This is one of my favorite rides in Brooklyn. I do this about every weekend. It's close to 50 miles. It goes down to Coney Island, over to Rockaway Beach, up through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve and back up Ocean Parkway. What I love about it so much is that most of the route is either on a bike path or a lane, and that there aren't many cars, or other cyclists for that matter. It often feels so far removed from the rest of New York City and Brooklyn it feels like my own escape from the city.
At a near freezing 32° it was the coldest ride of the year so far. I decided to leave a bit later than usual, hoping that the afternoon sun would keep me warm. Luckily I just bought a new soft-shell jacket, and had a nice Smartwool base-layer. The other life saver is a thin cycling cap to block out the wind and sun, but also trap a bit of body heat from escaping my head. I was worried it would be too cold to ride, but once you get moving and have the proper layers on it's not that bad.
Mile 0 We live in Carroll Gardens, right next to the Smith and 9th St. stop along the F/G train. You can see the train tracks just above. Also, notice that there's netting dangling from the track itself. They're doing track renovations till next year. The station itself closed at the beginning of summer, which means we have to walk to the next stop to catch the train. Such a bummer. Even more reason to ride a bike or to just stay in Brooklyn.
Mile 4 Cut through the industrial zone of Sunset Park, and around Owls Head Park in Dyker Heights you'll hit the pier along the Hudson River. From there you can see Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty as well as the Verrazano Bridge way out into the distance. So far it's a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in sight.
This is also where a long stretch of bike path begins. It goes on for about 4 miles, almost all the way down to Coney Island. Along the water you'll see fisherman, each with at least 3 fishing poles leaning against the rails. I have no idea what they're trying to catch, but then again I never stop to find out.
Mile 7 The Verazzono bridge looms overhead. It connects Brooklyn to Staten Island. Unfortunately there isn't a bike lane on the bridge. However, my neighbor told me this crazy story about when he and his buddies to rode their bikes over the bridge, along the edge, traffic roaring by, just for fun. I think they eventually got pulled over by the police.
Mile 10 First pit stop, Best Buy… Liquors. WTF! Now I know I'm in Coney Island. This is also a great point in the ride if you ever feel like you just can't pedal anymore. You can hop on the F train all the back home.
Mile 12 Past Coney Island, Brighton and Manhattan beach you come across this washed out section of trail, which means off-roading skills will come in handy. It's only about 100 yards or so of sand. To the right is the bay opening to the Atlantic. In the summertime you can see a ton of windsurfers all cutting across the water.
Just past the washout is Shore Parkway, all jammed with traffic. At this point I have only seen a couple of other cyclist on my ride so far.
Mile 16 Past the Brooklyn Marine Park, there's the Marine Parkway Bridge, which goes right into the Rockaways. You real begin to feel the distance. Sometimes the wind gusts are so strong it feels like it'll toss you right over the edge. I guess that's why there's a sign that says to walk your bike, but who's gonna walk the entire length of this? The entire ride remains relatively flat. The only elevation gain is at this crossing.
Halfway across the bridge and you can see the edge of Coney Island to the right.
Above is an epic vacant parking lot of Jacob Riis Park. I can't imagine it filled with cars. Even in the summer I rarely see a quarter of the lot full. It's at this point when all you can hear are your gears spinning and tires gripping the road. No one for at least a half mile in either direction.
Mile 22 At the very edge of Rockaway Beach there's a connecting path that goes up through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve. Beyond the water on the right is JFK International Airport. Also, another walk your bike across the bridge sign. Why?
Halfway across the bridge you can see pretty much the entire stretch of Manhattan way out in the distance. The photo really gives you an idea of just how far away from home you are.
Riding through the preserve isn't as spectacular as one would imagine. It's on either side of this rode where bikes are prohibited. I remember once in August, along this same route, it was in the upper 90's, and I ran out of water. While relatively short it was the longest 5 mile stretch. Thank heaven for 7-11 on the other end.
Mile 26 The bike path picks up again after winding through the suburbs of Howard Beach. It's just past the halfway point, on the furthest edge of the figure eight loop. It's not my favorite part of the ride because of all the construction being done to the road as well as bike lane. The Belt Parkway runs parallel to the path for most of it's length, and it's always littered with debris and deafeningly loud.
Along the left side, behind the gates is the soon-to-be-opened park-project by Mayor Bloomberg. I forgot the name of it. I guess it's a mountain made of trash. Sadly it blocks the view of the bay on the other side.
Mile 31 Another narrow, but beautiful crossing along Belt Parkway.
The view on the way back is spectacular. You can see the Marine Parkway Bridge out in the distance.
A lesson I learned a long time ago was to ALWAYS bring either a spare tube or patch kit, especially riding in New York. I flatted just as I was making my way up Ocean Parkway. Luckily I've fixed hundreds of flats in my lifetime so I'm up and running in less than 10 minutes. It would have been sooner if it weren't for the dropping temperature and my frozen fingers. I'm thinking it's time to upgrade my tires to something slightly heavier, but with a tougher casing.
Mile 40-50 The homestretch. Although there's a bike lane on the either side of Ocean Parkway I choose to ride on the road. Why? For me it feels safer. So many times have cars cut corners, trying to make the endless row of lights, nearly plowing me over as I'm crossing. Plus the pathway is often overrun with people, despite there being a dedicated pedestrian walkway. Most of the pathway is uneven with slabs of concrete jutting straight up, waiting to give you a pinch flat.
Normally after a ride like this I'd collapse. Dead tired. However, because it's now a part of my regular riding routine I remain relatively unaffected. Doing long miles like this is not only a physical but mental exercise. I know what 50 miles feels like, and I know how much I should eat beforehand, during and after. I know how hard I can push myself and when to back off as needed. As I begin to increase my time and distance on the bike it all gets easier, gradually. Rides like this also give my mind a break after sitting on a trainer for days at a time. It also reminds me that Brooklyn has a it's own natural (and unnatural) charms.