Fast exit to Brooklyn: four bike routes around the New York borough

This article is part of a series on cycling and a guide to New York from FT Globetrotter

Before I moved to New York from Washington DC three years ago, I sold my bike. At more than 20 years old, it was practically a relic — and it wasn’t going to fit in the car for the drive up the east coast. And anyway, biking in New York City seemed terrifying.

Living in Manhattan’s West Village, I didn’t miss my set of wheels. There was nowhere to store a bicycle in my tiny apartment, and I was lucky enough to be able to walk to work. But after a year, a move to Brooklyn and in the midst of a pandemic, I was ready to strap on my helmet again. 

Emily Goldberg on her bike, by Domino Park in Brooklyn © Laurel Golio

Despite the great bike shortage of 2020, that summer I secured a hybrid bicycle that I thought would help improve my commute when I eventually returned to the office. A year and a half later, I’m still mostly working from my apartment, but hopping on my bike has been a great way to spend time outdoors and explore my neighbourhood. 

Street in Williamsburg with people walking ann bikes parked
The streets of Williamsburg are wider and more manageable than Manhattan’s avenues © Laurel Golio

Even as car traffic has returned to nearly pre-pandemic levels, the streets of Williamsburg are much more manageable than Manhattan’s avenues, and I’ve found ample bike lanes that provide added comfort. Here are my four favourite Brooklyn bike routes.

1. City Hall to Gowanus (3 miles)

  • Good for: Riding over the photogenic Brooklyn Bridge 

  • Not so good for: A smooth ride. Expect some bumps because the path across the bridge is made of wooden slats rather than pavement

  • FYI: Be ready to dodge pedestrians — bikers and walkers share the walkway over the bridge, with no real separation

Globetrotter Brooklyn cycle map, City Hall to Gowanus

Start at City Hall in lower Manhattan, where you can take in the impressive architecture at the seat of the city’s government. If you need to rent a bicycle, there are a few Citi Bike docks in the area. When you’re ready, join up with the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade

A dedicated bike path across the bridge is expected to be added by the end of this year, but for now you’ll have to share the path with pedestrians, so proceed carefully. It’s a popular photo op-spot, so expect more than a few tourists with heads in the clouds (or glued to their phone screens). 

Enjoy the views from Brooklyn Bridge over lower Manhattan . . . 
Enjoy the views from Brooklyn Bridge over lower Manhattan . . .  © A. Astes/Alamy
. . . and keep going to Gowanus canal, a new hipster enclave
 . . . and keep going to Gowanus canal, a new hipster enclave © J Feinstein/Dreamstime

Take in the impressive views going over the bridge, and when you reach the other side, you’ll cycle through a stretch of downtown Brooklyn before heading south-east through the tree-lined neighbourhood of Boerum Hill and into Gowanus, a former industrial area that is now popular with hipsters, artists and creatives.

Finish your ride with a bite and a drink at the Lavender Lake bar — whose name is an ode to the neighbouring, heavily polluted Gowanus Canal. Yes, I realise that doesn’t sound like an appetising atmosphere, but Lavender Lake’s picturesque patio and creative drinks menu will quickly draw you in. Environmentalists may be interested in wandering across the street to witness efforts to clean the “black mayonnaise” that has settled at the bottom of the canal.

2. Prospect Park loop (4 miles)

  • Good for: A good dose of nature without leaving the city 

  • Not so good for: A flat ride — there’s a sizeable hill along the bike path in the park

  • FYI: Make sure you bike anticlockwise with the flow of fellow cyclists 

Globetrotter Brooklyn cycle map, Prospect Park Loop

The obvious place to start the Prospect Park loop is at Grand Army Plaza, the main entrance to the park that features a triumphal Civil War memorial arch. This is a fine place to kick off your ride — there’s a Citi Bike dock conveniently located across from the park entrance too. But I suggest a starting point two blocks west of the park to fuel up at Park Slope’s Winner bakery.

Don’t be alarmed by the line at Winner — which in the morning hours is likely to extend down the block — as it moves quickly. A breakfast sandwich on a homemade English muffin and crumbly coffee cake, washed down with a cup of Java, are well worth the wait. 

After this, you’ll be ready to burn off those calories. (If you need to rent a bike, there is a Citi Bike dock nearby on the corner of 10th Street and Seventh Avenue.) As you head east toward the park, Brooklyn’s iconic brownstone apartments will line your route. Enter the park on Prospect Park West near the Bandshell, where you might hear live music being played if you’re cycling through during the warmer seasons.

Stop off for an English muffin at Winner Bakery . . . 
Stop off for an English muffin at Winner Bakery . . .  © Winner bakery
. . . before reaching the green expanse of Prospect Park
 . . . before reaching the green expanse of Prospect Park © Hemis/Alamy

Join up with fellow cyclists and runners heading anticlockwise on the paved road that loops around the perimeter of the park. With no car traffic to worry about, you can quietly take in this swath of natural beauty tucked away in the heart of Brooklyn (but do stay alert for the few pedestrian crosswalks and stop lights).

As you cycle by the lake, which will be on your left, you could briefly forget you’re in the most populated US city. In the warmer months you might see paddle boats out on the water.

Before long, you’ll hit an uphill climb of about a mile, but it is relatively gentle. This will take you up the east side of the park, where you’ll see the LeFrak Center, which offers ice skating in the winter and roller skating in summer. You’ll pass Grand Army Plaza as you reach the north end of the park.

Continue along the path and before you know it you’ll be back at the Bandshell, completing your loop. Still fuelled up from breakfast? Go ahead and take another lap or two. 

3. Greenpoint to Brooklyn Bridge Park (5 miles)

  • Good for: Dedicated bike lanes from start to finish

  • Not so good for: Escaping the city — you’ll catch waterfront views at Domino and Brooklyn Bridge Parks, but along the way this route features a lot of concrete

  • FYI: Watch out for runners in the bike lane

Globetrotter Brooklyn cycle map, Greenpoint to Brooklyn Bridge

This route begins in Greenpoint, a neighbourhood in northern Brooklyn and the borough’s Polish enclave. If a pre-ride coffee interests you, head first to the bustling, café-lined Franklin Street

From there, carry on west to pick up the Brooklyn Greenway (you can grab a Citi Bike at the corner of Huron Street and Franklin Street or at India Street Pier). You’ll ride south along West Street’s typically quiet bike path, passing plenty of new construction in this rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood.

Ride by Domino park, the site of an old sugar factory . . . 
Ride by Domino park, the site of an old sugar factory . . . 
 . . . now a public park, for all to enjoy
 . . . now a public park, for all to enjoy © Laurel Golio (2)

It’s early in the ride yet, but for your first real waterfront view, swing by Transmitter Park by hanging a right at Kent Street. Return to the bike path, and as you pedal along, the street will merge with Kent Avenue, which will take you down the Williamsburg waterfront. Make a slight detour on to River Street to ride by Domino Park, the site of an old sugar factory that has been transformed into a public park. If you’re hungry, stop at Tacocina for chicken tinga tacos (and a margarita) to enjoy alfresco with views of Manhattan. 

Back on the Kent Avenue bike lane, you will coast under the Williamsburg Bridge. As you pass the Naval Cemetery Landscape, turn right on to Flushing Avenue, where you’ll see the Brooklyn Navy Yard on your right and, to your left, the Fort Greene neighbourhood.

Stop at Tacocina for chicken tinga tacos and . . . © Laurel Golio
 . . . the views over to Manhattan © Laurel Golio

Take a right at Navy Street — sorry to say that hill is for you, but it’s the only one of the ride. After the climb, you’ll cycle through the Dumbo neighbourhood (an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), and ride under both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges before reaching Brooklyn Bridge Park along the East River.

Here you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the city as you glide past each of the park’s piers. To complete your ride — and cool off — there is a treat waiting for you at Pier 5. Some of the city’s best gourmet ice cream is at OddFellows, where the flavours on offer include lemon shortbread thyme, carrot-cake cream cheese and cinnamon dulce de leche.

4. Williamsburg to West Village (7 miles)

  • Good for: Miles of continuous bike lanes and plenty of sightseeing 

  • Not so good for: Avoiding tourists 

  • FYI: One side of Williamsburg Bridge is for pedestrians, the other for cyclists. Make sure you take the path meant for two wheels on the north side

Globetrotter Brooklyn cycle map, Williamsburg to West Village

Begin your ride just before the Williamsburg Bridge entrance at South Fifth Place and South Fifth Street, where you can pick up a Citi Bike if needed and hop on to the cyclists’ path. The hardest part of the ride comes first: the first half of the bridge is the steepest incline you’ll see on this route.

Enjoy the views of the cityscape on both sides of the East River — a welcome distraction from the climb. Before too long you’ll crest the hill and then coast down into Manhattan. At the end of the bridge, take the first left on to Clinton Street, where you can continue following a designated bike path through the Lower East Side. When you run out of road, make a right on to South Street. Here you’ll have views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, and ride by the historic South Street Seaport

South Street Seaport © Brazil Photo Press/Alamy
The ‘Fearless Girl’ statue © Reuters/Brendan McDermid/Alamy

After around four miles, you’ll hit The Battery — the southern tip of Manhattan. If you’d like to hop off for some quick sightseeing, check out Bowling Green, the oldest public park in New York City and home to the “Charging Bull” statue. Nearby, the “Fearless Girl” statue stands at its new home outside the New York Stock Exchange (it was moved there in 2018 from its original place opposite the bull).

Head to the Hudson River Greenway and cycle towards One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. (This path runs all the way up the west side of Manhattan if you’re looking to extend your ride.)

Continue along the bike path, past Pier 40, and you’ll have made it to the West Village. There is a Citi Bike dock located at West 10th Street and Washington Street, where you can return your bike before heading east to explore the neighbourhood’s countless restaurants and cafés. For a subway ride back to Brooklyn, take the M train at West Fourth Street.

Maps by Liz Faunce

Which is your favourite cycling route in Brooklyn, and why? Tell us in the comments below

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