A perfect balance of urban landscape and green space, New York lends itself to one of the healthiest, most enjoyable outdoors pursuits – cycling. This may be a surprise to those who still envision the Big Apple as a gritty no-go zone for pedalers. In fact, New York has hundreds of miles of bike lanes and one of the largest bike-sharing programs in North America. New Yorkers and visitors alike are discovering the joys of zipping around on two wheels, and have helped transform this city into a bicycling haven.
Riding in New York is rather less frightening than you might think. Despite the busy streets and seemingly endless stream of yellow taxis, it’s remarkably easy to cycle here – particularly if you know where to go and how to best maneuver yourself.
1. Hook up some wheels
Whether you’re in New York for a week or you’re one of those lucky souls who gets to stay forever, it’s easy to get started.
For a quick jaunt across town, Citi Bike (citibikenyc.com) is the best option. Launched in 2013, this bike-sharing program provides hundreds of self-service kiosks scattered around the city. Here's how it works: purchase a 24-hour or 7-day access pass (around $11 or $28 including tax) at any Citi Bike kiosk. You will then be given a 5-digit code to unlock a bike. Return the bike to any station within 30 minutes to avoid incurring extra fees. To check out a bike again, reinsert your credit card (you won't be charged) and follow the prompts. You can make an unlimited number of 30-minute check-outs during those 24 hours or 7 days.
For longer jaunts, bike rental is cheap and easy and often comes with options for organized tours. There are full service operations like Bike NYC (bikerentalsnyc.com) or Central Park Bike Rental (bikerentalcentralpark.com), both located near Central Park. There are also loads of places to buy bikes, including Brooklyn Flea, one of the best places to browse for a second-hand option. Wearing a helmet is, of course, strongly recommended (and required by law for children under the age of 13). Every bike shop sells them, with plenty of stylish options for maintaining those artfully dishevelled locks. In the Upper West Side and in Tribeca, try Toga.
2. Find the Greenways
Now that you’ve got your trusty steed, it’s time to saddle up and hit the road. But what if you’re not ready? While most cycling in New York happens on streets with motor vehicles, there’s a comprehensive network of bike lanes linking neighborhoods and boroughs. In fact, New York developed the country’s first bike path back in 1894 and various coalitions and government departments still continue to push for better safety provisions for cyclists. If you’re a bit nervous about tackling the city streets on two wheels, find the Greenways (nycgovparks.org), bike paths set off roads in the many parks that fill New York. The west side’s Hudson River Greenway is so heavily used that bikes have had to be separated from pedestrians.
3. Don’t be timid – but familiarize yourself with the rules
Although it can be tempting to breathlessly weave your way along the streets, it’s actually far better to breeze confidently along. If it’s safety you’re concerned about, you’re at far greater risk of causing an accident when drivers overestimate your ability to navigate their streets. You’re operating a vehicle, so you have to obey the road rules. This includes yielding to pedestrians, following the flow of traffic and adhering to the stoplights. Note: Watch out for being ‘doored’ – some older bike paths are set too close to (if not actually in) parking lanes and cyclists have been clipped by car doors suddenly opening in front of them.
4. Find a club
One of the great things about a city like New York is that it has the critical mass to make stuff happen. Consequently, there are also numerous clubs dedicated to cycling – from occasional enthusiasts to those for whom greasing a chain is a complex religion. A casual internet search will reveal countless options for social activities, such as the annual Five Boro Bike Tour (bike.nyc) which takes cyclists through 42 miles of car-free roads from Lower Manhattan all the way through to Staten Island. Sign up, make some friends and share your tips.
5. Have fun!
It sounds twee, but cycling really is about the joy. Whether you’re a recreational rider or a daily commuter, cycling through New York is just one way to remind yourself that you’re flowing through the veins of one of the world’s greatest cities. Explore the city above ground and get a fresh perspective. Even long-time residents of New York will discover things they never knew existed when they pedal past on their two-wheeler.
This article was originally published in 2011, and updated by Regis St Louis in July 2015.