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For Jimmy Phillips, a 40-year-old Australian triathlete, there’s no better way to get acquainted with a new city than on two wheels. Yet whenever he used to travel, he found it was too nerve-racking to trust the airlines with his bike. Shops on the ground, meanwhile, tended to loan out lousy bikes. So he took matters into his own hands and founded the Domestique, offering a service he wished existed in every city.
The Domestique makes getting a bike simple and seamless: Just email Phillips your specs and he’ll show up at your hotel or apartment with a top-of-the-line carbon-fiber Specialized Tarmac dialed in to your dimensions. All you need are your padded Lycra shorts. His bikes are racked at the Gansevoort hotel in the meatpacking district, so if you’re staying there, you can just take the elevator down to pick up your ride.
“I had a lot of friends come to visit, wanting to cycle with me,” says Phillips, who owned a car wash in his hometown of Adelaide before moving to New York in 2012 to work at a bike shop. “The rental bikes available were pretty average, so it dawned on me there was a gap in the market—to not only provide nice bikes but also show people where to cycle.”
Phillips isn’t some opportunist renting beat-up beach cruisers to tourists wanting a leisurely ride around Central Park. For starters, he’s an eight-time Ironman. But don’t let his imposing calves and toned biceps fool you—he is about as far as you can get from the kind of doped-up, hyperintense, “On your left!” speed freak you see all too often on urban bike paths. He is a kind man and a cycling savant, so when you hire him as your NYC Sherpa, he will take you under his wing for the day. He’ll ride as fast or as slow as you’d like—just tell him.
There’s a good chance Phillips will start your journey at Rapha Cycling Club in SoHo. The premium British cycling brand has been around since 2004, but over the past few years has opened up clubs—part coffee shop, part retail store, part preride meet-up spot—across the globe, from Amsterdam and Copenhagen to Tokyo and Chicago. The Prince Street location is a New York cycling hub where you’ll find spandex-clad groups decamping for rides while nattily dressed men have cortados and watch the Tour de France before they head to work.
Phillips’s arrival Stateside coincided with a significant shift in New York City’s cycling culture. Sure, cab drivers still yell at you, and riding down Seventh Avenue isn’t exactly an idyllic cruise. But the city is a measurably safer and more pleasant place to ride a bike today than it was ten years ago. New York has added and enhanced nearly 300 miles of bike lanes in the past five years, thanks to the launch of the Citi Bike bike-share program in 2013 (which now offers more than 10,000 bikes across the city). And while bikes haven’t quite overtaken cars yet on the road, the number of cyclists is growing: 46,057 New Yorkers primarily biked to work in 2015, according to the League of American Bicyclists—nearly three times the 16,468 who did in 2005.
Still, the real joy is getting out of the city.
“New York is a crazy place,” Phillips says, “and getting on a bike with your back to the city gives you a sense of calm. It’s like free therapy on the move. When I reach the George Washington Bridge and look back at the city, it almost feels like I’m cleaning out my inbox.”
Phillips will help you find such adrenaline-fueled peace. Pick from one of the six rides he offers, which range from a leafy, 40-mile trip along the Hudson in New Jersey to a six-hour, 90-mile excursion to Bear Mountain with hill climbs that do the state park’s name justice. On a clear day, you can see Manhattan from the top of the mountain (and recharge with a can of Coke from the vending machine). He’s the ultimate tour guide, pointing out potholes in the road and picking up doughnuts and espresso along the route. Gypsy Donut & Espresso Bar, in the small village of Nyack, about 30 miles north of the city, is a regular turnaround point for cyclists. Its doughnuts are handmade daily, so grab a few—besides, you’ll need all the fuel you can get for the ride back to the city.