Bike the 4 Boroughs. Sorry Staten Island.
The first Sunday of each May, New York City hosts Bike The 5 Boros. The ride unleashes a horde of 32,000 cyclists on a 42-mile course that passes through all five of the city's boroughs. While the concept is awesome, early May weather can be tough. As our team shivered through cold driving rain, my daughter Jenna suggested an abbreviated 4-borough ride. Sorry Staten Island, but one time over the Verrazano Bridge was enough. This summer my wife and I decided to test Jenna's idea.
During our past 5 Boro Rides, we brought our time-tested touring bikes. They are perfect for urban riding, but this trip we were short a bike rack. The convenience and flexibility of bike sharing was appealing, and we decided on 3 day passes for $24 each for NYC's Citibikes.
New York's ride share program includes 13,000 bikes spread over 800 stations in Manhattan, Queens, and
Brooklyn. The bikes are basic 3-speed cruisers with an adjustable seat. You can rent them for single rides, daily unlimited rides, or an annual membership. A major catch is that you only get the bikes for 30 minute intervals. Exceeding the time limit gets you charged per extra 15 minutes. While this time frame works for many commuters, it makes longer rides a challenge.
To rent the bikes, download the Citi app on your phone. It gives you a map of the docking stations, number of docked bikes available, and bike routes. When you get to a station, you get a code to punch into the dock. Once unlocked, a timer starts on the app. You can dock at any station and grab another bike.
Over the three days, we pieced together 20 rides for a total of 52.5 miles.
While taxis, Uber and the subway system are the first transportation options travel guides discuss, don't underestimate how remarkably bike-friendly NYC has become. The Citibank program coupled with a network of lanes and paths makes access to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens easy. During our stay we did two longer day rides: The Met- Brooklyn Bridge Loop and the 4 Boro Ride.
The Met-Brooklyn Bridge Loop
The starting point for this ride was the Met at Fifth Avenue. Camp Notes: on Fashion and Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll were awesome. A big room full of outrageous fashion and Jerry's guitar Tiger. What more could you ask for? After touring the museum, we grabbed bikes at the 5th Ave-78th St station and headed towards the East River. There is a bike bridge that crosses FDR Dr at 78th street that allows you to ride along the river on your way towards the Brooklyn Bridge.
The ride south requires docking your bike to reset the 30 minute clock. The section from 36th Street to the bridge is a dedicated bike path along the river and offers great views of Brooklyn. Since it was blazing hot, we needed a cold drink near the bridge.
Jeremy's Ale House is an icon next to the bridge and near both the Titanic Memorial Park and the South Street Seaport Museum. Workers from the seaport used to stop by when their sifts ended for the morning eye opener special. Since we arrived in the afternoon, we had to settle for ice cold 32 oz drafts.
Drinking a quart of beer on a hot day might have impaired our navigational abilities because we had a hard time getting up on the bridge. We headed away from the East River to find the ramp entry, but ended up carrying our bikes up a stairwell.
As you would expect from a major tourist attraction in the middle of summer, it was packed. We took the required selfie and headed across. The ride back home to 82nd and Central Park East took us through the heart of midtown. Urban riding at its best.
Overall, it was a good first day to learn the ropes of the bike share.
The 4 Borough Loop
This ride took us most of the day and traveled through Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. When we originally planned this route it included crossing over the East River via the Brooklyn Bridge. Since we had done it the day before, we decided to use the Williamsburg Bridge instead.
The ride's starting point was outside our rental
at the 82 St and East Central Park Avenue docking station. We unlocked bikes and crossed the street into Central Park. Inside is a network of walking and bike paths through this amazing 843 acre park. Rules of the road dictate you have to ride in a counter-clockwise direction. As a result, we headed south before turning north towards Harlem. If your are going bike in NYC, do this section.
On your way towards the Bronx, you pass by soul food icons Amy Ruths and the Red Rooster. Unfortunately, my daughter was shaming my wife to become a vegan, and we had to skip the fried chicken and waffles.
During the 5 Boro ride, bridges along the route are closed to cars. This would have been really helpful because we struggled to cross the Third Avenue Bridge. The first attempt dead ended. To successfully cross, you need to portage your bike up and down an overpass.
After the 3rd Ave, the rest of the bridge crossings are easy. You leave the Bronx via the The Willis Ave Bridge and head south towards the Wards Island Bridge. It has a dedicated bike/walking path that gets you half way over the East River. The island is home to nice parks and psychiatric hospitals. Due to the 30 minute bike limit, we didn't have time for therapy.
To continue across the river, you have to climb up the entry ramp of The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.
The steepest climb of the 5 Boro ride is getting onto the Queensborough Bridge. The RFK Bridge ramp up is more Citibike friendly. Once on the span, you get great views of the upper east side.
Descending the bridge brings you into Astoria, Queens: Home of Archie Bunker.
Astoria has a wide array of lunch options and is a great spot to take a break. Given our struggles after Jeremy's Ale House, we skipped the Bohemian Beer Hall and opted for Indian food.
After lunch, it was south along the East River towards the Williamsburg Bridge.
In this section you pass through Hunters Point, Green Point and finally hipster nirvana Williamsburg. Lots of places to grab an IPA before tackling the bridge.
The ride over the Williamsburg Bridge is much less crowded than the Brooklyn Bridge but still offers great views of the city. If you want to extend your ride, once across the bridge, head south to Battery Park and catch a view of the Statue of Liberty.
Last stretch of the ride is through the heart of Manhattan back to Central Park West. Through Midtown, we pretended to blend in with the masses of bike delivery folks. Unlike us, most were on electric models.
Final Thoughts on the Rides
While the Citibikes were great from short rides, the 30 minute time limit was a hassle on longer ones. If you are planning on riding for most of the day, there are a number places to rent hybrids. The cost ranges is between $25-$30 dollars for 10 hours. If you decide to bring your own, most parking garages have secure spots for bikes.
Have a great ride!