Just out in Mountain Bike magazine: My feature on Manhattan's first legal mountain bike trails, way up yonder where the wild things roam...
The backstory: Back when I was a 21-year-old Park Slope "Manny" (long story), I used to sneak into the "backcountry" of Prospect Park for a quick mountain-bike ride, every once in a while. It wasn't much: scrappy, eroded trails, and you never knew who was going to jump out from behind a tree. But there some sweet rocky sections, a few rideable staircases that didn't seem to have been maintained since Olmsted's day. Then some young teacher got knifed for his bike back there, and that was the end of my urban mountain biking.
Mountain bikes were banned from NYC parks almost as soon as the mountain bike was invented—understandably, in the case of, say, Central Park. But Central is not the only park in town, and even as it was restored and renovated, other city parks continued to go feral, particularly in Upper Manhattan.
Four years ago, a group of mountain bikers persuaded NYC Parks to let them "adopt" a section of Highbridge Park, a narrow strip of hillside woodlands near the approaches to the GW Bridge. It looked like something out of the movie Warriors: junkies, homeless encampments (cum drug dens), abandoned cars, wild dogs. The bikers' group, NYC MTB, pulled out literally tons of trash and spent thousands of man-hours forging trails out of the urban wilderness. Almost as an afterthought, they built a dirt-jump park for the kids -- and it's turned into a mecca for helmetless punks from Manhattan, Bronx, even Jersey. I like to sit there sometimes and watch the kids pull spins, even flips—stuff I'd never dare attempt now.
It's a cool place to visit. Take the #1 train to Dyckman Street (be sure to eat at the pork-rice-and-beans joints right by the subway). Better yet, take your bike up there. Or check out Max Breslow's photos of the place--which has already hosted a handful of races, including a Thursday-night informal series. And then there's Yonathan Arava's superb documentary, "The Highbridge Project," worth it for the groovetastic soundtrack alone.