I’d read all the pedal-pushing facts about New York City: how commuter cycling had jumped eight per cent between 2010 and 2012; how, since 2007, NYC had added more than 450 kilometres of bike lanes that now total 1,126 kilometres; and how, for the summer of 2012, some 7,000 bike-share bicycles would descend on Gotham City at 420 stations, creating the biggest bike-share program in the U.S.
So, last fall while in New York City, I decided to follow the NYC Marathon route by bike, two days before the actual race. While the 42-km running route snakes through five boroughs, beginning on Staten Island and looping through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx, the cycle route covers three of these ’hoods on a slightly abridged 32-km route.
What I hadn’t banked on were all the tasty detours that allowed us to gorge at neighbourhood joints like Dough and Bliss. Or the chances we had to tour a movie studio, a brewery or just gawk at Manhattan’s skyline from vantage points tourists would never find beyond midtown Gotham. As much a multi-ethnic history lesson as a bike trip, our Bike the Big Apple tour guide, Johannes Weinkirn, also regaled us with marathon trivia, from the race’s humble beginnings in 1970 when 55 people crossed the finish line to today’s 47,000 runners that inject some US$340 million into NYC’s coffers the first Sunday in November.
If you don’t qualify to run one of the world’s biggest marathons, bike it. And, guaranteed, it won’t take a day per kilometre to recover.
What took 600 workers 14 years to build back in the 1880s takes about 10 minutes to pedal across. Cyclists clatter along the bridge’s elevated wooden-slatted level while cars zoom underneath. Plenty of photo-ops along the bridge that links Manhattan to Brooklyn will give you backdrops of Lady Liberty, as well as Manhattan’s skyline.
Brooklyn Navy Yard
You’ll spin by dozens of brick buildings on the waterfront that once comprised America’s biggest naval shipbuilding facility. At its peak, during the Second World War, the yard employed 70,000 people, 24 hours a day. It’s now home to movie studios, furniture builders, architects and a visitors centre that tells the tale of the Navy Yard’s 211-year history.
Fort Greene Park
Just a short veer off the marathon route in Brooklyn is a little park that Walt Whitman fought to have built in the mid-1800s. One of its key attractions is the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument—a tribute to the 11,500 American prisoners who died from disease and malnutrition in nearby Wallabout Bay, where they were held by the British during the Revolutionary War.
Hipster vs. Hasid
With close to 70,000 Hasidic Jews living in South Williamsburg, you will pedal past men and women in baggy, black coats pushing prams through this Old World enclave. Like a scene out of Fiddler on the Roof, you’ll see bearded men in round black top hats with traditional sidelocks hustling down streets. It’s the skimpily clad hipsters and cyclists, they have trouble with. Cultural clashes? Oy vey!
Signifying the intersec- tion of five boroughs, this graffiti-coated outdoor gallery in Long Island City also unites aerosol artists across the planet. Considered the world’s “graffiti mecca,” the murals constantly shift with the curator’s vision.
Only during the race is the statue of Fred Lebow, co-founder of the NYC Marathon, unbolted and remounted at the finish line. You’ll cycle past Lebow (looking as though he’s timing runners with his watch) next to the temporary tents, blockades and stages set up for the marathon.