Gyms are still closed, and germaphobic New Yorkers are avoiding public transportation if at all possible. Whether it’s biking, skateboarding or inline skating, hopping on a set of wheels is a way to both get some exercise and get around the city. Three local pros share their advice for beginners.
The expert: Neile Weissman, 68, former president of New York Cycle Club.
Why it’s great during the pandemic: Bicycling allows for social distancing; if you’re in a group, you’ll naturally stay at least 6 feet from others. It’s also a mini-break from lockdown monotony. “Every time I do a day ride, it’s like I have a vacation,” says Weissman. “If you do it with a bike club, you’re socializing.” Day trips on two wheels allow riders to visit new neighborhoods safely with a low carbon footprint. To fuel up, Weissman recommends ordering to-go food from local businesses and eating outside.
The gear: First, figure out what kind of riding you want to do. If you’re starting out and want to test the waters, get a Citi Bike membership ($169/year for unlimited 45-minute rides). If you like it, consider your preferences. “Do I want to do more casual, laid-back rides around the city?” says Weissman. If so, grab a hybrid road bike, which is ideal for general-purpose riding. Serious cyclists keen on long-distance treks at higher speeds should invest in a road bike. The cost? For the former — including accessories like a helmet and a cyclometer for measuring distance — $500 to $1,000. Road bikes are more expensive; you should budget about $1,500. (Many stores have reported high demand in recent weeks, so be prepared for a wait for delivery.)
Places to go: Almost any spot in the city is accessible by bike. Even so, Weissman says, “plan your trips beforehand.” The city’s Department of Transportation has a free map with bike lanes marked that riders can use to plot out routes. For safety, he adds, “you don’t want to wing it,” as a laissez-faire jaunt might include roads that could be unsafe.
Tip: A community group can provide technical and emotional support for newbies. Pick a bike club based on your desired level of commitment. The New York Cycle Club, for instance, is for “serious recreational riders,” says Weissman. For something more casual, the Five Boro Bike Club is a solid option. Hardcore cyclists can consider the Century Road Club Association. Bike clubs are great for connecting with folks and riding together — and for sharing vetted, planned-out routes incorporating quieter streets. “It makes sense to join a club before getting a bike,” he says.
The expert: Jose Portes, 46, co-founder and co-owner of Homage Skateboard Academy.
Why it’s great during the pandemic: Skateboarding is a means of solo, open-air transportation — but it’s also a sport. “You don’t think about it, but you are working out,” says Portes. And experienced riders can add tricks along the way. “It’s an instrument that brings creativity. It’s so much more than just jumping on a piece of wood.”
The gear: Get a quality skateboard — one ideally made of sturdy Canadian maple wood — and be wary of unstable toys that department stores may sell. Make sure the board’s “trucks,” which hold the wheels, turn and aren’t fixed. That feature will help beginners find their balance and control their direction. Choose urethane wheels over plastic for durability. The bearings, which control the speed of the wheels’ spin, should be slower for novices. “You don’t want to be going too fast in the beginning,” says Portes. Don’t forget a helmet. Be sure to budget at least $120 to $140 for the equipment, he adds, “and that will last you for a long time.”
Places to go: “Start on your own block,” Portes says. “Go to familiar places and then explore from there.” Flat ground without much traffic will be easier. If you begin feeling more confident, find a hill where you can practice turning and stops. “You can spend months perfecting that,” he adds. For now, it’s best to stay away from any place that can draw a crowd, like a skate park.
Tip: Before the coronavirus, there were meet-ups and skateboarding groups where skaters could ride together. For now, riders should keep at it on their own. “Skateboarding’s about movement,” says Portes. “You have to do it, even if you do it on your own.”
The expert: Joel Rappelfeld, 66, founder of Roll America Inline Skating School and Kids on Wheels.
Why it’s great during the pandemic: Rappelfeld says inline skating is an independent activity that can also foster friendships. “You can do it with other people at a safe, comfortable distance.” Plus, at a time when gyms remain shut, “It burns calories, and it gets your legs and heart working.”
The gear: Rappelfeld’s general advice for skates: “Don’t buy cheap.” If you’re an adult, expect to spend at least $150 to $200 for skates from a trusted brand, like Rollerblade or K2. Cheap “toy” skates, he says, “don’t give you the movement, the fluidity.” For kids, it’s $100 on average for a pair that can adjust as their feet grow. “Pay the extra money . . . because it will last longer,” he adds. Also grab a helmet, and wrist, elbow and knee pads to protect your joints just in case you wipe out.
Places to go: “Flat’s always the best thing,” Rappelfeld says of terrain for beginners. Try it in an open area in any park — Rappelfeld likes Prospect Park or Flushing Meadows Corona Park — that is away from bikers and runners.
Tip: Take a lesson if you can do so while practicing social distancing. “This is one of those sports you should not learn on your own,” he says. It takes proper instruction and practice to learn balance, maintaining speed and stopping. “You have the [protective] gear on, but you don’t want to use it.”