First visit to New York City: rented bicycle?

New York is a lot smaller than I thought. It looks like everything I’d want to visit is within a five-mile radius. It’s sort of a pastime of mine to make mental plans for a visit some day, and now I’m considering doing some or most of it on a rented bicycle.

These bits from a Wikipedia entry sound promising:

Many New Yorkers live less than 12 mi (19 km) from their job, and can be seen bicycle commuting over various bridges connecting Manhattan with the outer boroughs and along the Hudson or elsewhere in good weather.

Due to traffic patterns and transport network geometries, mixed-mode bicycling-plus-subway can be the fastest way to commute, or to achieve transport within New York City, for many routes and times.

So, would this be a thing to consider for a first-time visit? If so, does it mean that cycling would make more distant (=cheaper) lodging a viable option? Would cycling cut down on travel time that would otherwise be spent waiting for a bus, for example?

Some info: I’d be on my own or with a lady friend. I would be in good shape for such a trip. I would not go in the winter or when rain is likely. I’d stay for less than a week.

The NYC subway system is pretty robust. Consider a Unlimited MetroCard for the number of days you’ll be in the city. This and walking should get you to most places pretty well. Especially in Manhattan.

How much do you want to do in the outer boroughs?


Years ago this is pretty much how I handled a week in Chicago.

NY is getting better about putting in bike lines but has a way to go. And, even in the bike lanes, you’ll be fighting with crazy delivery people.

I would recommend using the subway instead. Between the traffic and the crush of people on the streets in some areas, biking can be pretty challenging in some areas.

You can rent Citi bikes for some trips that have good bike lanes. Those are bikes that you pick up from some location and drop off somewhere else (within 30 minutes, I think).

Whenever I visit NYC I always buy a 7 day unlimited MetroCard, which is the shortest period you can buy. Even if I’m only going to be there 5-6 days, it’s generally worth it.

There are Citi bikes all over. There are single rental & unlimited one-day options. There’s also an app you can download that I believe shows you all of the pickup/dropoff locations (the website lists them). Their bikes are sturdy, have a basket to carry stuff & built in light for low light riding. They even have some e-bikes.

With 24/7 availability & so many locations, if a bus is stuck in traffic (ie. accident on a bridge) just hop off, grab a bike & take the dedicated & separate bike lane over said bridge. If it starts to rain, return the bike & take transit to keep you dry; no preplanning needed. You don’t need to rent a bike from a regular bike shop if that’s what you were thinking.

Cycling may be a bit chaotic. You’ll be cycling along with all the other cyclists, most of which are zipping along. Electric bikes are pretty common. If you’re thinking it will be a pleasant ride in the city, it’s not really going to be like that. But you can check it out when you get there. There are so many transit options that you don’t really have to worry about it ahead of time.

I’m not sure you need MetroCards anymore for the bus and subway. I recently got back from a trip to NYC and the transit terminals all worked with the touchless pay systems on phones and in credit cards. Paying for the ride was just like paying at the store checkout counter.

Staying far away isn’t necessary a problem. Look at the subway maps and find lodging along a line that goes straight to the part of town you want to visit. A 10-15 minute ride may be all it takes.

One thing I was really happy about in NYC is how good everyone was about masking. Everyone just seemed to be taking it seriously. Pretty much everyone in indoor spaces was masked other than in restaurants. And indoor places like bars and restaurants are requiring proof of vaccination (remember to bring your card or a pic of it). Outdoors people are unmasked. Many restaurants have added lots of outdoor dining spaces, so you don’t really even need to go inside if you don’t want to. For being a crowded city, I felt very safe from a COVID perspective.

Note that you’ll need to download the app and create an account if you want to use the single rental option. (For the one-day unlimited rental option, you can still pay with a credit card at a Citibike kiosk.)

Don’t do it! Recreational biking in Central Park or Riverside Drive is fun, but don’t rely on bikes for transportation around NYC. Yes, there are lots of them available for rent using the Citi bike program linked above by Spidey, but for someone who doesn’t know the city, or even for residents, street riding can be really hazardous. Streets are congested, bike lanes are narrow, and you’ll be dealing with delivery people and messengers on ebikes as well as taxis and trucks making abrupt turns.

I lived in NYC for 10 years, and then for 20 years I’ve been in the burbs, 30 minutes away. Lots of people who live in the area won’t go into Manhattan by car because of the issues with driving there, and ebikes are a recent new hazard. I go into Manhattan frequently, and my husband works there. Sometimes we take our bikes in for rides in the park, and the few blocks on the street (from our van to the park) can feel very hazardous. To get around Manhattan itself we never use our bikes. We would much rather walk or take the subway or bus.

Where specifically in NYC are you planning to visit? I have lived in NYC my entire life and there are parts of the city where I try not to drive and even more parts where I never would have ridden a bike, not even 40 years ago when I was young because of the traffic . There are other parts where bike-riding is relatively easy - and if you’re staying in say Bushwick and want to take a Citibike a couple of miles to a restaurant in Williamsburg, that would probably be fine. On the other hand, if you’re staying around Times Square going almost anywhere by bike will be a hassle.

In the Northeast the likeliness of rain is often not predictible more than a couple of days ahead; sometimes not that much.

Are you used to bicycling in major urban areas? If so, this could be a good plan. If not, NYC is probably not the ideal place to learn. If you’re doing the Citibike thing, though, you can just try it out for half an hour and decide if it’s for you. If not, the subway will still be there.

Unless you’re willing to bike a couple hours to get to that five mile area you want to visit, you probably won’t see a significant savings hotel-wise.

I used to live in NYC. I once took a bicycle cab in NYC. There’s no way I’d depend on a bicycle to get around. I’d be terrified.

Roads are congested. Cars and trucks drive really fast, despite that. Maybe there are some bike lanes, now, but i bet they are unprotected, and i bet drivers encroach on them. Not to mention that pedestrians will blindly walk in front of the bikes. (And sometimes autos.)

The subway system is excellent. There are tons of buses. Lots of NYC is walkable. Cabs abound. Go with those options.

Also, yes, you can stay further out and depend on the subway to get back and forth. Or cabs.

Again, all those things are true, but they’re also true of every other big city in the world, and lots of us are used to it. If the OP is used to biking around, say, London or San Francisco, I don’t think NYC would be any more difficult. If not, yeah, probably not a good idea.

I find traffic faster and scarier in NYC than in San Francisco or Boston, which are both fairly bad. I’ve never driven in London, but traffic didn’t seem as far there as NYC.

Hey, thanks Dopers! So many good replies. You’ve addressed all the issues I’m concerned with and a few I hadn’t thought of. Just the kind of information/opinion I wanted! Due to the length of the thread, I’ll respond to just a couple of posts, but I appreciate them all. Very useful!

No, the Citi bikes are what caught my eye.

I have just a few destinations in mind at this time. I’m interested in visiting places that have to do with the histories of immigration, organized crime and music and, of course, others that have to do with eating and drinking. I gather that, maybe more than any other place in the world, NYC has more to offer than can be experienced in any week-long visit (or even 10 of them), and I assume narrowing down my to-do list will be a constant, starting from the moment I consider specific options and even while I’m there.

I see enough consensus here about cycling being chaotic and potentially dangerous that I’m going to assume you’re not a bunch of frightened grannies. I do have experience riding in hazardous urban conditions, but it’s all in the distant past. Although I’ll prepare for the trip, I’m actually more of a frightened granny myself, nowadays, and I don’t mind acknowledging that my reflexes and everything else aren’t what they used to be. Sustaining injury while on vacation is no fun at all, and it’s sounding like a better idea to rely on public transportation and to try cycling with caution and see how it goes.

I’ve only just learned that the subway operates 24/7, and it looks like the buses do, too. Is that right? That makes a big difference in my planning, especially considering all the favorable opinions here of public transportation.

San Francisco is nothing compared to NY in terms of the press of people and the amount and speed of traffic.

A good friend of mine from high school (in Queens) moved to San Francisco. When we meet up in NY when he comes to visit, he’s always surprised at how much more hectic, busy, loud, and crowded Manhattan is than what he’s used to now.

The Tenement Museum is one of the places you have in mind, I presume. If it isn’t, I highly recommend adding it to your list.

Thanks for the tip! I’ve heard of it but haven’t read anything about it yet. So, it’s on a very long list, for now. I see there’s a website with some kind of virtual tour that I’ll be looking at more closely. The museum seems to be just the kind of thing I’d like to visit.

The only thing about biking in San Francisco that would be more challenging than NYC is the hills. Otherwise, SF biking is nowhere near as chaotic and hair-raising as NYC.

Yes, the subway and buses run 24/7! At the height of the pandemic, subways were shut down for a couple of hours for deep cleaning, but they’re back now.

If you’re interested in immigration history, definitely plan to spend several hours at Ellis Island. And a few blocks from Ground Zero, the Hudson and a bike trail, is the Irish Hunger Memorial: Irish Hunger Memorial | Manhattan | Attractions

If you want to explore Central Park, cycling is the way to go. This is one of my favorite spots, a bit out of the way but easier to access by bike: https://www.centralparknyc.org/locations/conservatory-garden