The expansion of New York’s network of bike paths and bike lanes has made the city a much safer and more pleasant place to ride. However, there are still plenty of dangers on the road. If you’re uncomfortable cycling with traffic, try these car-free routes in parks and greenways around NYC.
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During weekends (Fri 7pm–Mon 7am) and select times on weekdays (10am–3pm, 7pm–7am), Manhattan’s green jewel is closed to the general public’s gas guzzlers, making for a stress-free recreational ride. Cycling is permitted only on the East and West Drives going clockwise, plus two driveways that cut across the park (Terrace Dr at 72nd St and Central Park Driveway at 104th St), but there’s still plenty to see. Just don’t think you’re king of the road: Pedalers must yield to pedestrians—regardless of green lights at crossings.
1. Start at Columbus Circle (Central Park South at Central Park West), where the cycle-deficient can rent wheels at Bike and Roll (bikenewyorkcity; 2hrs $28, 4hrs $39, day $44; includes helmet). Unless you plan on stopping, it won’t take more than an hour to complete the loop.
2. Your first destination should inspire. Dismount when you reach the one-way Center Drive and walk south to Artists’ Gate Plaza to see statues of Latin American icons José de San Martín and José Julián Marti riding dramatic, rearing horses. Take a page from their book: Hop back in the saddle, pop a wheelie and ride back up Center Drive.
3. Between 77th and 78th Streets, keep an eye out on your left for Still Hunt, a sculpture by Edward Kemeys of a crouching panther perched on a rocky outcrop. Now is the time to scream “Duck! Panther attack!” at your unsuspecting companion.
4. As you make your way north on East Drive, you’ll find Cleopatra’s Needle, an Egyptian obelisk dating to 1500 B.C., rearing up on your left. A little farther along, you’ll pass a larger-than-life granite statue of founding father Alexander Hamilton.
5. Once the Metropolitan Museum of Art is behind you, keep your eyes peeled for Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece the Guggenheim Museum on your right.
6. After a long, flat stretch, you’ll swoop down a slope bearing left. If you’re making a day of it, put on the brakes, tie up your steed and have a refreshing dip in Lasker Pool. (Remember to bring your own lock for the pool lockers.) Otherwise, continue down the hill and take a break by Harlem Meer. You’ll need it: The next leg of your journey is the longest, steepest hill in the loop.
7. Once you begin to approach Strawberry Fields, look to the right to see the twin towers of the San Remo apartment block looming above.
8. Before you return to Columbus Circle, cut across the two-way Terrace Drive and follow the music to the Central Park Skate Circle (Sat, Sun 2:45–6:45pm) on your right, then roll farther along to bask in a fantastic elevated view of Bethesda Fountain against a backdrop of boaters on the lake.
9. To finish the ride, we recommend continuing to where Center Drive meets East Drive and turning right (south) to Doris C. Freedman Plaza. Grab a Belgian-style waffle or ice cream from the Wafel and Dinges truck and take in the Public Art Fund’s installation of Paola Rivi’s rotating plane How I Roll.
The west side of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway is a well-maintained, protected two-way path. Starting from the north, you’ll see a faux Grecian temple in Fort Tryon Park and the Little Red Lighthouse, which inspired Hildegard H. Swift’s 1942 children’s book. If you need a rest stop, halt at Pier I Café at 70th Street (212-362-4450, piericafe.com; daily 11:30am–11:30pm) for a tart blueberry lemonade ($3), then continue south to pass the Intrepid museum at 46th Street. Peep the south side of the ship to see a replica of the Gemini space capsule suspended by a crane. Dyckman St to Battery Park City (nyc.gov)
The traffic noise on the Triborough Bridge is as disruptive as vehicles get during a ride on this isle. The 4.5 miles of waterfront pathways, shared with pedestrians and runners, take you through nature reserves and gardens, past the art of FLOW.12, over a wooden bridge that traverses a salt marsh, and under the archways of the Hell Gate Bridge. To get there, pedal across the recently reopened Wards Island Bridge at East River Drive and 103rd Street. (nycgovparks.org)
Finding peace and quiet on this Brooklyn seafront? Surely not! But that’s what early-bird bikers enjoy when they stick to the designated cycling hours of 6–10am; we recommend a serene ride right at the beginning. Getting there is also easy and safe: The protected Ocean Parkway bike lane (Ocean Parkway from Prospect Park Southwest to Sea Breeze Ave) separates riders from vehicles and pedestrians. Pick it up from the southern tip of Prospect Park. Boardwalk between Corbin Pl and W 37th St, Coney Island, Brooklyn (nycgovparks.org)
Park your bike in the racks on the bottom deck of the Staten Island Ferry (siferry.com) en route to this spacious beach with golden sand. To avoid riding on roads from the terminal, hop on the MTA’s Staten Island Railway from St. George to Old Town and walk east to the waterfront via Ocean Breeze Park. The boardwalk runs from South Beach in the north down to Midland Beach and passes a sea turtle sculpture with a spray fountain in case you need to cool off. A new path slated for completion in August, the Great Kills Bikeway, will extend the car-free route from the end of the boardwalk at Miller Field past New Dorp Beach to Cedar Grove, a former private beach colony that reopened to the public last year. While you’re there, seek out Padilla-Harris’s recently debuted public art installation MistWave (through Sept 2, 2012), a set of five cool-vapor–emitting blue pipes curled into a wave shape. Boardwalk between Fort Wadsworth and Miller Field, Staten Island (nycgovparks.org)