Biking in Babylon
|An Amazon lurks somewhere in this concrete jungle (PhotoDisc)|
There's urban mountain biking, and then there's mountain biking in New York City. The good news is that there is lots of riding to be hadwith about 28,000 acres of parkland peppered throughout every borough, plugging up your treads with some fresh-packed urban soil is easier than you think. The bad news is that talk of NYC riding is often book-ended by warnings; if you're not looking out for the cops (no legal riding off paved trails), then it could be some urban denizen lurking in the bushes who'll happily prey upon you and your $1,500 ride. So before you hit the secret stretches, use your common sense: Ride in groups, ride defensively (don't slow to chat when somebody flags you down in the woods), and avoid underpasses. One paranoid streetwise bulletin site even suggested packing a gun.
Of all the urban-dirt options, the city's third largest park offers the best trails. Van Cortland Park (http://www.nycgovparks.org), donated to the city in 1888, covers the northernmost part of the Bronx, and offers a 1,150-acre rolling expanse of forested hills, stream crossings, and a small natural lake. Sure, it's smack dab in the middle of a 17-million-person metropolis, but once you're inside, the park can be remarkably wild and remote. Like any urban riding, trails are often a hodgepodge of creatively derived connections and short stretches of technical tracks, but once you find your way, you're in for a surprise. New York City's mountain-bike scene might have more in common with Vancouver than Vermonthomemade trails, bridges, see-saws, and the ever-intimidating big drops (including ten-foot huckers off the rounded tops of the exposed Fordham Gneiss rock formations characteristic to the area) are not uncommon.
From the southwest corner of the park at about 245th Street and Broadway there is a vast field, and a good starting point for two types of rides. The more adventurous should head due east across the meadow and look for a small path through the trees that'll lead to an old railroad grade running the entire north-south length of the park (and beyond), which makes a good ride on its own. Turn left, go about a mile past the golf course (the first one built in the U.S.), and you'll find a number of singletrack trails shooting off to both sides as you head into the hills. All of them are worth exploring, but if you take a right you'll find a sinewy uphill maze that meanders through boulders. Trace the trail to the top and it leads to a couple of nice downhill drops that rip back through the woods towards the base. Dirt jumps and technical obstacles are peppered throughout this area.
For a mellower cruiser on root-crossed singletrack, head north from the main meadow. Start on the gravel path at the northeast corner and continue north, heading uphill with the highway on your left. At the top of the hill turn left, cross a bridge, and bear right. When you see a dirt trail on the left, take it. It loops for about six miles through walnut, sugar maple, and black birch groves, eventually winding back towards the meadow where you began.
Take a 45-minute ride on the 1 or 9 trains from midtown Manhattan to 242nd Street (the Major Deegan Expressway to Van Cortland Park South exit will get you there, too). Then cycle a few blocks to a vast field at 245th and Broadway and choose a path.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication