Cycling in Central Park … on a tandem
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Have you ever wanted to ride a tandem bicycle? Ever wanted to enjoy cycling in Central Park? Well why not combine the two and hire a bike from Bike Rent NYC and tick off both items at the same time!? We were in New York for a late Summer break and did just that. Renting a bike is a great way to see Central Park, the lungs of New York City!
Central Park is a wonderful refuge away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Central Park is 0.5 miles wide x 2.5 miles long so that’s a whopping 800 acres to explore.
How long does it take to cycle round Central Park?
The full anti-clockwise 6.1 mile loop takes most people just under an hour to leisurely cycle around. However you’ll want to stop off en route, which is why hiring a bike for a minimum of 2 hours is a good idea.
There’s also a smaller 1.7 mile lower loop at the southern end of the park. Most people do the full loop though. On the full loop it gets noticeably quieter towards the northern end of the park. This is due to fewer horse ‘n’ carts and walkers venturing that far. Incidentally the hilliest section is up in the top left hand corner.
Where do you hire a bike from?
As you get closer to the southern edge of Central Park you’re likely to see sales guys standing with billboards on the street corners! Head over to one of them and they’ll lead you to one of their shops nearby. Failing that Google Maps “bike shops” and you’ll see them all pop up on your screen. We happened to go to Bike Rent NYC on 117 W 58th St (in -between 6th and 7th Avenue). Google link.
So what does the Central Park bike route look like?
Here’s our ‘full loop’ of Central Park on Strava … but with a little side detour towards the end (bottom right) to visit the Alice in Wonderland statue. Our ride below turned from 6.1 miles into 8.4 miles but it’s all easily achievable in a 2 hour hire window.
Towards the south of the park (also in the screenshot below) is the shorter 1.7 mile loop.
Here’s a great map in PDF format which shows the cycle routes and sights as you cycle around it.
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Deciding on a tandem hire bike?
There are of course normal adult bikes, and children’s bikes … but also tandem bikes. Tandem bikes are a fantastic way to share the cycling experience without losing your partner in the process. I’d never ridden on a tandem before so what could go wrong? Our Raleigh Companion tandem was set up perfectly and I was keen to ride up front first; Claire sat behind. Our bike had large Kenda tires, soft sprung saddles and a 7 speed shift grip shifter. They retail for $1,400 so they’re a good bit of kit!
Up front I was as happy as Larry! That first “push off” can be a bit unsteady as you both have to start off at the same time! But within 20 metres or so its seems completely natural. We weren’t in any great rush so stayed in a lowish gear and were just happy to cruise along. NB. If you’re from the UK the brakes will be the “wrong” way around! The rear brake is on the right-hand side with the front brake on the left!
Up towards the north west edge of the park we encountered our first “big” hill which a few people has decided to walk up! It doesn’t last every long and two reasonably fit people on a tandem should be able to crest it without too much drama.
Tandems aren’t so easy to ride after all! 🙂
At this point we swapped! I went behind and Claire went up front! Maybe I’ve been cycling far too long on far too many bikes but I just couldn’t quite get my head around NOT being able to steer! I was over balancing left and then right! I was even grabbing for the imaginary brakes which you don’t have when you sit at the back of course! Claire found all this totally amusing and assumed I was trying to jump off when in fact I was just attempting to stay on.
Needless to say, for an easy life Claire offered to swap back 1/2 a mile later as she could sit there pedalling quite happily, having taken to it straight away!
12 tips for cycling in Central Park
- Look out for wandering pedestrians
There are lots of tourists in Central Park and they tend to walk all over the place.
That said there are pedestrian crossings so watch out for people trying to cross and be prepared to stop. Cyclists don’t have complete right of way.
- Traffic lights
Central Park has many traffic lights which presumably are there to get cyclists to stop! Most people just cycle straight through them leaving you stood there with your bicycle feeling like a proper wally. We were law abiding citizens (visitors) though so always stopped.
- Keep in your lane
Cycling is prohibited on the myriad of pathways so stick to the loop and stay in its cycle lanes.
- Be CAREFUL!
Remember when Bono from U2 crashed his bike and needed surgery?
- Horse ‘n’ carts
They use the park too in case you have equinophobia (a fear of horses). I had to Google that.
- First time on a tandem?
If you’re a control freak like me go on the front of the tandem! For some reason I just couldn’t cope being on the back and almost had a mild panic attack 🙂
- Tandem commands
If you do choose a tandem then have some basic commands lined up like “slowing”, “freewheel” or “3-2-1 pedal”. This is so you’re both on the same page, especially when moving off.
- Sealing the deal!
Try to be a little aloof when speaking to the sales guys on the street corners. You might get a discount. Presumably this is more likely towards the end of the day.
- Sales tax.
However we ALWAYS forget sales tax in the USA so the discount we received simply went straight back on when the sales tax was added.
We took it for an extra $3-4. Better safe than sorry I guess. Just in case we crashed or broke anything on the bike.
- Map, lock & helmet
You should be offered all three. If you have a basket on your bike the lock will fit nicely in there rather than weighing down your backpack.
What were those rules again?
- Children under age 14 must wear a helmet, but it’s recommended that every cyclist wear a helmet.
- Cycling is prohibited on the pathways.
- Pedestrians have right of way at all times.
- At crosswalks, slow down, yield to pedestrians, and then proceed cautiously.
- Obey all traffic laws, such as traffic signals, stop signs, and the maximum speed limit of 20 mph.
- Travel at a slower safe speed in response to crowds, emergency, or weather conditions.
- Obey all ONE WAY signs and arrows: Travel only anti-clockwise on the Drives that circle the Park.
- Cycling is prohibited on all pedestrian paths except the marked shared paths at 96th St and W. 106th-108th St.
- Cycling is prohibited on landscapes.
Cycling in Central Park was a complete joy! But if you like your bicycles to be stationary instead then consider trying out a spin class with Soul Cycle, “more than a workout—it’s an experience” according to their website. I agree! Alternatively if you happen to be considering staying at the Sheraton Times Square they have a dedicated Peloton cycle studio in their basement gym.
Check out the Bike Rent NYC website for more information!