Already wearing their bicycle helmets, Howard and Jesse from Bike The Big Apple greeted me outside the Upper East Side bike shop at 10 a.m. on Friday morning. After dolling out helmets and having us test-drive bikes on the sidewalk, our group of seven riders and two guides congregated across the street to review safety guidelines and our route for the day. Except for me, all the participants were from the Midwest and had visited New York City several times before.
Within minutes, our group was riding down 2nd Avenue toward the Roosevelt Avenue tram, lead by Howard, a passionate New York bicyclist and licensed tour guide, and Jesse, a former bike messenger and licensed tour guide, at the back of the group. By the time we had arrived at the tram (about 1/2 a mile south) I was no longer tensely bracing myself for impact with passing cars or fearfully dodging car doors that might open -- I was actually starting to enjoy myself.
Both Howard and Jesse shared insightful information about the various neighborhoods we traveled through, and their enthusiasm and interest was contagious. Short bursts of biking were punctuated by frequent stops where Howard would point out everything from wild blackberries on Roosevelt Island to the new movie studio being built near the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Jesse told the group about outlandish rents at the Riverview building in Long Island City and ensured that traffic was able to flow around our new-to-biking-New-York-City group without incident.
At one point, Howard negotiated with an apprehensive baker to allow our group a peek into one of the many commercial bakeries in Long Island City and later in the ride he shared stories of the negotiations surrounding putting bicycle paths through Brooklyn's Hassidic neighborhoods.
I was amazed at how quickly I felt comfortable riding through New York City.
The flat terrain and frequent stops kept the ride leisurely. The steepest inclines were the ramps of bridges and were well worth the payoff -- especially the Brooklyn Bridge. When we returned to the bike shop at 5 p.m., I was impressed at the ground we had covered during the day: the tram ride to Roosevelt Island, visiting Roosevelt Island, Long Island City, and several Brooklyn neighborhoods, eating lunch at a Polish restaurant in Greenpoint, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, and riding up the Hudson River bike path and through Central Park on our way home. I was exhausted, but impressed. Jesse and Howard said they adjust the length ride based on the fitness and comfort of the participants -- when there are children or folks seem tired after crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, they can take the subway back to the bike shop, significantly reducing the distance of the ride.
I would strongly recommend this tour to active adults and families who are looking to see the New York City that exists outside of Midtown Manhattan. It's a great chance to see many neighborhoods, to experience the ethnic diversity that defines New York City, and you'll be astonished at how much you'll learn about New York.
I'm surprised (and thrilled) to report that after spending the day riding with Howard and Jesse, I've gained a new found confidence and excitement for biking in New York City. As a matter of fact, I'm hoping to persuade my parents to bring me the bike I've been storing in the suburbs, so I can continue exploring New York City on two wheels.
Basic Outline of the Trip:
- Upper East Side
- Roosevelt Island (via Tram)
- Long Island City
- Greenpoint (lunch break)
- Brooklyn Navy Yards
- Downtown Brooklyn
- Brooklyn Bridge
- City Hall
- Hudson River Park Bike Path (West Side)
- Central Park
- returned to Upper East Side
- Speak up to ensure you get a bike you can ride comfortably -- it's a long day to spend on a bike that's not comfortable for you
- Wear sunscreen -- it might not feel hot, but you can still get a sunburn
- Drink lots of water -- there are plenty of opportunities to refill your bottle along the way
- Let your tour guides know if you need a bathroom break or anything else -- they're very accommodating
- Leave your purse at home -- you won't need anything but your wallet and perhaps your camera. A small backpack is a good idea if you have several items to carry.
- Rest up -- while the tour is not overly strenuous, it is a long day and best approached with lots of energy.
- Solo riders shouldn't hesitate to participate -- participants and guides were all friendly and inviting
Bike The Big Apple offers tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting. Tours are $95-99 per person and last 4-7 hours. (20% discount with New York Pass.) Water and meals are extra, though choices are very reasonable (a filling lunch at the Polish restaurant was just $6). They are also available for custom designed tours and will accommodate your group's schedule when possible. Tours meet at the Pedal Pusher Bike Shop on 2nd Avenue between 68th/69th Streets. For more information and to confirm tour schedules call 201-837-1133 or email: Explore@BikeTheBigApple.com.