Easy Riding: Bike Month in NYC

Erich Strom

Biking to work in New York City is fun, healthy and green, and recently it's become red hot, to boot. The reasons for the surge—there's been a 66% increase in ridership during the past two years—are no mystery. As many City cyclists have discovered, commuting by bike has become easier and more convenient than ever. And with National Bike to Work Day—the culmination of Bike Month NYC—coming up on May 21, it's the perfect opportunity to dust off your two-wheeler, if you haven't already, and join the parade.

In fact, Bike to Work Day starts with a pageant of sorts, as NYC Department of Transportation marshals lead a morning bike commute from Prospect Park to Midtown, ensuring a smooth, and festive, journey for veterans and rookies alike. Riders can also pick up snacks, coffee and free giveaways—not to mention meet up with on-the-spot riding buddies—at Bike to Work Day pit stops in all five boroughs.

The Department of Transportation laid the groundwork for this bicycle renaissance—literally—by building 200 miles of new bike lanes over the past few years, thereby establishing an effective and safe network of commuting routes. In fact, a spiffy "grade-separated" bike lane runs right down Broadway all the way from Columbus Circle to Madison Square Park. Bicycle parking should now be easier, too, thanks to a new law requiring commercial building owners to allow tenants (and their employees) to use freight elevators to bring bikes into the workplace.

All riding to work and no play makes John Q. Cyclist a dull boy, so be sure to check out Bike Month's slate of 200-plus fun rides, green rides and bike-related cultural events. (Alas, registration is closed for the festive Five Boro Bike Tour, on May 2, though you may still be able to enter by riding with a charity group.) You can view a complete calendar of cycling activities on Bike New York's website or request that a printed version be mailed to you.

Switching Gears
Bicycling in New York is a fast and safe way to get around—if you use common sense and follow the rules of the road (for the most part, the same ones that apply to cars). If you're new to urban riding, the streets can seem intimidating. You can become more comfortable pedaling around town with Bike New York's free two-wheel "driver's ed" classes. The group's Bike Commuting 101, a one-hour classroom course, covers such topics as the appropriate clothing and gear for day, night and bad weather and how to determine the best riding route. At the more intensive Savvy Cyclist: Traffic Skills 101, a full-day, hands-on course, attendees learn how to perform a pre-ride safety inspection and how to fix a flat. The class also covers the basics of traffic rules and bicyclists' rights and responsibilities on the road. The day concludes with a 5- to 8-mile group ride that emphasizes the principles of safe and confident cycling in traffic. Preregistration is required for Traffic Skills 101.

Tune Up
You can't ride to work if your Schwinn is in the shop with a flat. Grassroots environmental group Time's Up! helps you learn DIY mechanics with a series of four free bike-repair classes for beginners: Basics for Beginners; Cables and Housing; Cups, Cones and Bearings; and Wheels and Spokes. Classes are held Tuesdays on the Lower East Side and Sundays in Williamsburg. A Monday class at the LES location is taught by, and for, women and transgender participants. No experience is necessary to take any of the classes, and you don't have to attend them in any particular order.

Once you've got a grip on the basics, you can use the group's tools and repair stands to work on your bike at regularly scheduled open workshops, held Thursdays on the Lower East Side and on Wednesdays and Sundays in Williamsburg.

Bike Trips
Be sure to bring the essentials for any extended bike ride: a helmet, water bottles, tire pump, spare inner tubes and a basic repair kit. Also, on the all-day rides, take enough money to buy something for a picnic lunch, or pack your own.

May 13
The Weekday Cyclists in NYC's Awesome Views Ride circumnavigates New York Harbor. Starting from Central Park, the ride goes to Staten Island (via ferry), across the Bayonne Bridge to New Jersey, and then up to Liberty State Park and Hoboken, with an outdoor lunch along the way. Participants can return to Manhattan on the PATH train (having covered 35 miles at that point) or continue north to the George Washington Bridge (50 miles). Free.

May 20
Tour Queens' parks system—Kissena Park, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Cunningham Park and Alley Pond Park—on the leisurely 35-mile Queens Greenway Ride, organized by the Weekday Cyclists in NYC. Attendees will stop for a picnic lunch at the end of the old Long Island Motor Parkway. And don't let the thoroughfare's name deter you: built as a race course—and later turned into a toll road—by the Vanderbilt family at the dawn of the automobile era, it was long ago converted into a bike trail. Free.

May 29
The scenic Wandering to Wave Hill ride, led by the Five Borough Bicycle Club, goes from the City's best-known urban oasis, Central Park, to the Riverdale section of the Bronx for a visit to one of the area's best-kept secrets. A lush 28-acre public garden and cultural center with sweeping views of the Hudson, Wave Hill makes for a top-notch picnic spot. Another perk: the ride coincides with the Target Free Saturday program, so you can use the $8 you saved on admission to buy lunch at the café. Free.

June 6
If the Tour de France is a stretch for you this year, consider entering Transportation Alternatives' sixth-annual Tour de Brooklyn, a family-friendly "rolling parade" through the streets of NYC's biggest borough. The 18-mile ride starts and ends at McCarren Park in Williamsburg. Snacks will be provided during a short break at Red Hook Park. There's a limit of 2,500 participants, so register in advance. $5 for TA members; $10 for nonmembers.

Culture, Celebrations and Beyond
May 6

Hit Bike Night at the Brooklyn Brewery to party with organizers and teams from Braking the Cycle, a three-day benefit bike ride from Boston to New York City. The annual event has raised more than $2 million for the LGBT Community Center's HIV/AIDS services since its 2002 debut. Enjoy dollar drafts tapped right from the source and learn more about this year's ride, coming up in September. Before you know it, you might find yourself sponsoring a rider or maybe signing up for the ride of a lifetime. Free admission.

May 13–August 15
Celebrating the union of form, function and aesthetics, the Museum of Arts and Design's exhibition Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle presents the work of six internationally renowned bicycle builders. The bikes are not whimsical showpieces. Designed to precisely fit the bodies of their riders, these road and track racers, mountain and commuter bikes illustrate the age-old equilibrium between art and design.
$15; $12 for students and seniors; free for kids 12 and under and members.

May 20 and May 23
Every dog is sure to have her (or his) day at the Time's Up! Doggie Pedal Parade on May 23. If your Raleigh isn't Rover-ready, come to the group's Pup Your Ride Workshop on May 20 on the Lower East Side. Bring your bike and a basket or trailer big enough for your canine companion. Volunteer mechanics will be on hand to assist attendees who wish to attach an add-on. The parade—a celebration of both pet-friendly transport and the benefits of adopting homeless animals—starts at Tompkins Square Park and finishes up at the Washington Square Park dog run, with an end-of-ride bash. Both events are free.