There are so many things I love about travelling. First and foremost is the people you meet – sometimes in the most unexpected places. And then, of course, it’s the things you do and see.
All of those things collided one year ago today when I signed up for a five-hour Get Up and Ride bike tour in Brooklyn.
Not only was the bike tour absolutely brilliant, but as the sun went down over Manhattan, I was more than a little bit drunk, had kissed a handsome stranger, had bar-crawled around Williamsburg and found three new friends who were set to transform my visit to New York.
But back to the bike tour. I seriously love riding a bike, especially overseas in cities where bike helmets aren’t a requirement. I know helmets protect your brain blah, blah, blah, but there’s something so relaxing about coasting along with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face (obviously it’s my preference to only ride downhill!).
Felipe Lavelle, who launched Get Up and Ride in 2012, designed the tours so guests “feel like they’re on an outing with a group of friends” while showcasing local art, urban marketplaces, beautiful parks, great food and sharing the borough’s colourful history. Felipe runs the business with partner Nichole and Graham, their gorgeous part-kelpie who has his own Instagram account at @grahamongraham (doesn’t he look impressed that I photobombed his photo?).
With our introductions and safety briefing complete, earpieces and walkie-talkies on (and my GoPro attached awkwardly to the handlebars) we agreed to Felipe’s ‘no selfies while riding’ rule, we set off on our two-wheeled road trip around Brooklyn.
Felipe left us in awe with his expansive knowledge of the area; from the buildings to the people who call the borough home. We also learned cool stuff including how if Brooklyn was its own city (it’s not, it’s a borough) it would be the United States’ fourth largest city with 2.6 million people calling it home.
The walkie-talkies made it easy to ask questions without constantly stopping.
Over the course of five hours we cycled through dozens of diverse neighbourhoods from hipster-central Williamsburg and the recently developed green space on the waterfront at Greenpoint to Dumbo (down under the Manhattan bridge overpass) and the classic brownstones of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill.
We even passed through south Williamsburg which is home to about 75,000 ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews which was quite eye-opening.
Other highlights included riding through the vast Brooklyn Navy Yard, an old shipyard next to the Vinegar Hill neighborhood, which once housed the US Navy’s finest fleets in the 19th and early-20th centuries. These days it’s home to TV and movie studios, a rooftop vineyard (complete with hammocks), a rooftop organic farm and New York’s oldest operating whiskey distillery.
Felipe also took us up 12 flights to Brooklyn Grange Farm, an incredible two and a half-acre organic rooftop farm which produces more than 50,000 pounds of veggies a year, supplies some local restaurants and, for the lucky few, doubles as a function venue. There were sunflowers taller than I am (not hard, I know), rows upon rows of vegetables, herbs and greens, beehives and even a chicken coop!
Here are five reasons why you should do a Get Up and Ride bike tour when visiting New York:
This guy seriously loves Brooklyn. He loves the people, the places, the history and the people who come to see what it’s all about. From the moment we met, his passion for the city he calls home was obvious and infectious and his knowledge was second to none.
Bike tours can save you from aimlessly wandering/cycling around and wasting energy and time without seeing the good stuff that you’re interested in. They’re also a great way to cover a lot of ground when you’re short on time but with more freedom and access than if you were in a car.
3. Small group
Felipe and Nichole keep their tours to 10 people or less (ours had just five) with everyone given a walkie-talkie and earpiece so you can ask questions along the way or let them know if you’d like to stop for a photo. Felipe also takes an #instaworthy snap or two so you can make everyone back home jealous!
Having worked up an appetite, we stopped at Frank Pinello’s Best Pizza on Havemeyer St in Williamsburg for a real New York slice, served straight from a century-old Neapolitan style wood fire brick oven. We also made stops at Brooklyn Roasting Company and the award-winning bakery Ovenly, which is known for its innovative flavour combinations, although Felipe does mix up where the tours stop depending on the visitors.
5. The extra mile
Felipe’s love of Brooklyn and desire for us to love it too meant that with a slice of pizza in one hand, he mapped out a pub crawl for us so we could kick on after our tour finished. Dubbed ‘the Williamsburg Golden Mile’, he encouraged us to have a drink at each venue, stopping for no longer than 15 minutes.
We didn’t make it to each venue but Kylie, Ryan, Tiff and I did stop at a couple of places – including a rooftop bar called Northern Territory, which would be where the handsome stranger popped into the story (but that’s a story for another time) – before heading to Diner for a rather drunken dinner at 11.30pm, so I’d say we made the most of our first day in Brooklyn.
The next morning we backed up to take our hangovers back to the borough to celebrate the 4th of July at Coney Island, before picnicking in Central Park!
Verdict: If you’re visiting New York and are willing to give your legs a little workout, riding around Brooklyn will reward you breathtaking views of Manhattan, fabulous foodie finds and cool spots to people watch over a cocktail. Plus, Get Up and Ride recently launched a Manhattan tour which I can’t wait to try next time I’m back in New York.
Get Up and Ride’s Brooklyn Bike Tour takes approximately 5 hours, is suitable for most fitness levels and costs $US99.