Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mountain Bike Mini-golf

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.


Ryan said...

I was about to try out Highbridge in the next few weeks but if it's as congested as you say, I might look elsewhere. I live in the Dykman area and that's a shame. What is the other legal mountain biking trail in NYC? Van Cortlandt Park?

Andrew said...

Highbridge has some beginner trails in the broad area at the north end. I actually didn't know about Van Cortlandt Park at the time that I wrote this post, so I was referring to Cunningham Park out in Queens. I still haven't done Van Cortlandt myself and can't say anything about it. Sprain Ridge up by Yonkers has a legal trail system as well, although I know nothing about that either. Cunningham is actually pretty nice. It's got a combination of grit service roads and singletrack varying from long and smooth to tight and funky. Cunningham and Highbridge both have dirt jump tracks and I know Cunningham's got a pump track - not sure if Highbridge does or not. has all kinds of information on the NYC areas. Also check out and