Most people don’t speak of mountain biking and New York City in the same sentence, but those who know better often regale the listener with tales of wrist-shaking downhills, technical body busters where you have to get off the bike, and some of the sweetest single track on the entire east coast; all within one hour of Times Square. New Yorkers have two things in abundance: crowded streets and high speed. On the trails, a New Yorker is about as mellow and friendly as can be, because he’s getting away from all the hubbub to be at peace in the woods. Remember, a hundred people on the trail are nothing to him, just close friends, really, when everyday he sees a hundred thousand on the street. Here then, is a short guide to riding in these parts.
New York City is smack in the middle of a geological convergence, with several of earth’s forces providing a variety of riding. There’s the rough and stone-laden terrain of New Jersey’s several mountain ranges pushing in from the west. The smoothed hardpack foothills of Westchester County lie to the north. Long Island has several hundred foot high ridges of moraine, with super fast single tracks cut straight from a grand prix course designer’s book. To the south lies a mixture of New Jersey’s small rock-strewn mountain ranges and sandy coastal ranges.
The Dirt: Ringwood in northern New Jersey’s Ramapo Mountains has some wild and rocky terrain. Some say you’re better off there with a dual suspension bike to handle the long downhill fire roads and the technical single track. Ringwood offers a long day of variety whether you’ve got rear bounce or not. At close to 1100 feet high in spots, spread over 5,300 acres, it’s fairly large, and while the trails are marked well enough, you can get lost. Get a GPS map, spare parts and services before you ride at Town Cycle (1468 Union Valley Rd., West Milford 973.728.8878).
The Commute: To get to the park, take the George Washington Bridge to Rte. 4W, to Rte. 17N. Get on Interstate 287S to the Skyline Drive exit. Get on Skyline Drive north, following signs for several miles to Ringwood State Park. When you’re done with the ride, you can go back down Skyline Drive, where a shopping plaza with all kinds of food awaits, before you get back on the highway.
Graham Hills Park
The Dirt: Graham Hills Park, in Westchester’s Pleasantville is small, but it packs so much in that you’ll keep going back. It’s got steep climbs, a winding up-and-down that rounds the base, several sketchola technical switchback descents, and a cool sandpit in the back with jumps. Drive there or train it.
The Commute: Take the Metro north to the Pleasantville station, then ride towards Pace University. The entrance to the park is across from Pace. If you’re driving from NYC, go north on the Henry Hudson to the Cross County. From there, stay right where the highway splits, and get onto the Sprain Brook Parkway north. This will become the Taconic, and right after this, exit onto Route 117 into Pleasantville. The entrance to the park is 100 yards down on the right. For a quick fix after riding, a decent slice can be had at Pleasantville Pizza, 34 Wheeler Avenue (914.769.3391) behind the train station in Pleasantville. Deli foods, gas and a shopping center are also nearby. For bike needs, go to Briarcliff Bike Works, 1238 Pleasantville Rd. (914.762.7614). Get a good map and other info from www.wmba.org.
The Dirt: Stillwell Woods has a similar feel to Graham Hills, fast and smooth. The terrain has the rider looping high, often on a bed of pine needles, and low through some sand at the bottoms. The trail whips back and forth like a pendulum, seriously testing your steering ability.
The Commute: From NYC, take the Midtown Tunnel onto I-495 (Long Island Expressway) to the Seaford-Oyster Bay Pkwy Rte. 135 at exit 44N. Take 135N to the Jericho Tpke. Make a right, go half a mile and make a left onto South Woods Road. It’s about a mile up on your right. Go past the soccer fields to the far parking lot, and start the well-marked trail in a clockwise direction just past the metal gate. If you’re hungry afterwards, simply backtrack to Jericho Turnpike and eat whatever you like. A good local bike shop is Visentin Bike Pro Shop 516.922.2150, on Pine Hollow Road in Oyster Bay. For more information, go to www.climbonline.org.
The Dirt: Chimney Rock in central New Jersey is also one of the last remainders of the ice age. This is evident through some small hills that slope down into the river valley and then the sea. It is still, however, very rocky. Spread across First Watchung Mountain, its limited vertical feet is more than made up for with ball-dropping trail. There are some mighty twisty singletrack mixed with some decent climbs, and embedded rock everywhere. These conditions make for some deliberate riding style. You can’t ride hell bent here, because the trail will often suddenly surprise you, and if you’re not careful, you will get your clock cleaned.
The Commute: To get there, take I-78W to exit 33, and go south on Liberty Corner Rd. This will turn into Mt. Horeb Rd. Take this to Washington Valley Rd, make a right there, and then make a left onto Newman’s Lane. Go past the bridge and turn into the parking lot. Chimney Rock has become popular in recent times, so it can get crowded. Choose your riding time there wisely. When you’re done, go back to Washington Valley Road and make a right. There’s good pizza at the Pizza Brothers, at Chimney Rock Rd. The local guys have done pretty well for the park. Check them out online, at www.rockheads.com.
David Paler is a professional photographer, who works and lives in New York City and Wainscott, NY. You may browse his gallery at www.davidpaler.com.
Special thanks to our friends at Dirt Rag for their assistance with this piece.