#StreetSmarts: 10 Tips Every Smart City Biker Should Know

bike tips nyc

Biking around NYC is fast, fun (cost of bike and gear aside) free. But remember to stay safe. (japp1967 / Flickr)

Bike riding in New York City is on the rise. With good reason. Biking around the city is awesome because it’s fun, fast and free. And it lets you experience the city in a totally different way.

riding bike nyc

Woo-hoo! (Giphy)

Biking in the city is the fastest growing mode of transportation.

With good reason! It’s cool … keeps you fit … and doesn’t fill people’s lungs with toxic car fumes.

But in the United States, about two people every day get killed in bike crashes with cars, buses or trucks. Don’t be one of those people.

bike crash GIF

Shudder. (Giphy)

With more and more bikers out there in NYC, it’s especially important for every cyclist to understand the rules of the road. Whether you’re a new bicyclist or an experienced rider, here are 10 tips you need to know to be safe and smart on the road.

1. Wear a helmet.

bike helmet nyc

Way to rock that helmet. (Ed Yourdon / Flickr)

The secret’s out: Helmets are awesome.

They’re one of the most important parts of bike safety. By NYC law, everyone 13 and under has to wear a helmet. (They’re a good idea for teens and adults too.)

And it’s not just the law–wearing a helmet could actually save your life.

Head injuries are by far the most serious type of injury (which can lead to permanent brain injuries and even death). As a matter of fact, brain injuries are the most common cause of death of bicyclists.

And did you know that the number of children who go to emergency rooms each year for bicycle-related crashes is more than for any other sport?

Some more handy helmet tips:

  • Find a helmet that fits and doesn’t slide over your eyes.
  • Strap it on well–if it’s too loose it’s not doing you much good.
  • Wear it straight, not tipped up. Or else it can’t protect your face if you fall.

2. Make sure you’re visible.

There’s no such thing as being too visible when you’re on a bike. Light, bright clothing and reflectors help a lot.

You have to have a bell and white headlight in front and a red taillight in back. Not just because it’s safe, but because it’s the law in NYC.

lights on bike.

When you’re on your bike, you want to make sure you can see and be seen. (Seth Werkheiser / Flickr)

Super VisionHero Tip: Point your bike light down. Don’t blind your fellow riders–you want to see and be seen! If your light is aimed in their eyes, they actually can’t see you. When you point your light down, you can see the road and see bike riders coming towards you, and they can see you. Which is what you want. Perfect.

3. Avoid potholes, puddles and slick spots.

puddle what's really in there.

You never know what’s really in there. (Neil Hester / Flickr)

Jumping in puddles can be fun, but riding through them with a bike isn’t the best idea. What may look like an innocent puddle could actually be a pothole that can give you a flat tire–and maybe even send you flying.

A few other things to avoid: steel grates, wet leaves and those painted traffic lines–they all become extra slick when wet.

4. Follow and use those traffic signals.

Bicyclists are expected to follow the rules, too.

Bicyclists are expected to follow the rules, too.

Bicyclists have to follow the rules of the road and traffic signs and signals, just like drivers. Like stopping at red lights and stop signs. Because if you don’t, you could get a ticket and/or a bad driving record–just like a driver!

Even worse, you could get hit or hit someone else. You don’t want any of these things to happen, do you? Didn’t think so.

Did you know cyclists have their own turn signals? It’s a good idea to learn the hand signals for right turns, left turns and stopping.

(Cyclist Hand Signals by NYC DOT)



When you use them, cars know what you’re up to—so they can avoid hitting you. Which is what you want them to do.

But you have to let go of a handlebar to signal, so do it only when you feel confident and sturdy enough—the last thing you want to do is get into a crash because you were putting your hand in the air to signal.

5. Don’t weave around.

biking street weaving around cars GIF

Asking for it. (Giphy)

When riding a bike, don’t weave in and out of traffic. Riding in a predictable way will reduce your chances of getting into a crash with a car.

Sometimes you weave when you don’t mean to—often because you’re trying to multitask. Which can cause other problems.

bike jacket fall GIF

Don’t be that guy. (Giphy)

6. Use the bike lanes and paths whenever you can.

bike path sign

You’re psyched when you see signs like these. (wwward0 / Flickr)

Try to use those designated bike lanes—over 1,000 miles of them in NYC!—except when making turns or if it’s unsafe to do so.

Fun fact: There are 3 types of spaces for bikes in NYC:

1. Bike paths: These are paths protected from driver traffic. Bike paths are on places like the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, some parks, and along some waterways.

bike path verazzano bridge

Perfect place to bike on a sunny day. (ChrisGoldNY / Flickr)

2. Bike lanes: These are located on city streets, marked with paint (sometimes green, sometimes not) and the biker icon.

nyc bike lane

NYC bike maps have bike lanes like this one clearly marked. (James D. Schwartz / Flickr)

Keep in mind that not everyone respects the bike lane–you might have to zoom around cars and trucks, but make sure you’re extra careful when you do.

3. Shared lanes: These are streets marked with “sharrows”—those arrow things, sometimes paired with those bike icons. They tell bikers and drivers that they’re sharing the road, so they should be aware of each other.

shared bike lane NYC sharrows

Hello, sharrows. (Steven Vance / Flickr)

Bicycling is allowed on all main and local streets throughout the city, even when there is no designated bike path. And until you turn 13, the city says it’s OK to ride on the sidewalk. (And the Department of Transportation approves of bikers over 13 riding on the sidewalk if it’s the safest thing to do.)

7. Ride with traffic.

Remember to ride in the same direction as traffic, not against it.

Drivers are supposed to yield to you if you have the you have the right of way and are biking in, say, a crosswalk. It’s the law and everything. But if they don’t, you could get hurt—or worse—so always be alert.

8. Be aware of car doors.

When riding past parked cars, always ride four feet away from parked cars (even if that means taking up a whole lane of traffic). Because you never know when the driver or a passenger will open the door.

biking nyc doored GIF

OUCH. (Giphy)

If you’re “doored” while riding past a car, it is the motorist’s fault.

9. Watch for those trucks.

Large trucks have huge blind spots that can be especially dangerous to bicyclists, because it means the truck drivers can’t see you.

The best way to stay safe is to give those trucks plenty of room. Pull up ahead of traffic at intersections and stop in a place where trucks and other vehicles can see you.

10. Lock up your bike.

bike lock bike rack

Good job locking the front wheel to the frame and using a bike rack, but you could have taken it a step or two further. (Ed Yourdon / Flickr)

Now you know how to keep yourself safe when you’re out enjoying a bike ride on the streets of NYC … but you should keep your bike safe, too!

Unfortunately, NYC is notorious for bike theft. Lots of bikes get stolen–often because they’re not locked up well.

To cut down on the chance of your bike getting stolen, do these three things:

  • Lock your frame to your wheels.
  • Lock down your seat if has a quick release feature.
  • Whenever you can, use a bike rack.

Take a minute to lock your bike up right.

Now that you’re armed with these 10 tips, what are you waiting for? Get out there! Biking around is one of the joys of living in NYC.

Take Action!

Don’t know how to ride a bike? Need practice? No problem. Check out these action items and you’ll be ready to ride in no time:

Think you’re a smart city biker? Take this Quizzy to find out >>

Attend a free bike clinic to learn to ride >>

Find a local bike ride for your level >>

And if you’re already an expert biker:

Be a VisionHero and marshal a KidicalMass ride >>