Written By: Darryll White
New York City is one of the most visited places on the planet, ranking in some polls as the number five (5) tourist destination worldwide and number one (1) in the US. Due to all the history, diversity, culture, and architecture, along with a massive local retail and service industry, the city is a tremendous destination.
With all the city offers, a visit at first glance might seem overwhelming. For many, guided tours offer a way to capture the essence of certain sections and or aspects of the city in an efficient and enjoyable manner. There are many types of tours to choose from, including walking tours, bus tours, boat tours, bike tours, along with nuance tours such as food tours, architecture tours, history tours, neighborhood tours, etc.
The city strives to protect the interest of the visitor to NYC so that when purchasing guide services the consumer has some assurance, that those who provide services will be prepared to offer a quality product. While buyer-beware is always good advice, NYC offers a layer of consumer protection by requiring tour guides to obtain a Sightseeing Guide License. Acquisition of the license requires an extensive base of knowledge about the city and the tourism industry.
Persons applying to become guides in NYC must file an application, provide proof of identity, take and pass the guide exam, and pay applicable fees.
The exam covers numerous topic areas and requires broad based understanding of the NYC touring industry. One must understand local logistics, history, have knowledge about local neighborhoods and landmarks, understand ethnic culture, including foods and religion and immigration patterns both historical and current; as well as have basic knowledge on local museums, public sculptures, art, culture, including music, theatre, dance and literature. Additionally, knowledge on architecture, city planning, parks, parkways and cemeteries is required.
The licensed guide is also required to understand “practicum”, which includes legal routing of passengers, pick up/drop off points for tour busses as well as the requirements surrounding the use of microphones, billing customers and taxes, along with terms specific to travel and tourism.
When selecting a tour in the city, the consumer should qualify the operator by ensuring that they utilize authorized and licensed guides for all of their tours. Most guides will carry their license with them when conducting business and facilitating tours in the city.
Wendy Rose from Bike and Roll offers the following in regards to the license test: “The city guide licensing test is impressively rigorous, and I love it! The questions were incredibly involved, so I really had to study all aspects of the city (past, present, food, culture, navigation, etc). It does an excellent job of looking to all the Boroughs of New York. The test for me, took four hours to complete. It was exhaustive, but incredibly rewarding. While some people likely find the test to be an unnecessary hurdle, I definitely welcomed the challenge and opportunity to immerse myself in as many details on NYC as possible”.
Bike and Roll NYC has been providing bicycle tours in NYC since 2007. With eleven (11) locations in New York City and in Jersey City, NJ, Bike and Roll is the largest bicycle tour operator in the NY Metro area. The company offers several daily tours in Central Park and along the NYC and NJ waterfront. A night tour is available and some tours include packaged deals such as the Bike and Boat tour. Additionally, Bike and Roll NYC offers walking tours and Segway tours.
Sending out more than eleven (11) daily tours with other tours available on demand takes a reliable and dedicated staff of tour guides and attention to detail at the management level.
According to Bob Trenta, Manager of Guides at Bike and Roll, “We have put together a quality team of seventeen  licensed tour guides, each having their own perspective of New York City.
The range of their experience and backgrounds is truly impressive. Actors, wood worker, Vassar grad, Columbia art history grad from Maui, rock band keyboardist, money manager, photographers, men’s clothing designer, architect, educators, Harvard educated contrarian, film editor, industrial designer and coaches all bring something different, unique and refreshing to each tour.
They have been the backbone of the many four and five star reviews we have received. Most importantly, they are always willing to adjust their schedules anytime we need them for a major touring event”.
One key to facilitating a successful tour is to know your group. The development of a relationship adds great value to the tour and also helps the guide understand what the group most wants to see or to gain from their tour experience. From there the guide can tailor the tour by focusing on certain aspects and not others in order to best align with the group’s overall interests.
Bike and Roll NYC tour guide, Dan Golden states: “My favorite part about working for Bike and Roll (aside from being paid to bike) is the flexibility. No two tours are the same, and if I get to make slight variations on the tour stops based on what I think the group will like, everyone is happier. For instance, I just discovered Ladies Pavilion in Central Park. The views of the lake and skyline are incredible, so now I take people there if they’re really into picture-taking”.
What I enjoy most about being a NYC tour guide is that I love the city and love America. I’m proud to show this place off to people who have only seen it in movies. I love defying the guide books (Don’t want to wait in a long line for the amazing views on top of the rock? I know a good rooftop bar nearby with incredible views. Want the best Italian American food? Little Italy in Manhattan is great, but I know a place in Brooklyn that makes you feel like you walked into a scene from the Godfather. Like being active? How about getting a $50 day-pass to Chelsea Piers, free kayaking on the Hudson, or a horseback riding tour at Kensington Stables in Prospect Park. I also love hearing from tourists that they thought New Yorkers were supposed to be rude, and they’re actually really friendly. Don’t even get me started on how visiting New York changes their perception of the typical American.
Damien at Bike and Roll further adds; “My favorite tour that Bike and Roll has to offer is the “Bike and Boat”. Starting out in New Amsterdam right into New York up to a Modern Marvel, the Brooklyn Bridge, then off to the boroughs first neighborhood “Brooklyn Heights”. Next, down to the Portofino of Brooklyn “DUMBO”, then to the hop on – hop off Water Taxi, making you feel like Henry on the Half Moon going up the Hudson. Lastly, hop off and pedal down the Greenway into our newest of land fills (like putting the cherry on top of the cake) Battery Park City! Wow what a tour!!”
Managing a group of people on bicycles in a large urban setting takes attention to detail and strong leadership skills. While fun is the goal, safety is always the top priority.
Bike and Roll NYC President, Chris Wogas elaborates, “At Bike and Roll our tours are based on two pillars. First, show off the greatest the city in the world. Second, build each tour around knowledgeable guides, well-trained team-members and safety. We understand that providing a great product must include delivering a safe product. Whether it be providing helmets, creating first-class tour routes, continual equipment maintenance and upgrades, or ongoing team-member training; everything we do at Bike and Roll always has our guest’s enjoyment and safety top of mind.
Seeing New York by bike is an experience like no other – a must do event! Seeing New York by bike with the best guides in the industry who continually provide a first-class, customer centered and safe product is truly a serendipitous experience and will be a lifelong memory”.
Wendy adds, “The streets of New York are busy and have their dangers, like anywhere. The key for bike safety in New York is to bike in a predictable manner. That means that you stay in the bike lane, bike in the correct direction, and hold your position in traffic (no swerving!) when there is no bike lane. On Bike and Roll tours, we all wear helmets, always go over safety rules, and encourage our guests to bike in a predictable, self-aware way. One last tip: it is crucial that people do not bike side by side on the Greenway”!
Bike and Roll NYC is a member of the Bike and Roll National Cooperative. Cooperative members have provided bicycle guide services and equipment rentals in five (5) major US cities for the past twenty-one (21) years. As a pioneer and leader in urban bicycle tours, Bike and Roll strives to set the standard nationwide for high quality and safe urban tour experiences.