In this series, we answer your travel questions and provide tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. This week, Brooklyn-based Sebastian Modak, Lonely Planet's in-house cycling obsessive, shares why a bicycle is actually a great way to experience New York City.
Question: I am visiting NYC next month with my partner and we want to rent some bikes for a day and see some of the city that way. Do you think that is doable and any recommendations on where we should go?
Sebastian Modak: Most people who tell you that you shouldn’t ride your bicycle in New York City have never ridden a bicycle in New York City. Sure, this isn’t some helmetless cycling utopia, like Copenhagen or Amsterdam. But, with a little extra caution and pre-trip planning it can be a joy to explore all five boroughs (yes, even Staten Island) on two wheels.
Your first step is going to be finding a bike to ride. For quick, short one-way trips, your best bet is Citi Bike, the city’s extensive bike share system. Download the app, and you can rent a Citi Bike for $3.99 for a 30-minute ride or pay for a day pass ($15) for unlimited 30-minute rides over a 24-hour period.
There are tons of higher-quality bike rental options if you’re looking to explore a little farther or put in a workout. For solid hybrids or road bikes, for instance, check out Ride Brooklyn or Innovation Bike Shop, which both offer rentals by the day.
Where to go
The classic ride: For an introduction to the city, head to the western edge of Manhattan where the protected Hudson River Greenway runs all the way from Battery Park in the south to Inwood in the north, some 14 miles in all. Make a day of it with meal stops in the West Village, Harlem and Washington Heights. Riverside Park and the brand-new Little Island are also great spots to stop and stretch along the way. Ride back, or take your bike on the subway or ferry, both of which allow bicycles.
The parks: Both Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn make for great riding (the people-watching is a bonus). Just make sure to follow in the same direction around the loop as other cyclists and leave enough room for the Lycra-clad roadies to pass. Both parks are close to a ton of amenities in the form of restaurants, bars and museums, so you’ll have plenty to do after you do a couple of laps.
Off the beaten bike paths: Of course, New York City is so much more than its parks, which are well-known to tourists. In Brooklyn, for example, why not take the coastal route, joining the newly paved Shore Road Parkway at Bay Ridge and following it all along the water past Coney Island and Brighton Beach (with a requisite stop for Uzbek or Ukrainian food); past the abandoned airfield at Floyd Bennet; and ending on the beach in the Rockaways.
The food trails: If food is what you’re after, then Queens is the place to be. A disclaimer: Cycling through food-centric neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and Flushing can be less straightforward than some of these other options because of inconsistent bike lanes. Bike-friendly routing apps like RideWithGPS, Komoot and Google Maps are going to be your best friends here.
Getting out of the city
Finally, if you have a bicycle for a few days (or you’ve brought your own), New York City makes for a great jumping-off point for long weekends in the Hudson Valley and beyond. Head to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where you’ll find the Old Putnam Trail. Follow that north as it leads to yet further trails, all part of the massive Empire State Trail that extends from New York City to the Canadian border.
Then come home and tell your naysayer friends that not only did you bike in New York City, but you biked through it, out of it, and back into it – all while not spending even a cent on a surge-price Uber.