Most people go to Manhattan for the shopping and the sight seeing. Me? I bite the bullet and go on a one-day cycle tour. Nothing like living dangerously, right?
Well, wrong actually. Cycling through Manhattan is nowhere near as dangerous or as scary as I thought it would be. In fact, compared to my usual 6.5mile commute here in London, it was a real treat. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was sedate, but it was certainly less stressful than my normal day-to-day experience on the back of a bike.
I did the 8-hour tour (last month) with a company called Bike the Big Apple, which runs a selection of regular fully-escorted tours throughout all five boroughs of New York. My schedule meant I couldn't really do any of their normal tours, so I opted for an "on demand" one. I chose the "Bike Delight Tour" which crosses several bridges and is designed for those wanting a "unique, faster paced, and challenging ride". Luckily, there was one other person — from Wales — who wanted to do the same tour on the same day, so we split the cost and let our guide, the intrepid Jesse, lead the way.
Initially I was a little worried about my fitness levels, not having ridden properly for a month or two, but it wasn't a problem. The pace was relaxing and there were plenty of stops to check out interesting sites and places of interest, and the incline on many of the bridges was nowhere near as steep as my usual climb up The Broadwalk in Kensington Gardens!
My only real quibble was the bike (see the one on the left, the one on the right — with no gears and no brakes — is Jesse's). It fit me fine, it just felt weird riding something that had high handlebars as I am used to having flat hybrid ones. This meant my position on the bike, sitting upright as if I was going for a little jolly down a French country lane, felt a little odd. But I soon got used to it, although my bum might not have agreed: the seat wasn't exactly comfortable.
But who needs comfort when you get to ride over wonderful bridges, like the Brooklyn (left) and the Manhattan (right)?
It was great to actually get out and about on two wheels when the weather was so incredibly lovely: I'm talking blue skies and 25 degrees Celsius temperatures. It was like the summer I never had in London. Absolutely perfect conditions for cycling.
I loved covering so much ground — and seeing things I would not normally have seen if I was a regular pedestrian. For instance, this view of Chinatown (above) could only be glimpsed from the off-ramp of the Manhattan Bridge. I was so enamoured of the view that Jesse had to turn back and look for me as I'd stopped to take a few photographs and he didn't know what had happened to me!
Other views like this one (above) of FDR Drive could only ever be seen from the wonderful vantage point that a bridge across the East River could afford.
My favourite bridge was the Williamsburg (above) with its impressive steel towers and trusses, supposedly inspired by the Eiffel Tower. There are separate levels for cars, trains and bikes, so there's no risk of collision, but Jesse told us some scary stories about crime on the bridge, so it's not somewhere I'd like to cycle alone after dark…
After a very tasty Thai lunch in Williamsburg served by the rudest waitress I've ever met, it was time to tackle our fourth bridge — the Pulaski Bridge (above).
The views from the top, looking across to Manhattan, were wonderful.
And when I turned around, I had to take a snap of this sign, although I'm not sure whether its claim is a good thing or a bad thing! Talk about ambiguous.
A little further on from the Pulaski Bridge, Jesse took us down by the water where loads of new residential tower blocks have popped up. You'll have to believe me when I say these apartments have absolutely stunning views across the East River looking over Midtown and the UN Building. Obviously, they have prices to match.
We then pottered around Long Island City and came across this building completely adorned with graffiti. I've never seen anything quite like it.
It was then time to ignore the sign (above) and cycle over this pink bridge to Roosevelt Island.
We then loaded our bikes onto the tramway (below left) that runs alongside Queensboro Bridge, so that we could get back to Manhattan. The views from the cabin were extraordinary, but I was holding a bike and it was quite crowded, so there were no real opportunity to take any pictures.
Back in skyscraper-ville, the traffic was a little hairy, but the wide avenues and the dedicated cycle lanes helped us reach Central Park relatively quickly. I've always wanted to cycle Central Park and I have to say it was worth the wait: I really enjoyed it!
By this stage we'd cycled more than 20 miles and it was getting late in the day, so after a reviving coffee Jesse challenged us to ride down Broadway — through peak hour traffic — so that we could hand our bikes and helmets back to the shop in the Lower Eastside from which we'd started the trip. I think he might have expected one of us to decline the invitation, but I thought it would be a real highlight. And I wasn't wrong.
Cycling down Manhattan's busiest thoroughfare, bumper to bumper with yellow taxis, just as the city's lights were coming on and the sky was turning pink was an absolutely amazing experience. I AM CYCLING DOWN BROADWAY! I wanted to shout. AND HERE I AM IN TIMES SQUARE! And then, before I knew it, there was one of my favourite buildings — the lovely triangle-shaped Flatiron (above right) — rising up to meet me. It was all over too soon.
I was kind of sad when the trip ended. I didn't feel half as exhausted as I thought I would, but maybe it was the adrenalin buzz of the last two miles or so that took the edge off my tiredness. The leisurely pace of the day and the chance to see hidden bits of New York that most tourists don't see was a real delight. And Jesse, our guide, was brilliant. He provided a lot of insight to the places we rode through, helped us negotiate traffic and made sure we weren't put into any dangerous or difficult situations. I am also convinced he knows every second person in New York, because no matter where we went there was someone there waving at him or yelling hello! Best of all, he was enthusiastic, confident and friendly.
If you ever get the chance to go to Manhattan and feel like doing something most tourists don't do, I highly recommend a cycle trip. I loved it. And it was definitely the high point of my six-day jaunt.