If you’ve never taken a bike ride around Manhattan and its boroughs, you’re missing out. It’s a totally different way to experience the City and offers a sense of freedom you don’t get from just walking around. I became the proud owner of my very own bicycle (thanks to the extreme generosity of my amateur-cyclist uncle here in the City) back at the end of June and since then have pedaled my way around the Big Apple with great enthusiasm. Not only does it save on taking the subway all the time, but I’ve truly seen some places I didn’t even know existed or wouldn’t have discovered solely by foot.
Biking around NYC can be challenging at times, no question. You have to be on your guard all the time for taxis, people opening car doors, other cyclists, and of course, pedestrians and tourists. And riding in areas without bike lanes can be hazardous if you aren’t paying close enough attention to your surroundings. Even places WITH bike lanes can be frustrating (ahem, Times Square). But the experience of flying around the City on two wheels is overwhelmingly exhilarating and beautiful.
Take, for instance, Central Park. Yes, it seems a bit clichéd to take a bike ride around the Central Park Loop (especially considering how many semi-shady-looking guys stand around Columbus Circle offering discounts on bike rentals), but having just done it last week right around sunset, I can tell you it’s really rather romantic. For the teeniest moment, you feel as though you’re not in the City at all as you careen down tree-filled slopes and pass little ponds. Granted, I went riding in Central Park with a rather nice gentleman, so perhaps I have some rose-colored glasses on which are making my ride seem lovelier. We stopped near a pond I’ve never seen before and sat on a bench near the water while the sun sank lower and lower in the sky. I didn’t even know that spot was there, but I’m pretty sure he did.
I live in the charming little neighborhood of Astoria, and it’s absolutely conducive to bicycling. There’s an absolutely gorgeous ride to be had along the East River in Astoria Park, which offers breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, if you’ll allow me to brag about my ‘hood for five seconds. In the summertime, the bike paths are a little busy since they’re shared with runners and roller-bladers, but it’s the kind of ride you don’t need to hurry through anyway. Once, I was riding through and stumbled upon a Beatles tribute concert going on and stopped for a few minutes to sing along with the crowds. It was a fun little surprise.
I also have ridden over to Roosevelt Island a few times as it’s not that far from where I live and doesn’t get much vehicular traffic, making it pretty bicycle-friendly. Though you can also drive and take the suspended tram to RI, it’s more fun to pedal around the cobbled streets of this little gem. It’s mainly home to the psychiatric hospital, but there are several beautiful old churches and even a stone lighthouse on the northern tip!
I don’t mean for this to sound like a tourist guidebook, but having a bike has really helped me fall back in love with New York in a lot of ways. Not that I was ever totally out of love with this city, but there are times when it can feel cold and hard and unforgiving and all you want to do is get out. Having a bike has helped me see glimmers of warmth and life. It’s given me some of that freedom I crave. It’s brought me closer to people and given me new perspectives.
It’s also just really great exercise.