bike down to Prospect Park to do the loop, and it’s my favorite way to relax after a stressful day. Prospect Park was designed by the same person who did Central Park, so there are a lot of similarities–gently rolling hills, plenty of shade, scattered lakes and ponds.
Hudson River Greenway: One of the best ways to bike within the city without dealing with traffic or stoplights: the Hudson River Greenway basically stretches along the entire western side of Manhattan. To make a real day of it, I love biking all the way up the Hudson River Greenway to the little red lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge and then on to Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters.
Governors Island: It’s worth the extra $1 to take a bike on the ferry to Governors Island: it’s one of the few spaces in the New York City area where there are basically no cars! While the island is easy enough to walk around–it’s not THAT big–it’s also just big enough to make a few loops really enjoyable. And the views are spectacular!
Manhattan Bridge: The Brooklyn Bridge might be the famous one, but oh em gee the crowds! And the Williamsburg Bridge is a necessity for commuters, but the slope makes it quite a workout. Manhattan Bridge isn’t much of a looker, but it’s my favorite bridge to bike across: fairly easy incline, good views, and it deposits you in the heart of DUMBO (great to bike ride in) and Chinatown (insane to bike ride in).
Where to get a bike: Although I have my own bike (thanks Aly!), I’ve been using CitiBike since it launched in summer 2013. It’s a great supplement to having my own bike (i.e. I want to bike to work in the morning, but I have an event after work that I’ll want to subway home after or having a dinner date in another neighborhood after work). It’s $10 a day or $25 for seven days for unlimited 30-minute rides, and there are a ton of locations in Manhattan (less so in Brooklyn, but they’re supposedly expanding). It can definitely get more expensive if you go over that 30 minutes (an extra $9 every half hour!), but if not, it’s a great way to pop around the city.
There are a few other options–Blazing Saddles rents bikes along the Hudson River and near Central Park (and offers bike tours), and quite a few bike shops in Brooklyn offer daily rentals. Even so, I think CitiBike is the best option just because you don’t have to worry about locking it up OR bringing it back to the same place!
Wearing a helmet: I know my mom is going to cringe reading this, but I don’t always wear a helmet. That said: I’ve seen plenty of collisions and I definitely think that wearing a helmet is a good idea. CitiBike doesn’t offer helmet rentals, but bike shops and Blazing Saddles will.
Be aware of your surroundings: Look, New York City has some crazy drivers and some crazy people. It pays to concentrate on what’s going on around you when you’re on a bike. Don’t wear headphones, pay attention to traffic signals, watch for parked cars (with passengers who might be getting out), don’t be afraid to ring your bell or yell if you see a pedestrian in your path. I always think of my bike ride as a moving meditation simply because I have to focus so clearly on what’s happening around me–there isn’t any room in my mind for distraction!
Don’t be afraid to stop: Compared to the subway or a taxi, one of the greatest advantages to biking in the city is seeing the city–and actually being able to stop and explore. I’ve discovered new parks, quirky museums and beautiful doors while I’ve biked around the city, and I love going on rides where the only aim is to find something new.
Have you ever biked in New York City? Do you have any favorite routes or tips?