As my readers know, I got a new mountain bike not too long ago. Today I took it to Highbridge Park up in Inwood, one of the two places to legally take a bike off-road in New York City. Highbridge Park runs from 155th St. to 200th St., and fits between Harlem River Dr. and Amsterdam Ave., generally a widthbut it's only a block or two wide along its length. The elevation change between the two streets is close to 200 ft. and they're usually about 500 ft. apart, although one section is only 250 ft. wide. By comparison, Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz, where I learned to ride mountain bikes, ran over three miles from the entrance at the top of one road to a couple of exits along another, and was over two miles wide.
The trails in Highbridge Park are folded back and forth like a small intestine. They're marked in places and some work has been done to prevent erosion and clear brush from these, but for the most part they've just been allowed to be packed by use. The north section of Manhattan Island actually has significant bedrock under it, which is exposed in places in the park. The trails run through deciduous forest and undergrowth and over rocks, roots, and packed berms. There are also some very steep sections. In a more open environment, it's rare for a mountain bike trail to simultaneously switchback, climb or descend, and involve clearing an obstacle. These trails do, and they're frequently off-camber, just in case they weren't hard enough already.
For me, mountain biking has two appeals. One is that there's a sense of peace in the woods, where there's more landscape and fewer people. Another is that I enjoy the problem-solving involved. Like off-piste skiing, it's about looking ahead and planning moves over, around and between things. These trails have problems stacked on problems. They'd even be difficult to walk. Awesome. And the park is so wild that it doesn't feel like I'm in Manhattan.