There’s a lot to see in Central Park. At 843 acres, the park is really tough for any first-time visitor to fully explore. Even the residents around the park have probably never explored every nook and cranny within the vast woods and meadows of Central Park. And it’s actually rather difficult to navigate the park. Unlike Manhattan’s rigid grid of streets, the paths in the park are curving and hilly. It encourages visitors to relax and explore, but it also makes finding specific sights tricky. Given the size and complexity of the park, it’s worthwhile to have a bike and rent a guide.
Central Park Bicycle Rentals and Tours
There are many companies that offer Central Park bicycle rentals and tours. But let’s just start with what it’s like to bike in Central Park. There are two different kinds of paths in Central Park: pedestrian paths and the park drive. The park drive is a roadway that loops through the park that’s mostly reserved for bikers and joggers. Cars are permitted on park drive between 59th and 72nd Streets during the week, but they are not allowed north of 72nd Street, and on weekends park drive is completely car free. The park drive biking loop is six miles, but there are three places to cut across the park and shorten the loop if you get tired.
One thing that always surprises first-time riders is how hilly the park is. It’s certainly no Tour de France, but there are a couple of 50 – 100 foot climbs. Also, keep in mind that bikers are not allowed to ride on the pedestrian path (as implied by the name). That means that, in order to see some of the park’s most famous sites like the Pond, Bow Bridge, or Belevedere Castle, you’ll have to get off your bike and walk. And if you want to walk without your bike, you’ll need a bicycle lock. Bicycle theft does happen in New York and it’s not a good idea to leave a bicycle unlocked and unattended. And one final piece of advice: avoid morning and mid-day visits on summer weekends. The combination of bikers, joggers, carriages, and pedicabs means that the drives are full of many different folks going many different speeds. It gets very crowded and difficult to navigate.
So, you’ve decided that renting bikes in Central Park sounds fun. Great! Now let’s get those bikes. There are three locations inside the park to rent bikes. Bike and Roll is a citywide bike rental operation that has two locations in the park. One is at Tavern on the Green at 66th Street and Central Park West, and the other is at Columbus Circle at 59th Street and Central Park West. They are one of the more expensive rentals, but they are full service, professional, and reliable. A four-hour rental including helmets, locks, maps, and a tire changing kit costs about $45. The other rental location is at the Loeb Boathouse, located a little ways inside the park from 5th Avenue and 72nd Street.
There are also lots of bike shops around the park that rent bikes to tourists, though they aren’t all reliable. One of the best is Central Park Tours at 1666 Broadway, located about a half-mile from the park. They offer all-day rentals including maps, helmets, and locks for $25. Another is Liberty Bicycles at 846 9th Avenue, also about a half-mile from the park. Here a four-hour rental is $20-$24 including helmets. Locks are $5 extra and their bikes are in good shape. My favorite spot to rent a bike in the Central Park area, though, is Master Bike Shop at 265 West 72nd Street, near West End Ave. A bike here will cost $20 for four hours plus $5 each for a helmet and lock. It’s also located about a half-mile from the park, but it’s much easier to ride there through the quiet Upper West Side than on the hectic streets of Midtown. I like this shop because it’s a local bike shop that mostly caters to locals. They are bike pros who keep their equipment maintained and, with a neighborhood reputation to uphold, they don’t engage in shady business practices. It’s also much less crowded than the touristy bike shops in Midtown. Unlike the spots in the park, Master Bike Shop, Liberty Bicycles, and Central Park Tours all offer Central Park bicycle rentals and tours year-round.
A guided bicycle tour is a nice way to learn more about the park and spend less time wondering how to get to the best sights. The guide will be provide helpful tips, bring you to the best viewpoints, and tell you about the park’s history. Bike and Roll offers two-hour guided tours in season every day for $40. Central Park Tours offers a two-hour guided tour for $53 and their guides are excellent.
Finally, you should try to avoid most of the bike shops in Midtown near the park. Many are shady operations. There are reports of bait and switch tactics, aggressive street hawkers, shoddy bikes, and excessive charges for being just one minute late in returning a bike — even if the lateness was caused by waiting in line to return the bike. It’s hard to even warn you of the names of the poor operators because many of them use multiple names and websites to dupe people. Stick to the reputable vendors we mentioned above and you’ll have a great time renting bikes in Central Park.
Featured image courtesy of Clark Gregor