Bike riding in the Big Apple

Williamsburg Bridge on a mild September day in NYC.


My plan was to visit Dave Perry, author of Bike Cult, who lives in Brooklyn near Williamsburg Bridge.

I’ve never visited New York City, but I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to have a good idea what it’s like riding a bike there, and getting around Manhattan where I was staying.

After touring the Statue of Liberty (a must see), I could rent a Citibike and pedal over the bridge, a five-mile ride.

With mild weather, there was nothing to prevent me from a quick trip to visit a Jobst Rider from way back (mid 1970s) who I had never met.

Dave lived in Palo Alto near Keith Vierra, Tom Ritchey, Bill Robertson, and others. He raced and had some success, but then Greg LeMond came along and gave all of these talented Northern California riders reason to pause. “And I thought I was hot stuff.”

I downloaded the Citibike app on my Android phone and proceeded to stumble through the registration process. That wasn’t so bad, but when it came time to unlock the bike, I had to read the instructions printed on the rack to figure out how to enter the five-digit code sent to my phone.

There is a keypad with “1, 2, 3” and LED lights next to each number. You punch in the combination to unlock the bike.

As soon as I pulled the bike out of the rack located in Battery Park, I knew I wasn’t going to be speeding around town. These bikes weigh about 45 pounds. They’ve got fenders, a bell on the left twist grip, and automatic-gear twist shifting on the right hand grip.

The seat was too high, so I lowered it using the convenient quick release. It could be difficult to adjust for someone with weak hands.

I shoved off and noticed the sluggish steering. At least the tires are wide and thick, because you wouldn’t want a flat.

Compared to riding in San Francisco, NYC has a lot going for it. There’s a comprehensive bicycle network, including protected bike paths on some streets.

I followed a bike path along the East River, although it doesn’t go all the way to Williamsburg Bridge. I had to take Clinton Street, but it has a protected bike lane.

There’s no relaxing while riding in NYC. I had to watch out for other riders, walkers, joggers, cars. Most cyclists knew what they were doing. The boldest of the bold weave in and out of traffic with a death wish.

They make a sport of it and hold races through Manhattan, which you can watch on YouTube.

I was just trying to keep out of everyone’s way and make it in one piece to my destination. It’s intimidating riding in crowded cities, especially when you’re old and riding an unresponsive tank. In my youth it wasn’t a concern.

Riding over the Williamsburg Bridge, I appreciated the lengths that the city went to to accommodate walkers and cyclists. It has a separate lane above the cars and next to the subway/train that whizzes by every few minutes.

I enjoyed the ride in mild weather and saw nice views, but I wondered what it would be like to deal with snow and ice.

The one comparison between the Bay Area and NYC that stands out is the kind of cyclists I see. In NYC it’s utilitarian riding with an assortment of bikes, no helmets. Riders are dressed in street clothing. I saw a young woman wearing stockings and a miniskirt.

Bike lane on 8th Avenue near Central Park, minus the bollards.


Downtown I witnessed something out of a magazine advertisement — a Wall Street “suit” riding on a Citibike!

In the Bay Area it’s all Lycra and Spandex, sunglasses, and shiny helmets.

I made it to my destination and had a brief conversation with Dave, who had been out riding. He looks fit.

After sharing memories of days gone by, I headed back the way I came, this time feeling more comfortable with the riding and the bike.

At least I didn’t get lost and survived the ride. The cost came to $13 for a 10-mile ride. The day pass is the best option. It can get expensive if you pay for a 30-minute ride and go over the time limit.

Considering the difficulties of getting around in Manhattan, riding a bike can be a good option in some situations.

Since car traffic was banned in Central Park, there has been an explosion of cycling here. However, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. There are daily bike-to-bike and bike-to-pedestrian accidents.

Best way to see Central Park is via a pedicab. Look for the guy who hails from Uzbekistan.

Pedicabs ply the streets of Manhattan, offering rides after Broadway shows, etc.

2 Responses to “Bike riding in the Big Apple”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    I did a NYC ride on my road bike in June 2018, a loop from Queens to Brooklyn, the Manhattan Bridge, through midtown to Central Park, the bike/ped bridge to Randalls Island, and the RFK Bridge. I really enjoyed it.

    https://mira.sbw.org/photos/20180624/

    Riding in NYC is no problem, as you say, if you take care. I’ve been riding a lot in Los Angeles lately. Like NYC, L.A. is surprisingly good for biking, and L.A. has an edge over NYC: mountains.

  2. Bryan Wilson Says:

    I’ve found Citibike to be the the fastest and most fun way to get around NYC — if the weather is good. In the Bay Area you’ll see lots of utilitarian cyclists in San Francisco, on their own bikes and also on Jump bikes and Bay Wheels bike-share bikes, which are much easier to use now that they’re integrated with the Lyft app (no more punching in the wrong code multiple times before getting it right). Thanks for the blog which is always fun and motivating reading.

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