Chris Clement typiﬁes the new breed of New York commuter. An athletic, twenty-something software engineer with an ofﬁce in Manhattan, for years he made the journey to and from his Brooklyn apartment by car. “The trafﬁc was usually a nightmare both ways,” he says, “but there wasn’t any alternative. The subway was overcrowded and inconvenient, and dangerous roads were choked with trucks and irate motorists.”
Today, however, thanks to the Big Apple’s recent and concerted push to become more bike-friendly, Clement has swapped four wheels for two. Cycling across the Brooklyn Bridge twice a day, he enjoys use of dedicated bike lanes and sheltered bike racks, as well as some iconic views over the Hudson River and Manhattan cityscape.
“Cycling to work, I win all round,” says Clement. “I’m healthier, I save money, and I get to work quicker than if I was driving. With all the new bike lanes, my girlfriend doesn’t freak out about me being out on the road so much either.”
Clement’s biking epiphany hasn’t stopped at abandoning his luxury German sedan though. In June, he upgraded his ride to a Batavus stadsfiets, a traditional, two-wheel Dutch bicycle, purchased from Rolling Orange, a newly opened Brooklyn bike shop owned by Dutchman Ad Hereijgers.
Hereijgers intends Rolling Orange, with its array of stadsfiets and bakfiets (bikes with cargo crates) to be much more than a simple cycle store. “I want to bring Dutch biking culture to New York,” he says. “I want to encourage New Yorkers to switch gears, slow down and enjoy their travel time. I call it the Slow Revolution.”
With over 320 kilometres of extra bike lanes added since 2006, and New York rapidly climbing the ranks of America’s most bikeable cities,
cycle tours are proving more popular than ever. While open-top buses may be a more sedate option, a little saddle soreness is a small price to pay for going places no gas guzzler can reach. “On a bike tour, you feel as though you’re really part of the neighbourhood,” explains Marc Seidenstein, Vice President of Bike the Big Apple, and one of New York’s most extrovert cycle guides.
“On a walking tour you go slow and your feet get tired. On a bus tour the city goes by too fast. We want our customers to leave with stories and photos that even the ‘natives’ don’t know about.”
Starting out under the sweeping, cantilevered arches of century-old Queensboro Bridge, Bike the Big Apple’s ‘Ethnic Apple Tour’ takes in New York’s less-frequented quarters. After a quick burst of song from Marc, the tour rolls through Long Island City, notable for its rapid and ongoing gentrification, and thriving Bohemian community.
At the Five Pointz Art Center, considered to be the world’s ultimate graffiti Mecca, it’s time to take a break, gulping down water while admiring the aerosol art. Rap stars can occasionally be spotted recording videos to the backdrop of stylised spraywork. Then it’s on to the Gantry State Park for waterside views of the United Nations Headquarters, and the soaring spires of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Passing through the cosmopolitan streets of Williamsburg, Seidenstein, who has been guiding in New York for around ten years, regales riders with tall tales and tidbits of local information. “From Poles to Jews to Chinese, these neighbourhoods have always been a real melting pot,” he says. “There’s a story behind virtually every block and building.”
New York’s green lung, Central Park, is another top spot for freewheeling fun in the heart of the city. “I often escape to the park on Sundays,” says Chris Clement. “Cars are banned at the weekend, so it’s a totally fumefree experience. Exploring 340 hectares of woodland, waterfalls, lawns and lakes, you totally forget that you’re surrounded by eight million other New Yorkers.”
“The bicycle is the ideal form of transport for discovering why Central Park is known as ‘New York’s Backyard’,” adds Tom Ahern of Central Park Bike Tours. “From the greenery of The Mall and Shakespeare Garden to the historical Obelisk and Belvedere Castle, cyclists can really get off the beaten track.” The Dutch Bike Co has import stores in Seattle and Chicago, and founder Dave Schmidt plans to open a New York outlet in the next few months. With sales of stadsfiets and bakfiets multiplying, he thinks Americans are ready to embrace Dutch bike culture.
“I think it’s safe to say that, within the next 20 years, you’ll see many major US cities adopt these bikes as much as Amsterdammers have,” he says. “Some people say they’re expensive, but when you consider the components, quality and resale value, they’re actually
very reasonable. They also look a lot cooler than your average mountain bike.” Like the Dutch Bike Co, Rolling Orange has also been selling a lot of bakfiets. “Americans are fascinated by them,” says Ad Hereijgers. “A growing number of people are taking their kids to school in them, as well as dogs and picnics to the park. We also expect more commercial use, such as home delivery for supermarkets.”
Having brought a stadsfiets back to New York from The Netherlands 20 years ago, Marty Sokoloff could be accused of being a trend pioneer, although his wife Suzie has just bought a newer model from a local shop. “They’re chic, they last, and they just make you want to ride,” says Sokoloff. “All we need now is a few canals.”
Chris Clement is joined on his daily cycle to work by an estimated 200,000 New Yorkers. “We were aiming to double the number of bike commuters by 2015, but we’ve now revised our goal to doubling it by 2012, and tripling it by 2017,” says Monty Dean of New York City’s Department of Transportation. If Hereijgers’ Slow Revolution continues to gather pace, a fair percentage of those cyclists will certainly be going Dutch.
New York fact file
KLM, together with Delta, operates two direct, daily flights from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to JFK International Airport New York, and two to Newark Liberty International Airport.
ON YOUR BIKE
“The best bet for visitors who want to independently bike New York is the Hudson River Greenway that runs from Battery Park to the George Washington Bridge,” advises Grace Lichtenstein of the NYC Cycle Club. “Central Park in the early evening and at the weekends is also great.” The following companies are a good choice for escorted biking: Bike the Big Apple (www.bikethebigapple.com); Central Park Bike Tours (www.centralparkbiketours.com)
WHERE TO STAY
Ace Hotel (see also page 11) is a funky Manhattan boutique hotel renowned for its chic, rock ‘n’ roll style (www.acehotel.com), The Jane Hotel is a trendy, goodvalue hotel next to the Hudson River Greenway. Complementary bikes are also offered (www.thejanenyc.com). The Pod Hotel has compact, cleverly designed rooms and a prime location four blocks from Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue (www.thepodhotel.com).