When Zwift introduced the Central Park location for their virtual reality trainer system I was very excited. I moved to New York City in 1995 and riding my bike in Central Park was a special experience. The park was like an oasis in the midst of a crazy fast paced loud city. Over the years as the city became safer and more and more tourist got braver to venture deeper into the park, they unintentionally destroyed what was a cyclists and runners dream.
The Central park loop has the perfect combination of rolling hills with mild sweeping turns and a fast rider can complete a full lap in roughly 13-15 minutes. But nowadays too many people made it impossible to ride at full speed during normal daytime hours, if you want to ride without stopping at red lights and dodging tourist you better be there at 5:00 am.
The Zwift version doesn't have any tourists crossing the road or cops giving you tickets for running red lights, but it's not real and there is so much more to the racing experience than a screen can ever give you. The CRCA cycling club is putting on central parks races a couple of times per year and they have it figured out. Most of the times they offer race-number pick up the night before or starting at 4:40am at the boat house on race day. The race starts at 5:30 am and everything is done before 8:00am. No tourist will ever now that it happened and that's a good thing.
I made this short video to take you thru a NYC Central Park race day and hopefully this will motivate you to come out and leave Zwift behind and ride the real Central Park as I think it is something everyone should do at least once in their life.