‘The Best Illegal Bike ride in NYC’– RIP

Whaleamena, the mosaic-covered whale sculpture (brought from the Central Park Zoo) that once graced  B 95 street. Returned to the sea by Superstorm Sandy.

(I had written this several years ago. Starting in 2006 and every year after, I made this bike ride sometime around November or December. It hadn’t occurred to me until I looked at the calendar that it was time to go–and most of the things I talk about here are gone as a result of Sandy. So this is an homage to the boardwalk running from Rockaway Beach all the way to the Nassau County Line and the Atlantic Beach Bridge. I hope it gets repaired soon, but I’m going to miss this ride this year. And unfortunately, one of my favorite sites is gone)

The Best Illegal Bike Ride in New York

This is a great bike ride. You see a lot of scenery, and you are isolated from most of NY while being able to see much of the city from a distance. It’s almost entirely flat, and it’s paved or covered. You can get to the starting/ending point on public transit. YOU CAN’T GET LOST. And it’s a great brag to say ‘I biked to the NassauCounty line today’. Technically, it’s illegal. This time of year, no one cares (I’ll tell you why it’s illegal shortly).
To start:

Take the A train to 116th Street Rockaway station (yes, you can take your bike on the train).

Exit the station.

Take a left toward the boardwalk. You’ll pass one cross street (with a light).

At the cul-de-sac, ride up the ramp to the boardwalk.

(If you see ocean, but no boardwalk, you made a right instead of a left and are facing the bay).

Make a left.

Ride until you can’t ride any more on a boardwalk (the boardwalk turns to concrete about eight blocks out from the end then ends about three blocks before the AtlanticBeachBridge, which is the dividing line between Queens and Nassau). When you reach the end of the boardwalk, just turn back. Make a right at 116th, get back on the train. Go home. Rest.

NOTE: you can ride another three blocks East and get on the bridge and ride to Nassau. If you continue on the main drag, you will be in Long Beach in another two or three miles—there are excellent pizza places and restaurants along the drag).

Total ride (round trip) is around 13 miles (assuming you don’t ride over to or cross the Atlantic Beach bridge).

WHY IS THE RIDE ILLEGAL?

Technically, bikes are banned from the boardwalk after 10 AM. However, there’s no one on the boardwalks during winter—once you get east of B 84th Street, you’re on your own. I wouldn’t try this ride between Memorial Day and the end of September. And you should always be conscious of the pedestrians, some of whom are elderly (especially east of B 15th street). I’ve ridden this ride a number of times with no hassles from officialdom. But caveat emptor.

WHY SHOULD I RIDE THIS RIDE?

The city has let the salt marshes reclaim a lot of the land, so you really are alone most of the way. The dunes are tall and topped with sea grass. Along the way, you’ll pass the only surfing beach area in NY, and if the temperature’s at least 60, there will be surfers out on it. There’s also a huge sculpture of a whale made of white plaster decorated with inlaid blue mosaic tile by the surf beach. And (as I said before) you’re alone much of the time. If all you see is the city and its crowding and noise, this is a nice ride to help clear your head.

CAVEATS:

You must be self-contained, because you’re out in the middle of nowhere. That means you have a spare tire and pump and you know how to use them. You should also have a cell phone, because none of the payphones out there work. And make sure your tires are ready to go—it’s a bumpy ride on sections of the boardwalk.

If the weather says ‘wind gusts’, be prepared for a difficult ride. You shouldn’t do this ride if the wind is over 10 MPH. And remember—at least half of any ride is against the wind.

Beware of going through sand drifts on the boardwalk—they can knock you down if you aren’t careful. Also, sand dunes can hide exposed nails, broken wood or glass shards.

MANLY-MAN add-ons to the ride

If you want to drive in to start the ride (hanging your bike on a car-rack), you can park for free (off-season) at the Jacob Riis Park area and just ride East. This adds an extra two miles each way. Get on the Belt Parkway West, go South on Flatbush Avenue exit, cross the Marine Parkway bridge ($1.25 each way in 2006).

If you want to burn off all the calories from your last big meal, you could start at the Greenway (at the end of Emmons Avenue—traffic goes on the Belt Parkway east, you make a quick right and get on the Greenway path) and just follow the bikeway, then turn right on Flatbush, follow the bikeway to the Marine Parkway bridge, walk/ride across the bridge, and go east past the Riis Park entrance. At 116th Street, turn right. Probably adds up to 25 miles round trip.

Or if you’re really nuts, start at Prospect Park, get on Bedford Ave South, turn left at the end on Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, ride until the pavement ends and the path begins, etc. Cross AtlanticBridge, Make the big left on Beech. There’s a sort of bicycle path on the right side. You’ll pass a couple of big beach clubs with big empty parking lots. Then go to Long Beach, stop at the pizza place. Eat a hearty meal. Turn back, do everything the opposite way. 45 miles or thereabouts. Do this every couple of weeks and all your clothes will fit better.

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