In the past couple years, bicycling the streets of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn has become more mainstream and much less the sole province of bike messengers and zealots. The city government and biking organizations have both helped make it safer than it had been for decades, and drivers and pedestrians are more aware that bikes are likely to be on the road, too. Check the Department of Transportation's website for a cycling map that shows the best routes and roads with designated bike lanes, as well as local road rules, including for taking a bike on public transit.
For biking under more controlled conditions, head to New York's major parks. Central Park has a six-mile circular drive with a couple of decent climbs. It's closed to car traffic from 10 am to 3 pm (except the southeast portion between 6th Avenue and East 72nd Street), from 7 pm to 7 am on weekdays, and from 7 pm Friday to 7 am Monday. On holidays it's closed to car traffic from 7 pm the night before until 7 am the day after.
Beware of renting a bike from the vendors that hang out on the streets near Central Park, especially by Columbus Circle. These bikes tend to be old and mismatched and are also often stolen. It's better to rent from someone with an actual storefront. Most bike-rental stores have copies of the very handy official Bike Map, which is published annually and shows traffic flow and bike lanes for all of New York City.
The bike lane along the Hudson River Park's esplanade parallels the waterfront from West 59th Street south to the esplanade of Battery Park City. The lane also heads north, connecting with the bike path in Riverside Park and the promenade between West 72nd and West 110th streets, continuing all the way to the George Washington Bridge. A two-way bike lane runs along the park’s Terrace Drive, a popular route across the park at 72nd Street. From Battery Park it's a quick ride to the Wall Street area, which is deserted on weekends, and over to South Street and a bike lane along the East River.
The 3.3-mile circular drive in Brooklyn's Prospect Park is closed to cars year-round except from 7 am to 9 am (on the northbound East Drive) and 5 pm to 7 pm (on the southbound West Drive) on weekdays. It has a long, gradual hill that tops off near the Grand Army Plaza entrance.
Bike Rentals & Information
New York City Department of Transportation. A PDF version of the annual Bike Map is available from the site, as is lots of other information about cycling in the city. www.nyc.gov/bikes.
Bicycle Rentals at Loeb Boathouse. Rentals are also available near Tavern on the Green, near West 66th Street. Midpark near E. 74th St., 72nd St. and Park Dr. N, Central Park, New York, New York, 10028. 212/517–2233; 212/260–0400; www.centralparknyc.org. Apr.–Nov., weekdays 10–6, weekends 9–6.
Pedal Pusher Bike Shop. 1306 2nd Ave., at 69th St., Upper East Side, New York, New York, 10065. 212/288–5592; www.pedalpusherbikeshop.com.
Toga Bike Shop. 110 West End Ave., at 64th St., Upper West Side, New York, New York, 10023. 212/799–9625; www.togabikes.com.
Waterfront Bicycle Shop. 391 West St., between Christopher and 10th sts., West Village, New York, New York, 10014. 212/414–2453 ; www.bikeshopny.com.
Citi Bike Bicycling Share
New York's bike-sharing program debuted in 2013 with hundreds of stations, the majority in Manhattan south of Central Park and northern Brooklyn. The three-speed, 40-pound, bright-blue bikes, which are either charming or clunky depending on your perspective, are outfitted with lights and bungee cords to secure small bags and other items. They don't come with helmets, though: wearing one is recommended but not mandatory.
After buying a Citi Bike pass, you are able to borrow an unlimited number of the bikes for either 24 hours ($9.95) or 7 days ($25). What is limited is your time with a particular bike: the time between unlocking a bike at one station at returning it to another must be 30 minutes or under, or you face additional charges, and these overtime charges add up quickly (all the way to $1,200 for never returning a bike at all). As soon as you return one bike, you're free to get another—even one from the same location.
Before you pull a bike from one of the bays and start the 30-minute clock running, spend a little time planning your route. Citi Bike's apps are helpful with this, because they show which of the computerized outdoor stations have bikes available, and—just as important—which have empty bays available for when it's time to return your bike.
Citi Bike. The Citi Bike website and apps, for Android and iOS, help locate nearby bike stations and the best route to reach destinations. New York, New York, 855/245–3311; www.citibikenyc.com.
Group Bike Rides
Bike New York runs a 40-mile, five-borough bike ride the first Sunday in May. The Five Borough Bicycle Club organizes day and weekend rides. The New York Cycle Club sponsors weekend rides for every level of ability. Time's Up!, a nonprofit advocacy group, leads free recreational rides at least twice a month for cyclists as well as skaters; the Central Park Moonlight Ride, departing from Columbus Circle at 10 pm the first Friday of every month, is a favorite.
Bike New York. New York, New York, 212/870–2080; www.bikenewyork.org.
Five Borough Bike Club. New York, New York, 347/688–2925; www.5bbc.org.
New York Cycle Club. www.nycc.org.
Time's Up!. New York, New York, 212/802–8222; www.times-up.org.