By Wendy Booher
As a former “worst city to ride a bike in,” Boston still suffers from a bad rep. However, reality outweighs perception and cyclists never had it as good as they do in Boston, especially if they ride off-road.
The same is true in other cities, like New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Austin and even Houston, where mountain bikers can access some of the finest single-track in the nation without turning the car ignition – they just have to know where to look.
Boston – Located 24 miles south of the city, Wompatuck State Park and its serpentine trail system boasts year-round riding on classic East Coast single-track. Get there on a budget by taking the Red Line subway to the Braintree stop and then ride five miles southeast to get to the park’s main entrance. Trail maps are available at the welcome center. Bikes on the subway are allowed during all non-peak hours, check the MBTA website for times: www.mbta.com. There’s also a commuter rail, which drops you off virtually across the street, if you can stand the train’s infrequent schedule and higher fare. Bonus: Taking the train to Womp will be much faster than inching your way through the Cape Cod traffic that clogs the roads between Boston and Provincetown throughout the summer and fall.
New York City – The Big Apple probably doesn’t top the list as a go-to place for mountain bikers, but trails do exist for all abilities. Before opening NYC Velo several years ago, Andrew Crooks raced mountain bikes all over North America but settled on Manhattan’s east side as the ideal place for a bike shop. Despite his urban setting, Crooks still takes to the trails as much as possible and this is how it’s done.
Choose from three systems: Sprain Ridge Park in Yonkers; Graham Hills Park in Pleasantville; or Blue Mountain State Park in Peekskill by taking the Metro-North from Grand Central Station. If you’re short on time, head to Manhattan’s Highbridge Park via the #1 subway train, Dyckman Street stop. But Crooks adds that Highbridge Park is close enough to ride to from anywhere in Manhattan. To the east, there’s Cunningham Park in Queens, which can be accessed by the F train. For complete trail descriptions as well as directions by public transportation, go to www.nycmtb.com.
Houston – Public transportation predates the automobile in both Boston and NYC and finding singletrack within striking distance of train stops seemed too easy. So for a challenge, we looked to Houston, where the car is king and where oil and gas development get a permanent exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science. The Greater Houston Off-Road Biking Association maintains an aggressively updated Web site that lists trails and current conditions in and around Houston. For years, Memorial Park was knows as the best urban trail system in the country but has since been redesigned to yield shorter, less-technical terrain. The trails are still great, according to GHORBA’s
Web site and, what’s better, they are accessible by the #70 bus from downtown.
If you’re willing to go a little farther, you can take the #78 bus to the #53 and enter Terry Hershey Park to ride The Anthills, an intermediate trail along Buffalo Bayou, just west of the city. Visit www.ghorba.org for detailed information about riding off-road in Houston.
Philadelphia – Population density in the Northeast can be great for inspiring public transportation use, but when all those people need a place to play recreational areas can become battlegrounds. This is true for many cities, but for Philadelphia, which is lucky enough to have 1,800-acre Wissahickon Park. Twenty dollars will get you a permit to ride “the Wiss,” which is entirely with city boundaries. But the cost is worth it, say local mountain bikers, who share the park’s ripping singletrack with hikers, walkers, runners and equestrians.
To punctuate shared trail use and intermodal access, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority even goes so far as to list trail systems on its Web site (www.septa.org) by name and how to get there by bus or train. Information about Wissahickon and other Philly area trail systems is available at www.phillymtb.org.