I started cycling as soon as I arrived in New York. As a longtime cyclist in London, I knew that cycling is a satisfying way to get to know a city as a newcomer, and it’s no different in New York: you whip through neighborhoods, witnessing the landscape changing character dramatically between blocks. (My first ever bike ride took me past the copper-colored mansions of Brooklyn Heights, along the tourist-crowded cobbled streets of Dumbo, through Hasidic South Williamsburg and ended outside a crummy dive bar on Grand.) Riding a bike also requires a certain mindset, a kind of calm hyper awareness as you assess your surroundings. It means that you really notice things on a bike: potholes and perfectly flattened rats that need dodging, but also scraps of conversations, or the gauzy silhouette of the Empire State Building peeking out behind skyscrapers to signpost where you are.
While biking through Manhattan has its chaotic charms, I love to cycle around Brooklyn most of all, past elaborately named churches and along brownstone-lined streets, getting splashed by the water from hydrants as children play in the water on scorching summer days, wheeling my bike down streets closed for block parties or pausing to admire families’ dramatic Halloween decorations. Cycling in New York can be intimidating, even for locals, but with a bit of research and planning you can take advantage of the city’s ample bike paths and quieter backstreets. On a bike, the city reveals itself to you—here are some of my favorite routes to discover New York City.
Brooklyn Bridge Park to Red Hook
I love to cycle this route at sunset, when the skyscrapers glow pink above the East River. Start at the Dumbo entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, and ride slowly through this cleverly landscaped park with its baby-blue umbrellas, families grilling, and piers speckled with joggers and soccer players. The park’s cycle path turns into a “waterfront” route (the actual waterfront is somewhat hidden by the Port Authority and Brooklyn Cruise Terminal), before curving into the cobbled streets of Red Hook. You can follow signs to Valentino Pier, taking in the sensational view of the Statue of Liberty amid buttery wafts from Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie—be sure to grab one. Maybe wind your way around the neighborhood’s old wharfs and small brick houses; or lock up your bike and check out an exhibition at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, then grab lunch at the kitschy crab shack Brooklyn Crab. Don’t leave without a visit to the much-loved (cash-only) dive bar Sunny’s, where there’s live bluegrass and country music most nights.
East and West Village gardens
The East Village can be strangely quiet on weekday mornings, which is when I like to zigzag on my bike between Avenues A and D, exploring the neighborhood’s community gardens. The more than 50 gardens—ranging from scrappy lots with intriguing artworks to beautifully landscaped city oases—are the legacy of 70s and 80s activists, and are maintained by local volunteers. Peach Tree Garden, named for the tree in its center, is a personal favorite; while La Plaza Cultural, with its amphitheater, pond and shady trellis, is one of the loveliest. Stop in Tompkins Square Park (with a BEC from Tompkins Square Bagels), then cycle west down W 9th Street, watching the buildings get grander as you near the West Village. You’ll pass Jefferson Market Garden, a gorgeously manicured quiet spot beneath the fiddly gothic turrets of Jefferson Market Library, then continue down Christopher Street to the Hudson, pausing in the garden at St Luke in the Fields to breathe in the scent of buddleia.