7 mile beginner route
Starts and ends in Ridgewood, Queens.
A- Rudy's Bakery and Cafe
B- Houdini's Gravesite - Machpelah Cemetery
C- Ridgewood Reservoir
D- Piet Mondrian's Gravesite - Cypress Hills Cemetery
E- Evil Twin Brewery
Daylight savings time is here, and with it comes shorter days and colder weather that make it difficult for even the most dedicated cyclist to want to head outside. However, shorter days also offer opportunities to create adventures discovering this city’s hidden treasures by bike. On the day that I headed off to explore the Ridgewood Reservoir and to search for the gravesites of Houdini and Piet Mondrian it was overcast and threatening to rain, but that didn’t dampen my spirits (nor theirs). While winding my way through the leaf-covered paths that overlook the 160-year-old reservoir and meandering through the ‘Cemetery Belt’ between Brooklyn and Queens, I realized bike exploration doesn’t always have to involve many miles, especially in a city dotted with bicycle accessible gems. This route includes a delectable breakfast sandwich spot, picturesque views, some cemetery trodding, and ends with a cold one of my favorite breweries in the city. Two wheels, a map, and maybe a raincoat are all you need to have some fun in this city, so hop in the saddle early to catch some light and enjoy this bike adventure in Ridgewood!
The first stop on this route is Ridgewood institution, Rudy's Bakery and Cafe. While there are many new cafes popping up in the neighborhood, Rudy's is holding it down as my go-to breakfast sandwich spot, not to mention, holiday cookie and pumpkin-flavored baked goods spot. Rudy's has been in business since 1934, but their baked good selection is anything but stale. I was happy to see them take advantage of the city's newly adopted Open Restaurant program in conjunction with Ridgewood Eats next door, making their outdoor dining area a spacious space to enjoy your breakfast. I recommend checking out the croissant sandwich here, the buttery croissant and perfectly cooked egg will be brought out to you outside, and if you're anything like me you are going to want to pick up a slice of pumpkin bundt cake to go as well!
After you've gotten your fill at Rudy's, it's time to head off for the search for Houdini's gravesite. To do this take Seneca Avenue down, turn on St. Felix Street, to Cypress Avenue, and then turn again onto Cooper Avenue, then over to Cypress Hills Street where there is a recently installed protected bike lane. If you ever want to try the Rockaways Route coming from this direction, you can also take this street to the meetup point at Euclid Ave.
The amount of space in Queens devoted to cemeteries is vast and this area of Queens is colloquially known as 'The Cemetery Belt', where the 5 million people buried outnumber the living by two to one. The miles of cemeteries stretching out on either side of Cypress Hills Street make it difficult to discern which gated entry you should enter in your search, especially since the names on the gates don't always match up with the cemetery names on Google. While Houdini is buried in Machpelah Cemetery, I found it easiest to enter through the gates of Beth-El Cemetery off of Cypress Hills Street and take the internal paths to the gravesite. From the entry, you will want to take a left on the first path you see (the one shown between two trees in the photo below), up some stairs, and then keep heading straight. The gravesite is near the street, so if you stick to walking by the fence near the street you should come upon it.
Houdini's Gravesite is one of those places that I had known existed in New York but never taken the time to seek out. The escape artist magician has been buried here since 1926 after his death on Halloween, and for years seances were performed at his gravesite by people awaiting a message from beyond. When I finally arrived I didn't see anyone coaxing a missive from his spirit, but there was a small pumpkin that someone had left as a Halloween offering. After paying my respects, it was off to the Ridgewood Reservoir.
The Ridgewood Reservoir is another Queen's treasure, but unfortunately, not very accessible by bicycle. I took the Google suggested route of Cypress Avenue to Vermont Place, but I don't recommend going that way if you are a newbie cyclist. Instead, take Cypress Hills Street up to Cypress Avenue, and use the crosswalk to take the sidewalk to the entrance. (This alternate suggestion isn't shown on the route due to Google maps route building deficiencies). In both cases, there are sidewalk paths that you can take to lead you to the Reservoir, but I would love to see these paths created as actual cycling connections. The path on Vermont Place starts out as a dirt strip before turning into a more substantial sidewalk. For such a beautiful place, it would be great to see improved bicycling infrastructure connections.
Once you've traversed the shoddy infrastructure, you will find yourself in the middle of a reservoir that used to hold the freshwater supply for the City of Brooklyn. The reservoir was built in 1858 and actively used until it was decommissioned in the 1980s, now it is undergoing a transformation process to become an accessible open space for the public. Currently home to 160 species of birds, the Ridgewood Reservoir is a scenic slice of nature that also continues to provide ecosystem services to the surrounding neighborhoods. Mainly supported by the organization NYC H20, if you are curious about the history of the Reservoir, they have put on an exhibit at the Queens Museum that is also available online.
A few loops around the Reservoir would be a great way to add some mileage to this route, and I also recommend hopping off the bike to wander through one of the pedestrian paths that cuts through the loop. It was here that I found the best views of the reservoir and was able to soak up some of that late fall leaf-peeping. Once you've stretched your legs on these well-paved paths, take the ramp back down to Cypress Hills Avenue.
Taking the same sidewalk/bike path next to Cypress Avenue, you can turn back onto the protected bike lane on Cypress Hill Street to Cooper Avenue where you will come upon the entrance to Cypress Hills Cemetery. It was in the search for Mondrian's gravesite that the skies decided to open up on me, but there was something about getting rained on while hunting for the gravestone of a deceased painter that gave my trek a mystical quality. I found it quite difficult to locate Mondrian's gravesite, as I was expecting to come upon an elaborate headstone similar to Houdini's. Turns out, the Dutch painter known for his abstract primary color schemes is buried in a row of smaller headstones indiscernible from the next. If you follow Google maps you will eventually come upon the headstone, but I found it easier to make sure I was looking at the map while biking (not an easy task since I don't have a handlebar phone holder), because the voice directions were a bit misleading. After stashing my bike under a nearby willow tree I ascended up a small hill where Mondrian's gravesite was nestled, marked only by a small sign and some primary colored stones someone had artfully arranged in squares evocative of his paintings.
To exit the cemetery, I recommend doubling back the way that you came in, as Cypress Hills Cemetery spans 225 acres and is quite easy to get lost in. You could also spend some time here searching for the gravesites of Jackie Robinson and Mae West, among some of the cemeteries other famous residents. I was getting quite wet at this point so I exited the cemetery to head to my favorite brewery, Evil Twin, located on George Street. The easiest way to get here is to take Cooper Avenue to Myrtle, then over to George. Myrtle Avenue doesn't have a bike lane and is usually pretty congested, but you won't be on this stretch of road for long. Evil Twin does have a great outdoor setup, so once you are here you can kick back with one of their fantastic brews or take a 4-pack for the road if the comfort of your home is calling. I picked up their pumpkin-flavored seltzer water to try and went back to my apartment to dry off, satisfied with my close to home bike adventure!
Hi! I'm Rachel.
I'm creating curated bike routes in all 5 boroughs of NYC. Routes include downloadable route map, descriptions of the bicycle infrastructure, and suggestions on places to eat and things to see. Enjoy!