Secure, enjoyable, fast: Exploring New York City by bike

NEW YORK (DPA) : One of the most effective ways to experience New York City as a local and not as a tourist is by riding a bicycle. The speed of cycling is well-suited to the city’s rhythm, and as long as you stay on designated bike paths, it’s a safer mode of transportation than you might expect

You’re heading down Second Avenue. The famous skyscrapers above you. Up ahead, a motorist who might cut you off. You brake. You continue past the car turning left, through the sea of yellow taxis, the smell of pizza and coffee in the air and constant honking and sirens in your ear.

This is what New York by bike feels like – at least in crowded Manhattan. And as stressful as it may sound, there is hardly a more spectacular way to explore the Big Apple.

But New York’s not for bikes. Oh, really? A few years ago, that might have been true. In the early to mid-2000s, when you saw death-defying bicycle couriers racing back and forth between Manhattan’s skyscrapers on television.

But something changed: A comprehensive cycling concept materialized with over 2,300 kilometers of marked bike paths. “I’ve been biking in New York for over 20 years and I’ve seen how things have transformed,” says Andree Sanders, who teaches children and adults how to ride a bike in New York.

In the past, she used to push her bike to the park so that she could ride it safely there, she says. But now it’s possible to cycle anywhere in the city. The provider Citi Bike has a modern fleet of standard and electric rental bikes in large parts of New York City, which you can use to travel from station to station.

Why not take the subway instead? You’d rather sit in a dark, crowded space – sometimes stopping in-between stations – than experience the city above ground? Get to know the places between the stations to understand New York’s geography and topography, and what sets the different neighborhoods apart.

Okay, but isn’t it dangerous? Of course, there’s a risk when it comes to street traffic – that’s especially true for a city of millions in a country that loves cars, the U.S. In 2020, 28 cyclists died on the roads of New York – with inattentive motorists largely to blame. A big criticism here is that many bike lanes are still not structurally separated from the roadway and thus protected from cars. In 2021, there were over 900 kilometers of separated bike lanes. Here are a few tips for keeping safe.

New York Mayor Eric Adams rides his bike past Radio City Music Hall on Avenue of the Americas on his way to work, New York, U.S., Aug. 7, 2021. (dpa Photo)
New York Mayor Eric Adams rides his bike past Radio City Music Hall on Avenue of the Americas on his way to work, New York, U.S., Aug. 7, 2021. (dpa Photo)

Never believe that you are an equal road user. The fact is: For some cars – especially bigger ones – you will always just be air. This means you always need to be aware of cars turning left, even when the light is green. And a helmet is, of course, mandatory.

Make sure your head is switched on before you set off, advises expert Sanders.

“When planning a route I want to find out what is the safest way for me to get from A to B. If possible, always ride in the green bike lanes. Google Maps and other apps take these into account when providing cycling directions,” he added.

No music – or at least not directly on your ears. This rule should apply almost everywhere, but in New York, it takes on a special meaning. In city traffic, you’re not just a tourist or commuter, but also an observer and hunter: You’re constantly scanning your surroundings, trying to spot potential dangers as early as possible. For this, you need to pay full attention to your eyes and ears.

Of course, the wilder the ride, the higher the risk. So if you don’t feel safe, slow down.“It’s about being present and knowing that you are in control when riding a bike. Just like when you’re driving a car. You are in control. It’s up to you how fast you want to cycle,” Sander said.

What do I get from a New York bike tour? Many people have mixed feelings after visiting a big city. On the one hand, you’ve experienced and seen loads of great things. On the other hand, you’re not a New Yorker. That changes as soon as you get on a bike. The constant flow of the traffic demands that you become part of the Manhattan madness, that you blend into the metropolis.

This includes the observation that in most cases even traffic police don’t care when cyclists ride through an empty intersection at a red light. On the subject, Thrillist magazine wrote back in 2018, “Study the city’s bike laws, and then decide which rules you are comfortable breaking.”

Cyclists become part of the energy that makes New York into New York. Behind the handlebars, you’re more the big apple than you’ve ever been at the Museum of Modern ART, Central Park or on the ferry to Staten Island. And Sanders points out, “It’s the fastest way to get around the city.”