By Richard Fox
You love to bike. You’re visiting Manhattan. Fahgettaboudit, start spreading the news, biking is a great way to see the sights, and work off all that NY pizza. Here are my picks for the best bikeways to take in the most iconic scenery, all of which can be connected.
Check on line for the most up to date info on bike rental shops. Citi Bike bikeshare has stands all over Manhattan, but is geared more to get from points A to B rather than keeping it for a period of time for touring, where fees add up quickly, especially for their e-bikes. It’s your best bet if you want to stop and see various attractions on foot so you can dock the bike and not worry about theft. A day pass is more economical than starting your contract over each time. You can typically find their clunky cruisers at most of the stands. However, based on my recent experience, don’t count on finding a working e-bike when and where you want it, regardless of what their app indicates. The more riders in your group the less likelihood of e-bike success.
How iconic can it get? My favorite time to ride around Central Park is during the fall foliage season, usually mid November, if you can luck into a mild sunny day. The perimeter roadways form a roughly 6 mile loop and are closed to traffic, offering a great opportunity for sightseeing while getting a good workout. Download a map of the route to find all of the access points.
Cycling is one-way, counter-clockwise around the park, with no cycling allowed on pedestrian paths except where marked as a shared path such as the cross-over path above 95th Street. Bikes must observe a 20 mph speed limit, give peds the right of way, and obey traffic controls. When you see cyclists ignoring annoyances like red lights or speed limits they are probably New York area locals. Watch for speeding cyclists that pass on the right without warning who are avoiding pedestrians to your left.
Pass some of the familiar landmarks like The Lake, The Reservoir, The Great Lawn, and Wollman Skating Rink. Museum Mile along 5th Avenue, centered around the East 90th Street park entrance, contains the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, and El Museo del Barrio. Along the bike route behind The Met on the left (west) is Cleopatra’s Needle (an ancient obelisk) and an Alexander Hamilton statue. The formal and lush Conservatory Garden is accessed via a ped path to the east at 106th Street. With all that there is to explore in the park you may want to bike a non-stop loop or two and then take the time to see the highlights on foot. Download the Bloomberg Connects app for free guided tours of Central Park provided by the Central Park Conservancy, and other New York highlights. For pickleball players there’s friendly play at the handball courts, and the city even provides the balls.
The North Woods section at the north end with its steep hills can be bypassed by a 2-way crossover route at 104th/105th Streets in the east to 102nd Street in the west. The upper west side area is also fairly hilly.
Connect from Central Park to the Hudson River Greenway Path described below on several designated bike routes along 77th/78th Streets, 90/91st Streets, 106th Street and 110th Street.
MANHATTAN WATERFRONT GREENWAY
The Manhattan Waterfront Greenway is a 31 mile bicycle route around Manhattan Island, running mainly next to the Hudson, East and Harlem Rivers. Download the map here. I have only cycled on the Hudson River Greenway that passes the Grecian Temple, the mighty George Washington Bridge, and the historic Little Red Lighthouse in its north end. The path is mostly level and next to the river except for the section north of the bridge that climbs to around 160 feet at Inspiration Point. In this area Fort Tyron Park has beautiful plantings, great vistas and the Cloisters art museum, accessed via a short steep hill from the bridge to the 181st Street crossover, then north on Cabrini Blvd.
The Greenway extends from Dyckman Street in the north to Battery Park in the south, mostly through Hudson River Park and Riverside Park. This path is used by commuters and recreation seekers and is one of the most heavily used bikeways in the country. Beware of speeding cyclists.
Farther south it passes the Chelsea Piers athletic complex, Pier 57 Rooftop Park (“Roof Deck”) with awesome views, and the new (2021) Little Island park built in the river, a fascinating place to check out (and it has great new restrooms). The main path heads inland, skirting the 9/11 Memorial. An alternate more scenic but also more ped-challenged route follows the waterfront along Battery Park City, branching off north of Chambers Street, with a walk-bike section around the yacht basin. Both lead to Battery Park, with views of the Statue of Liberty and ferries to it, Staten Island and Governors Island.
For an interesting side trip walk the 1.45-mile long High Line linear park, built on an abandoned elevated railway (no bikes). It is a popular and typically crowded public park lined with interesting landscaping with vistas of unique architecture. Dock your Citi Bike nearby or if you have your own or rented bike lock it like “Fort Knox.” High Line starts at Gansevoort St, inland and just south of Little Island near the Whitney Museum, and heads north to 34th Street.
The Hudson pathway continues around the south tip of Manhattan to the East River Greenway along the East Side from The Battery, northeast past South Street Seaport and the famed Brooklyn Bridge. The bike path across the bridge was moved to its center with minimal vistas, so it’s not a scenic ride. Best to dock your bike nearby and walk across it on the upper ped promenade, which has ultra scenic vistas from the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty. Chinatown and Little Italy are accessible to the north from the west end of the bridge. A gap from 34th to 59th Streets in Midtown around United Nations Headquarters necessitates cyclists to use bike lanes on busy boulevards. In Harlem low traffic street connectors bridge another gap between 120th and 155th Streets.
Harlem River Greenway then extends uninterrupted between 155th Street in Central Harlem north to Dyckman Street at the north end of the island. About 30 blocks of this Greenway are along the Harlem River, while the rest are inland. A bike lane on Dykman Street connects to the Hudson River Greenway at Inwood Hill Park.
Cycling around the perimeter of historic Governors Island in New York Harbor is a visual treat. View the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, the Verrazano Narrows and Brooklyn Bridges, and the fabled QE2. A public ped/bike ferry leaves seasonally from next to the Staten Island ferry in The Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan. It can easily be added to your Waterfront Greenway ride.
The biking distance around the island is short, about 2 miles each loop, plus some exploration in the island interior, so it’s easy to add this on to a riverside cycle if you have your own bike. Bike share users may want to drop off a bike in Manhattan and pick up another one on the island. Governors Island offers both Blazing Saddles and Citi Bike rentals.
The island played a role in military defense for many years, but was sold in 2003 to the National Park Service and Governors Island Trust, and has been open to the public seasonally since, with plans on tap to develop more features for the public to enjoy. Download the map. The island has some food concessions and restrooms available.
For more adventures combine your outing with rides on the New York City Ferries. The $4 fare includes your bike, or you can dock it and pick up another one at the various locales. See the route map for the many options.
And finally, what about biking the GW? The bike path along the George Washington Bridge is heavily used and narrow, with plans to improve it afoot. I’ve walked it in the past, but never biked it. It is the only way to bike across the Hudson in the NYC area and affords great vistas of the city to the south. Here’s a link for bridge access info and construction schedules. Once in Fort Lee cyclists have several options, including eating at one of the many Asian restaurants there. Fort Lee Historic Park with rich Revolutionary War history is just to the south of the bridge on Hudson Terrace. From this park Henry Hudson Drive (aka River Road) is a low speed limit park road open to cars and bikes that heads north, under the bridge, and extends over 8 miles through scenic but very hilly Palisades Park. The round trip is about 1,700 ft of climbing. Road route 9W north to Piermont is popular with local bikers.
Many thanks to locals Lew F & Elaine G for so much info, guidance and tips on NYC biking!