The NYC Bridges with Toughest & Steepest Climb to Bike (Incline Grade %) The NYC Bridges with Toughest & Steepest Climb to Bike (Incline Grade %)

Which NYC bridge is the toughest to bike? (by steepest climb and incline grades)

Not a lot of people know that New York City boasts an incredible number of bridges; twenty-one that go in and/or out of Manhattan, but there are actually over 2000 in the entire city.

Could you name the twenty-one? Even if you’ve lived in the city, you probably can’t. The vast majority of New York denizens probably couldn’t name even seven of the most-popular bridges without the help of the internet. And that’s okay — the reason we live in the city isn’t to leave it.

You probably remember most vividly the bridges that you trekked across on bike, a walking tour or general exploration of the city. Each bridge is unique and pose their own unique challenges, but which one of them have the most difficult incline grades to bike? 

The Steepest Bridges in New York City

When it comes to difficulty, there’s a lot of opinions on the net, but surprisingly, there’s not one page that collects all that relevant bridge information on one page.

We hope to solve that in this post. We’ll evaluate seven of the bridges of NYC in hopes of determining which one is the most difficult to cycle or walk based on distance and steepness.

Oddly, as we mentioned there isn’t one place on the WWW that collects all this information, but there’s certainly been discussions on forums like reddit and Bike Forums. about the steepest climbs and elevation grade percentages. We’ll provide the quantitative data with the official length and incline grades:

New York City Bridge Length Span/Direction to Avg. Incline Grade
Brooklyn Bridge 1.13 miles to Brooklyn (at crest) 3.25%
Brooklyn Bridge 1.13 miles to Manhattan (at crest) 3.5%
George Washington Bridge .9 miles 4.5%
Manhattan Bridge 1.3 miles to Manhattan 3.4%
Manhattan Bridge 1.3 miles to Brooklyn 3.15%
Queensboro Bridge .7 miles Manhattan turnaround (to crest) 2.5%
Queensboro Bridge .7 miles crest to Queens turnaround 3.0%
Triborough Bridge .53 miles Queens Span 5.14%
Triborough Bridge .15 miles Manhattan Span 7.14%
Triborough Bridge .3 miles Bronx Span 3.44%
Williamsburg Bridge 1.38 miles 1.85%
Williamsburg Bridge 1.38 miles
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge 2.6 miles 1.66%

Some of the numbers here might be inaccurate since finding exact elevation for the road is difficult- you might just have to travel the bridges to see! (Spoiler alert: depending on which direction you’re going on the bridge, they can be steeper or flatter. Choose wisely.) 

The Toughest New York City Bridges To Climb

As you can see, no one bridge, much less section or span, keeps the same incline grade (steepness) or have the same barriers, so it’s difficult to pinpoint which bridge in New York City is the toughest bridge to cross. Sometimes coming from Brooklyn into Manhattan is tougher than the same bridge bike path going into Brooklyn from Manhattan. Anyways since the official numbers weren’t definitive, let’s take a look at the qualitative data a.k.a. what does the internet say?

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is shorter than its closest neighbor the Manhattan Bridge, at only 1.13 miles long, but it is steeper in both directions. From the Manhattan side to the crest, the incline has an average of a 3.25% grade. From the Brooklyn side to the crest, the grade is 3.5%.

From the same post at Bike Forum, the cyclist also measured the rise over and grades to more specificity. 

I rode over the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges on Saturday with my Garmin 305 (with barometric altimeter), and looking at the maps & elevation/distance data in Ascent, came up with these numbers:

BROOKLYN BRIDGE

Manhattan side to tower: 86′ rise over .47 mile -> 3.5% average grade
Manhattan side to crest: 100′ rise over .63 mile -> 3.0% grade

Brooklyn side to tower: 92′ rise over .46 mile -> 3.8% grade
Brooklyn side to crest: 100′ rise over .60 mile -> 3.2% grade

George Washington Bridge

This bridge is the busiest automobile bridge, with over 100 million drivers crossing it in a year.  Although it is less than a mile in length (.9), the George Washington Bridge can be pretty steep, with an average grade of 4.5%. 

Manhattan Bridge

The Manhattan Bridge is the country’s first modern suspension bridge and spans 1.3 miles long connecting the Brooklyn to Manhattan boroughs. Coming from Brooklyn, the average grade is 3.4% on the incline. In the other direction it’s about 3.15%. This post from Bike Forum gets even more in the weeds with rise over and specific landmarks.

I rode over the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges on Saturday with my Garmin 305 (with barometric altimeter), and looking at the maps & elevation/distance data in Ascent, came up with these numbers:

MANHATTAN BRIDGE

Brooklyn side to tower: 79′ rise over .45 mile -> 3.5%
Brooklyn side to crest: 98′ rise over .56 mile -> 3.3%

Manhattan side to tower: 84′ rise over .48 mile -> 3.3%
Manhattan side to crest: 106′ rise over .66 mile -> 3.0%

My recent experience biking the bridge to Brooklyn and then back, the former wasn’t that difficult. The latter, coming from Brooklyn back into Manhattan, the incline wasn’t overwhelming, but it felt like a LONG climb due to the length of the bridge. Amazing how much an additional .25 incline grade makes.

Queensboro Bridge

The Queensboro Bridge is one of the shorter bridges on this list, at just .7 miles. But it has an average incline of 3.5%. This bridge offers wonderful views of the surrounding areas. It’s also known as the 59th Street Bridge.  Another user on Reddit suggested that though the Queensboro bridge is short in length, the climb from Manhattan is perhaps the toughest. 

Queensboro to Queens is the steepest grade it’s not even close. It just doesn’t last that long.

But have they biked the Triborough bridge?

Triborough Bridge (Robert F. Kennedy Bridge)

This bridge is actually a complex of multiple bridges which link the three boroughs (Triborough, get it?) of  Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx via Randalls and Wards Islands. Each span has its own length and steepness:

  • Queens Span: .53 miles, with a 5.14% grade
  • Manhattan Span: .15 miles, with a 7.14% grade
  • Bronx Span: .3 miles, with a 3.44% grade

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is long, at 2.6 miles, and it should be. It is the longest suspension bridge in the United States. However, because of the length, it has an easy slope, with an average grade of 1.66%. All of which should matter to cyclists because bikes aren’t permitted (thanks Robert for pointing that out!).

The Verrazano is further south than all the other main bridges, so it would take a bit more travel to get to that one if you were still thinking of taking a look.

Williamsburg Bridge

At 1.38 miles, the Williamsburg Bridge connects Manhattan’s Lower East side with (you guessed it) the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. The mileage isn’t much greater than the two previous bridges, but it has a 1.85% average grade. However, be careful when on this bridge! The pedestrian crossings split into two, with one side having a steeper grade than the other. 

By one redditor’s experience, the Manhattan-to-Brooklyn direction is the toughest climb:

The climb up the Williamsburg bridge on the Manhattan side. No contest.

These cyclists on Bike Forums agree:
I believe the Willy B is the longest; I think that is the hardest (esp. on the Manhattan approach). But I like that it has that nice easier section the middle.

and

the Manhattan side of the WBB kills me the most….it just seems lonnngggggg

Which NYC bridge is the toughest to bike over?

From what we’ve been able to gather, there’s no one bridge we can call the most difficult. The research tells us that different bridges have different issues that would make each of them a unique challenge.

However, the consensus seems to be that the Triborough Bridge poses the most complications, especially for bikes, who need to take several sets of stairs and dismounts in various spots along the journey. This will  obviously add more of a workout for pedestrians.

In second place is the Brooklyn Bridge, for the simple reason that it is a huge tourist destination. Navigating this bridge at any hour of the day is difficult, but during rush hour can be particularly hazardous. 

Whichever one you find most difficult, the truth is that crossing every NYC bridge is a great bucket list item that very few New Yorkers have completed. If you want more information on each, check out this guide or this interesting history of the bridges’ bike paths. All 24 bridges in New York City have unique character and worth traversing.

5 Comments

  • Robert commented on June 19, 2020 Reply

    There are 24 bridges to Manhattan, not 21. 21 is just the number people throw around.

    I agree with the Williamsburg Bridge going to BK is the toughest. Winds me every time, but given there is more width, it’s still enjoyable.

    The Bronx span on the TB is moot with the at grade bike path under the hells gate.

    Since you chucked the Verrazano in there, which bikes aren’t permitted, figure you can add the non-Manhattan Kosciuszko Bridge into the next article, which is a joy to bike over. Someday, hopefully the Whitestone will be there too!

    • @stuart commented on June 20, 2020 Reply

      Thanks for the info and confirmation Robert. We’ve made those changes to the post.

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