Upper West Side Idyll
Riding along the Hudson River is a relaxing experience, the heart of any upper west side bike ride, and it has gotten easier thanks to the improved section of bike path that extends over the river just north of 79th Street. Lots of people just go up and back on the greenway path, but our preference is for loops, so we threw in Riverside Drive, one of the best on-street riding roads on Manhattan.
Old but new.
Riverside Park, despite being in existence since the 19th century, probably only started to match the founding vision of the park within the last 20 years. Even though a train line runs beneath it and a highway through the middle, you can easily forget that you’re riding through a major motorized transportation corridor. With the leafy park or the Hudson at your side, the city that never sleeps seems miles away even though it’s just out of sight. The path along the river is dead flat and Riverside Drive is rolling.
Circumnavigating the park would be a very easy ride if not for the big hill we threw in at the north end. The Riverside Drive climb to Grant’s Tomb ,itself worth a visit, is one of the hardest hills on Manhattan Island. Still, we like this hill as a reminder that the city isn’t flat (Mannahatta means “Island of Many Hills,” and once had over 570 hills) and that glacial outcroppings form much of the topography of the upper part of the island. If you have to walk the hill, just roll to the sidewalk and start hoofing it; the Tomb is worth it.
We love riding around Grant’s Tomb, the final resting place of President and Mrs. Grant, and a popular cycling spot dating back to the 19th century. There’s an annual race around the Tomb, usually in March, put on by the Columbia University cycling team, and it’s a great training spot for racers as well, easy riding so long as it’s not during the morning or evening rush. The tomb itself hosts concerts in the summer. (And for the record, nobody is buried in Grant’s Tomb).
Before the city got into building off-street bike paths, Riverside Drive was one of the easiest places to ride in the city. You can take it from 72nd to 165th Street, which is what countless cyclists do when they’re fixing to ride over to New Jersey via the George Washington Bridge.
Bites and bottles.
There’s a seasonal café at the 79th Street boat basin along the water. It may or may not be in operation when it warms up, as both the pandemic and the concession contract ended hard in 2020. There’s a Dinosaur BBQ just north of the ride, which is also alongside a caribbean food staple, Floridita. You can also often find a food vendor by the tennis courts at 97th Street. And at 70th Street and the Hudson, there’s another seasonal café.
Get there: This loop represents the western edge of both Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side, so for people who live in these neighborhoods, all they have to do is go west. Otherwise, the West Side Greenway takes you there by bike and the 1, 2, and 3 trains get you very close; take them to Broadway and 72nd. Also check with Riverside Park, as they have an activity calendar as well.
The Ride Minutiate (West Side Bike Ride)
Distance: 6.5 miles
Elevation: 313 Feet
Terrain: Open roads and bike paths
Ride Rating: @
Notes: there’s a hill at the north end. It’s the only challenge of the ride. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.