While New York City may not be a storied recreational cycling paradise, it’s probably a much better place to ride than you think it is. I consider myself fortunate to have a variety of compelling routes available to me. I can pedal laps in Central Park, ticking off the city’s great landmarks as I spin along the rolling six-mile loop. I can join the Lycra-clad roadie procession and head over the George Washington Bridge into the hills of New Jersey and beyond. There are also road and track races all season long, and I can even go mountain biking in Upper Manhattan.
But some of my favorite rides involve scampering from my Bronx abode and onto the dirt trails just to the north of me in the suburbs of Westchester county. Once you know the tricks, you can get to some of the area’s best mountain bike trails from the city without a car and with minimal pavement time. Not only can you maintain the illusion of escape while remaining close to commuter trains and retail establishments, but—most crucially—you can also enjoy a few solid hours of saddle time without having to interact with motor-vehicle traffic.
These mini-escapes are now my go-to rides. While of course I regularly ride on the city streets, at this point in my life, I’m somewhat burnt out on “sharing the road” with drivers while recreating, and generally the only thing that keeps me off the trails is mud or excess snow. Recently however a new deterrent emerged from the woods.
Now, my fellow New Yorkers and I are not complete strangers to wildlife. In addition to the pizza rats and the subway sharks, we also coexist with raccoons, skunks, possums, and all manner of furry creatures not commonly associated with city life. I’ve had deer on my block and I’ve seen hawks snatch pigeons right off the street. Beavers have returned to the Bronx River. Rabbits, snakes and foxes all cross my path as I ride, and I’ve even seen coyotes just over the city line on occasion, mistaking them at first for scrawny stray dogs. So I know they’re out there.
What never occurred to me, however, was that a coyote might decide to attack, which is exactly what happened a few weeks ago. Yes, in one shocking burst of wild canine malevolence, a coyote or coyotes upended the idyll of suburbia, biting a mail carrier, nipping at a cyclist’s rear tire, terrorizing civilians, and even killing a dog. Village governments ordered parks closed and pets leashed. I pored over the local news reports, and the location of each attack was immediately familiar to me from my rides.
So the next day as I was gearing up, I had a decision to make: Do I grab the road bike and deal with deadly drivers, or do I seek the solace of the trails, bone up on my “hazing,” and risk getting torn apart by the dingos of Yonkers?
Well, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I Lycra-ed up and headed for the heart of Manhattan faster than you can say “Team Sky.” As I headed down to Central Park, however, I couldn’t get past the suspicion that I was deluding myself. After all, according to the Humane Society, “More people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.” Meanwhile, drivers killed 23 cyclists in New York City last year alone, and injured thousands more. So if my goal was stress-free recreation, objectively speaking, I was still probably better off in the woods than throwing elbows with Manhattan traffic to get to the park, even with an aggressive coyote on the loose. Certainly this thing couldn’t be as dangerous as a taxi driver towards the end of a 12-hour shift.
Still, reason breaks down in the face of fear. Furthermore, when threatened, we often run to the comfort of the familiar. So while the driver/cyclist relationship may be a fraught one, it seemed preferable to the specter of animal attacks, and it was in this spirit that I reverted to roadiedom like an estranged family member returning to an abusive household.
As the days went on, it seemed as though my fear had been at least somewhat justified. Yonkers police shot the suspected coyote, and tests soon revealed that it had been rabid. Furthermore, while golf balls may be more dangerous than coyotes, they’d shot this one on a golf course, so what do you have to say about that, Humane Society? With rabies confirmed, parks north of the city remained closed as the search continued for a possible accomplice. I started riding in the area again but stuck to the roads, looking at every squirrel for hints of a foamy mouth and pedaling longingly past trailheads posted with notices reading “WARNING: Coyote Attacks Have Occurred In Vicinity.” Nature breaks were an anxious affair, like when you use the bathroom at a cocktail party and there’s no lock on the door, except instead of a dinner guest walking in on me, I kept imagining a coyote leaping out of the trees and mauling me mid-stream.
Finally, two weeks later, all was quiet on the coyote front and the mayor of the village of Hastings-on-Hudson (the suburban hamlet I’d been using as my coyote barometer) declared the crisis over. According to his missive, this may have been “the largest single coyote-on-human series of attacks recorded in U.S. history.” I have no idea if this is true, but I’ll take his word for it because it makes me feel slightly less ridiculous.
And posthumous thanks to my rabid bogeyman for briefly distracting me from the actual danger I face as a cyclist from my fellow humans every day.