May is Bike Month in NYC making it a great time to learn how to ride (for free), join a group tour or participate in other fun cycling events. Of course, bike-riding season lasts all spring, summer and fall.
Taking a spin in the city is one of my family's favorite pastimes. Until recently, we zipped around town with our son in a bike seat. We'd ride to work, the park, really anywhere we had to go.
Now that he's outgrown his seat, my son's working very hard on mastering his two-wheeler so we can continue biking everywhere. In the meantime, we're planning a bunch of awesome riding routes for the summer. Here are our picks for the best places to bike with kids in Manhattan and beyond.
Governors Island, which opens for the season on Saturday, May 23, is, in my opinion, the absolute best place to go for a leisurely ride with the family. There's very little traffic. The views are fantastic and it's an easy, flat, five-mile jaunt, so it can accommodate even inexperienced riders. You can rent bikes (for kids or adults) or a funky, four-wheel quad cycle on the island at Bike and Roll. Bonus: On Fridays you can rent a bike for one hour for free.
You can ride over many of NYC's bridges but my favorite is the mile-long Brooklyn Bridge, thanks to its car-free bike lane and amazing views. The only thing you need to worry about is a stray tourist getting in your way. Yes, it's always crowded but it's worth it. On the Brooklyn side, hit the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory or hang out in the fabulous Brooklyn Bridge Park before heading home.
My family and I also like the protected bike lane that starts at Stuyvesant Cove (enter at 20th Street and the East River). Intrepid cyclists can take it down to the Governors Island Ferry, the Brooklyn Bridge or even the Staten Island Ferry before having to exit into downtown streets. It's also possible to travel north from Stuyvesant Cove to 34th Street, where the path ends. We do it all the time, traveling through the parking lots for Waterside Plaza and the Water Club. This part of the path isn't protected, though, but street traffic is minimal.
The Manhattan Waterfront Greenway on the west side is awesome. You can bike almost from Battery Park City up to the Cloisters without setting a wheel on the street. The views of the Hudson River are amazing, and Riverside Park offers lots of great pit stops. I like to enter around 42nd street (you can rent a bike there, too, from Bike and Roll) and ride uptown to the Little Red Light House in Fort Washington Park by the George Washington Bridge.
Roosevelt Island is another good option, especially with little kids, since a protected bike path runs along its perimeter. Even if you stray off the path, there's not a lot of traffic. For a fun trip, walk your bike on the sidewalk along the little bridge that leads off the island to Vernon Boulevard in Queens, and ride around Long Island City before you head home.
With all of these new bike paths to choose from, it's easy to overlook cyclists' old-school destination: Central Park. There's a six-mile loop that spans the park (and looks much harder on paper than it actually is—I did it when I was eight-months pregnant. There are shorter loops at the north and south ends of the park that may be better for families with kids. Hit one of the park's visitor kiosks or check out the NYC cycling map for more info. If possible, ride during car-free hours. That way the only traffic you have to dodge are other cyclists. If you don't want to navigate the city streets to get to Central Park, consider renting a bike once you're there.
There are also wonderful bike paths in:
Randall’s Island in Manhattan
Prospect Park in Brooklyn
The Greenbelt in Staten Island
Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx
NYC Cycling Tips:
You can download a NYC cycling map here, courtesy of the Department of Transportation. There's also this cool online feature, Ride the City, which lets you type in your destination so you can find the most direct or safest route.
Cyclists of all ages should sport helmets. However, kids are legally required to wear them. Snag one for free from the city. Also, check out safety tips for new riders.
Bikes are allowed on NYC subways at all times, but it's best to avoid rush hour. Public buses only accommodate fold-up bikes. Click here for more info about carrying a bike on mass transit.
New York Bike offers free learn-to-ride lessons for kids and adults. Find out more here.
If you don’t have a bike, there are plenty of places to rent them. Bike New York has a comprehensive list here. And, of course, the Citi Bike program has greatly increased New Yorkers' access to shared bikes, though it only offers adult-sized bikes.
This post originally published in May 2011.