While New York might have the most diverse population of any city in the world (Queens is actually the most diverse borough), it is not immune to the lures of provincialism. As Manhattan is my home province, I hope my location hasn’t clouded my judgment. It’s a great place to ride. Hyper-urban it is, but it’s also very flat and dense and actually very easy for cyclists. In my estimation, the easiest borough to ride in.
It’s striking that the most urban borough also has the longest car-free bike paths in the city. Part of the reason is luck; Central Park was built before cars and has been taken over by New Yorkers keen on creating a real separation from the hyper-urban environment just outside of the park walls. The other is the idea of creating a greenway that rings the island between the roads and the rivers first took root.
Because the greenway is effectively near just about everyone in Manhattan – it is a long narrow island – just about all the rides make their way to the water and travel alongside it for at least a short stretch. Rides that take you to the water have other advantages; no cars to contend with and relatively few pedestrians, as it’s much harder for them to get to the water than it is for cyclists. And for the more popular sections of the West Side path, there are separated pedestrian walkways that mean fewer worries.
Because of the density, this is the first borough amongst equals where riding to the ride is a good idea. As a result, you’re going to be doing some street riding regardless of what you take in. The seeming chaos can be overwhelming, but taken in small doses, you can experience it, start seeing patterns, and learn how to safely surf the sea of traffic and distractions that occur on the road.
There is so much to see and do in Manhattan; I had trouble even making a small selection of non-bike activities. My bias for rides is to ride first, experience the city from the saddle, and save museums, performance halls, and the like for times when your purpose is to drink in indoor culture.