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July 6, 2013
This is a relatively painless, good summer beach route that skirts along the southern edges of Brooklyn and Queens into Nassau County, LI. The terrain is as flat as an old keg of beer and you should be able to accomplish the ride in 3 – 3 1/2 hours. That being said, this ride is exposed – which is to say there is very little tree cover and the summer sun beating down on your neck and arms can be unrelenting. Be generous with the sunscreen and water when assembling your day pack. The day I rode the temperature got up into the mid-90s in the city, but it was probably 5-10 degrees cooler along the beaches. The good thing about this route is that you never really leave civilization and there are plenty of opportunities to refill your water bottle or stop at a bodega for a drink and some A/C.
What to bring
I have a Timbuk2 messenger bag-style pannier that hooks onto the side of my rear rack. There are certain essentials I bring on any ride and they are as follows:
hex key (for seat adjustment)
pinhead key (for wheel removal)
energy bars and fruit
MTA bike permit
cigarettes (if I have any)
For this particular ride, since I was going to be spending the night in Long Island, I packed an additional backpack with extra clothes which I secured with bungees to the top of my rear rack.
I must come clean. My final destination for this ride was not Jones Beach, but in fact Gilgo Beach. About 8 miles east of Jones, Gilgo Beach is a small hamlet tucked in between West Gilgo and Cedar Beach on the barrier island that runs along the southern edge of LI. My friend John’s legendary and octogenarian grandfather, Charlie, throws an annual Fourth of July bash at his beach house right near Gilgo Heading (imagine a Sons of Anarchy party minus the strippers).
My original plan was to bike from my apartment on the south side of Prospect Park all the way to Gilgo Beach.
Needless to say, this plan needed modification.
When planning out the last leg of this route, I chose to start on the Jones Beach bike trail. Running alongside the Wantagh Parkway, the Jones Beach bike trail is a 5-mile paved path that connects Cedar Creek Park on Merrick Road with the Jones Beach amphitheater. After passing the amphitheater, Google Maps put me on a short trail that hugs Zachs Bay and winds its way into some marshland that, after a couple of miles, spills out into the Tobay Beach parking lot. At the eastern end of the parking lot it appears that, with some ingenuity, one would be able to
trespass enter into the small neighborhood of West Gilgo, ride on quiet roads for a few hundred feet, then embark on the grassy shoulder of the high-speed Ocean Parkway for less than a mile to Charlie’s beach house in Gilgo.
Seems entirely doable, right? Not really.
It was fortuitous I decided to do a little extra research into planning this route or I would have found myself either rolling the dice on the Ocean Parkway or disassembling my bike in the Jones Beach parking lot and calling one of my drunk friends with their small car to come pick me up.
The marshland I mentioned above that connects Zachs Bay with Tobay Beach is actually the John F Kennedy Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary. Besides being one of the infamous bone depositories of the Gilgo serial killer, the wildlife sanctuary is also home to dozens of species of waterfowl and a haven for bird-watchers. Entry is free and open to the public, but necessitates a permit from the Town of Oyster Bay Parks Department. Curious if there was a way I could bypass the red tape, I phoned their offices and asked if cyclists were allowed to use the trails in the sanctuary as a way of getting to Tobay. The answer I received from the incredulous Parks Department employee was an uncompromising “NO”. He also assured me that hunting was prohibited in the sanctuary, quickly dashing my hopes of bringing fresh heron and egret to the beach party.
Even if I wanted to be a maverick and slip past sanctuary security, I would have been out of luck. As the guy from the Parks Department kindly pointed out, despite the omniscience of Google Maps, there is no trail that leads from the wildlife sanctuary to Tobay. Upon closer inspection there is, in fact, a clear break in the trail at the northeastern end of Guggenheim Pond where a small inlet leaks in from the bay above. Small, but plenty big enough to interrupt a bike route. And then there is the question of the quality of the trails that run throughout the sanctuary. From what I’ve read, some are paved but others are of dirt and sand.
So that leaves an 8-mile ride along the sandy and grassy shoulder of the Ocean Parkway, putting my tires to the test and competing with 65-mph motorists hurrying to get to the beach. I spoke to a mountain-biker at Jones Beach who said he’d ridden the 14 miles out to Captree State Park before. It sounds like fun, but with a potential $500 price tag from eager-to-ticket troopers, it didn’t seem worth it. Unfortunately, points east of Jones Beach are not tailored yet for cyclists. In an ideal world there would be a bike lane along the Loop, Meadowbrook, and Ocean Parkways making it possible for someone to cycle all the way from New York City to Fire Island without leaving the beach. But I digress…
So, in short, if you want to ride from Brooklyn to Gilgo you have three options:
- Ocean Parkway with possibility of death and/or hefty fine.
- Piss off the Town of Oyster Bay Parks Department and numerous species of waterfowl.
- Ride to Massapequa and convince your friend Ray to drive you to Gilgo.
I chose option #3.
The Route – Leg 1 – Brooklyn
The first leg of the route to Jones Beach is a straight-shot south from Prospect Park to Sheepshead Bay. From my apartment I grab the Bedford Ave bike lane @ Church and just keep on truckin’ for 5 miles through Flatbush, Ditmas Park, Midwood, and Sheepshead Bay until I finally hit the harbor at Emmons Ave.
*Ocean Parkway (different from the one on Long Island) is another option with a dedicated pedestrian path, but Bedford Ave seems to move quicker, has less traffic, and is closer to my place. Save Ocean Parkway for trips down to Brighton Beach and Coney Island.
Turning left on Emmons, you ride alongside the harbor for about 1/2 mile until you see the entrance to the Belt Parkway. Just before the entrance ramp there is a small street on your right-hand side named Brigham, and it is here that you will find the beginning of the bike path that will lead you to the Rockaways. Look for the Lyghthouse Inn (no, that’s not a typo), formerly known as the Windjammer.
Get on this bike path. Known as the Shore Parkway Greenway, this paved path runs parallel to the Belt Parkway for about a mile until it reconnects with Flatbush Ave in Marine Park. Like most places in this area of Brooklyn, the Shore Parkway Greenway was FUBAR’d by Hurricane Sandy. But despite what warning signs you may come across, the path is navigable minus one 50-yard stretch of sand that you’ll need to dismount for and walk your bike across.
As mentioned above, this path loops around and joins Flatbush Avenue. If you continue northeast on the path it will take you into Howard Beach and towards JFK airport. But for this ride you want to keep right and head south towards the Gil Hodges Bridge. Flatbush Avenue in Marine Park is worlds away from the Flatbush Avenue that bisects the rest of Brooklyn – that is to say it’s wide open and green. But not so green…
Transco Natural Gas Pipeline
Construction is currently under way of a 16,200-ft natural gas pipeline running from Avenue U to a proposed gas metering station to be built at Floyd Bennett Field. The goal of the project is to tap an existing pipeline off the coast of the Rockaways in order to increase supplies of energy to the city. The project has been a considerable source of controversy among local residents and questions are being asked about its potential impact on the community and ecosystem, especially in light of last year’s hurricane.
In any event, due to the construction, you will have to cross over Flatbush Ave to the Floyd Bennett Field side where the bike path continues, and then cross back over again once you reach the Marine Parkway (Gil Hodges) Bridge.
The Route – Leg 2 – The Beaches
The second leg of this ride with its beaches and bridges is the meat in the sandwich of this trip. The MEAT! Crossing the Gil Hodges bridge, you leave Brooklyn and the New York City skyline behind while the Rockaways and Queens comes into full view ahead. This bridge’s somewhat narrow pedestrian path is on the western side and accommodates two-way traffic, so be mindful of people coming from the opposite direction. Take a breather at the apex and check out the surrounding views. Off to the left is Jamaica Bay, Broad Channel, and the Rockaways extending eastward. To your right you can see Breezy Point, the Coney Island Astro Tower, the Verrazano Bridge and even Sandy Hook, NJ out in the distance.
Once you descend from the bridge, you’ll follow the path/sidewalk briefly to the right and cross over the moderately busy Rockaway Point Blvd and head down Beach 169th towards Jacob Riis Park.
Breezy Point and Fort Tilden
If you’re looking for a diversion or just want to call it quits for the day, this area is a destination in and of itself. Following Rockaway Point Blvd to the right will lead you out towards the tip of Breezy Point, or you can find the entrance to the grounds of Fort Tilden on your way to the beach. Built as a defense against German U-boats during WWI, Fort Tilden today is largely a natural area of dunes, beaches, and forest. But the haunting, abandoned military installations are worth a look and some of the old buildings have been renovated as art galleries by the local Rockaway Artists Alliance.
Jacob Riis Park and onward
Keeping the grounds of Fort Tilden on your right, Beach 169th is your gateway to Jacob Riis Park. Before you wander in be sure to look for Maria’s milkshake truck, usually parked on the corner of Beach 169th/Rockaway Point Blvd. It’s worth shelling out $5 for one of her 100 signature shakes. Besides, you still have 30 miles to go until Jones Beach – so plenty of time to ride it off.
Named after the late 19th-century journalist and champion of the poor, Jacob Riis Park was designed by Robert Moses (also designed Jones Beach State Park) who supposedly envisioned the beach as a recreational area for poor immigrants who lived closer to the city than Jones. Today you can find Rockaway locals and hipster transplants sharing the spoils, a good 1/2 mile stretch of sand and ocean that is also home to the Rockaway Beach Volleyball League.
The day I rolled through, business seemed to be returning to some level of normalcy with a trio of food trucks slinging dumplings, tacos, and pulled-pork sliders to eager picnickers and beach-goers.
This is also a good spot to cool off for a minute and load up on water before continuing.
Eventually, the boardwalk/promenade along Jacob Riis beach will terminate and you’ll have to get on bike-friendly Rockaway Beach Blvd in order to continue east. You’ll begin at 149th St. and take it to 108th where you’ll hang a right onto Shore Front Parkway (also bike-friendly).
Before Hurricane Sandy you used to be able to connect with the boardwalk at 126th St. and ride it all the way to the Atlantic Beach Bridge at the end of Far Rockaway. But sadly the storm decimated the boardwalk and, with the exception of a few stretches of beach, has been reduced to nothing but endless naked rows of concrete support beams.
As you make your way east, you’ll cross 116th St – one of the main drags in Rockaway. In addition to being a vibrant strip of shops, bars, and restaurants this street is also bookended by two morbid historical reminders. At the bay end is a memorial dedicated to the victims of the September 11th attacks and at the ocean end you will find a memorial honoring the passengers of Flight 587, a Santo Domingo-bound airliner that crashed in the Rockaway community of Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001.
Shore Front Parkway runs alongside the beach from 108th to 67th and is your alternative to the absent boardwalk. A concrete partition separates motor vehicles from pedestrians and the pedestrian half can be somewhat slow-going with occasional patches of sand to veer around and groups of bathers making their way to the beach in no particular rush. A small apron of boardwalk (actually, more like a paved promenade) is open from 86th to 74th with brand new bright yellow-painted concessions houses set up on 86th and 106th. You will also find the majority of surfers hanging out in this area as a result of the jetties and good beach-breaks located around 90th street.
*If you’ve had it at this point and feel like resting your legs and drinking a cold one, turn left at 94th street and head towards the bay. Located on the waterfront, Bungalow Bar sits adjacent to the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge and has an outdoor deck in the back perfect for a beer and a snack.
Nearing the end of the Shore Front Parkway, turn left at the circle at Beach 73rd and reconnect with Rockaway Beach Blvd. Take this to Beach 69th where you’ll turn left once again (an ultra-modern Chase Bank looms here if you need it) and then after a few blocks make a right onto Beach Channel Drive. The road splits at 62nd and either direction is fine as both roads eventually merge into Seagirt Blvd which will take you all the way to the end of the Rockaways. However, the boardwalk is intact starting at 35th Street and will take you to Beach 9th where it dead ends. From here make a left and then a quick right onto Seagirt Ave until you reach a traffic circle at Beach 2nd. Go left at the circle and work your way up to the Atlantic Beach Bridge toll booths.
This is the entrance to Long Beach. You are now officially leaving the city.
Connecting Far Rockaway with Long Beach, the Atlantic Beach Bridge is a 150-ft long drawbridge that passes over Reynolds Channel. It’s entirely possible to bike across this bridge, but there are ubiquitous signs advertising $250 – $1000 fines for biking, diving, fishing, or generally looking at the bridge the wrong way. Plus, the guy in front of me was walking his bike across, so I bitched out and dismounted.
An alternative to going through Long Beach would be to cycle away from the bridge and into the village of Lawrence. With some time and patience you’d probably be able to map out a nice ride through the backroads of the Five Towns and pick up a main thoroughfare in Lynbrook.
On the Long Beach side, the bridge washes you out onto Acapulco Street and loops around to the right, taking you back towards the water and under the bridge. Follow Acapulco to Albany Blvd and make a left once again heading back towards the water. The last street at the end of Albany is Bay Blvd and provides a relatively shaded, tree-lined ride through an affluent section of Long Beach. Long Beach is not a very wide island and the grid of streets is pretty easy to follow. I’ll provide a rough cue sheet at the end of this post, but the roads I took were Bay, Park, Beech, and Connecticut.
Connecticut Ave will take you from the bay to the ocean and introduce you to Ocean View Ave, a narrow yet cozy alleyway of a road which feels as if it were specifically designed for beach cruising.
Ocean View Ave will stir up memories of grade school as you pass street after street named for U.S. states. After about 20 blocks or so, your geography lesson will end at New York Ave where the vanished boardwalk used to begin (like the Rockaways, the boardwalk is now an apparition). This is a popular entrance to the beach where sun-baked local teenagers check passes and collect admissions from beach-goers.
From New York Ave, any road running parallel with the beach will suffice as your next move is a left turn onto Long Beach Blvd. This road becomes the Long Beach Bridge which takes you into Island Park and the rest of Long Island.
The Route – Leg 3 – Long Island
If Leg 2 and its beaches are the meat of this journey, Leg 3 is the slightly stale and crusty hero roll that makes your gums bleed when you take a bite.
Not much you can do. Like I mentioned earlier, a bike lane connecting Long Beach to the Ocean Parkway via the Loop and Meadowbrook would be incredible. But that’s not gonna happen anytime soon. So unfortunately, the only way onto the “mainland” from here is across the Long Beach Bridge. There is no bike lane on this short bridge, but an elevated sidewalk on the right-hand side serves its purpose in getting you across safely (I was able to ride across without dismounting).
On the other side, the road becomes Austin Blvd in Island Park and turns into Long Beach Road as you approach the town of Oceanside. This is the most hectic part of the route as the traffic can get busy and the road’s narrow shoulder is often littered with pebbles and other debris. Taking side streets next to Austin Blvd in Island Park is possible for a short distance, but you’ll inevitably have to rejoin the busiest section of Long Beach Road in order to access the main roads that cut east/west across Long Island.
From Long Beach Road, a right turn onto Waukena Ave will lead you for roughly 4-5 miles to Merrick Road via Brower/Atlantic and Archer. While not a breathtaking ride, this seems to be the best direct route. Otherwise dipping into the backroads of the southern neighborhoods will result in repeated interruption by the network of canals that permeate the peninsulas.
Once on Merrick Road, you duck underneath the Meadowbrook Parkway and pass through the towns of Merrick and Bellmore on your way to Wantagh. Shortly after passing beneath the Wantagh Parkway, Cedar Creek Park will appear on your right-hand side. The bike path literally begins at Merrick Road and shepherds you all the way to Jones Beach.
Now for the purposes of my ride, I continued for a few more miles through Wantagh and Seaford to my hometown of Massapequa where I ditched my bike at a friend’s house and was kindly picked up and driven to Gilgo Beach by my spectacular friend Ray. It was a good thing I packed an extra bag of clothes, because I literally tore a 10-inch hole in the back of my cargo shorts during the ride.
It was a hot and sweaty journey, and I forgot to put sunscreen on the backs of my hands, but it was well worth the payoff of pinwheel sausage, bacon-ensconced hot dogs, and beers on the beach with friends.
I could think of worse ways to spend a day off.
The following day, slightly hungover and dehydrated, I completed the ride out to Jones Beach.
Too lazy, hot, and tired to ride back to Brooklyn, I grabbed the LIRR at Wantagh Station. An MTA bicycle permit costs $5 and is good for life on the LIRR and the Metro North systems. I got my permit at Window 27 in Grand Central Station, but I believe you can pick one up from any staffed ticket office. Worst case scenario you pay $5 on the train and exchange your receipt for a permit at a later date.
As always – any questions, comments, or updates to share please feel free to comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @escapebklyn. Keep rolling.