In his essay Taming the Bicycle, Mark Twain cautiously recommended bicycling: “You will not regret it, if you live.”
That has always gone doubly for biking in New York.
But the city has undergone a two-wheeled makeover. In the last four years, the New York City Department of HP Pavilion dv2400 Battery Transportation has added more than 200 miles of bikes lanes. The number of cyclists has increased 80 percent in the past decade. The city's goal is 1,800 miles of total bike lanes by 2030.
Earlier this year, National Geographic Traveler magazine did something that might once have been unthinkable: It put New York on a list of the most bike-friendly cities in the country, alongside Portland, Ore.
While biking has exploded for New Yorkers, tourists are quietly following. It is, after all, a great way to experience a new place: Faster than walking so you can cover a lot of ground, but far closer to your surroundings than a car.
In New York, it can be dizzying: rolling past Washington Square Park one moment, HP Pavilion dv2300 Battery breezing along the Hudson the next. In a city where freedom of movement can often feel locked in gridlock, on a bike, one sails through the throngs.
Musician and New Yorker David Byrne wrote in his 2009 book Bicycle Diaries that riding through a city “is like navigating the collective neural pathways of some vast global mind.”
The “neural pathways” of New York, though, are often strewn with potholes, aggressive drivers, unobservant pedestrians and — often the worst of all — pushy cyclists. New York has been significantly tamed when it comes to biking, but it's not exactly Amsterdam.
Nevertheless, tourists, having long endured double-decker buses and plodding ferries, are understandably looking for a new vantage point. A number of tours have sprung up and found visitors willing to strap on a helmet.
“A bus tour just did not hold the same appeal to me — it's too passive,” said Michelle Wright, 45, of Graham, N.C.
Recently, Wright and her two kids — a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son — did a tour of the Brooklyn Bridge and along the Hudson River through Bike and Roll NYC. The company has several locations for renting bikes, including Pier 84, near 12th Avenue and 43rd Street; Laptop Battery Park, and Central Park at Columbus Circle. The Pier 84 location provides easy access to the bike path along the city's relatively new but much-cherished Hudson River Greenway, which runs along the West Side of Manhattan from Battery Park at the southern tip to Dyckman Street on the northern tip.
Bike and Roll NYC tours ($40-50, two to three hours) depart daily; popular routes include Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge. The company is listed among sightseeing choices on discounted visitor passes like the Explorer Pass.
“I felt very safe,” said Wright. “More often than not, we were on a designated greenway. We felt the most in danger from the manic bikers on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
The tour guide, too, made Wright feel like she was “sneaking in a little bit of historical sightseeing on my kids without them realizing it.” A bike rental, a helmet and water were included, as is the case with most tours.
Gary Deliz, 26, visited New York earlier this year with his girlfriend. They chose a Central Park tour, thinking they could save a little time on their itinerary.