Bike Travel Guide: New York City
See, Stay, Eat and Ride in NYC
I LOVE New York! But, after spending five days in Washington, DC, I have to admit… biking in New York City is a little intimidating. For starters, NYC is quite large when you consider all the boroughs – it may look small on a map but it is a bit of a beast to conquer.
Since Corinne and I had bikes, Brooklyn seemed like a great spot to make our ‘basecamp’ for the week. We decided to stay in Red Hook, which is the gentrified up-and-coming neighborhood in the southeastern tip of Brooklyn. Our spot was just a couple blocks from the water and an easy pedal to the bridges.
On our first day in New York City, the difference in bike accessibility to DC was shocking and quite an adjustment. On busy NYC streets, you have to ride your bike defensively and with a hint of aggression in order to hold your own in traffic – all while being very aware of your surroundings.
The bike lanes, however, provide a quick escape from the whirlwind of stop and go vehicles. Once I got past the initial shock of riding my bike in the city and got used to the pace, I found it to be fun! Like my downhill mountain biking background, biking on the streets of NYC definitely gives me a rush of excitement that I love. But, riding also gives you freedom to explore the city at your own pace. If you aren’t into adrenaline-fueled biking, be super mindful when planning your NYC bike route to stick to greenways, bike paths and protected bike lanes.
As we planned our New York City bike routes, we decided to break the city up into the areas that we wanted to see. We found it always takes longer to see everything because it’s easy to get sidetracked by all the cool things in New York! So, we carved out our next adventures within Manhattan by Chelsea in meatpacking, Central Park in the lower Eastside, upper Manhattan, and Brooklyn. We barely scratched the surface, but by being on two wheels, we could see more than the average tourist.
One of our favorite places ended up being our backyard neighborhood of Red Hook. The quiet streets here brought a nice change of pace, and a chance to check out each nook and cranny. We loved how old and new, rich and poor coexist in this part of the city: there might be housing projects on one block, a few new hipster cafés and restaurants on the next, and industrial work spaces across the street – both newly refurbished and untouched with the original grime and dust in the window panes. The easy access to downtown and the Brooklyn Bridge via easy to navigate bike routes made this area fun and less stressful.
We could cruise along the waterfront and be in downtown Brooklyn in 10-15 minutes or take the ferry from Redhook to the south part of Brooklyn and even downtown Manhattan. Oh, and just a couple blocks from our door was Fairway, a great big food market that brings in folks from all corners of the city!
New York City has so many great contrasts between the crazy mind-boggling urban jungle and a lot of refreshing and unexpected green spaces. You'll be riding down busy up-town streets and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by a little green jungle in a corner of Central Park or along the Hudson River bike path – with midtown to your right and the Hudson River to your left. The best part is how these green spaces can also act as little shortcuts between routes, making traveling by bike a no-brainer!
I've always said I could live in New York City for at least a year of my life and our time here just reinforced that. I'm very much a mountain girl, but I have such a soft spot for the diversity and experience of an urban environment. The people, the cultures, the food, and the music we experienced were just a sliver of the variety here.
- Absolutely 100% get your bike lock set-up dialed. Lock your bike in a place where there are people and/or lights. It will be less susceptible to suspicious activity. Also, make sure you take any lights or easy-to-grab accessories off your bike! Learn more about how to properly lock your bike in a city HERE!
- Map it out. Be familiar with where you want to go before you take it to the streets. Look for streets with bike lanes that will bring you to your destination with a little less stress.
- Wear a helmet! It’s crazy out there.
- Get yourself a set of lights (front and rear) and maybe some additional reflectors. Check out more on how to light your bike HERE!
- Riding in NYC is all about being confident. The best way to be confident while riding is knowing hand signals and the rules of the road. Learn more about street smart hand signals HERE!
- There’s no way to control street-side hazards like broken glass, nails or other sharp objects, have your fix-a-flat tools on hand. You might even consider purchasing extra durable tires for your urban excursion. Don’t know how to fix-a-flat? Check out this VIDEO!
"Bring some hand wipes. City dirt isn’t the same as nature dirt."
Best NYC Bike Shops:
- Red Beard Bikes: This is a beautiful shop with a really cool collection of bikes and a great staff. The neighborhood is pretty cool too; It is almost directly below the Brooklyn Bridge. Put this on your list of places to start your NYC bike tour.
- NYC Velo: Tiny shop but they were super helpful and chatty when I had to fix a flat!
Eat and Drink:
The food scene in New York City is next-level awesome. To be totally honest, the best part about riding a bike in the city – other than the fact that you can see everything – is it that you work up an incredible appetite so you can just eat your way through the entire city. We ate so much food and were inspired to try all sorts of new and different plates!
"One of the best things about riding around the city is you log a lot of miles without even thinking about it... and that means you need fuel. The food options in NYC are UNREAL... Eat!!"
Where to Stay:
I am an AirBnb super fan. We rented a cute little place in Red Hook for our stay this time around. I have always stayed in Manhattan but having bikes gave us the opportunity to explore this neighborhood a little more – by foot it would be a little trickier. It was cool to just be able to roll our bikes straight into our suite but also be in Manhattan in 20 minutes.
"Since you are on bikes, use the opportunity to explore places you otherwise might not get to explore. Ride down a street that you wouldn't. Look for street art. Spend some time in all the different neighborhoods that make up NYC."
What to See:
I had never explored New York City properly by bike – I’d always just taken the subway from A to B. Perhaps it’s because I was slightly intimidated by the city and I never had a bike that was set up for urban riding, but now that I’ve had a taste, it’s the only way I’ll travel! And hey, you can take your bike on the Subway, too! Check out how HERE!
By bike I was able to cover so much more ground and get a more intimate portrayal of NYC. From alleyways to bike paths, parks to bridges, along rivers and chasing traffic, we saw so many nooks and crannies. It reminded me that this is how I love to travel – to cover so much distance and see it all without a window.
- Bryant Park: I love the energy of this place - nice big lawn, people eating food and playing chess, plus it is on the lawn of the NYC Library (the lawn is actually over part of the library).
- Empire State Building: Just one of those things that is cool to do – great views.
- 9/11 Memorial: Incredible memorial and museum for a day that forever changed the world.
- Central Park: I love this place. You can ride your bike, have a picnic, play a game, go to a museum, the petting zoo, granite slide, boat house, eat food, etc. Pedaling around the park’s roads gets you in the mix of energy and then who knows, will you be able to turn down a treat at the waffle hut around the corner?
- Highline: A public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Can’t take bikes up here but it is a great space.
- MOMA: Iconic museum with some of the world’s best instalments. Put this on the list if your love art!
- Governors Island: Somehow we missed this but everyone said to do it, so I am passing it along. You can bring bikes!!!
- Brooklyn Bike Park: Who wouldn’t want to jump on a pumptrack in the middle of NYC? The Brooklyn Bike Park is a little oasis for MTB lovers. We even took the opportunity to see what the BeLiv could do! I have to say, it handled the corners pretty well and even got airborne!
- The Bridges…all of them!
"I get the same feeling I get when I am on some epic adventure in who knows where when I am in NYC– NYC challenges you and makes you grow. I am always a little uncomfortable but that is when I am happiest.”