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NYC Bike Culture History

May 20, 2022

Bikes have cemented an important place in New York City’s history. In the 19th century, biking emerged as a popular form of recreation and exercise and it remains a favorite physical activity today. Yet, biking has also become a reliable and affordable mode of transportation. In response to an ever-growing bike culture, NYC officials have been tasked over the years with creating an infrastructure that enables bicyclists to ride safely among the city’s sea of pedestrians and cars.


NYC Biking in the 1930-50s


When bikes first appeared on the New York City scene in the 1800s, they were a luxury only the rich class could afford. By the turn of the century, though, they dropped in price, which made it possible for working-class and immigrant populations to quite literally hop on the bike craze. This newfound universality caused bicycles to lose their appeal as they were no longer a symbol of status and wealth. After temporarily falling out of favor, bikes made a comeback during the Great Depression.


Frugality was a household theme during this ten-year period of economic crisis, and affordability put bikes back on the map. In 1938, a dedicated bicycle path opened up in the Queens section of the Northern State Parkway, which prompted the Parks Department to subsequently build dozens more miles of bike paths throughout the city’s parks.


Despite ongoing popularity into the 40s and 50s, cycling was still viewed solely as a sport. City officials restricted the activity to designated off-road areas.


1960-80s


The 1960s brought an interest in competitive cycling. A public bike track was constructed in 1963 and began hosting races the following year.


The decade was also marked by rising environmental concerns. As a result, the city proposed closing portions of roadways to motor vehicles during select times, giving exclusive access to walkers and bike riders.


Support for cycling continued through the 70s. Corporate-sponsored special events highlighted biking’s health benefits, while the city expanded its bike-friendly initiatives to include bike lanes on major thoroughfares.


The tide shifted during the 1980s when the mayoral administration expressed safety concerns over bikes sharing congested roads with cars. City cycling also caught a bad rap after three pedestrians died due to the carelessness of a few rogue cyclists. The city scrambled to find ways for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers to safely co-exist.


1990s-Today 


Though public opinion of bikes still wavers between obnoxious and useful, investments in cycling infrastructure have helped New York City to become a model bike-friendly city. More bike lanes have been added, offering commuters an alternative to motor vehicle traffic and mass transit schedules.


Perhaps one of the most profound developments was Citibike, NYC’s bike-share program that launched in 2013. The increase in bikes on the road has eased the strain on public transportation systems.


Commuter Bikes


With more people choosing cycling as their primary transportation mode, commuter bikes are in high demand. Commuter bikes are ergonomically designed to offer riders an easy and comfortable way to pedal through the city. Models come in a variety of styles and speeds to suit cyclists of all skill levels.


A Source of Community


Biking has evolved from a sport into a lifestyle. Cycling enthusiasts in NYC have formed clubs to enjoy riding together. Organizations promote the benefits of biking and offer bicycle safety and education programs throughout the city. These community resources help cyclists find the best routes and advocate for a safer riding experience.


Be a part of NYC’s active biking community. Choose a bike designed for urban use. Before you commit to a model, take it out for a test spin to see that it offers a smooth and comfortable ride. Be sure to follow all traffic laws and be courteous to pedestrians, cars and other cyclists.

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