"You rode a bike in New York City?!! Are you crazy?!" We heard this more than once when we returned from a recent NYC summer weekend visit. We may, in fact, BE crazy, but you don't have to be to ride a bike in NYC. Amazingly, it's not as difficult or perilous as it sounds! I had found this idea in a newsletter from the travel agency, Active Travels, (http://www.activetravels.com/explore/ ) which specializes in personalized membership travel planning services for people looking for active vacations. (Full Disclosure: I am a member, but receive no compensation from their business for writing about my experiences)
When we decided to visit the city on a sunny June weekend, when nearly every NY resident was headed for the Hamptons, I knew the Hudson River Greenway (http://www.nycbikemaps.com/maps/manhattan-waterfront-greenway-bike-map/ ) ride mentioned by Active Travels would be the perfect way for us to see the city! I googled to find a bike rental shop within walking distance of our hotel and located Central Park Tours (https://www.centralparktours.net) which was well reviewed on Trip Advisor. The small store front on Broadway organizes guided tours, but it was also easy to go on our own and rent bikes for the day or by the hour. We reserved online ahead of time and our bikes were ready to go when we arrived at 10 AM. (I had contacted them ahead of time and received a timely response, and they had a bike big enough for Jeff, who is quite tall!) Although it's easy to use the Citibikes (https://www.citibikenyc.com) stationed in various locations around the city these seem better for residents and visitors making point to point trips. We preferred to rent bicycles we could use for multiple destinations and also be provided a helmet and bike lock and a phone number for support should the bicycle break down.
Its also possible to completely circumnavigate Manhattan by following dedicated bike trails and lanes along the East River and around Harlem. Since we wanted to make multiple stops, we only did a partial circle around the city from midtown to Battery Park on the Hudson River Greenway and back to Midtown via the East River Greenway.
We fought our way through the crowds Times Square on foot and then made our way to the Hudson River Greenway at 51st street. One of the thing I told my incredulous friends was that because traffic is so thick, riding with the traffic isn't that difficult because all vehicles are traveling at about the same speed (about 10-20 mph)
My Tips for Riding in NYC
1- It's best suited for people who have some comfort with urban bike riding, although the the Hudson River Greenway is a dedicated bike path, it does have multiple traffic crossings, shares the trail with pedestrians. The East River Geeenway and Harlem River Greenways occasionally follows public streets where dedicated bike lanes that are not always clearly marked. While a short ride on part of the greenway might be suitable for children, a full circuit could be challenging with young children on their own bikes.
2-It's not a crazy idea to wear a helmet! Bring your own water bottle, unlike other rental places, we weren't provided water bottles at Central Park Tours.
3- NYC is easy to navigate with a clear grid of numbered streets and avenues. Ride with a good map or plan your route on a map routing app. Be sure to move completely off the paths to check the maps and even though we saw it happen, it's not safe to use your phone while riding unless it's hands free. Central Park Tours provided an excellent free map.
4- Be sure to observe all rules of the road. Every city has different laws, and we were told that in NYC, bikes are not allowed on sidewalks and pedestrian walkways, except where clearly marked as allowed. We walked out bikes anytime we needed to be on the sidewalk and we were careful to lock the bikes anytime we stopped and stepped away from them even for a few moments.
Our first stop was the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum ( http://www.intrepidmuseum.org) although we didn't "board" this aircraft carrier museum, we took some time to explore it from the dock.
We traveled a bit inland hoping to ride through Greenwhich Village and find Washington Square Park, with its arch, made famous by its appearance in many popular movies!
We rode a bit further south to lower Mahattan to see the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorials built to honor the victims of the events of 9/11. It was our first time seeing this magnificently made memorial and we paid our respects at the walls and waterfalls which with the dark granite and waters falling into the ground, beautifully convey the massiveness of this tragedy while respectfully honoring the thousands of victims. Timed tickets for the observation area at One World Trade Center can be purchased (https://oneworldobservatory.com), as can tickets for the 9/11 Memorial Museum (http://www.911memorial.org), but we just took time to see the outdoor memorial fountains in the footprint of the original buildings which are free and open to the public.
After the moving 9/11 memorials, we made our way to Battery Park. Bikes are required to be walked in the park, or can be locked up at the entrances. From here we were able to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The tour ferries to these attractions can be accessed from the park. we didn't take the ferries to the islands, but based on the lines we saw, it would be best to book timed tickets for these on a busy summer weekend.
Throughout Battery Park, there are food carts of all kinds- this one appealed to me!
After touring the park on foot, we carried on to the East River Greenway and took a harrowing bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge. While the views were worth it, the pedestrian crowds made it challenging to use the dedicated bike lane. The little bell provided on our bikes got quite a workout! The attendant at Central Park Tours suggested an excellent route in Brooklyn to see the Manhattan skyline from across the Green River.
At the UN, the trail joins public streets. This section requires some comfort with urban riding, as we were on streets in a bike lane riding with city traffic. Rather than continuing all the way around the north end of the island, we headed into midtown to bike in Central Park. (http://www.centralparknyc.org/things-to-see-and-do/ )
Quickly running out of time on our bike rental, we didn't get to see much of Central Park. Most of the paths are dedicated for walking only, so we were only able to ride around exterior parts of the park. We didn't find many signs in the park to help visitors understand where they were and found it difficult to navigate inside the park. Because Central Park Tours offers biking tours of the parks, that might be something I'd like to try one day to see more of the park!
Despite our friends concerns about biking in NYC, we found it to be a pleasant experience overall and an excellent way to see much of the city during a short period of time. NYC is certainly known as a walking city, and it is! But on a short, busy summer weekend visit, we were able to cover twice the distance on a bike than we could on foot, and probably moved at twice the speed of a taxi or Uber to get there!
If you are planning a trip to NYC- I recently learned about a local blogger, The New York City Native, who shares her insider tips about the city (http://thenewyorknative.com) I found out about her 2 weeks too late to take advantage of her expertise for my trip, but her blog offers a variety of in-the-know entertainment options, including lots of free choices! Regular readers of my blog know how I love local guides, and a good local blogger can help with planning a visit that includes those special insider experiences you can't get from reading a guide book!